Matthew 17:1-13 Part 9

Now that we have a better sense of the Glory of God and His Anointed Messiah; and now that we understand (to a greater extent) the tabernacling of Christ with men, we are better equipped to approach the subject of the “fear” of God – as exhibited by the three disciples.

We’ve taken note of the fact that Matthew says that the Glory-Cloud/Throne-room of God “overshadowed” them on the mountain.  The account of Luke is more explicit in that he says that the disciples “came into” the Cloud.  In other words, the Glory-Cloud “enveloped’ them, or “invested” them on that high mountain of Israel.  And the “Voice” spoke to them from the Cloud.

And according to the language of Matthew here, the reaction of the disciples was not shyness or timidity!  There is no mere “apprehension” suggested in the words “exceedingly terrified”.  Nor is “horror” the correct interpretation – such as that response upon encountering something hideous or hellish.

I think we need to be very astute students of the Scriptures at this point and “peel away” the layers of our own experience – otherwise our experience will interpret the events of Revelation for us!

And the reason I say that is because we were all born into the realm of “death”.  And we lived our lives in that arena!  Terror and horror were commonplace from the times of our earliest remembrance!  People have a fixation on hell and death.  Things of that nature just issue forth from us because that’s the principality and dominion into which we’re born!  It’s intrinsic to fallen human nature.

I can remember, from my earliest recollections, the bone-chilling fear of darkness.  And everybody has had nightmares.  People love death and cadaverous monsters and demon possession – both people and animals.  There’s a fascination with the weird and mysterious, such as with flying saucers and mal-formed, mis-shaped creatures – omniscient and omnipotent creatures – from outer space.  The fact that “Halloween” is the second largest retail “celebration” in America is a good illustration of that fascination with hell and death.

Ghouls and zombies and vampires and psychopathic killers are the subjects of entertainment productions; and people seem to delight in the fright-producing aspects of perverting the human image.

Have you noticed that?  The more the human image is perverted; the more hellish (in movies and literature and art and music) it is portrayed – in its actions and in its appearance – the more entertaining people find it!  That’s why perverted sexual activity is so fascinating!

A Dallas radio show one day aired a program which explored the history of movie productions from the standpoint of subject matter.  And the “expert” who was called in to analyze this topic proclaimed that the “genre” of movies from the beginning up to The Sound of Music (1960’s) was “make believe”.  In other words they were made so that people could pay their money and “escape from reality”!  The “father knows best” mentality – the “blissful ride off into the sunset” – the “perfect and happy relationships” – were all “escapes” (they say) form what is really the way things are.  But, since the sixties, entertainment (especially the movies, since this was the topic) has become more “realistic”!  The explicit sex – the psychopathic behavior – the language – the gore – and the fear – are all expressions of movie-makers’ desire to become more “real”.

And I had to laugh (not a comedic laugh, but an irony laugh) at the fact that he had it just backwards!  The film-making of that era which the analyst called the “escape” genre was actually much closer to the reality of the human image (after the image of God) than he imagined; and the more modern films, which he called “realistic”, are actually perversions of humanity which are designed to frighten, shock and tantalize, because the population pays big money to see the perversions!  And what’s happening with movies is also happening in art and music and lyrics which blur and pervert the pictures of creation and humanity in God’s image!

The more gross and vulgar and hideous and deformed and repulsive and monstrous a thing is – the more delight that’s taken in it!  Which brings me back to my original thought about fear, because, in times past, we have lived in this whole dominion of fear and darkness; and our very experience itself has associated “fear” with tragedy and the ghastly and gruesome – the dangerous and the hellish, and the unknown.

And that’s why I said that we need to be good students of God’s Word, getting rid of the preconceptions which come with experience.  For the fear of God which is commanded to be kindled and quickened in us does not have, as its object, a hellish source!

Where before, when we lived in darkness and fear and uncertainty, we were frightened by the gross perversions of creation and humanity, now we live in the light of the glory and perfections and holiness of God – causing us to see the horror of our own human condition!  These disciples of Christ were not terrified by weird distortions of the human image; they were stricken with fear because of the immanent Presence of Holiness!

Immediately they were given to differentiate – not the comparison between themselves and the satanic perversions of humanity, but between themselves and the perfections of the Being of God!  In the Presence of the Holy God, they were the perverted ones!  Their fright was due to the immaculate Perfections of holiness – the brightness of which was unbearable!  With faces in the dirt, they hid themselves from that Glory – knowing, instantly, that their very existence was incompatible with it!

And so, you see, the word “exceedingly terrified” here in our text, is so completely different from any identification of “fear” which we’ve experienced in the past when we lived in darkness.  This fear comes from the perception of our grotesque blemishes in the Light of His Glorious perfections.

