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The Transfiguration of Jesus. (Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36.)
This mysterious event was intended primarily to confirm the faith of the three apostles who were to have the chief hand in founding the Church. The Lord had just announced his future sufferings and death. This prediction had been a grievous blow to Peter, and doubtless to the others also. He had stumbled at the cross, and had brought on himself a stern rebuke for his slowness and worldliness. So to comfort the chosen three under the thought of what awaited their Master, they were shown a glimpse of the glory which he has in heaven; they saw the Law and the prophets yielding subjection to him; they heard the voice of the Father announcing his Sonship. Henceforward they might take courage under all circumstances; the cross would be no infamy or disgrace—would open the way to victory and glory. Here was a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven—to be with Christ and his saints in his kingdom. Such was the Transfiguration to the three witnesses. To the world, when in due time it was made known, it taught lessons of the Incarnation, the resurrection of the body, the glory that shall be the portion of the righteous. For Christ himself it was the culminating point of his earthly life, "the solemn installation of our Lord to his sufferings and their result" (Alford).
After six days. St. Luke says, "about an eight days after these sayings," either speaking indefinitely, or using the inclusive method of reckoning which we find in the recounts of our Lord's resurrection. The days are counted from the time of Peter's confession and Christ's subsequent announcement. The little company were still in the neighbourhood of Caesarea Philippi, though we know not exactly in what place, and nothing is told of the events of this week. The memorable day may be specially noticed as being the same day of the week as that on which the great confession was made in the previous se'nnight; or, if we regard the typical bearing of numbers in Scripture, the six days signify the world and daily labour, the seventh, "after six days," typifies heaven and rest. Peter, James, and John. These three, the chosen of the chosen, had already witnessed Christ's power over death in the chamber of Jairus's daughter; later they were present at the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. They who had seen his glory were strengthened to behold his sweat of blood. These men formed the inner circle of his friends; to them he gave the privilege of knowing more of his inner life and nature. They were selected for various reasons—Peter, for his energy, zeal, and love, and the part he was to play in the founding of the Church; John, because he was beloved by Christ, and was to be the recipient of Divine revelation; James, because he was to be the head of the Church of Jerusalem, and soon to drink of Christ's cup and war a good warfare. The James here named is the son of Zebedee, and brother of John, and was put to death by Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:1-25.). An high mountain. The only tradition concerning the locality of the Transfiguration (which none of the inspired narratives further identifies) affixes it to Mount Tabor, the beautiful isolated mountain, which rises some eighteen hundred feet on the northeast of the Plain of Esdraelon. This tradition, as far as we know, was first published in the fourth century A.D, by St. Cyril of Jerusalem ('Catech.,' 12.16) and St. Jerome, and thence was generally adopted and upheld till the sixteenth century, both by commentators and travellers. Since then more accurate examination and historical criticism have thrown grave doubts on this identification. The summit of Tabor has from a very early age been occupied by habitations. It is spoken of in 1 Chronicles 6:77 as including in its limits a city and its suburbs. Later it was strongly fortified, and the whole area was surrounded with a wall, of which the ruins can still be traced. In our Lord's time the town and the fortress covered the level portion of the hill, and there would have been no place of retirement where he could have withdrawn apart for the purpose of the vision. There is another reason that makes Tabor unlikely to have been the scene of the Transfiguration. The last geographical notice left our Lord and his disciples outside Galilee in the neighbourhood of Paneas. It was about a three days' journey thence to Esdraelon; but no mention is made of any such movement during this week, and it is after the Transfiguration that the synoptists intimate that the return to Galilee took place. We must therefore surrender the old tradition, and look in the vicinity of Caesarea for the high mountain of our narrative. There was no lack of such in that region, and it was doubtless on one of the offshoots of Hermon that the glorious vision was vouchsafed, though more precise identification is impossible. Hermon itself is called by the Arabs Jebel-esh-Sheikh, "The Chief Mountain," and the way in which the locality is introduced in the narrative, without further specification, seems to point to some eminence of the most obvious and best known hill of the district. St. Peter, when in after years he alluded to it, called it merely "the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:18); and we may conclude that we are not intended to know more about it, lest we should be tempted to make more of the material circumstances than of the great reality. St. Luke notifies that the Lord retired to this place in order to pray. It may have been that he prayed for the enlightemnent of the apostles—that they might receive the teaching of the Transfiguration and the subsequent sayings.
Was transfigured (μετεμορφωìθη); Vulgate, transfiguratus est. The verb is used in classical Greek of transformation, as of a man into an animal. Here it refers to a change of countenance, which is the chief index of any change exterior or interior. St. Luke explains the matter with the words, "The fashion of his countenance was altered." The Word of God allows for a brief space his essential glory to irradiate and shine through the form of a servant which he wore. Not that he showed his Divine nature, or laid aside his human body; his bodily nature remained in its entirety, but permeating it was an effulgence which indicated the Godhead. Perhaps it might be said, as an old writer puts it, that the Transfiguration was less a new miracle than the temporary cessation of an habitual miracle; for the veiling of his glory was the real marvel, the Divine restraint which prohibited the illumination of his sacred humanity. Before them. In their presence. Jesus probably had withdrawn in order to pray in secret, but returned to the waiting three, that they might behold his glory—be "eyewitnesses of his majesty," as St. Peter says (2 Peter 1:16). These, indeed, had been heavy with sleep (Luke), but had awoke at his appearance, and beheld the vision in full possession of their senses. St. Matthew mentions specially two points in this transfiguration. His face did shine as the sun. This recalls the appearance of the Son of man in Revelation 1:16, "His countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength." And his raiment was white as the light. The light which emanated from his body shone through and glorified his very garments. The Vulgate has sicut nix, and χιωÌν is read in some few manuscripts in place of φῶς: but the word is doubtless introduced here from St. Mark (where, however, it is of doubtful genuineness). If this second evangelist received his account from St. Peter, we recognize the simile in the apostle's remembrance of the snow clad peak of Hermon, in whose vicinity the event transpired. No candid reader can fail to acknowledge that it is no subjective vision that is here narrated, no merely inward impression on brain or nerve with nothing external to correspond, but a real, objective occurrence, which was beheld by mortal eyes endued with no supernatural or abnormal powers, except in so far as they were enabled to look on this partial emanation of the Divine effulgence.
And, behold. The exclamation, thrice repeated (Matthew 17:5), marks the suddenness and unexpectedness of the occurrence. They who now appeared were no delusive, imaginary figures, but real personages, objectively presented to the spectators, in such bodies as appertained to their condition. Moses and Elias. St. Luke adds, "who appeared in glory," radiant with the light which always accompanies heavenly visitors. Why these two saints were chosen to be present on this momentous occasion may be explained by various considerations. Both these worthies experienced something unparalleled in their departure from this life. Elijah was taken up to heaven without dying; Moses died, indeed, but he was buried by God in an unknown grave, and his body was under the especial care of Michael the archangel (see Jud Luke 1:9), and we know not that it saw corruption. From the unseen world these were brought to do homage to the Messiah—Moses, a type of those blessed spirits who in Paradise await the final consummation, Elijah, a type of the saints who, after the resurrection, perfect in soul and body, shall enter into glory. Here were the representatives of the Law and the prophets, the principal supporters of the old covenant, honouring him who was introducing the new covenant, which was to fulfil and supersede the previous one. Spurious, degraded Judaism rejected Christ's claims; real, orthodox Judaism acknowledged him and reverenced him as the Christ foretold and fort, shadowed, "of whom Moses and the prophets did write" (John 1:45). Now, too, it was made manifest that Jesus was not Elias or one of the prophets, as some erroneously had supposed, but different from and superior to all; that he had power over life and death, and could bring whom he would from the unseen World; that the cross and Passion were not degrading, or proofs of weakness, but glorious and triumphant accomplishments of the will or God. The question is asked—How did Peter and the rest recognize the two heavenly visitants? There may have been something conventional in their garb or appearance, which at once identified them; or the apostles may have known them by spiritual intuition or special revelation; or they may have gathered their knowledge from the conversation which they overheard. Anyhow, it was necessary that the two should be recognized, otherwise their appearance would have lost its significance, and the confirmation which they were intended to afford would fail to be given. Is there here an intimation that in heaven the blessed will know each other, though they never met in the flesh—shall know even as they have been known? Talking with him. St. Luke tells us the subject of this mysterious dialogue—they "spoke of his decease (ἐìξοδον, exodus, departure) which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem." They conversed, not of the glory which was his before the world began, nor of the kingdom which he came to establish, but of his coming suffering and death, with their tremendous issues. At the very moment of this revelation of Divinity, the discourse is of humiliation and the cross. The apostles had been slow to understand the future that awaited their Master; here the great saints of the covenant bore their testimony to Christ's fulfilment of what had been prophesied and shadowed aforehand, how by the sufferings of his sacred humanity eternal glory should be won. So might the apostles be strengthened to look forward without apprehension or weak shrinking; for through the grave and gate of death lay the road to a joyful resurrection and celestial happiness.
Then answered Peter. According to St. Luke, it was when the two Divine prophets were disappearing, or were being withdrawn from sight, that Peter spoke. Bewildered, overcome with joy and astonishment, not knowing what to say (Mark), yet in his excitement and ardour unable to keep silence, he cries to Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here; perhaps equivalent to to remain here. He includes Moses and Elias in his eager exclamation. Some commentators confine the reference to the three apostles, as if Peter meant that it was "good" that they were present in order to prepare the necessary habitations. This seems meagre and insufficient. Here were peace, seclusion, safety: might they not last? Was there any need to quit this hallowed spot at once, and lose the heavenly company with which it was blessed? If thou wilt. Even at this supreme moment, he will not set his will in opposition to his Master's. Let us make (I will make, Revised Version) here three tabernacles (σκηναìς). Booths, of branches and grass, such as were used by travellers camping out, or such as the people erected when celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. He speaks of but three shelters, regarding only Jesus and the two prophets, and considering himself and his fellow disciples as mere servitors and attendants, for whom no such provision was needed. In his confusion he thinks that if these three remain, they must have some kind of habitation. Like a child, he would fain prolong indefinitely the joy of this great vision; and with a Jew's hankering for a conquering Messiah and the permanence of the old covenant, he desired that from that secure mountain top the laws of the kingdom might be issued, and all men might acknowledge the Christ attended and supported by the great lawgiver and prophet. Was there not also a latent hope that thus might be deferred or laid aside that departure to Jerusalem, with its calamitous consequences? But this was not to be. No answer was vouchsafed to Peter's thoughtless request.
