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THE TRANSFIGURATION.






From: HOW TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST

"And it came to pass about eight days after these sayings, He took
Peter and John and James and went up into the mountain to
pray."--LUKE ix. 28-36.

The public life or our Lord falls into two parts; and the incident
here recorded is the turning point between them. In order that He
might leave behind Him when He died a sure foundation for His Church,
it was necessary that His intimate companions should at all events
know that He was the Christ, and that the Christ must enter into
glory by suffering death. Only then, when they understood . this,
could He die and leave them on earth behind. Now it is just at this
point in His life that it has become quite clear that the first
article of the Christian creed--that Jesus is the Christ--had been at
last definitely accepted by the disciples. Very solemnly our Lord has
put it to them: "Who say ye that I am ?" No doubt it was a trying
moment for Him as for them. What was He to do if it had not now
become plain at least to a few steadfast souls that He was the
Christ--the Messenger of God to men? Happily the impulsiveness of
Peter gives Him little space for anxiety; for he, with that generous
outburst of affectionate trust which should ring through every creed,
said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." You see the
intensified relief which this brought to our Lord, the keen
satisfaction He felt as He heard it distinctly and solemnly uttered
as the creed of the Twelve; as He heard what hitherto He could only
have gathered from casual expressions, from wistful awe-struck looks,
from overheard questionings and debatings with one another. You see
how at once, He steps on to a new footing with them, as He cordially,
and with intense gratitude, says to Peter, "Blessed art thou, Simon
Barjona." In this Divinely-wrought confession of Peter's, He finds at
last the foundation stone of the earthly building the beginning of
that intelligent and hearty reception of Himself which was to make
earth the recipient of all heaven's fulness. But as yet only half the
work is done. Men believe that He is the King, but as yet they have
very little idea of what the kingdom is to consist. They think Him
worthy of all glory, but the kind of glory, and the way to it they
are ignorant of. From, that time forth, therefore, began Jesus to
show unto them how He must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things,
even of the men who ought chiefly to have recognised Him, and to be
raised again the third day.

Once before our Lord had been tempted in another way to the throne of
the universal dominion of men; again this temptation is pressed upon
Him by the very men who should have helped Him to resist it; His
closest, His warmest, His most enlightened friends, those who stand
on quite a different plane from the world at large, are His tempters.
Satan found in them an adequate mouthpiece. They, who should have
cheered and heartened Him to face the terrible prospect, were
hindrances, were an additional burden and anxiety to Him.

