Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Transfigured Before Them

Life of Christ 87

Mount Hermon
    The highest spot, and the only snow-capped mountain in all of Palestine is Mount Hermon. It was in this vicinity, north of Galilee, that Jesus has been traveling for the last week or so. In that week we have seen Peter's sublime confession of faith, the founding of the Church on that confession, Jesus' announcement about His coming death and resurrection, as well as the very first church service. Jesus and His Apostles continued for the rest of the week in the same general area winding up somewhere along the top of the mountain. It was here that the signal event known as the Transfiguration would take place (Mark 9.1-8).
          The Transfiguration was an unveiling or an uncovering of Jesus' flesh (Hebrews 10.20), and a revelation of Jesus as He really was, Almighty God and King of Kings (Matthew 16.28). The Transfiguration allowed Peter, James, and John, the only three of the Apostles allowed to come along for this event, a peak behind that veil. In the process Jesus shone. There is no other word for it. In this it reminds me of Moses' time on Mount Sinai when his face shone with the reflected glory of being with God for a month. It reminds me of the presence of God that hovered like a shining cloud above the Tabernacle, that which we commonly call the Shekinah Glory. In this it especially reminds me of Heaven, and of the fact that there is 'no need of the sun' for 'the Lamb is the light thereof' (Revelation 21.23).
W. Graham Scroggie
          Accompanying Jesus in this majestic Transfiguration were Moses and Elijah. The three stood together and talked. Their conversation revolved around the soon coming atoning death of Christ (Luke 9.30-31). I have a wonderful old book in my office called 'The Unfolding Drama of Redemption' by W. Graham Scroggie, a graduate of Spurgeon's college who would later pastor that great church during World War Two. In it, Scroggie takes the reader from one end of the Bible to the other, watching, as acts in a play, the events unfold that point toward Christ. I believe that the Old Testament saints in Heaven did exactly that, and Moses and Elijah had a wonderful opportunity to leave the audience and actually converse with the starring actor in the play just prior to the key scene. No wonder they spoke of the atonement!
          Peter, the mouth of the Apostles, seems driven to always speak his mind. 'Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias' (Mark 9.5). In my opinion, Peter was here referencing the temporary booths the Jews built each year during the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast pictured Israel's past exodus out of Egypt, and her future exodus in triumph into the millennial kingdom. Peter, perhaps, grasped that what he was witnessing in the Transfiguration was a revealing of Christ's glory such as will be seen in the Kingdom, and with Moses and Elijah returned from Heaven I think that he thought the Kingdom had come. Whether he understood that or not, he clearly and instinctively still wanted the Jesus on a throne rather than the Jesus on a cross. In fact, he had made that exact argument earlier in the week when Jesus spoke of His atoning death.
          So much of the Christianity of today is precisely the same. They say, 'it is good for us to be here', in the brightness and glory of the kingdom, but when the valley of the shadow of death comes all too often the response is, 'not so, Lord'. But the truth is that you don't get the blessing of the former until you first go through the agony of the latter. It is now cross bearing time. Later, we'll exchange our cross for a crown.
          As this scene in the drama of redemption draws to a close a cloud arrived, and a voice out of the cloud announced 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him' (Matthew 17.5). This is, of course, similar to Jesus' baptism. The first direct announcement was at the conclusion of Jesus' private life and at His entrance into public ministry. The second announcement was at the conclusion of Jesus' offering of Himself to Israel, and comes in conjunction with the rejection that happens in Matthew 12, the transition of the kingdom and the parables in Matthew 13, the founding of the Church in Matthew 16, and the direct turn toward the atonement. Additionally, this announcement marks not only a hinge pivot point in the life of Christ, but it also marks His Deity and His moral perfection as well, and it calls us, most of all, to listen to Him.
       While we have already seen some applications along the way there is one in particular I wish to emphasize here. 'And after six days Jesus taketh with him Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them' (Mark 9.2). Jesus' Transfiguration, unlike His Baptism, wasn't for the public. It was for the inner circle of His Apostles.
          We are at the point of Jesus' ministry in which He is primarily spending His time ministering to the Apostles, and preparing them for His absence and to be the human foundation of the Church. In the next few months they will face the pressure and sadness of Israel's ultimate rejection of Christ, the horror of His crucifixion, and the loss of His physical presence permanently. With the Transfiguration He was able to get across to His three key men such a deep rooted sense of His own glory and divinity as to stay with them for the rest of their lives.
          For instance, John mentioned it years later. 'And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth' (John 1.14). Peter refers to it as well, and even more explicitly in the context of a strengthened faith. 'For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount' (II Peter 1.16-18).
          In other words, via the Transfiguration, Jesus was carefully storing up what they would need for the days ahead. Here is the lesson: He is careful to do the same for us.
          He does this in two ways. First, He does it by providing us with the Word of God. After specifically mentioning the Transfiguration as a faith strengthener, Peter goes on to reference the Scriptures themselves in the next verse. 'We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well to take heed' (II Peter 1.19). What a sweetly precious truth Peter give us here. What could possibly be a more sure foundation for our faith than to see Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in one spot, with Jesus' essentially divine glory shining through? Yes, you guessed it; the Bible we sling onto the dashboard of our car so carelessly on the way back and forth to church. The Word of God contains sufficient provision for our soul and spirit this side of Heaven. Contrary to what our charismatic friends would have us believe, we don't need extra-biblical dreams and visions and words of knowledge. We have all we need in the Scriptures.
          The second way God so graciously stores up for us what we need is by providing encouragement for the future. God is already in our future. He is, after all, El Olam, the everlasting God. He never began and He will never end. He lives outside of time. Thus, He knows that in the tough times to come we will need memories of His previous goodness. We see this well-illustrated in the 77th and 42nd Psalms:

Psalm 77.7  Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?
8  Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?
9  Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.
10  And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.
11  I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.

Psalm 42.6 O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.

          When I find myself, for instance, in need of God's provision, and it looks like nothing good is happening, I remind myself of God's goodness to me in the past. I remind myself of the time God gave me a good job at a steel mill at the last possible moment as a freshman in Bible college. I remind myself of how often, as a struggling young pastor with a new wife and a baby son, I found a bag of groceries on the front seat of my car after church. I remind myself of the time I had just enough gas to get to church for soul winning one Saturday and no money to buy any more, and somebody handed me an envelope with $200 inside. 'I will remember.'
          James and Peter would, years later, die martyrs' deaths. John would, as an old man, undergo an attempt on his life. In between the mountain top experience of the Transfiguration and these martyrdoms would come a veritable plethora of persecution, pressure, loneliness, burden, and rejection that comes with ministry to the lost and the saved. They would need the memory of a singularly bright shining day in the past, on top of the world, where they saw Jesus for Who He really was.
          God knows what you need for what you face in the future. And so He's given you the Word of God and the memories of tremendous evidences of Himself in your past to succor you in that time of need.

          He's a good God, isn't He?   

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