A bright cloud overshadowed them. The cloud spread over and around, not Jesus only and the other two, but in some degree over the apostles also, as St. Luke adds, "They feared as they entered into the cloud." It was the Shechinah, the token of the presence of the Most High, who dwelleth in the unapproachable light. It enshrouded Jesus and his two companions, so that mortal eye could not pierce it or even look upon it; but the apostles, who were outside its immediate contact, were in some sort included in its influence, so that it could be said to overshadow them. St. Peter calls it "the excellent glory (τῆς μεγαλοπρεποῦς δοìξης)" (2 Peter 1:17). The cloud from which on Sinai the old Law was given, was dark and threatening (Exodus 19:18; Exodus 20:21); this was bright, coming not to terrify, but to teach and to bless. Here is seen the contrast between the two dispensations, the Law and the gospel (comp. Hebrews 12:18-24). A voice out of the cloud. It was the voice of God the Father, for he called Jesus, My beloved Son. The same voice, saying the same words, had been heard over the waters of Jordan when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17); it spake once again just before his Passion (John 12:28); at all times witnessing the Father's love and the perfect Divinity of Christ. Now, as before, the Holy Trinity was revealed, the Father speaking with audible voice, the Son standing in radiant light, the Holy Spirit present with the intense brightness of the enveloping cloud. The words heard are fontal in the earlier Scriptures. Thus in Isaiah 42:1 we read, "Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen in whom my soul delighteth;" and in Psalms 2:7, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Hear ye him. Not Moses and Elias, but Jesus, the Mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6). "This voice," St. Peter testifies, "we ourselves heard come out of heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount" (2 Peter 1:18). As Edersheim remarks, even if this Epistle is not St. Peter's, it still would represent the most ancient tradition. "God, having of old spoken unto the fathers in the prophets, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son" (Hebrews 1:1). The command to hear him recalls the saying of Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), that in good time God would raise up from Israel a Prophet like unto himself, and that unto him they shall hearken.
Were sore afraid. The vision and the voice overcame them with awe and terror. They fell on their face. They tried to shut out the awful radiance that blinded them. Man's weakness could endure no more; prostrate, paralyzed with fear, they lay on the ground. Who could see God, and live? Had they not seen his glory, and heard his voice? What could they do but crouch in abject terror? Thus they knew not that the scene was over, that the tremendous glimpse of unseen realities vouchsafed to them had passed away.
Came and touched them. Jesus gently and lovingly aroused them from their stupor, showing that he was near, and that they had nothing to dread (comp. Isaiah 6:5-7; Daniel 10:8-10; Revelation 1:17). He adds the assurance of his own beloved and well known voice, Arise, and be not afraid. Such comfort he gave to the affrighted disciples when he came to them treading on the waters of the storm-tossed sea (Matthew 14:27).
No man, save Jesus only. Moses and Elias had vanished, Jesus was left alone, and the voice Divine said, "Hear him." When at Christ's touch and word the awestruck apostles dared once more to look around and to bethink themselves of what had passed, those were the facts of which they were conscious. The Law and the prophets, types and predictions, are fulfilled in Christ, and are so far superseded. The former were temporary, introductory to the gospel, which is to last forever. Many have seen in the Transfiguration an image and earnest of the future glory of the dead in Christ, when the vile body shall be changed into the likeness of Christ's glorious body, and they shall shine as the sun, and bear the image of the heavenly. So St. Gregory, "He is clothed with light as with a garment, because in that eternal glory he will be clothed with all the saints, to whom it is said, 'Ye are the light of the world.' Whence also it is said by the evangelist, that when the Lord was transfigured in the mountain, his raiment became as snow. In which Transfiguration what else is announced but the glory of the final resurrection? For in the mountain his raiment became as snow, because in the height of heavenly brightness all saints will be joined to him, refulgent with the light of righteousness" ('Moral.,' 32.6). Unbelief has endeavoured to throw discredit on the historical accuracy of the accounts of this great event. It was a dream, an atmospheric disturbance, an unusual play of light and shade, a myth, an allegory; the two heavenly visitants were two unknown disciples with whom Jesus conversed; the three apostles were rapt in a trance, and the vision was purely subjective; these and such like theories have been started by rationalists and enemies of the supernatural, and even by the partially orthodox, as Tertullian. There can be no doubt that the evangelists and the Apostle Peter regarded the event as an objective reality, upon which hung momentous truths; and we are content to let it stand or fall with the rest of the facts of the gospel narrative. There is no reason to separate it from the other items of the story. When once the stupendous miracle of the Incarnation is allowed, other wonders follow in natural sequence.
As they came down from the mountain. The Transfiguration is supposed to have taken place at night, and the following conversation to have passed in the early morning of the next day. Tell the vision (τοÌ ὁìραμα, what bad been seen) to no man. This was a strict and formal command. The chosen three were at present not to mention the occurrence to anyone, not even to their fellow disciples. Possibly these would hardly have believed the marvellous tale, and their unbelief would have hardened their heart; or, if they fully credited it, they might have been jealous of the preference shown to some of their company. At any rate, neither they nor others were prepared to receive the great lesson of the scene—that the old covenant had done its work, that the Law and the prophets were superseded and must make way for the new dispensation. Had the story been divulged to the people generally, they would have stumbled at the cross and Passion, which would seem no fitting sequel to this glory (see on Matthew 16:20). Until the Son of man be risen again (ἀναστῇ) from the dead. When this great event happened and was known to be the fact, there could be no doubt that Christ was God, and the tale of the Transfiguration would no longer be incredible. Thomas's confession, "My Lord and my God," would be echoed in the heart and conscience of all disciples. St. Luke, though he does not mention Christ's injunction, notifies that it was carefully observed, "They kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen." (These last words, οὐδεÌν ὦν ἑωìρακαν, explain what St. Matthew above calls "the vision," τοÌ ὁìραμα, the objective spectacle.) The compliance with the injunction shows that they understood something of the spiritual nature of the transaction. We may also note that the prohibition itself is presumptive evidence against the supposed mythical character of the vision.
Why then (οὖν) say the scribes that Elias must first come? The illative particle "then" shows that the apostles' question arose from something immediately preceding. The connection seems to be this: Elias had just appeared and then had vanished again; how could this visitation be reconciled with the scribes' interpretation of Malachi's prophecy? If Elias was to come before the advent of Messiah, and Jesus is the Messiah, how is it that he has only now shown himself? If he has a work to do on earth, how could he do that when his sojourn was limited to a few minutes' duration, and to the view of so few witnesses? Malachi had spoken of the Messenger who was to precede and prepare the way for Messiah; he had said, "Before the great day of the Lord, I will send you Elijah the prophet" (Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5); and the learned among the Jews interpreted these two passages of his appearance in person to herald the approach of Messiah. Hence the perplexity of the apostles, they, like the scribes, not distinguishing the two advents of Christ, and the double allusion in the prophet's announcement—the "Messenger" in Matthew 3:1 being a different personage from "Elias" in Matthew 4:5, though of the same power and spirit. Christ explains the difficulty in the two next verses.
Elias truly shall first come (ἐìρχεται, cometh). Many of the best manuscripts and editions omit "first." The Vulgate has merely, Elias quidem venturus est. It is probably inserted in our text from the parallel passage in Mark, where it is certainly genuine. Christ is here alluding to his own second coming, which shall be preceded by the appearance of Elijah in person. This seems to be the plain meaning of the prophecy in Malachi, and of Christ's announcement, and is confirmed by St. John's statement concerning the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3, Revelation 11:6). That the paragraph cannot refer to John the Baptist is plain from the tenses used in this verse contrasted with those in the following. To regard verse 12 as simply a correction of verse 10 is to do violence to language, and to leave one half of Malachi's prediction unexplained. Restore (ἀποκατασηìσει) all things. The event is still future, and was not fulfilled in the Baptist's preaching, however deep and extensive may have been its influence. Of course, John in a partial degree reproduced the character and acts of Elijah, directing the people to the eternal principles of justice and righteousness, to a reformation of religion and morals; but he could not be said to have reconstituted, re-established all things; though it is possible that, had his message been received and acted upon, some such effects would have been produced. How and in what degree Elijah, again appearing and living on earth, will effect this great achievement, we know not. We can only fall back on the ancient prophecy, which affirms that "he shall turn the heart of the fathers to [or, 'with'] the children, and the heart of the children to [or, 'and'] their fathers" (Malachi 4:6), and expect that in some way, known unto God, he shall convert one and all, young and old, unto the Lord; or unite the Jews who are the fathers in the faith to Christians who are their children, and thus embrace Jew and Gentile in one fold under one Shepherd.
Elias is come already. The mystical, not the real, Elias, even John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elias (Luke 1:17). Christ is here speaking of the past, as in the preceding verse he spake of the future. The common Jewish interpretation confused the two events and the two personages, reducing them to one. And this mistake has been committed by many modern expositors. They knew him not. They did not recognize his true character and the import of his mission. Though they gathered round him and listened to his preaching and denunciations, very few saw in him the precursor of the Messiah, and many, misunderstanding his austere, self-denying life, deemed him to be possessed by a devil (Matthew 11:18). They have done unto him. John suffered a long imprisonment, and was eventually murdered; and though Herod was primarily answerable for these doings, the people were virtually guilty, in that they consented to the injurious treatment and made no effort in his favour. Likewise … also. Taking occasion from the mention of the Baptist's fate, Jesus foretells his own sufferings and death, endeavouring to make the apostles familiar with the idea of a dying as well as a conquering Messiah.
Then the disciples understood. Though Jesus had said publicly concerning John, "This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face," and, "This is Elias which was for to come" (Matthew 11:10, Matthew 11:14); and though the angel Gabriel, in announcing his birth, had avowed that he should "go before the Christ in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17), the apostles hitherto had not taken to heart the truth thus conveyed. Indeed, it was something quite new that they should thus at once apprehend Christ's meaning, so slow were they of faith, so unintelligent in appreciating the full signification of their Master's instructions.
Healing of the demoniac boy. (Mark 9:16-29; Luke 9:37-42.) The account of the miracle is much curtailed in our Gospel; the fullest narrative is given by St. Mark, to whom we must refer for the complete details.
When they were come to the multitude. St. Luke says this arrival was on "the next day" after the Transfiguration. If this event took place at night, the following morning will be meant. The contrast between the scene on the mountain and that presented by the demoniac below has been seized by Raphael, in his picture of the Transfiguration, at Rome—the last great work that he painted. The upper part of this picture represents Jesus radiant in glory with the heavenly visitants, while the lower panel shows the agonized father, surrounded by the unbelieving crowd, bringing his tortured son to the apostles, who stand helpless and discredited. The painter has, indeed, sacrificed fact to dramatic effect (as the two events were not synchronous); but the lesson enforced thereby is most impressive, and lays holds of the imagination, showing different phases of the life of Christ, and the realms of light and darkness. There came to him a certain man. Things had not gone well while Jesus and the three chief apostles were away on the mount. As during the absence of Moses at Sinai the people had fallen into idolatry (Exodus 32:1-35.), so now, when their Master and their leaders were withdrawn, the nine apostles bad faltered in faith and failed in exercising the miraculous powers bestowed upon them. Kneeling down to him. Directly the father saw Christ coming, he disengaged himself from the crowd and ran to meet him.