Now, there are some observations that I wish to make with regard to that; but, first, I want to take you through the Scriptures and comment on a few of the occasions where we can observe similar reactions to the Presence of God.  As we do this we want to take special note of those things which accompany the fear of God.

In a previous sermon on this passage we’ve already observed the results of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of God, so I’ll only make quick mention of the fact that our first parents covered their human condition and hid themselves from the Presence of God.  Their iniquity – fallen nature – made the holiness of Yahveh a dreadful and frightening prospect!

Now, in chapter seventeen of Genesis God comes to Abram and says, “I Am El Shaddai – walk before Me and be perfect.”  And, immediately, Abram was on his face in the dirt – hiding himself from the Glory of God.  El Shaddai is what God calls Himself in contradistinction to the absolute inadequacies and weakness of men.  He abundantly and mightily pours out grace and justice to men in order that His promises according to election might stand!  Even though men are unable, in their fallen impoverishment, to do anything toward that end, El Shaddai spills forth His mighty mercy – causing all that He promises to take place!

And, as evidence of that, He promises the seed of many nations to come forth from the loins of a one hundred year old Abraham, and from the womb of Sarah, who was well past child-bearing years.  His mighty love was demonstrated in the extreme weaknesses of Abraham and Sarah.

But the point here is that the great fear that caused Abram to hide his face in the dirt (similar to the prone, lifeless position of the disciples in our text) was due to the glorious perfections of the Mighty El Shaddai, Whose very Presence constituted an exposure of the complete impotence and emptiness and worthlessness of the man!

And, further, we need to see that there is clear indication in the text of Genesis seventeen that joy accompanied Abraham’s great fear – as well as worship and faith – that the Mighty God would accomplish so great a thing by him!

Leviticus chapter nine is the very first sacrificial offering by Aaron and the Levitical priesthood.  And on the completion of all the preparations, and before the entire congregation of Israel, before the tabernacle in the desert, the Glory-Cloud appeared – from which tongues of fire fell upon the altar and consumed the sacrifice!  And at that moment the nation of Israel cried out in fear (a roar of some magnitude) and they all hid their faces in the sand of the Sinai.

In Judges chapter thirteen, the Angel of the Lord came to Manoah’s wife and proclaimed that she would conceive and bear a son (Samson).  Manoah then prepared an altar of sacrifice, and the angel ascended in the fire of the offering!  And the Scripture says that Manoah and his wife hid their faces in the dirt, for, obviously, they now knew that they had been in the presence of the Lamb of God and Savior of the world.

In First Kings chapter eighteen, the congregation of Israel gathered to observe the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  At the point where the false prophets had prayed and cut themselves and cried out to Baal – all without any effect upon the altar they had built, Elijah then calls upon Yahveh.  And fire came from the Glory of God and consumed the sacrifice, the rocks, the wood and the water which had been poured over it all.  And the Scripture says that all the people fell upon their faces to hide from the glory of God!

Now there are a number of other instances of a similar nature in Scripture; and, in addition to those, there are many occasions in which God’s people have fallen upon their faces in fear of the wrath of God upon His disobedient people!  But in all of those instances the fear has the same point of reference – which is the distinction between the perfect holiness of God and the worthless impotence of men.  Just as when men are confronted with the Glory-Cloud Presence of Almighty God, and are cast down upon their faces in abject fear, so that same fear is present with regard to the people of God when we see the Holiness of God about to break out in angry justice on the sins of the people!  Those kinds of distinctions to be made between God and man are terror-producing, because the perfections of God reduce us to helplessness!  But, as with Abraham, our impotence and worthlessness produces joy and faith and worship, because His perfections are the guarantee of His perfect justice and His perfect love and His perfect completion of His promises to His people!

You see, this “fear” of God, which comes in the light of the exposure of our helplessness to His Glorious perfections, is, indeed, the beginning of wisdom; for from it come faith – and joy – and worship!  The “fear” of the glorious holiness of God generates joy and worship and faith in His people.

Now, our text says that Jesus came and “touched” His disciples – these who would soon be apostles who preached with the “Voice” of Jesus Christ Himself!  And we need, now, to go back into the text of Scripture and see those occasions in which men had been cast to the ground in fear before Almighty God – and then were “touched” by God for a specific reason!  And let me just say, from the outset, that this text cannot be approached from the psychological perspective which promotes the great benefits of compassionate “touching”!  Although that aspect of the “touch” of Jesus may not be completely absent from the text, Jesus had something completely different in mind by His physical “touch”!