Now, it is to this conversation that the incident known as the
transfiguration is linked by all the evangelists who relate it--the
first three. It was six days after (or, as Luke says, eight days
after) this conversation that Jesus went up Mount Hermon for the sake
of retirement and prayer. Plainly He was aware that the great crisis
of His life had come. The time had come when He must cease teaching,
and face His destiny. He had made upon His disciples an impression
which would be indelible. With deliberation they had accepted Him as
the Messiah; the Church was founded; His work, so far as His teaching
went, was accomplished. It remained that He should die. To consecrate
Himself to this hard necessity, He retired to the solitude of Mount
Hermon. We start, then, from the wrong point of view, if we suppose
that Jesus climbed Hermon in order to enjoy spiritual ecstasy, or
exhibit His glory to those three men. Ecstasy of this kind must come
unsought; and the way to it lies through conflict, humiliation,
self-mastery. It was not simply to pray that Jesus retired; it was to
engage in the great conflict of His life. And because He felt,
Himself so much in need of kindness and support, He took with Him the
three companions He could most depend upon. They were loyal friends;
and their very presence was a strength to Him. So human was Jesus,
and now so heavily burdened, that the devotedness of these three
plain men--the sound of their voices, the touch of their hands as
they clambered the hill together, gave Him strength and courage. Let
no one be ashamed to lean upon the affection of his fellow-men. Let
us, also, reverently, and with sympathy, accompany our Lord and
witness, and endeavour to understand, the conflict in which He now
engaged. It has been suggested that the transfiguration may best be
understood as a temptation. Undoubtedly there must have been
temptation in the experience of Jesus at this crisis. It was for the
purpose of finally consecrating Himself to death, with all its
painful accompaniments, that He now retired. But the very difficulty
of this act of consecration consisted just in this: that He might, if
He pleased, avoid death. It was because Peter's words, "This be far
from Thee," touched a deep chord in His own spirit, and strengthened
that within Himself which made Him tremble and wish that God's will
could in any other wise be accomplished--it was this which caused Him
so sharply and suddenly to rebuke Peter. Peter's words penetrated to
what was lurking near at hand as His normal temptation. We may very
readily underrate the trial and temptation of Christ, and thus have
only a formal, not a real, esteem for His manhood. We always
underrate it when we do not fully apprehend His human nature, and
believe that He was tempted in all points as we are. But, on the
other hand, we underrate it if we forget that His position was wholly
different from ours. That Jesus had abundant nerve and courage no
reader of the Gospels can, of course, doubt. He was calm in the midst
of a storm which terrified experienced boat-men; in riots that
threatened His life, in the hands of soldiers striving to torment Him
and break Him down, in the presence of judges and enemies, He
maintained a dignity which only the highest courage could maintain.
That such a Person should have quailed at the prospect of physical
suffering, which thousands of men and women have voluntarily and
calmly faced, is simply impossible to believe. Neither was it
entirely His perception of the spiritual significance of death which
made it to Him a far more painful prospect than to any other.
Certainly this clear perception of the meaning of death did add
immensely to its terrors; but if we are even to begin to understand
His trial, and begin is all we can do--we must bear in mind what
Peter had just confessed, and what Jesus Himself knew--that He was
the Christ. It was this which made the difference. Socrates could
toss off the poison as unmoved as if it had been a sleeping-draught,
because he was dying for himself alone. Jesus could only with
trembling take into His hand the fatal cup, because He knew that He
was standing for all men. If He failed, all failed. Everything hung
upon Him. The general who spends the whole night pacing his tent,
debating the chances of battle on the morrow, is not tormented with
the thought of his own private fate, but with the possibilities of
disaster to his men and to his country, if his design or his skill
should at any moment of the battle fail. Jesus was human; and we deny
His humanity, and fail to give Him the honour due to it, if we do not
recognise the difficulty which He must always have felt in believing
that His single act could save the world, and the burden of
responsibility which must have weighed upon Him when He realised that
it was by the Spirit He maintained in life and in death, that God
meant to bless all men. It was because He knew Himself to be the
Christ, and because every man depended upon Him as the Christ, and
because, therefore, the whole blessing God meant for the world
depended upon His maintaining faith in God through the most trying
circumstances--it was because of this that He trembled lest all
should end in failure. It was this which drove Him, again, and again,
and again to the hills to spend all night in prayer, in laying His
burden upon the only Strength that could bear it.

But in retiring in order, with deliberation, finally to dedicate
Himself to death, this temptation must of necessity appear in all its
strength. It is only in presence of all that can induce Him to
another course that He can resolve upon the God-appointed way. As He
prays two figures necessarily rise before Him, and intensify the
temptation. Moses and Elias were God's greatest servants in the past,
and neither of them had passed to glory through so severe an ordeal.
Moses, with eye undimmed and strength unabated, was taken from earth
by a departure so easy that it was said to be "by the kiss of God."
Elijah, instead of removal by death, ascended to his rest in a
chariot of fire. Was it not possible that as easy an exodus might
befit Him? Might not this ignominious death He looked forward to make
it impossible for the people to believe in Him? How could they rank
Him with those old prophets whom God had dealt with so differently
and so plainly honoured? Would people not almost necessarily accept
the death of the cross as proof that He was abandoned? Nay, did not
their sacred books justify them in considering Him accursed of God?
Was He correct in His interpretation of the Scriptures--an
interpretation which led Him to believe that the Messiah must suffer
and die, but which none of His friends admitted, and none of the
authorities and skilled interpreters in His country admitted? Was it
not, after all, possible that His kingdom might be established by
other means? We can see but a small part of the force of these
temptations, but If the presence of those august figures intensified
the normal temptation of this period, their presence was also a very
effectual aid against this temptation. In their presence His
anticipated end could no longer be called death; rather the
departure, or, as the narrative says, the Exodus. The eternal will
and mighty hand which had guided and upheld Moses when he bore the
responsibility and toil of emancipating a host of slaves from the
most powerful of rulers would uphold Jesus in the infinitely
weightier responsibilities which now lay upon Him. Elijah, also, at a
crisis of his people's history, had stood alone against all the might
and malignity of Jezebel and the priests of Baal; alone, and with
death staring him in the face, he confessed God, and, by his
single-handed victory, wrought deliverance for the whole people.
Their combined voice, therefore, says to Jesus, "Banish all fear;
look forward to your decease at Jerusalem as about to effect an
immeasurably grander deliverance than that which gave freedom to your
people. Do not shrink from trusting that the sacrifice of One can
open up a source of blessing to all. Steadfast submission to God's
will is ever the path to glory."