This verse in the Vulgate is contained in Matthew 17:14. Have mercy on my son. According to St. Luke, the father makes his plea more touching by adding that he was his only son—an appeal to which the Saviour's tender heart was always open, as when he stopped the bier at Nain, and said to the childless widow, "Weep not." He is lunatic (σεληνιαìξεται). The Revised Version most unnecessarily renders the verb, he is epileptic. Doubtless the case in many respects simulated epilepsy, and might have been so described; but it seems inexpedient to conceal the actual word used, which gave the popular and probably correct view of one phase of the complaint. Surely a real fact well known to medical science underlies the term lunacy, in the catalogue of the diseased persons who were brought to Christ to be healed (Matthew 4:24), we find a class called lunatics, distinct from the paralytic and possessed. It is by no means an exploded fallacy that the moon has some mysterious influence on certain constitutions, and produces an aggravation of symptoms in accordance with some of its changes. It was from observation of this phenomenon that this form of insanity was termed seleniasmus or lunacy. In the present instance the disease was complicated and of no ordinary nature. The other synoptists state that the child was possessed by a demon. This was the fact which differentiated the malady from any merely organic sickness. It was in truth epilepsy accompanied by or occasioned by demoniacal possession. St. Matthew does not mention the possession in his introductory account, but he afterwards (verse 18) speaks of the demon departing. Sore vexed (κακῶς παìσχει); is in evil case; suffers grievously. He was affected with terrible paroxysms, which are detailed more at length by Mark and Luke. Matthew narrates some of the effects of the mania upon the victim. Ofttimes he falleth into the fire. The fits, coming on suddenly and without warning, brought the sufferer into imminent dangers, perhaps produced suicidal tendencies, which urged him to destroy himself.
I brought him to thy disciples. He had come with the multitude, hoping to find Jesus, and, being disappointed, he had applied to the nine to relieve his misery. When the apostles were sent forth with commission to heal the sick, they returned with joy to report the success of their tour: they cast forth many devils; they noted with glad surprise that the very demons were subject to them in the Name of Jesus (Matthew 10:1; Luke 10:17). It was different now. They could not cure him. What means they used we know not; at any rate, they were ineffectual. The writers who record the failure must be allowed to be truthful and honest. There had been much to depress these disciples. Their Master was absent, gone they knew not whither; how long he would be away they could not tell; the boldest and most trusted of their company were no longer present to cheer them with sympathy, to repel attacks, to stand forth as champions. The scribes' uncompromising disbelief (Mark 9:16) had for the moment obscured their own perfect trust; the atmosphere of infidelity had affected their own breathing; the memory of Christ's words concerning his Passion and death recurred again with dispiriting effect, infusing doubt and disquiet; they bad for the time lost the ardour and confidence which had animated them in their first mission; retaining belief in Christ's claims, they felt a hesitation concerning their own ability; and the conscious weakness in their exorcism nullified its power, and they could do no mighty work.
Jesus answered. Jesus did not directly respond to the father's appeal, nor repel the Pharisees'scoffs. In sorrow and indignation he goes at once to the root of the evil. O faithless and perverse generation! He seems to include in this denunciation all who were present—the father, scribes, people, apostles, especially the nine. Want of faith appertained to all. He often refers to the general body of his bearers by the term generation (comp. Matthew 11:16; Matthew 12:29, etc.). Perverse. The word is used by Moses in his great song in reference to those who dealt corruptly; here it applies to persons who took a distorted view of Christ's work and teaching, and against light and knowledge obstinately persisted in their infidelity. How long shall I be with you?… suffer you? The sad question is not that of one who wants his work finished and his time of departure hastened; rather, it shows his sorrow and regret at the slowness of faith, the hardness of heart, which yet, notwithstanding all his teaching and his miracles, had not been overcome. How much longer was this to continue? Was this forgetfulness of the past, this dulness of comprehension, to last forever? Did they wish to wear out his long suffering, to exhaust his condescension? With Divine impatience at man's obduracy, he makes this mournful inquiry. Bring (φεìρετε, bring ye) him hither to me. He speaks to the attendants or the crowd, and bids them bring the boy to him, not to the disciples. The prophet's staff in Gehazi's hand could not awake the dead; Elisha himself must undertake the work (2 Kings 4:31); so if the desired miracle had to he performed, Christ himself must do it. In spite of his grief and disappointment, he does not withhold relief, in the midst of wrath he remembers mercy.
Jesus rebuked the devil (αὐτῷ, him). Some take the pronoun as masculine, and refer it to the diseased boy; but it is more natural that the rebuke should be addressed to the possessing demon. This is the first place where St. Matthew mentions the spiritual aspect of the malady. As the child was being brought to Jesus, a terrible scene ensued, which is described with its horrific details by St. Mark, who also gives Christ's conversation with the father, whereby he desired to arouse faith in his heart, and to draw that assurance from him which could not be obtained from the irresponsible sufferer. He departed out of him. In contrast to the faltering exorcism of the apostles, which the devil had disregarded, Jesus orders with the calmness of assured authority, and is at once obeyed. After a final act of defeated malice, the demon quitted his hold of the child. Was cured from that very hour. Never more to fall under the devil's influence, restored wholly in body and mind. There is something very mysterious in the sufferings of this poor boy, as there is in those of infants. It is plain that the description, "epileptic mania," will not connote all the features of this case. The evangelists' narrative and Christ's words and actions conclusively prove that it had a demoniacal element, and that this was miraculously eliminated. For epilepsy, I believe, no cure is known. The suddenness and the permanence (Mark 9:25) of the relief further demonstrate the reality of the miracle. We learn also from this incident that all possessed persons were not morally evil, that often the possession appertained to the physical and psychical nature, and had no ethical relation.
Apart (κατ ἰδιìαν). Jesus had retired to a house (Mark) when the disciples came to him. The question which they desired to ask was one that could not he investigated in the presence of the sneering, unbelieving crowd. Why could not we (ἡμεῖς, emphatic) cast him (αὐροÌ, it) out? They had keenly felt their impotence and failure, so publicly and distressingly displayed, especially as they had received power to eject demons, and had successfully exercised this authority (Luke 10:17). The Lord's rebuke (Matthew 17:17) had passed over their heads, and not been understood as applicable to themselves. So it was with some bitterness that they asked the question. The nine had not been permitted to witness the Transfiguration; they were not even to be made acquainted with this wondrous transaction at present. More preparation, greater receptivity, was required, before they were fit to be admitted to the full mysteries of the kingdom. They had still much to learn, were still only pupils, and their late failure was permitted in order to help them to attain to self-knowledge and more entire self-surrender.
Because of your unbelief. The Revised Version adopts the reading, little faith, in accordance with the best authorities; but it looks like a softening of the original term "unbelief," which corresponds better with Christ's own censure, "faithless generation." Jesus gives two reasons for the apostles' failure, one connected with their own moral condition, and one (Matthew 17:21) derived from the nature of the demons exorcised. They had, indeed, shown some faith by making even the attempt at the expulsion of the devil, and were not to be classed with the unbelieving scribes; but they had acted in a half-hearted manner, and had not displayed that perfect confidence and trust which alone can win success and make all things possible. Verily I say unto you. The Lord proceeds to give that lesson concerning perfect faith and its results, which he afterwards repeated in connection with the withered fig tree (Matthew 21:21, where see note) and elsewhere (Luke 17:6). If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, which, as he says (Matthew 13:32), "is less than all seeds." He means a faith real and trustful, though it be small and weak. The phrase is proverbial, expressive of littleness and insignificance. The mustard seed is quite little, but, grown in favourable soil and under sunny skies, it becomes, as it were, a tree among herbs, so that birds may nestle in its branches. To it faith is compared, because, small at first, it contains within itself power of large development and increase; from minute grains copious results are produced. Ye shall say unto this mountain. He points to the hill of Hermon, where the Transfiguration had taken place. Remove hence. It is usual to consider the expression here as an Eastern hyperbole, not to be taken literally, but meaning merely that the greatest difficulties may be overcome by faith. This may be true, but it seems hardly adequate to the explanation of our Lord's emphatic words. St. Paul writes in a similar strain (1 Corinthians 13:2), "If I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains;" where there is nothing necessarily hyperbolical in the supposition. It seems rather that Jesus meant his words to be received literally, implying that if such a removal as he mentioned was ever expedient and in accordance with God's will, it would be effected by the power of faith; not that he hereby sanctioned an arbitrary and wanton display of miraculous power, but he gives an assurance that, were such a measure rendered necessary for the cause of religion, it would be performable at the call of one whose whole trust was centred on God, and whose will was one with God's will. Mediaeval writers, followed by later Roman Catholic commentators, give instances of such stupendous effects of faith. The evidence of such miracles is, of course, defective, and would not satisfy modern criticism, but the existence of such legends proves that a literal view was taken of our Lord's saying. Nothing shall be impossible unto you. The man of faith is practically omnipotent; moral and material difficulties vanish before him.
This verse is omitted in many good manuscripts and by the Revised Version, it being considered to have been introduced from the parallel passage of St. Mark. It gives the second reason for the failure of the nine. This kind … fasting. Though all things are possible to faith, some works are more difficult of accomplishment than others. This kind can mean only this kind of evil spirit, or demons generally. But the latter interpretation is excluded by the fact that the apostles had already exercised successfully their power over devils without special prayer or fasting. The words point to a truth in the spiritual world, that there are different degrees in the Satanic hierarchy (comp. Matthew 12:45); some demons are more malignant than others, and have greater power over the souls of men. In the present case the possession was of long standing; it revolved a terrible bodily malady; it was of an intense and unusual character. The mere word of exorcism, or the name of Jesus, spoken with little spiritual faith, could net overcome the mighty enemy. The exorcist needed special preparation; he must inspire and augment his faith by prayer and self-discipline. Prayer invokes the aid of God, and puts one's self unreservedly in his hands; fasting subdues the flesh, arouses the soul's energies, brings into exercise the higher parts of man's nature. Thus equipped, a man is open to receive power from on high, and can quell the assaults of the evil one.
Matthew 17:22, Matthew 17:23
Second official announcement of the Passion and Resurrection. (Mark 9:30-32; Luke 9:43-45.)
While they abode (ἀναστρεφομεìνων, went to and fro; conversantibus, Vulgate) in Galilee. After some weeks spent in the extreme north, Jesus and his disciples had returned secretly to Galilee (Mark 9:30), and were approaching the neighborhood of Capernaum. The privacy was connected with the special instruction which he was now giving to his disciples. The Son of man shall be betrayed … men. There is a reference to the preparation thus mercifully afforded to the twelve in the angel's address to the women at the sepulchre, "Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee" (Luke 24:6). Jesus reiterates the prediction continually in order to familiarize his followers with the unwelcome, the incredible, reality. But the Messiah's Passion, death, and resurrection were ideas that they could not at once receive; so impossible they seemed in the very nature of things, so contrary to all their hopes and expectations. Shall be betrayed (μεìλλει παραδιδοσθαι). Is ordained, in the counsels of God, to be betrayed. Tradendus est (Vulgate). Men. He had before named the chief priests (Matthew 16:21), afterwards he mentions the Gentiles (Matthew 20:19), as the agents in his death. So St. Peter, in his great sermon (Acts 2:1-47), says to the Jews, "Ye have taken him, and by wicked hands ['by the hand of lawless men,' Revised Version] have crucified and slain."
Shall be raised again (ἐγερθηìσεται); be wakened. This was always a subject of perplexity; and indeed, according to the other synoptists, "they understood not the saying; it was hid from them, and they perceived it not, and were afraid to ask him." Were exceeding sorry. They no longer rebuke him, as Peter had done (Matthew 16:22), or try to divert him from his purpose; they begin to realize the position, and to anticipate with poignant sorrow the overthrow of their hopes.
