The Transfiguration

Scripture Reading: Matthew 17:1-8, 14-20

Three men, Peter, James and John, were with the Master when He was transfigured. All the disciples belonged to His personal family, but these three were taken into the inner circle and enjoyed closest intimacy with Him. On several occasions we find Him choosing the same three for special companionship. In the Garden of Gethsemane these three were chosen to be nearest to Him, that by their sympathy and tenderness they might strengthen Him and thus help Him to endure His sore agony. We know that the holiest will get nearest to Christ. Faith brings men near, while doubt and unbelief separate from Him. Purity of heart brings us close — the pure in heart shall see God. Likeness to Christ fits for close personal friendship. Jesus said that those who serve most self-forgetfully are first in His kingdom. Selfishness keeps us far off. It is a comfort to find that Peter, though a very faulty disciple was one of those who were admitted to closest friendship with Christ.

It is interesting to learn from Luke’s gospel (9:28-36) that Jesus was praying when this wonderful change in His appearance occurred. While He knelt before His Father, the change began to come on His face. It is recorded of certain saintly men that a like change has come upon them when they prayed. We learn thus that prayer has a transfiguring power. Communing with god brings heaven down into our life. It was after Moses had spent forty days on the mountain alone with God that the people saw the dazzling brightness on his face. So it was when Stephen was looking up into heaven, beholding the glory of God, that even his enemies saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel. Only the upward look can give heavenly beauty. Our communings make our character. If we think only of earthly things we shall grow earthly. If we dote on gold, our lives will harden into sordidness. If we look up toward God we shall grow like God. A life of prayer will transform us into spirituality and bring upon us the beauty of the Lord.

Not only was the face of Jesus transfigured, but His very garments shone. A writer suggests that the garments here may represent the circumstances and experiences of the Christian’s life. When one lives near Christ, everything that concerns him is transfigured — for example, care. Every life has its cares, its burdens, its anxieties, its experiences that would naturally fret and vex the spirit. Paul tells us that if we make known all our requests to God, the peace of God shall guard our hearts and our thoughts. The same is true of life’s toils and tasks. Many of us find life hard, with its incessant duty and drudgery. But when the secret of the Lord is in the heart, we can sing songs of joy even in the most wearisome way. The same is true of sorrow. Every life has sorrow. But if Christ is ours, we have comfort in sorrow. Thus all the garments of life — all life’s experiences and conditions — are brightened by peace in the heart.

While the disciples were awed by the shining on the face and garments of their Master, they became aware of the presence of heavenly visitors beside Him. “There appeared unto them Moses and Elijah talking with Him.” How they learned who these men were we are not told. Perhaps the Master told them afterward. This was something very wonderful. For more than nine hundred years Elijah had been in heaven and for more than fourteen hundred years Moses had been away from this world; both reappear here on the earth, still living, speaking and working. There are many proofs of immortality; here is an illustration — we see two men long centuries after they had lived on earth, still alive and busy in God’s service. It will be the same with us and our friends — thousands of years after we have vanished from earth we shall still be alive and active. This is a great thought. If we could only get it into our heart, how much grander it would make all life for us! We should then form our plans to cover thousands of years, not merely the little space which we now call time.

The transfiguration was not a purposeless incident in the story of Jesus. Evidently it was intended to prepare Him for what was before Him. It had just been made known to Him that He was to die at Jerusalem. He may not have been depressed — He may have known long before that He was going to the cross. Yet as He now set out on His last journey and saw the end, He needed encouragement and cheer, and it was for this that the transfiguration was given, with its embassy from heaven and its confirming voice. When we keep this purpose in mind the meaning of the several incidents become plain.

It is interesting, with this in mind, to think of the talk which these two men had with Jesus. It was about His decease, His exodus from this world, Luke tells us. They had been sent from heaven to comfort and strengthen Him as He set out on His journey to His cross. He would have bitter sorrows and great sufferings, and they came to speak their world of cheer before He entered the experience. No doubt, all the way unto the end, His heart was braver and stronger because of this visitation.

Peter could not keep quiet. Even heavenly glory did not silence him. When he became aware of the wonderful splendor which he was witnessing, he proposed to keep it on the earth and not allow it to depart. “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter was right — it was good to be there. But at this very moment work was waiting for Jesus at the mountain foot. There was a poor demoniac there whom the disciples could not cure. Then, farther off, were Gethsemane and Calvary for Jesus and for peter there was Pentecost, with years of earnest apostolic service, and then martyrdom. It is very sweet to commune with God in the closet, at the Lord’s Table, but we must not spend all of our time even in these holy exercises. While the raptures fill our soul we must not forget that outside human wants and needs are crying for help and sympathy. We may not build tabernacles and keep our heavenly visions; we must get the vision into our heart and then go out to be a blessing to the world.

Then came the other witnessing. Moses and Elijah had come to talk with Jesus about His death, and the blessed outcome it would have in human redemption. Then from heaven the Father speaks, witnessing to the Messiahship of Jesus. The disciples had been greatly startled by what Jesus had said a week before — that He must suffer and be killed. Their idea of the Messiah had been the kingly and earthly one. Their faith must have been strengthened by the words, “This is My beloved Son,” and by the command that they should listen to His voice and to His voice only. Even if they could not understand, and if the things He said seemed to destroy their hopes, they were content now to hear.

There are times when God’s ways with us seem mysterious, when we think disaster is coming to every fair prospect in our life. In all such hours we should remember that He who rules over all is the Son of God, our Friend and Savior, and our trust in Him never should fail. We should listen always quietly and submissively to what He says, and when everything seems strange and dark we should never doubt nor be afraid. What so staggered the disciples then concerning the Messiahship of Jesus we see now to have been the most glorious and loving wisdom. So in our strangest trials there are the truest wisdom and richest love. This voice came out of the cloud; out of the clouds that hang over us come the voices of most divine love.

When Jesus and the disciples came down next morning from the Mount of Transfiguration, they found the other disciples in trouble. In the Master’s absence and epileptic boy had been brought to them for healing. They tired to cure him, but failed. When Jesus appeared, the distressed father knelt before Him, pleading that He might have mercy on his son. He told his story in all its pathos — the boy’s grievous suffering and his bitter disappointment when the disciples could not cure him. Jesus listened with compassion and then said, “Bring him hither to Me.” A word from Him was enough — “The child was cured from that hour.”