But not only must our Lord have been encouraged and heartened by
recalling the individual experiences of these men, but their presence
reminds Him of His relation to them in God's purposes; for Moses and
Elijah represent the whole Old Testament Church. By the Law and the
Prophets had God up to this time dealt with men; through these He had
revealed Himself. But Jesus had long since recognised that neither
Moses nor Elias, neither Law nor Prophets, were sufficient. The
Christ must come to effect a real mediation between God and man; and
Jesus knew that He Himself was the Christ. On Him lay the task of
making the salvation of the Jews the salvation of the whole world; of
bringing all men to Jehovah. It was under pressure of this
responsibility that He had searched the Scriptures, and found in the
Scriptures what those had not found--that it was necessary that
Christ should suffer and so enter into glory.

Probably it was not so much any one passage of Scripture which had
carried home to the mind of Jesus that the Christ must die. We may
seek for that in vain; it was His perception of the real needs of
men, and of what the Law and the Prophets had done to satisfy these
needs, that showed Him what remained for the final Revealer and
Mediator to accomplish. The Law and the Prophets had told men that
God is holy, and men's blessedness, even as God's blessedness, lies
in holiness. But this very teaching seemed to widen the breach
between men and God, and to make union between them truly hopeless.
By the law came not union with God, but the knowledge of sin. To put
it shortly, fellowship or union with God, which is the beginning and
end of all religion, is but another name for holiness. Holiness is
union with God, and holiness can better be secured by revealing the
holy God as a God of love than by law or by prophets. It is this holy
love and lovingness that the cross of Christ brings home to every
heart. This revelation of the Father, no document and no officials
could possibly make; only the Beloved Son, only one who stood in a
personal relation to the Father, and was of the same nature, as truly
divine as human. Therefore the voice goes forth annulling all
previous utterances, and turning all eyes to Jesus--"Hear Him!"
Therefore, as often as the mind of Christ was employed on this
subject, so often did He see the necessity of death. It was only by
dying that men's sins could be expiated, and only by dying the
fulness of God's love could be exhibited. The Law and the Prophets
spoke to Him always, and now once more of the decease He must
accomplish at Jerusalem. They spoke of His death, because it was His
death that was presupposed by every sacrifice of the Law; by every
prophecy that foretold good to man. The Law found its highest
fulfilment in the most lawless of transgressions; prophecy found its
richest in that which seemed to crush out hope itself.

Nothing, then, could have been more opportune than this for the
encouragement of our Lord. On earth He had found incredulity among
His best friends; incapacity to see why He should die; indifference
to His object here. He now meets with those who, with breathless
interest, await His death as if it were the one only future event. In
their persons He sees, at one view, all who had put their trust in
God from the foundation of the world; all who had put faith in a
sacrifice for sin, knowing it was God's appointment, and that He
would vindicate His own wisdom and truth by finding a real
propitiation; all who, through dark and troublous times, had strained
to see the consolation of Israel; all who, in the misery of their own
thought, had still believed that there was a true glory for men
somewhere to be attained; all who through the darkness and storm and
fear of earth had trusted in God, scarcely daring to think what would
become of their trust, but assured that God had spoken, nay, had
covenanted with His people, and finding true rest in Him. When all
these now stand before our Lord in the persons of Moses and Elias,
the hitherto mediators between God and man, must not their waiting
eyes, their longing, trustful expectation, have confirmed His resolve
that their hope should not be put to shame? The whole anxiety of
guilty consciences, the whole hope of men awakened, the whole longing
sigh for a God revealed, that had breathed from the ancient Church,
at once became audible to His ear. At once He felt the dependence of
all who had died in faith in the promise. He meets the eager,
questioning gaze of all who had hoped for salvation concentrated on
Himself. Is this He who can save the lost, He who can bear the weight
of a world's dependence? What an appeal there is here to His
compassion! How steadfastly now does He set His face towards
Jerusalem, feeling straitened till the world's salvation is secured,
and all possibility of failure for ever at an end.