The coin in the fish's mouth. This is one of the three miracles of our Lord which are peculiar to this Gospel St. Matthew seems to concern himself particularly with matters which present Jesus as King-Messiah; and this occurrence was in his view specially notable, as herein Christ claimed for himself a royal position—Son in his Father's house.
Capernaum. Once more before the final scene he visited the spot so dear to his human heart—"his own city." They that received tribute money (οἱταÌ διìδραχμα λαμβαìνοντες). This is an unfortunate rendering, as it may be taken to countenance an erroneous view of the demanded impost, found in many ancient and some modern commentaries, which vitiates their whole interpretation. According to this opinion, the tribute was a civil payment, like the denarius of Matthew 22:19, levied by the Roman government, or a capitation tax imposed by Herod, the Tetrarch of Galilee (of which tax, however, we have no historical proof). That this is a misunderstanding is plain from many considerations. In the first place, the collectors are not τελῶναι, publicans, but quite another set of people, called they that received the didrachmas. Again, the officers of government would not have made their demand mildly in an interrogative form, "Doth not your Master," etc.? but would have exhibited that violent and offensive behaviour which made them so hated among the Jews. The political tax is never termed didrachma, but always census, as in Matthew 22:17, Matthew 22:19; nor could Jesus have given the answer which is reported below, if the tax had been one levied in the interest of any earthly monarch, be it Caesar or Herod. The didrachma is a term denoting a well known rate, concerning which we have full information from many sources—biblical, Talmudic, and traditional. The didrachma was a silver coin equal to two Attic drachms, or, in Jewish money, to one half shekel of the sanctuary—something under our florin in weight. It was the amount of an ecclesiastical rate levied for religious purposes. Originally (Exodus 30:13, etc.) exacted as an acknowledgment and a thank offering, a ransom, as it were, for the lives rescued from Egypt, it had been used in the wilderness in providing the framework of the tabernacle and the ornamentation of its pillars. Based on this practice arose a custom that every male Israelite of twenty years old and upwards should annually contribute to the temple treasury the sum of a half shekel. Dr. Edersheim reckons the tribute in our Lord's time to have been equivalent to £75,000 per annum. The money was stored in the temple treasury, and was expended partly in the purchase of the daily sacrifices, victims, incense, etc., in the payment of rabbis and other officials connected with the temple, in maintaining the efficiency of the water supply, and in keeping in repair the vast and magnificent buildings in the temple area. After all this outlay, there was always a large sum in hand, which proved a strong temptation to the greed of conquerors, and the sacred coffers were often plundered; and even after many previous spoliations, we read that Crassus (B.C. 54) carried off no less than two and a half millions sterling. The tax was due by the twenty-fifth of the month Adar, and the collectors who were appointed to or took upon themselves the office, opened stalls in; every country town for the reception of the money. For many centuries the rate was of a voluntary nature, considered, indeed, a religious duty, and to be evaded by no one, Pharisee or Sadducee, who wished to be regarded as an orthodox believer, but its payment had not been secured by any legal process. Lately, indeed, the penalty of distraint had been enacted in order to obtain the tax from defaulters; but it is doubtful whether this was generally enforced. Possibly the appointed day had now arrived, and the collectors thought right to stir in the matter. Came to Peter. They applied to Peter instead of directly to Christ, perhaps out of respect for the latter, and from a certain awe with which he inspired them. Besides, Peter was their fellow townsman, and they doubtless knew him well His natural impulsiveness might have induced him to answer the call. It may also have been his own house, the other eleven being apparently staying with other friends, and Jesus with him ("me and thee," Matthew 22:27). We may suppose that Jesus had complied with the demand on former occasions, when sojourning in his Galilaean home, so that the present application was only natural. Doth not your Master (ὁΔιδαìσκαλος ὑμῶν, your Teacher) pay tribute (the didrachma)? Perhaps the form of the question might be better rendered, "Your Teacher pays the two drachms, does he not?" The pronoun "your" is plural, because they recognized that Jesus was at the head of a band of disciples, who would be influenced by his example. We may in this inquiry see other motives besides the obvious one. If Jesus paid the rate now without question, he would prove that he was nothing more than an ordinary Jew, with no claim to a higher origin or a Divine mission. Though not a priest or Levite, Jesus might have claimed exemption as a recognized rabbi, and the collectors may have desired to ascertain whether he would do this. There was, too, at this time a sect which, in its furious patriotism, refused to contribute aught to the temple so long as the holy city was profaned by the presence of the heathen. Did Christ belong to this body? And would he carry out their programme? If from any cause he declined the contribution, this abstention would give a handle to those who were not prepared to endorse his claims: the breach of such a generally recognized obligation would raise a prejudice against him, and weaken the effect of his acts and teaching. Some such motives may have contributed to inspire the question now asked.
He saith, Yes. Without consulting his Master, or even letting him know of the demand, Peter answered affirmatively, he knew that Christ never withdrew from conscientious obligations; Jesus may have paid the rate in former years, and might be confidently supposed to be ready to do so again. But was there not another feeling that dictated the quick reply, and made him pledge Jesus to the payment? He had a fear at his heart, caused by Christ's late warning and prophecy, that made him morbidly anxious to live at peace with all men at this conjuncture. As far as in him lay he would shield his beloved Master from the dread result which he anticipated; at any rate, he would endeavour to postpone the fatal day; no offence that he could obviate should be given. So, thinking only of present safety, forgetting or wilfully ignoring Christ's true position, he answered hastily, "Yes." When he (Peter) was come into the house. The collectors had addressed Peter in the street or at the door, and the apostle, having given his reply, hastened into the house where Jesus was, either to obtain the necessary coins or to make the demand known. Prevented him. The Revised Version paraphrases, spake first to him, which gives the meaning (though the Greek does not warrant such translation)—Jesus anticipated what Peter was going to say by showing that he knew the apostle's thoughts and all that had passed outside the house, he takes the opportunity of enforcing a needful lesson, making the listener, in the Socratic method, teach himself. What thinkest thou, Simon? By such familiar address he claims his attention. The kings of the earth. He contrasts these with the King of heaven, to whom a reference is implied in the Lord's subsequent words. Custom (τεìλη) or tribute (κῆνσον). The former of these words (which would be better rendered tolls) signifies the customs laid on goods and merchandise and other such payments—vectigalia, as the Romans called them; the tribute (not the same word as that so translated in verse 24) is the census, the capitation tax (ἐπικεφαìλαιον) imposed upon every citizen of the empire. Strangers (ἀλλοτριìων). The contrast is between the family of the monarch and those who are not connected with him by any relationship.
Of strangers. Peter is brought to the desired point. He answers, as any one would, that in earthly kingdoms the children of the ruling monarch are exempt from taxes, which are exacted from all other subjects. Then are the children free. The comparison required the use of the plural, though the reference is properly confined to himself. The deduction leads naturally to the lesson of Christ's immunity, he virtually implies (though the inference is not developed in words), "I am the Son of God, as you, Peter, have acknowledged; this tax is levied for the house and service of God, whose Son I am; therefore I am free from the obligation of paying it; it cannot be required that I should pay tribute to my Father." Looked at in its original nature, the impost could not with propriety be demanded from him. It was an offering of atonement, a ransom of souls. How could he give money in expiation of himself—he who had come to give his life a ransom for others? Why should he ransom himself from sin and death, who had come to take away sin and destroy death and open everlasting life to all men? There was need to make the point clear now that Christ had openly asserted his Messiahship and his Divine nature. To pay the demamt without explanation, after the statement of his Divinity, might occasion serious misapprehension in the minds of his followers. So he gently but convincingly shows that his claim of Sonship exempted him from all liability of the impost.
Lest we should offend them; cause them to stumble. In his large charity he would not take the advantage of his position to avoid the tax. Though above the Law, he would place himself under the Law. Offence would be given by the nonpayment. His motive would be unknown and misunderstood (see on Matthew 17:24). The people would attribute it to caprice, sectarianism, contempt of religion; they would see in it dishonour to the temple. Suspicion and animosity would be aroused; ill feeling, injurious both to themselves who encouraged it and to the cause of Christ, would weaken the effects of his acts and doctrine. Further offence would supervene if he did not confirm Peter's engagement and execute the promise which the foremost disciple had virtually made in his name; since it might thus appear that he and his followers were not of one mind in this important matter. For such considerations he was content to waive his prerogative, and to provide for the payment by a miracle, which should at once vindicate his royal character and demonstrate that, while he was obedient to the Law, he was superior to it, was the Lord of heaven and earth and sea. Go thou to the sea. The Sea of Galilee, on whose shore Capernaum stood, and with which Peter had been all his life familiar. Cast an hook. The fisherman was to ply his trade, yet not to use his customary net; he was to fish with line and hook, that the miracle might be more striking. Take up the fish that first cometh up. From the deep waters to the bait. Thou shalt find a piece of money; a stater. This Greek coin, circulating throughout the East, was about equal in value to the shekel, or two didrachms, and therefore sufficient to pay the half shekel for two persons. That fish should seize a bright object which might drop into the sea is nothing uncommon. A cod has been found with a watch in its stomach, still going. The miracle is shown in the omniscience which knew what the fish carried in its maw, and in the omnipotence which drew it to the hook. As far as we know, and regarding the present age as the sabbath of creation (see John 5:17), Christ in his miracles created nothing absolutely, always using a natural and existing basis as the support of the wonder. So here he does not create the fish or the skater, but by marvellous coincidences makes them subserve his purpose. Tradition has stereotyped the miracle by assigning to a certain tribe of fish a permanent mark of the occurrence. The johndory. whose name is corrupted either from jaune dore, "gold colour," or adore, "worshipped," is called in some countries Peter's fish, and is supposed to retain the impression of the apostle's fingers on its sides. Others assert that it is the haddock which presents this memorial of the miracle. But neither of these fish is found in the Lake of Gennesareth. Give … for me and thee (ἀντιÌ ἐμοῦ καιÌ σοῦ). The form of expression recalls the original design of the institution, as a ransom of souls (comp. Matthew 20:28 in the Greek). He does not say, "for us;" for, though he submitted to the tax, it was not on the same ground as his servant. He himself paid, though exempt; Peter paid because he was liable. In the one ease it was from humility, in the other from legal obligation. The account ends somewhat abruptly, nothing being said of the result of the Lord's command, what action Peter took, and what ensued thereon. But we need no assurance that all came to pass as Christ directed. The very silence is significant; it is the sublimest language. Neologian criticism has endeavoured to explain away or to throw discredit on the miraculous nature of this "transaction." We are asked to believe that Christ by his command meant only that Peter was to go and catch a fish and sell it for a skater. If this was the case, why did not the evangelist say so? Why did he introduce a story which he must have known to be untrue? Is there any ground for supposing that St. Matthew was a writer of myths and legends, or one who intentionally falsified the records on which he framed his history? Surely no unprejudiced person could judge thus of the writer of the First Gospel; to those who believe in inspiration the notion is sacrilegious. The incident is no embellishment of a natural fact, no mere sailor's anecdote, but the true account of a real occurrence, which the narrator credited and probably witnessed. Another allegation equally unfounded is that Christ was rebuking Peter for precipitancy in promising payment when they had no funds in their possession, as though Jesus was saying ironically, "You had better go and catch a fish, and look for the money in its mouth!" Such attempted evasions of the miraculous are puerile and saddening. And if it be objected, as indeed it is, that the miracle was unnecessary and unworthy of Jesus, who never exerted his supernatural power for his own benefit, it is easy to show that the wonder was required in order to give and enforce a lesson to Peter and his companions. In what better way could Jesus have conveyed to them the truth that, although for the nonce he consented to the Law, he was superior to it and exempt from the obligation, and that if he paid the tax he did so by an exercise of power which proved him to be the Son of God?
