As a child, what small creatures scared you the most? I know most people fear spiders. I wasn’t afraid of spiders because my grandma loved them, and I learned to appreciate them from her. But I found caterpillars very scary and repulsive. They are poisonous, and the fuzzy tufts (tiny hairs) on caterpillars can cause an allergic reaction when they touch the skin.
However, our attitude toward caterpillars changed when we discovered their metamorphosis into beautiful butterflies. The potential of these creepy creatures earns our respect. They expand our imagination and demonstrate our own potential. If you believe God talks to us through nature, caterpillars and butterflies communicate who we are and what we can become—spiritually.
Caterpillars don’t have eyes. They use small antennas to feel their way on the trees and eat the leaves. It illustrates our spiritual blindness before salvation. Caterpillars crawl slowly, but the butterflies fly swiftly, representing two entirely different ways of living.
According to zoologists, all a caterpillar does is eat and secrete—very egocentric. But a butterfly beautifies the earth and pollinates plants to nurture nature. We can say caterpillars are takers, but butterflies are givers. The difference is heaven and earth.
It would be a shame if we lived all our lives as caterpillars and never experienced a butterfly life. Jesus calls the butterfly life “the kingdom of heaven,” and he wants us to strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and promises all things to be given to us as well. He wants us to prioritize our spiritual metamorphosis. The entire teaching of Jesus Christ is revealed in his initial message,
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt 4:17 ESV).
If you understand this verse, you have cracked the code of the entire Bible. John the Baptist preached the same message, and Jesus continued proclaiming it. Many scholars and theologians have tried to summarize the Bible. Some say that the entire message of the Bible is “Love” or “God is love.” Some say the Great Commandment summarizes the Bible, “Love God and love people.”
I agreed with them in the past, but after twenty-seven years of preaching, teaching, and studying the Bible, I have discovered this verse the be the most accurate representation of Jesus’ message because it has the keyword “repent.” Both in Hebrew and Greek, “repent” means “change.” It’s changing from living like a caterpillar to flying like a butterfly. In other words, “repent” means “metamorphose.”
In the entire Old Testament, we read about God asking the Israelites to change. In the New Testament, Jesus shows us the way to change. The only thing consistent on earth is change. If you are not changing for the better, you are changing for the worse. Jesus shows us how to change for the best. God loves you the way you are, but God loves you too much to leave you the way you are.
Without change, the gospel is incomplete. The Bible is the book of change, the alchemy of the spirit. From that perspective, studying the Bible is super exciting and ultra important because you will fly through life like a butterfly instead of crawling like a caterpillar.
One of the problems with the Reformed Protestants is that we over-emphasize grace and under-emphasize change to the point that it becomes cheap grace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned us that grace is free but not cheap. The costly part of grace is that we must change—from a caterpillar to a butterfly, from a pheasant to a phoenix.
God’s grace compels you to change instead of keeping complacent. How do we change? The way to change begins by appreciating the butterfly life. Until you appreciate the value of the butterfly life, you will continue to crawl like a caterpillar. In one of his parables, Jesus wants you to be like a smart pearl merchant who knows the value of a top-quality pearl and is willing to sell everything we own to get it. He said,
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Mt 13:45–46).
Can you imagine what it is like to discover something so valuable that you would give up everything to get it? That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. Just as a caterpillar would give up everything to become a butterfly, Jesus wants us to risk everything for our metamorphosis.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. A more precise translation from Greek would be “Metamorphosis Sunday.” On this day in history, Jesus showed three of his disciples a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven—a glimpse of the butterfly life in the caterpillars’ world. The passage also reveals what we must do to live in heaven on earth. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 17:1-9. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:1–9).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s Word. Thanks be to God!]
This event is known as the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Greek word here is “μεταμορφόομαι (metamorphoomai), which is the same root word for “metamorphose” and “metamorphosis.” Like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, Jesus transfigured into his divine nature. Suddenly, the disciples saw a glimpse of heaven with Jesus’ face shining like the sun.
Many Christians don’t like to talk about the Transfiguration because it seems scientifically absurd and too supernatural. But I believe it would be as absurd as the caterpillars seeing the life of the butterflies. The event is not just about Jesus, but the appearance of Moses and Elijah also confirmed that there is life beyond death, a life standing shoulder to shoulder with the Son of God, discussing face to face with him God’s plan for the world. Luke’s version of the story says,
“Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (Lk 9:30–31).
The disciples were frightened at what they saw because they didn’t understand the full meaning of it at that time. I am sure if I were a caterpillar, I would be frightened by the sight of the butterflies. Humans fear change, even though we desire it. We are afraid of leaving our comfort zone to enter unknown territory. Jesus knew their fear and told them, “Get up and do not be afraid.” (v. 7).
Peter, James, and John must be thinking, “This is more than what we signed up for.” All they expected might be merely becoming fatter caterpillars. They thought Jesus would be a revolutionist to liberate them from the oppressive local government and humiliating foreign occupation. They wanted to be high-ranking officers in Jesus’ earthly kingdom.
