THE TRANSFIGURATION.





"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!





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