I. THE GLORY.
1. The attendant circumstances. Six days had elapsed since the memorable conversation in the parts of Casarea Philippi. That conversation must have filled the hearts of the apostles with strange, awful thoughts. He with whom they had lived so long in the intercourse of familiar friendship was indeed the Christ, the Son of the living God. They had marked the dignity of his Person, the authority of his words, the power of his miracles; and they had felt that there was something in their Master that was more than human, very holy and majestic. Now he had accepted the homage of Peter, and had asserted the truth of that great confession—he was the Son of God. Very solemn it must have been to be with him those six days, looking into his face, hearing Ms words, and to know, as the disciples were beginning to know, who he really was. It must have been like the first moments of a true conversion, when the soul first realizes in its depth and blessedness the presence and the love of God. But other also and very different thoughts must have agitated the apostles' minds during those six days. Doubtless they all shared the feelings of Peter; their soul recoiled in unspeakable horror from the prospect which the Lord had set before them; they could not associate the thought of failure and shame and death with the Messiahship; they could scarcely believe that the Christ, the Son of the living God, could suffer such things at the hand of mortal men; they could not bear to think that the Master whom they loved so very dearly was destined to drink the bitter cup of suffering. He had told them so very plainly; but they could not take into their hearts the full meaning of his words. They only half believed them; probably they did not wholly believe till the event proved their truth. But yet those solemn words, even if only half believed, must have caused them exceeding great distress, and must have filled them with restless, torturing anxiety. The Lord, in his thoughtful love, would comfort them, would confirm their faith, would prepare them to face the tremendous shock which awaited them.
2. The retirement. The six days were over. We long to know the secrets of those days; they must have been days of deep thought, of intense prayer, of close communion with the Lord. Now they were over; and the Lord took with him Peter, James, and John, the chosen three, who alone had seen the raising of the daughter of Jairus, who alone were to witness the mysterious agony. He carried them up—it is a remarkable word, the same word which is used (Luke 24:51) in describing the Ascension—into a high mountain apart. The locality, the height, the snow alluded to in Mark 9:3, the simple title used by St. Luke, "the mountain," all seem to suggest Hermon, the most conspicuous mountain in Palestine, the snow-clad mountain which, with its towering heights, closed the prospect to the north of Caesarea Philippi. Thither the Lord carried up the highly favoured three; he took them apart. The holiest manifestations of God's grace and presence are made in secret to those chosen ones who live nearest to God; they are very sweet and precious, but very, very sacred—too sacred to be talked about save in Christian communion with like minded servants of the Lord. Christian men do well to retire from time to time to the high mountain apart from the world, there to hold close communion with the Lord in companionship with a few proved and humble hearted disciples.
3. The glorious change. The Lord was praying, St. Luke tells us; it was for prayer that he had sought retirement; and "as he prayed" he was transfigured. The effulgent splendour of the Godhead poured itself through the earthly tabernacle in which it dwelt, as in ancient times the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand there to minister (1 Kings 8:11). The sacred body of the Lord Jesus Christ was the truest temple; "for in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9). That splendour had hitherto been concealed; he had laid his glory by in the tender condescension of his ineffable love; but now, for the more confirmation of the faith of the apostles and, through them, of the Christian Church, he allowed it to appear for a brief space in such measure as the human eye could bear. "None can see my face and live," God had said to Moses when he prayed, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory;" but, hidden in a cleft of the rock, he saw the goodness of the Lord as his glory passed by (Exodus 33:18-23). Such a glorious vision was now vouchsafed to the three chosen witnesses. Their Master's face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light, glistering, exceeding white as snow. He is the Light of the world, he is the Sun of Righteousness; night is not night to the Christian when that Sun shineth upon him. The darkness of that night was dispelled by the radiant glory that issued from the Person of the Saviour. The vivid recollection of that glory never passed away; the two apostles who remained (St. James went early to his reward) mention it in their writings (John 1:14; 2 Peter 1:18). It was "as he prayed" that this glorious change took place. The humble, faithful Christian is made by the grace of Christ like unto his Lord. "Beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed ['transfigured;' the Greek verb is the same as that used here] into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18). And surely it is as they pray that that blessed change comes upon the servants of the Lord. Faithful prayer lifts them into his presence, to the holy mount, as it were; they behold by faith his glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father; and that glory of holiness exerts a transforming energy over those who in the power of prayer by faith behold the Lord. It is when Christian people present their bodies "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God," that, as St. Paul (Romans 12:2) says, using again the same word, they are "transformed by the renewing of their mind." The transfiguration of the Lord was an anticipation of the glory of his ascension; it was to the apostles a foretaste of the beatific vision; it is to us a parable of the great change which must pass over the soul of every one of God's elect. We too must shine, if by his grace we attain to any measure of real holiness, as lights in the world by his reflected glory; we too must wash our robes, and make them white in the blood of the Lamb.
"Lord, thy Spirit's power transforming
Through our inmost being pour,
Heart and thought and wish conforming
To thine image more and more."
4. Moses and Elijah. They were the central figures of the Old Testament, the representatives of the Law and the prophets. They had both been admitted into a very close communion with God, and had both, in the ecstasy of Divine contemplation, been sustained through the miraculous fast of forty days. Now they appeared in glory. Peter recognized them by some power of spiritual intuition. Then surely we may believe that there will be some means of mutual recognition among departed saints. They came from the realms of the blessed to hold intercourse with the Son of God. The angels desire to look into the mysteries of redemption; and if the angels, how much more those glorified spirits who were once compassed with infirmities, and knew by their own experience the power of temptation, and the deep need of atonement and sanctification! They came to commune with him in whom all the ritual of the Law found its fulfilment, of whom all the prophets spake; and they talked with him (St. Luke tells us) "of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." The precious death of Christ, the death prefigured by the serpent which Moses long ago had lifted up in the wilderness, was the theme of their high discourse. What they said, what they heard from Christ, we cannot tell. The apostles seem in some way to have heard or apprehended in their spirits the sacred words. Thus much we learn, that there can be no higher, holier subject of thought; no higher, holier subject of solemn conversation among Christian men than the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Moses and Elijah longed to know the awful, blessed meaning of the cross. The Lord unfolded to them the mysteries of his love. May we be filled with the same holy desire; may the same heavenly Teacher teach us the deep things of his salvation!
5. Peter. He is eager and impulsive as usual He and his companions had been heavy with sleep. The dazzling glory of the transfigured Lord aroused them. They kept awake, St. Luke says; they saw in full waking consciousness the celestial sight. They heard, it seems, something of the wondrous conversation; they found that his decease, the mention of which had given them such extreme anguish, was a theme of deep interest and hallowed thought in the mysterious world of spirits. The marvellous interview was drawing to an end, the glorious visitors were departing, when Peter, in his intense excitement, not knowing what he said, addressed the Lord, "Lord," he said, "it is good for us to be here"—beautiful and elevating. It was beautiful indeed to contemplate the glorious form of Christ; it was beautiful to see how those whom the Jews most highly honoured came from their homes of bliss to commune with him. Peter would gladly have shared in that holy intercourse; he longed to hear more, to see more; they were departing too soon, he thought. "It is good for us to be here," he said: "let us make [or, perhaps, according to the reading of three very ancient manuscripts, 'I wilt make'] three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias." He knew not what he said. He would have remained on the holy mount in the enjoyment of the heavenly vision; but it might not be. These glimpses of heavenly sweetness are not for long. God has work for his servants upon earth. Sometimes he "bringeth them up into a high mountain apart" for a while. It seems good for them to be there; but they must soon descend, and work for his Name's sake among the poor, the ignorant, and the sinful
6. The voice from heaven. There was no answer given to Peter's words. But there came a bright cloud, a cloud full of light, the Shechinah surely, the tabernacle of light which revealed the presence of God. It overshadowed the Lord and his adoring visitors; the disciples I cared as they saw them enter into the cloud. And forth from the cloud there came an awful voice, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." It was not enough that Moses and Elijah should come to do the Saviour honour. The Father himself bore witness to the dignity, the holiness, of the only begotten Son. The like words had been heard before by John the Baptist, the representative of the ancient Jewish Church. Now the same attestation is vouchsafed to the three apostles, the representatives of the Christian Church. That voice made a deep impression upon them, an impression which was never forgotten. St. Peter alludes to it in a remarkable passage in his Second Epistle (2 Peter 1:16-18), in which several words are repeated which occur in the description of the Transfiguration. It confirmed.their faith; they could doubt no longer. He was indeed the Son of the living God, though he was to be rejected and to suffer and to die. All this had seemed strange and incredible to men brought up among Jewish surroundings, with Jewish hopes and expectations. But it was true. The Father was well pleased in the Son of his love, well pleased in his voluntary humiliation, in his self-sacrifice. The salvation of mankind through the cross and Passion of the Son of God was to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but it was the purpose of the all-wise, all-holy God. God was well pleased in the Lord Christ. He is well pleased in those who follow Christ's example. He bids us hear him. The cross is the only way to everlasting life. The cross of the Lord Jesus is the life of the world. We can enter into life only by following him, bearing each of us his cross, denying ourselves, as the Lord bore the cross, and died upon the cross for us, and is exalted to God's right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour.
7. The end of the vision. The voice of God is sweet to hear, but it must be very awful to sinful flesh and blood. The disciples fell on their faces and were sore afraid. But the Lord came and touched them. It was a human touch—the touch of human, loving sympathy. It told the apostles that the high Son of God, whom they had just seen awful in the majesty of the Godhead, was their own tender human Friend. Still the touch of Jesus felt by faith comforts his people when the terror of the Lord fills their souls with dread. "Arise," he said, "be not afraid." So he had said before, "It is I; be not afraid." So, thank God, he speaks even now to the Christian soul, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." His touch, his gentle words, bring peace and holy calm. It was so with the apostles. They lifted up their eyes, and saw Jesus only. The vision had gone, with all its awful splendour; only the Lord was left, looking on them, as he was wont to look, in love and tenderness, clad in the well known raiment, speaking in the well known tones. The vision was gone. Again they were on the lonely mountain side, the snowy heights of Hermon towering above them, the stars looking down on them from heaven; only Jesus was with them. The Law and the prophets pass away, but Christ abideth a King forever. Earthly hopes, earthly ambitions, fade away and die. Jesus is still with the soul that trusteth in him. Seasons of high spiritual delight, when the Sun of Righteousness beams upon the heart, fade into twilight. But Jesus is still with his chosen; with them as certainly when they go down into the work and the trials and the temptations of the commonplace routine of daily life, as he was when they were with him on the mount entranced in sacred rapture.