This, then, was for Jesus an appeal that was irresistible. As the
full meaning of all that God had done for His people through Law and
Prophets was borne in upon Him, He saw that He must die. Now, for the
last time, He put aside all His hesitations, and as He prays, He
yields Himself to the will of the Father. Those are the supreme
moments in human life when man, through sore conflict and at great
cost, gives himself up to the will of God. Never was there so sore a
conflict, and never so much joy as here. His face was transfigured;
it beamed with the light and peace of heaven that shone from within.
The eyes of the disciples closed on a face, every line of which they
knew and loved--a face full of wisdom and resolve and deep-founded
peace, showing marks of trouble, of trial, of endurance, of premature
age; their eyes opened upon a face that shines with a preternatural
radiance--a face expressing, more than ever face had done, the
dignity and glory and joy of perfect harmony with God. He was
God-possessed, and the Divine glory shone from His face. It was at
the moment of his yielding all to God that Jesus attained His highest
glory. Man's life is transformed when he allows God's will to fill it
and shine through it; his person is transformed when he divests
himself of self-will, and allows God wholly to possess it.

How easy was it for the disciples at that hour to hear Him; to listen
now when He spoke of the cross, which, for Him and for all His
disciples, is the path leading from earth to heaven, from what is
selfishly human to true human glory! It is on the cross that Jesus is
truly enthroned. It is because He became the Servant of all that He
is greatest of all. If anyone could rival Him in the service he would
rival Him in the glory. It is because He gave Himself for us, willing
to do all to save us in our direst need, that He takes a place in our
confidence and in our heart that belongs to no other. He becomes the
one absolute need of every man, because He is that which brings us to
God, and gives God to us.

Hear Him, therefore, when, through His Providence, He preaches to you
this difficult lesson. If your difficulties and distresses are real;
if you cannot labour without thinking of them; if you cannot rest
from labour through fear of their possessing you; if your troubles
have assumed so hard a form, so real a place in your life, that all
else has come to seem unreal and empty, then remember that He whose
end was to be eternal glory chose sorrow, that He might break a way
to glory through human suffering. If there is nothing in your lot in
life which crosses and humbles you; if there is nothing in your
circumstances which compels you to see that this life is not for
self-indulgence and self-gratification, then still you must win
participation in your Lord's glory by accepting His lowliness and
heavenliness of mind. It is not to outward success that you are
called in His kingdom, it is to inward victory. You are called to
meekness, and lowliness, and mercy; to the losing of your life in
this world, that you may have life everlasting.

Notice, in conclusion, the impression made on the disciples, as
disclosed in Peter's words, "It is good to be here." Peter knew when
he was in good company. He was not very wise himself, but he had
sense enough to recognise wisdom in others. He was not himself a
finished saint, but he had a hearty appreciation of those who had
attained saintliness. He had reverence, power to recognise, and
ungrudgingly to worship, what was good. He had an honest delight in
seeing his Master honoured, a delight which, perhaps, some of us
envy. It was not a forced expression, it was not a feigned delight.
He was a man who always felt that something should be said, and so
here what was uppermost came out. Why did Peter feel it was good for
him to be there? Possibly it was in part because here was glory
without shame; recognition and homage without suffering; but no doubt
partly because he felt that in such company he was a better man than
elsewhere. Christ kept him right; seemed to understand him better
than others; to consider him more. There was no resentment on Peter's
part on account of the severe answers he received from Christ. He
knew these were just, and he had learned to trust his Lord; and it
suddenly flashes upon him that, if only he could live quietly with
Jesus in such retirement as they then enjoyed, he would be a better
man. We have the same consciousness as Peter, that if ever we are
right-minded and disposed for good, and able to make sacrifices and
become a little heavenly; if ever we hate sin cordially--it is when
we are in the presence of Christ. If we find it as impossible as
Peter did to live retired from all conflict and intercourse with all
kinds of men; if, like Peter, we have to descend into a valley
ringing with demoniacs cries; if we are called upon to deal with the
world as it actually is--deformed, dehumanised by sin; is it nothing
that we can assure ourselves of the society and friendship of One who
means to remove all suffering and all sin, and who does so, not by a
violent act of authority, but by sympathy and patient love, so that
we can be His proper instruments, and in healing and helping others,
help and heal ourselves!





Next: INDISCREET IMPORTUNITY.

Previous: HOW TO BECOME LIKE CHRIST.



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