HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. –Matthew 17:1-2
Scenes on Mountains
How often the Bible brings us into mountain scenery. It was on a mountain that Abraham prepared to offer Isaac and that men received the law of Moses and from a mountainside the law of Christ. The bitterest conflict between Elijah and the prophets of Baal was on Mount Carmel. John was on a great mountain when he saw the new Jerusalem descend, and on a mountain occurred the transfiguration. Do you think that choice of place is but an accident? I do not think so. For always, in the grandeur of the mountaintop, lifting its masses silence-wards and heavenwards, have men perceived God’s choice environment for the highest hours of holiest souls. The dullest of us know the fuller life that stirs us on the hills. It is a fitting scene for the transfiguration.
The Transfiguration Was an Answer to Prayer
First, then, let us note that the transfiguration was an answer to prayer. Jesus took Peter and James and John, we read and went up into a mountain to pray and as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered (Luke 9:28-29). It may be we shall never grasp the mystery of the prayers of Jesus Christ. The simplest prayer you ever breathed raises a score of problems when you think about it, and these problems have multiplied a thousandfold when we are thinking about the prayers of our Redeemer. But the fact remains that Jesus prayed, intensely, passionately, resolutely, till the end; and if it is asked what He was praying for on this mountain, I think we may reverently give this reply. It was the thought of His sufferings that filled Him. It was the vision of His death that bowed Him down. Eight days before, Jesus had talked of that. He had told His disciples how He must suffer and die. And all the evangelists date this mountain scene from the memorable hour of that conversation. It was of His death, too, Moses and Elias spake. Now, these are hints of the inner life of Jesus. These are like far-off echoes of His cry. His hands were trembling as they grasped the cup. The shadow of the cross was on His soul. He went to the hill to agonise with God, and the transfiguration was the answer.
Thus, then, we reach the inner meaning of the scene. It was not a spectacle. It was not acted out for James and John. Its chief importance was at the heart of Jesus. Can we discover, then, its meaning for Christ? Can we see how it greatly strengthened Him for Calvary? That is to get to the marrow of the story. For the memory of this hour was music to Jesus, when all the daughters of music were brought low. It was song and strength to Him when He went forth to die.
Jesus Received a Fresh Assurance of His Father’s Love
Note first then, that the transfiguration gave to Jesus a fresh assurance of His Father’s love, for there came a voice out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son.” There are times when we are sorely tempted to doubt the love of God; and if our Redeemer was tempted in all points like as we are, this sore temptation must have fallen on Him. And the one week, in His three-and-thirty years, when it would light on Him with most tremendous power, would be the week before the transfiguration. Till then, Christ had been climbing upward, amid the welcomes of an eager people. From then, He was to journey downwards to the Cross of Calvary and to the grave. The tides were turned. The crisis had been reached. With terrible clearness, He realised His death. Oh, what a task, in the full sight of Calvary, still to believe in the changeless love of God! God saw God understood. God strengthened and established the human soul of Jesus. And from that hour–come agony, come death, Jesus is still the well-beloved Son.
His Agony: Misunderstood on Earth, But Understood in Heaven
Again, the transfiguration assured Jesus that if His agony was not understood on earth, it was fully understood in heaven. In His sufferings and in His death Jesus was never understood on earth. Men understood the wisdom of His speech. They saw the power of His deeds of healing. But His sufferings they could not understand. The thought of crucifixion was intolerable to the disciples. Even Peter, who loved his Master so, out of his love would have kept Him from the Cross. But Moses and Elias understood what Peter and James and John quite failed to see. They spoke of His decease (Luke 9:31). It was the theme of heaven whence they had come. There might be none to sympathise on earth; but the spirits of just men made perfect, in the home above, were following with unbounded love and wonder the progress of Jesus to the cross.
Assurance of the True Greatness of His Mission
Mark, too, that the transfiguration assured Jesus of the true greatness of His mission. We never doubt the greatness of that work. We now know the value of His life and death. The centuries are but a commentary on His power. Yet we sometimes wonder if, in the weary round of humble service, the greatness of His task was ever bedimmed for Jesus. We are amazed, as we read the Gospel story, at the seeming insignificance of many of the days and deeds of Christ. He lived in villages and companies with humble folk. He healed their sick; He preached to unlettered crowds. So day succeeded day, and the sun rose and set, and men could not see the splendour of His work. Was Jesus sometimes tempted to forget it too? If so, it was the very love of God that sent Moses and Elijah to the mount. For Moses and Elijah were the past. They were the spirits of the law and prophecy. And now the past hands on its work to Jesus. All that the law had vainly striven to do, and all that prophecy had seen afar, was to be crowned on Calvary. His, then, was no fragmentary life. It was the very crisis of the world. For all the past was centring in Him, and from Him, the future was to stretch away.
The Transfiguration Encouraged Jesus
And lastly, note how the transfiguration encouraged Jesus because it gave Him a foretaste of His glory. His sufferings were near; His death was near, but on the mount, Christ knew that heaven was nearer still. For the dazzling glow of heaven was on His face, and the saints of glory were standing by His side, and His Father’s voice was music in His ear. Not that heaven was ever unreal to Jesus; but in view of the intensity of coming sorrow, there must be an intense conviction of the joy beyond. It is this that was granted to Jesus on the mount. Is it not given to His children too? There is always the burning bush before the desert. There is ever the mountaintop before the garden. In the strength of the joy that is set before us, we endure the cross and despise the shame.