II. THE LORD'S LESSONS.
1. They were to tell no man. To tell their fellow apostles might excite feelings of self-exaltation in themselves, of envy in the rest. Perhaps also the nine were not yet able to receive such a report. They did not yet understand the spiritual nature of the Messiah's kingdom. We must remember, too, that Judas was among them. Still less was the outer circle of the disciples capable of receiving the wondrous story. The experiences of the Christian soul in close communion with God are very precious, but very, very sacred. They are not to be thoughtlessly divulged; not to be talked about commonly; they are too deep and holy. Free talk on such subjects tends to produce spiritual pride in some, irreverence in others. The true Christian wilt speak of these blessed tastes of God's graciousness only to the like minded, and that with deep humility and godly fear, mingled with devout thankfulness.
2. Elias. The apostles had much to learn and much to unlearn. They could not understand "what the rising from the dead should mean" (Mark 9:10), though Christ had twice before spoken of his resurrection on the third day. They were much perplexed also about the appearing of Elijah. Could this transient manifestation which they had just seen be the coming of which they had so often heard from the rabbis? The name of Elijah was often on the lips of the Jews, as indeed it is still. When he comes (they said) he shall restore all things. He shall bring back the pot of manna and the rod of Aaron, and restore Israel to its ancient glory. It was true, the Lord said, that Elijah was to come. But he had come; and they who had so long expected him knew him not when he came, but treated him according to their own evil will. Then the apostles felt that the Lord had spoken of him who had gone "before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." The forerunner of the Christ had met the martyr's death; Christ himself would soon be called to suffer. The Lord sought to draw the thoughts of the apostles from difficult and perplexing questions to what now lay in the near future—his sufferings and death. We cannot think too much on the cross. Difficult matters of controversy may be of great interest, but they do not bear very closely upon the salvation of our souls. Let us keep the cross before our thoughts; let us try to realize its awful and blessed meaning by constant and earnest meditation.
1. It is good for us to be sometimes alone with God; use such seasons of solitude for prayer and meditation.
2. We need a transfiguration, a transformation of the heart and will; pray earnestly for it.
3. Moses and Elijah talked with Christ of his decease; we should commune with him on that same blessed and awful subject.
4. Flee from spiritual pride; humble silence is better than presumptuous talk.
The maniac boy.
I. THE FAILURE OF THE NINE APOSTLES.
1. The descent from the mount. The morning had come, and the Lord with the three chosen apostles came down from the Mount of the Transfiguration to rejoin those whom he had left behind. As he drew near to them he saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them (Mark 9:14). It was a strange contrast. He had just left the peace of the mountain side and the glory of the heavenly radiance. He came down to the jealousies, the controversies, the miseries, of earth. His presence was much needed; the nine apostles had experienced a sad defeat. They had received from him power to cast out devils; but now they had attempted, and had failed. Their Master had left them; he had taken with him the three who were nearest to himself. The faith of the nine had perhaps been weakened by the excitement, the agitation, the distressing predictions, of the last few days. So Aaron had failed in courage and in faith when Moses and Joshua were absent on Mount Sinai, and he was left in charge of the congregation. The apostles had failed now. The scribes were probably exulting over their defeat, arguing, perhaps, that this was a thing which neither they nor their Lord could do. Ah! we are helpless if we have lost our faith; we cannot cast out the evil one. Without Christ we can do nothing.
2. The meeting with the nine apostles. The Lord was come at last. He approached the scene of confusion with his wonted dignity. Perhaps some traces of the radiance of the Transfiguration still lingered round him. The people were greatly amazed, St. Mark tells us, when they beheld him; but they were not terrified like the Israelites when the face of Moses shone on his descent from Sinai. The Lord did not hide the glory of his countenance; it attracted, it did not repel. The people ran to him and saluted him. So we should run to Christ in our troubles; so we should salute him. He comes to help his chosen in their weakness. When we feel that he is near, we are amazed at our own want of faith, at his glory and power and forgiving love.
II. THE MIRACLES.
1. The father. The Lord's coming brought confidence to the perplexed disciples, hope to the disappointed suppliant. In that presence the miserable felt instinctively that there was help and comfort. One man disengaged himself from the crowd. He came in haste to Christ. He knelt down before him in the attitude of humble and earnest supplication. "Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. He told all the sad story. His son was lunatic, sore vexed, afflicted with the worst form of epilepsy. The fits came upon him in wild, fierce onslaughts, dreadful to look upon; for the seizures were due, not to natural causes, but to the direct agency of an evil spirit, who had taken possession of the lad, and tormented him with all the hellish malice of intense wickedness. It was a pitiable case, miserable for the poor boy, agonizing to the unhappy father. From his son's childhood he had watched these wild paroxysms in helpless anguish. Now Christ had come into the neighbourhood. He heard of his power and mercy. He brought his afflicted child. But the Lord was absent, on the Mount of the Transfiguration. The nine apostles remained. The poor father brought his son to them, and begged for help. The case was beyond their power; they could not cast out the evil spirit. The disappointment aggravated the father's distress. Now the Lord himself had come; and the father knelt before him. Sorrow brings men to Christ; sorrow brings them to their knees. We must come ourselves straight to Christ in the hour of extremest need. Sometimes his ministers can help us, sometimes they cannot. Christ can always calm the wildest tumults of the soul. Come straight to him, kneeling before him, in your own troubles, in the troubles of those very dear to you.
2. The Lord's words. "O faithless and perverse generation!" he said. The scene before him was an illustration of the general character of the men among whom the Saviour lived. It is in some sense an illustration of the state of the Church now. Human nature is the same in all ages. The multitude regarded Christ with some external reverence; they were ready to apply to him in perplexity and sorrow; but they had no depth of conviction, no stability. There were some open unbelievers among them, wire questioned Christ's authority and denied his power. There were some followers of the Lord, not without earnestness, not without love; but weak in faith, unable through that weakness to exercise the power which had been given them by the Lord. The evil spirit, too, was there; there were wild excesses caused by his agency; there was intense distress. There was no strength of faith, no energy of trustfulness in Christ. Yet there were three chosen saints, the nearest to the Lord, who had gone up with him into the holy mount, and were now returning with him to the labours and the sorrows of this sinful world. That generation was faithless; it was perverse, crooked, warped by invincible prejudices and inveterate obstinacy. The Lord had been long with them; but how little the result seemed to be! how few had chosen the good part! He would not remain much longer among them; his tender forbearance must have an end at last. We must be patient, when the Lord most holy had so much to bear; we must not repine when our work seems disheartening, unsatisfactory. The servant is not above his Lord. But mark the Saviour's calm consciousness of power. "Bring him hither to me," he said. The disciples might fail; he could not fail when it pleased him to exercise his healing energy, for he was God Almighty.
3. The evil spirit cast out. St. Mark gives us, as his wont is, the deeply interesting details: the conversation with the father; the great word, "All things are possible to him that believeth;" the answer of the intensely anxious parent, so often echoed since by trembling souls coming to Christ in earnest entreaty and utter self-abasement, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." Then came the word of power, "Thou deaf and dumb spirit" (for the demon had destroyed the poor lad's power of hearing, and his only utterances were wild, inarticulate cries), "I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him." We notice the tone of authority, the emphatic "I," especially in the original. The demon despised the nine apostles; he must obey the Lord. He must never again dare to enter the heart from which the Lord himself had driven him. He let loose his fury on the lad; he cried, and rent him sore; but he came out of him at once. The Lord gently raised the poor boy. He was exhausted, and to all appearance lifeless; but Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up, and delivered him again to his father. We mark the gentleness of the Lord Jesus. Very gentle he was to the unhappy boy, to the afflicted, almost despairing father. We mark his power. He can drive out the devil, even from those over whom he has the firmest hold. "He is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him." Let us come. The father came, though he was almost hopeless; the evil spirit was so fierce, so strong. So we may pray for cases that seem almost desperate. The poor lad could not pray for himself; the Lord listened to the father's prayer. Let us pray for others, for our relations and near friends, for all who need our prayers. Only let us take heed that our prayers are lifted up in faith. There is no limit to the power of a true and living faith, for it is limited only by the power of God, which is without limit. And if we feel (and who does not?) that our faith is wanting in depth and earnestness, then pray we again in the words of that memorable cry, which seemed wrung from the very heart of the almost despairing father, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
III. THE CONVERSATION WITH THE NINE APOSTLES.
1. They came to Christ. They came to him privately, into the house, St. Mark says; and asked him the reason of their failure. He had given them power to cast out evil spirits: why could they not cast this one out? We should come to Christ in our spiritual disappointments, when we have failed to conquer this or that sin in ourselves, to convince this or that sinner of his danger. We should come to him in secret prayer, asking him the reason of our failure. He will tell us, if we come in humility and 'sincerity. But let us not be satisfied till we have discovered the cause of our want of success, and set ourselves seriously to overcome it.
2. The Lord's answer. The cause of their failure was simple; it was want of faith. Possibly the three apostles who were nearest to the Lord might have been able to cast the devil out; the nine could not. Some saints are stronger than others; some can do more than others in converting souls; their strength is in proportion to their faith. Faith is strength; for it is, in truth, the strength of God that worketh in his people, and that strength is manifested in those who trust wholly and absolutely in him. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." It is only in union with Christ that the Christian can do all things. "Without me ye can do nothing." The victory which overcometh the world is the strength of Christ, but in another sense it is our faith; for faith maintains a living union with Christ, and thus. the strength of Christ is ours. Our faith may be small, like a grain of mustard seed, but if it be only true, it can remove mountains (the Lord seems to have pointed to the towering mass of Hermon as he said the words)—mountains of difficulties, mountains of perplexities, mountains of sin. Faith is realized in different degrees. To a true and perfect faith, the Lord says, nothing is impossible; for a true anti perfect faith reflects the almightiness of God. "Lord, increase our faith."
3. The special difficulty of the case. There was this to be said in palliation of the apostles' failure. The evil spirit was one of exceptional energy and malignity. Christians who would fight against such enemies must be doubly armed; by constant fervent prayer they must keep themselves in the love of God, in that close communion with him which is the secret of spiritual strength; by continued and voluntary self-mortification they must fortify themselves against the temptations of sensual pleasure. In prayer and fasting the Lord overcame Satan for us; in prayer and fasting the true disciple follows the Lord's example and shares his victory. In the sermon on the mount the Lord enumerates almsgiving, prayer, and fasting as three principal exercises of devotion; here he describes prayer and fasting (the reading, however, is doubtful) as the chief weapons of the Christian warrior in the holy fight against the deadly enemy.
1. We cannot always be on the mount in a rapture of devotion; we must work for Christ among scenes of sin and sorrow.
2. Come to Christ in your troubles, come with tears, come kneeling before hint; he can save.
3. Pray for continually increasing faith; pray for yourself, pray for others.
4. Tell Christ of past failures; search out the cause; seek his strength for the future.
Return to Galilee.
I. REITERATED PREDICTIONS OF THE COMING PASSION.
1. The Lord alone with the twelve. He returns to Galilee, but no longer for teaching. He revisits the old familiar spots with the shadow of death closing round him. He was not followed by multitudes as of old. He "passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it" (Mark 9:30). He confined his teaching to the little circle of his apostles. He sought to prepare them for the awful scenes which lay before them.