And for us to comprehend the fullness of the Scriptures, we have to go to four different locations – very briefly.  And the first is Isaiah chapter six, where the prophet is shown the Glory of the Lord of Hosts sitting upon His throne – filling the temple with Glory – the winged creatures above Him singing


“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of His Glory!” 


And Isaiah is completely undone by his uncleanness, his unclean lips, and the uncleanness of the people of Israel.  And then one of the seraphim flew to him with one of the coals of the fire from the altar and “touched” his lips.  And the “fire” from the altar of the coming Christ cleansed his iniquity.  And, from there, Isaiah went out to become the fiery preacher of the coming “Day of the Lord”!

Secondly, in Jeremiah chapter one, the son of a priest was brought to a state of debasement by a visitation of Yahveh – Who told him that He had chosen him from the womb to be a prophet to the nations!  But Jeremiah complained of his helpless infancy before God; whereupon God “touched” his lips and told him that He had put His Word in his mouth; and said,


“See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down and to destroy and to throw down – to build and to plant.”


And Jeremiah went on to be the second great prophet of God.

Thirdly, I refer you to the call of Ezekiel in the first three chapters of that prophecy.  Again, the appearance of the Glory-Cloud/Throne-room of God – with the firmament and the winged creatures and the wheels and the eyes – is the most complete vision of God’s glory in the Scriptures.  And Ezekiel was on his face in fear.  But the hand of God “touched’ him; and he became the prophet with the powerful message of the coming Messiah “tabernacling” with men in the “new Temple of God”.

And, lastly, in the eighth chapter of the book of Daniel, the prophet hid his face in the dirt before the angel of the Lord.  But the angel “touched” him and gave him understanding of the things having to do with the destruction of Israel and the establishment of the fifth and eternal Kingdom of Christ.  Daniel’s mournful, but powerful, confession of sin for himself and the people of Israel followed.  And, then, in chapter ten, Daniel saw the vision of the Glory of God.  And he said,


“…and there remained no strength in me; for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption.”


And Daniel was on his face in the dirt.  But the One Who had the appearance of lightning touched him, setting him upright, and said to him,


“Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to chasten yourself before the Lord, your words were heard….”


Now, having seen the pattern in the call of the four great prophets of the Old Testament, it’s easy to see the very same pattern in our text, isn’t it?  The Voice from the Cloud confirmed and verified that Jesus was the Anointed One of God – the Glory of God – and then the disciples on their faces hiding in fear; and then being “touched” by Jesus, who said, “Arise, stop being afraid.”  Obviously, the apostles of Jesus, “touched” by the Word of God, are to be His “voice” to the nations in the powerful preaching of His Gospel.

And the disciples lifted up their eyes, and the Glory-Cloud was gone; Moses was gone, Elijah was gone.  And now it was Jesus and His apostles to lay the foundation of the Church in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

As we reach the end of our time this morning we are all aware of the number of places in Scripture where we are told not to be afraid – except for our fear of God.  John ten – the fear of persecution; John nine – the fear of exclusion; Acts twenty-seven – the acts of nature; Second Corinthians eleven – uncertainty; Hebrews two – death itself.  Fear neither men nor the harming of the body!  Fear God!

There is a list of sins in Revelation chapter twenty-one, and verse eight which exclude people from the New City of God which has come down from the heavens.  The list includes idolaters and sorcerers and murderers and those who participate in the abominable things before the Lord.  But that list is headed (the only place in the Scriptures where this is the case) by cowardice.  All of these shall have their place in the Lake which burns with fire and brimstone; and cowards are first on the list!

Those who grovel and compromise before men – for fear of reputation, safety, inclusion or life and limb – are cowards.  We are to fear no man where the truth and the honor of Christ and His Kingdom are concerned.  But all of those who are “turned into corruption” in the Presence of God, and who overcome the fear of the world to speak truth in the presence of men, will inherit all things – according to the “voice” of God from the heavens.  (Revelation twenty-one, three)  For the tabernacle of God is now with men.  We worship Him in fear and in joy – with faith.  We obey Him in fear and in joy – with faith.  The King has “touched” His Church and put His Words in our mouths.  And He is our God – and we are His people.  So we do not stand with the world on anything!  We stand with Him – for the world.

Coming to the Table of our Lord this morning, we ought to come with great fear – because of His glorious perfections.  But that fear is accompanied by overwhelming joy – and faith – and worship.  For Jesus Christ has overcome the world.  His glorious Presence now tabernacles with us.

Fear of the world, fear of men, fear of the unknown and monstrous things and perversions and nature are all mitigated!  Cowardice, where He's concerned, is put away, for He is with us – Immanuel!