Many Christians may also think like these disciples, “All we want is a God that will bless us with a better life on earth and a ticket to heaven after we die. Nothing more and nothing less.” But Jesus wants to give us more than we ask for—a total metamorphosis. He doesn’t want us to crawl through life like a caterpillar but fly like a butterfly from now to eternity. That’s what the kingdom of heaven is about.
If you appreciate the life of the butterfly or the kingdom of heaven, here’s the process for the metamorphosis based on this passage. There are only three simple steps: Devote, Listen, and Serve.
The first question we might have is why Jesus reveals this only to Peter, James, and John and not all his twelve disciples. Many Bible interpreters call them Jesus’ inner circle because he liked to take them to exclusive events. But the Bible says God doesn’t play favorites. Paul also said,
“For God shows no partiality.” (Ro 2:11).
Then why did Peter, James, and John get special privileges? The answer is their devotion to Christ. As Benjamin Franklin said, “God helps those who help themselves.” Some Christians don’t like this statement because it seems contrary to God’s grace, but it turns out to be very true if you read the Bible carefully. God detests lazy people who don’t invest a minimum effort. Jesus does expect faith, even as small as a mustard seed.
Simon’s devotion impressed Jesus, so he named him Peter, the Rock. Jesus said,
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mat 16:18).
With all his flaws, he is one of the most passionate and dependable disciples. Jesus also gave him “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 16:19).
Similarly, Jesus named James and John the Sons of Thunder.
“James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder).” (Mk 3:17).
Boanerges is an Aramaic term that means “Sons of Thunder.” I like the sound of it, “Boanerges” (sounds like Bone Energies). Like Peter, they were passionate in their own ways. An example of James and John’s passion is revealed when Jesus was unwelcome in a Samaritan village.
When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk 9:54).
But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. (Lk 9:55–56). Jesus loves their devotion even though he doesn’t want them to use their thunderous passion for the wrong purpose. Jesus wants their Boanerges to be used for salvation but not for retaliation.
Do you know the passion of a hero and a villain are often similar, except they serve the opposite purposes? That’s why God doesn’t like lukewarmness because a repented villain is more valuable to God than a lukewarm nice guy. Just as the repented Prodigal Son is more precious than his lukewarm brother.
We can see that the devotion of Peter, James, and John opened the door for a special revelation. Your devotion is the first step to metamorphosis.
Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Mat 17:4).
If we were on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, we would first take out our cell phones, capture the images of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and immediately post them on Social Media. Or we might record a video of their discussion. Then we are satisfied. Like us, Peter, James, and John wanted to freeze the moment by building three pagodas.
There’s a human tendency to idolatry. We want to make idols of God and saints and worship them. It’s like caterpillars that see butterflies and desire to worship them instead of turning into them. Jesus doesn’t want you to enshrine him like an idol, but he wants you to repent or metamorphose into a butterfly just like him. Peter’s comment triggered God’s concern.
While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Mat 17:5).
God wants us to “listen to him,” not idolize him. God doesn’t want us to freeze the moment with our eyes but seize the message with our ears. Do you know our vision can be deceiving, but our hearing is more authentic? Maybe that’s why God created us with eyelids but no earlids. Our “vision” mostly comes from hearing. For example, Moses saw the burning bush, but the actual vision came from the voice in the burning bush. Maybe the word “calling” better describes a “vision.”
What was Jesus saying that we must listen to? As mentioned, everything Jesus says boils down to one word, “repent” or “metamorphose.” “Listen to him” also means “obey him.” Worship without obedience is idolatry. To obey him is to change.
I know change can be nerve-wracking, but Jesus said, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Don’t be afraid of change. It’s for your good. Jesus’ words have transformative power, so listen to him. Every day, as we read the Bible or listen to God’s word, we are in the process of metamorphosis.
The final step to metamorphosis is revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Verse 9 says,
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt 17:9).
This verse has two meanings. One is that these disciples would not be able to articulate this vision accurately until then. Another is people would not understand what they were talking about until Jesus’ resurrection was in the news. Since we are on this side of the resurrection, it should be easier for us to understand the meaning of the Transfiguration.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah represents the law and the prophets. People walking in the dark need the law as their walking cane. They need prophets to guide their ways. However, Jesus brought people to light. If we walk in the light, we don’t need the law to gird us because we can see the way and the surrounding. As long as you need rules and regulations to restrain you, you are walking in the darkness.
Again these two ways of life are a world apart. Caterpillars don’t have eyes, so they have to creep. Butterflies have eyes and wings, so they can see and fly. Jesus’ resurrection sets people free from the creepy life. Just as Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32). Jesus’ resurrection reveals that freedom is not the freedom to fool around but to serve.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is his sacrificial service to the world, showing salvation is not a cheap ticket to heaven but an invitation to carry the cross of metamorphosis to live in heaven on earth with our sacrificial service to inspire others to transform. That’s what “repent” means.
So, let’s stop creeping like caterpillars. Let’s fly and inspire the world like butterflies! Let’s walk in the light and bring others to the light.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound love, joy, and peace.