2. He forewarns them of his death. He repeats in Galilee the prophecy of Caesarea Philippi; he adds one important detail, "The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men." He hints at the treachery; he tells them not yet of the traitor. He predicts his approaching death; he predicts his resurrection on the third day. They were exceeding sorry; they understood not that saying, says St. Mark, and were afraid to ask him. The Lord had now told them of his death twice, and that very plainly; but they could not, they would not, take it into their hearts. It so dashed all their hopes, it was so utterly different from all their expectations. It seemed so strange, so impossible, that One who had manifested such wondrous power, whom some of them had lately seen radiant with the glory of heaven, could suffer death at the hands of men. They were exceeding sorry; they could not believe, and yet perhaps they could not wholly disbelieve. They feared to ask him. Their love for him was mingled with a profound reverence and awe which late events had greatly increased. They were filled with grief and mysterious forebodings.
II. THE TEMPLE DUES.
1. The question put to Peter. All adult Jews paid a half shekel yearly for the expenses of the temple service. The payment was originally made (Exodus 30:12-16) only when the people were numbered. It was called a ransom for souls. The same sum was paid by all, rich and poor alike, to show that the souls of rich and poor are of equal value in the sight of God. The collectors now came to Peter. They felt, it may be, something of the awful dignity which surrounded the Person of the Lord. "Doth not your Master pay the half shekel?" they said. Peter at once assented; he thought that his Master, so zealous for the honour of the temple, would readily and gladly pay the temple dues.
2. Peter's conversation with the Lord. Peter came into the house, perhaps his own house, which had been usually honoured with the Saviour's presence during his residence at Capernaum. Jesus spoke first to him. He knew what had happened, for he knew all things. He drew from Peter the acknowledgment that the kings of the earth take tribute from their subjects, but not from their own children; the children are free. The inference was obvious. Peter had not long before confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then he was under no obligation to pay the customary dues for the maintenance of the temple service, for he was the only begotten Son of the invisible King, who, though the heaven and the heaven of heavens could not contain him, deigned to regard that temple as his earthly sanctuary. Again, Christ was greater than the temple; he himself was the Temple of God in the fullest, holiest sense. All this Peter had forgotten.
3. The payment. It was not of obligation; the Lord was plainly exempt. But he will pay it for example's sake, to avoid wounding consciences. It was right for Israelites to maintain the temple services. It is right that Christians should give freely, cheerfully, for the support of the Church. It would have caused grave offence if the people of Capernaum, who knew the Lord so well, had heard that he refused to contribute for a purpose so sacred. They would not understand the deep reasons which he gave to Peter. They would simply suppose that a great Rabbi, a famous Teacher, declined to pay the temple dues. The example would be evil; it would be seized as an excuse by the avaricious; it would cause idle and malicious talk. The Lord would pay the sum demanded, though he was not really liable. He is here, as always, an Example to us—our great Example. We must avoid shocking the feelings of others, even the prejudices of the ill instructed, We must be careful not to do things which, though lawful in themselves, may lead others astray. We must not stand upon our strict rights when to do so might be misunderstood, and might wound the consciences of weak brethren. We must give willingly, not only to the poor, but also for the service of the Church. The half shekel paid annually for the service of the temple was regarded as given to God. So are our poor gifts now, if we give in faith and love. We must learn humility of our lowly Lord. He came to be baptized, though he was without sin. He paid the temple dues, the ransom for souls, though he was the Son of God. "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness."
4. The means for providing the payment. It may be that the bag which Judas kept was empty. It may be, though the sum was so small, that Peter had rashly promised more than the slender means of the little company could then furnish. It may be that the Lord wished to teach Peter that, though he submitted to this demand like an ordinary Israelite, he was indeed the Lord of creation, that even the fishes of the sea would wait upon his will. Peter was to resume his old occupation. He was to go to the sea. The first fish that came up would furnish the necessary money, a stater, enough for both the Lord and Peter. The Lord teaches us a lesson of trustfulness. He bids us fulfil the duties of our calling, in the humble discharge of those daily duties we shall find all that we need; for he will provide for those who trust in him. We are not told the result. Doubtless the stater was found. The two half shekels were paid. The Lord does not mock his people with commands which cannot be obeyed. He who gives the commandment enables them to fulfil it. He directed the fish to the hook of Peter. He makes all things work together for good to them that love him. He will help us in small difficulties as well as in great emergencies, he teaches us by this miracle, as he taught afterwards by the mouth of his apostle, "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."
1. The apostles were reverent in their relations with Christ; so must we be.
2. They feared to ask him about his approaching death; they understood him not. We know more than they knew then; let us meditate constantly in reverent love upon the Saviour's cross.
3. Let us give freely for all good works; let us not make excuses for ourselves, but imitate the Lord's example.
4. Our almsgiving will not impoverish us; "the Lord will provide."
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
Raphael's famous picture at the Vatican gives us an external representation of this wonderful event. But we want to get behind the canvas and discover the meaning of it, if it is to be something more to us than a theatrical transformation scene, something better than a spectacular display.
I. THE GLORY OF CHRIST. The external splendour had a meaning. If it was not a purely artificial radiance created in order to dazzle the eyes of the disciples, it must have corresponded to a wonderful illumination and glory in the soul of Jesus. Moses' face shone after he had been communing with God on Sinai (Exodus 34:29). The face of Stephen took on an angelic lustre in view of martyrdom (Acts 6:15). Jesus had been speaking of his approaching death quite recently (Matthew 16:21), and of the victory of self-sacrifice (Matthew 16:25). During the Transfiguration his death was the topic of his conversation (Luke 9:31). Then we may justly infer that the splendour that shone out from him corresponded to his exaltation of spirit in devoting himself to death. It was the glory of sacrifice. Jesus is most glorious in freely giving himself up for the salvation of the world.
II. THE HEAVENLY VISITORS. It is commonly assumed that Moses and Elijah had come to complete the picture that was displayed before the wondering eyes of the chosen three. But would they have been sent for so slight an object? It is more probable that, like the angels who ministered to him on other occasions, they were sent to cheer Jesus himself. He had looked for sympathy from his disciples when he had confided in them the dark secret of his doom, but he had failed to receive it, and instead he had heard the voice of the tempter in the impatient reply of one of his most intimate friends (Matthew 16:22, Matthew 16:23). Thus he was left alone in his meditations of death. But the sympathy which failed him on earth was afforded by the founder of Judaism and the leader of the prophets—both men whose end on earth was mysterious—returning from the heavenly world.
III. THE PERPLEXED DISCIPLES. The splendour overwhelmed the three. Two were speechless. The third had not the gift of silence; and wishing to say something when he had nothing to say, he made a foolish remark. This showed, again, how far the Master was above his disciples, how little they could enter into his life. But it also showed a measure of right feeling in St. Peter. It was good to be on the mount with Christ. We cannot retain the ravishing moments of heavenly rapture. But we can cherish them if ever we are visited with them. At least we can learn that it is good to be anywhere with Jesus, good to meditate on his Passion, good to behold his glory.
IV. THE DIVINE VOICE. The voice which had been heard before at the baptism (Matthew 3:17) is heard again on the mount, but with an addition to its message.
1. God owns his Son with delight. Was this voice for the cheering of Jesus as well as for the guidance of the disciples? Under the circumstances this seems probable. God was not only pleased with Jesus because he was his Son, but also because his Son pleased him. At first this was on account of the innocent character of Jesus, and his resolve to dedicate himself to his work in baptism; now it is because of the courage and devotion with which he will face death.
2. God commends his Son to men. "Hear ye him." This is the addition. Christ has disciples now; and Christ has proved his right to be heard. It is not enough to adore him in his glory; we must listen to his voice of teaching and obey his word of command.—W.F.A.
The Elijah ministry of John the Baptist.
The disciples were perplexed at what they saw on the Mount of the Transfiguration. There Elijah appeared with Moses in conversation with Christ, and the vision recalled to mind the familiar expectation of the Jews that the prophet should precede the advent of Christ. Was this the coming of Elijah? Surely not, for it was but a momentary visit in a solitary place. Yet if Elijah had not come first, how could the Christ have come? Thus the disciples were troubled in mind till their Master explained the situation by pointing to the mission of John the Baptist.
I. THE ADVENT OF CHRIST NEEDED TO BE HERALDED BY AN ELIJAH MINISTRY. The word "must" points to more than the fulfilment of prophecy. There was a necessity in the very nature of the case. Except Elijah came first Christ could not come.
1. Inferior ministries prepare for higher ministries. Elijah was great, but not so great as Christ. The prophets were all of them less than the Saviour. The Law was not equal to the gospel. Yet the lower and earlier ministries, with which all of these were associated, made the way ready for the coming of Christ.
2. Awakening must precede regeneration. Christ came to bring new life to the world. No Elijah could confer such a gift on his fellow men. But, in order to receive it, men must be awake and attentive. The earlier ministry rouses; it breaks up the fallow ground; thus it prepares for the later seed sowing.
3. Repentance must come before forgiveness. The grace of the gospel is net for the impenitent. Some influence must melt the stubborn heart if the kindly blessings of Christ are to be received into it.
II. THE ELIJAH MINISTRY MAY COME AND YET BE REJECTED. It was so in the case of John the Baptist, at least on the part of a considerable portion of the Jews.
1. There is no compulsion in the Divine ministries. We may accept them, and then they will bring us blessings. But we may reject them, though to our cost. After all, man is more than the soil through which the plough is driven; for he may arrest the instrument that would prepare him for the seed sowing, or he may harden himself against it.
2. The most needed Divine ministry may not come in the form we are expecting. The people looked for Elijah, and Elijah came; yet they did not recognize him. We may read the Bible too literally. Prophecy is not fulfilled in pedantic, verbal exactitude. The spirit of the prediction is verified in the event, but not in the form in which the prediction was first recorded. We blunder in blindness if we fail to welcome the Baptist because we are looking for Elijah.
III. CHRIST OPENS HIS DISCIPLES' EYES TO THE FULFILMENT OF GOD'S PURPOSES IN THE ELIJAH MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
1. It is well to bring our difficulties to Christ. The disciples were not ashamed to own their perplexity, nor too proud to ask for light. Our Lord will accept confidence in regard to the doubts that trouble us.
2. Jesus Christ understands the Divine purposes. They were obscure to the disciples; but to him they were quite clear. Therefore when we cannot see all we may trust him. The captain knows the route over the seas that are all unknown to the passengers.
3. Our Lord reveals needful truths concerning the Divine purposes, He gave his disciples an explanation. His whole life and teaching are luminous with revelation.—W.F.A.
The disciples' failure.
It has often been pointed out—as Raphael has shown in his famous picture—that the distressing occurrence of the disciples' failure happened just when Christ was away from them, transfigured on the mountain. Then clearly it would not have been good to build three tabernacles, and so retain the heavenly vision. The world needs Christ; it was well that he returned to the world.
I. A PARENT IN TROUBLE. This parent is greatly distressed because his son is grievously afflicted, and he seeks relief for him. Parents not only feel for their children; they will do for them what they would never attempt for themselves. It is not enough to have compassion for a great affliction. Love will search for remedies.
1. The parent brings his child to Christ's disciples. He is not to blame for this, because
(1) Christ himself was out of reach; and
(2) the disciples had received a commission to work miracles (Matthew 10:8). The people of Christ should be helpers of the distressed. The Church is the natural home of the helpless. It is sad to see the miserable so disappointed by the failure of the Church to help them that they turn aside to the new offers of "Secularists."
2. When disappointed, the parent appeals to Christ. He does not despair; he does not give up all efforts to have his child healed. Nothing in the world is so persevering as love. When the Church fails, Christ may yet be appealed to. It is a great mistake to allow our disappointment with Christians to blind us to the goodness and power of Christ. We have to learn to turn from Christ's imperfect followers to the Lord himself.
II. THE DISCIPLES HUMILIATED. They tried to cure the lunatic boy, but they failed.
1. Good men are not always successful men. We may be true Christians, and yet we may meet with bitter disappointments in our efforts. The servant of Christ is often humiliated at the failure of his attempts to serve his Master or benefit his fellow men.
2. Christians are weak in the absence of their Master. If Christ had been with them, the encouragement of his presence would have fortified his disciples. They who would do effective work for Christ must cleave close to Christ.
3. The failure of work is due to the failure of faith. St. James tells us that faith without works is dead. The absence of the fruit is the sign of its deadness. If there is no sap in the tree, the branches must wither. To do effective service in this world we must live much in the unseen.
4. Difficult Christian work is only possible when accompanied by prayer. The mistake of the disciples may have been that, while they lost faith in God, they were too confident of their own powers. We always fail when we are trusting to ourselves alone.
III. CHRIST TO THE RESCUE. He came when he was most needed.
1. Christ rebukes unbelief. He sees a defective condition of mind in the disciples and in the people generally. The atmosphere is not congenial to miracle working. But this is a sign of something wrong. A general state of unbelief is like the prevalence of a malaria. It must not be acquiesced in as a normal condition.
2. Christ makes up for the failure of his disciples. They may fail; he never fails. If he seems to fail in some cases (as at Nazareth, ch. 13:58), this is not because his power is insufficient, but because men are not receptive. He takes up our imperfect work, broken and marred as it is, and. he perfects it for us.—W.F.A.
The power of faith.
This was the comment of our Lord on the failure of the disciples to cure the lunatic boy, and on his own subsequent success. The difference was accounted for by the fact that the disciples had not faith, while Christ possessed it. On another occasion, when there was no question of any attempt of his disciples, our Lord answered the amazement caused by one of his miracles by pointing in a similar way to the power of faith (Matthew 21:21).
I. THE FAITH.
1. Its existence. "If ye have faith." These words imply uncertainty. Many people have much religion, but no faith. They have a creed, but not faith. They do not really and actively trust God. Faith begins in us when we put our belief into action.
2. Its smallness. It may be but as a grain of mustard seed. It is sad to think of its being so minute; certainly there is no virtue in its meagreness. Yet even a small faith may do great things if it is indeed a real faith. The great question is not—How many things do we believe? but—How firm is our grasp upon the objects of faith? The area of belief may be vast as a windswept desert, and faith may be small as a shepherd's cot. Then it is that little hut of faith that saves us, while the storm passes overhead.
3. Its life. The mustard seed is better than a grain of sand. It is alive, and therefore it can grow. The living faith will not be always small. But even while it is small it is capable of wonderful. possibilities.
II. THE WORK OF FAITH.
1. An active work. Christ here speaks of what faith does, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews recites achievements of faith (Hebrews 11:1-40.). Faith not only affords shelter in trouble, it is an inspiration for service. The man of faith is the man of action, for he has within him a fountain of energy. It is, therefore, an utter mistake to suppose that "believing" is to be instead of "doing." Faith is given to enable us to do great things which we could not accomplish without it.
2. A great work. This small faith is to accomplish grand results. The mustard seed is to remove a mountain. Only a foolish literalism can occasion any perplexity in the reading of Christ's words. His disciples were too familiar with Oriental metaphors to fall into the absurd mistake of supposing that Jesus really expected them to toss mountains of rock and earth from one place to another. It was customary for the Jews to refer to a great rabbi as a remover of mountains, and therefore Christ was employing proverbial language which would be well understood by his hearers. But this does not mean that his words contained no statement of importance. What it teaches is that faith can accomplish stupendous achievements, such as the strongest men' would fail in attempting without it.
3. A work of removing difficulties. The forerunner of Christ was to lower mountains in order to prepare the way for the King (Isaiah 40:4). There are many hindrances in the path of Christian work. Some of these seem to be insuperable. Sultans frown on the gospel; empires bar their gates against it. But faith, working by prayer, has removed many such a mountain of difficulty, and it will do so again.—W.F.A.
Christ paying tribute.
I. THE QUESTIONING DEMAND. The collectors of tribute asked with uncertainty, but perhaps also with suspicion and a desire to entrap St. Peter, whether Christ paid the regular temple tribute. This was expected of our Lord because he was a Jew. St. Peter answered in the affirmative without a moment's hesitation. This confidence of the apostle then induced Jesus to discuss the question. It is not reasonable to submit to any demand of men until its claim has been justified. Many people are singularly believing and compliant among men, while they are full of doubts and objections in regard to the demands made on them by God.
II. THE ROYAL LIBERTY. If Christ was indeed the Son of God, it could not be right to require the tribute from him which went from other men as from servants and stewards.
1. Observe our Lord's calm claim, it is sometimes assumed that the first three Gospels do not record any great claims on the part of Christ; that his lofty demands are only to be found in the Fourth Gospel. Thus it is attempted both to discredit that Gospel and to reject the claims themselves. But here we have a most exalted assumption of dignity. Could a mere man speak thus? And Jesus, let us always remember, was lowly and unselfish.
2. Consider his great rights. He should not be liable even to a tax. He has a right to receive all. Yet he was treated as though he were a subject and an inferior. His submission to indignities should not blind us to the majesty of his rights.
III. THE GRACIOUS ACQUIESCENCE. Though he might have stood upon his rights, Jesus was satisfied with explaining the situation to his over hasty disciple. Then he yielded.
1. The lover of peace will not always insist upon his rights. A man may be perfectly justified in resisting a certain demand, and yet it may be wisest for him to submit. When it is a question of principle there must be no compromise for the sake of peace, and when others are involved we are not at liberty to permit their rights to be trampled on through our meek submission. A Hampden is justly honoured as an unselfish patriot. But when it is only a question of our own personal convenience, it is often wisest and most Christ-like not to stand up stiffly forevery rightful claim which we might make.
2. The unselfish man will sacrifice his rights for the good of others. Jesus had great rights; but he let them go, because he had not come to please himself, but to give himself up for others. This is the great example and pattern for Christians.
IV. THE STRANGE MIRACLE. We cannot understand this miracle. But, then, we cannot really understand any miracle. It is simplest to think of it as a miracle of knowledge, At all events, it has its lessons.
1. Christ was poor. He had not even the half shekel when this was demanded.
2. Christ devised a new way of satisfying the demands made upon him. He put himself about for the sake of peace. He did not wish to provoke opposition. His conduct was most conciliatory.
3. Christ displayed his kingly power. While submitting to the wrongful treatment of him as a subject, he revealed his true kingly supremacy even over nature, in the fish of the sea.—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY MARCUS DODS
The intention of this scene seems to have been to inaugurate the sufferings of Christ, and to set him apart as the Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of the world. Being a public event, it behoved that it should be witnessed, and the same three men are chosen as witnesses of the rehearsal of his sufferings who are afterwards witnesses of the sufferings themselves in Gethsemane—the three most closely bound to him in affection. On both occasions their conduct proved how utterly helpless we are in the matter of our own salvation. One would have expected they would have been forward to aid their Master, or, if not to aid, at least to sympathize with him. But on both occasions they fell asleep. The world's redemption had really to be transacted in spite of the world; the best men of the world were indifferent, were asleep, when the crisis of the battle was passing, when its Redeemer was agonizing on its behalf. To our Lord the strength received from the Father by prayer was more needful than the restoring sweetness of sleep. In it was to be found more real detachment from care, more vital renewal of energy. It was probably for his encouragement and that of the disciples that this earnest was given of his triumph over death, and of his glorified condition. The significance of the reappearance of Moses and Elias is not hard to discern. They came as representatives of the two great economies through which God had dealt with men, and guided them to himself, to lay down their office, and recognize Christ as the One in whom the Law and the prophets were fulfilled. Every acceptable sacrifice of the Mosaic economy was acceptable through the sacrifice of Christ. Every hope kindled by the prophets rested for its fulfilment on him. And how do they testify their homage? "They spake," says Luke, "of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." The Law was to find its highest fulfilment in the most lawless of transgressions; prophecy found its richest in that which seemed to destroy hope itself. In the persons of these two our Lord would see as at one view all who had put their trust in God from the foundation of the world; all who had put their faith in sacrifice, believing that God would find a true Propitiation; all who had hoped in his tender mercy, and through dark and troublous times had strained to see the Consolation of Israel. The whole anxiety of guilty consciences, the whole longing sigh for the promised Messiah that had breathed through the ancient Church, at once becomes audible to his ear, and confirms his resolution that their trust shall not be put to shame. Steadfastly does he set his face to go to Jerusalem, more than ever determined that the glorified state which Moses and Elias have attained shall, by his shame and death, be secured to them, and to all those of whom they are the firstfruits. To complete the act of installation it was requisite, not only that the former mediators should resign their office, but that the real Mediator should be definitely nominated; and therefore a voice is heard from the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." And so, with no witnesses but these disciples, the world's history is transacted. It is summed up in these three, God commanding, God encouraging, God fulfilling; and these three are summed up in one—God saving. "When the disciples lifted up their eyes, they saw no mall, save Jesus only."
I. First, we learn that CHRIST IS NOW THE ONE MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND MAN. The one command now is, "Hear ye him." When Moses and Elias retired, and the disciples saw no man, save Jesus only, the whole burden of legal ceremonial fell from their shoulders. With the one temple of the Lord's body left to view, how simple must all religion and service have seemed, consisting simply in their loving and cleaving to their Lord and Master—the compassionate, considerate, righteous Lord Jesus Christ! We are often satisfied with the means of grace, the things that lead to Christ. But God calls you to come to Christ's self. "Hear ye him." You have a life-and-death question to settle, and for the settling of it there is for you, in the world, "no man, save Jesus only."
II. CHRIST IS OUR SUFFICIENT SAVIOUR. If your troubles and difficulties seem the most real things in the world to you, remember him who chose suffering for his portion, that you might be partakers of his glory. If you are despondent on account of your spiritual condition, remember this sure foundation of all preaching, this proclamation of Christ by God himself. The one utterance of God in New Testament times is this intimation, three times heard by Christ, that by laying down his life for sinners God was well pleased with him. Only by coming can you please him. Indifference to the voice would have been guilt in the apostles; it is equal guilt in you.
III. THE CONDUCT OF PETER WARNS US AGAINST TOO MUCH DREAD OF SUFFERING, OR OF BEING CALLED TO ENTER A CLOUD; and against too much desire to rest in any one experience or state. The darkest cloud your Lord calls you to enter will be irradiated by his presence. And if by any experience you have obtained stronger faith or a more lively sense of Christ's worth, be not anxious to build a tabernacle for sweet experiences, while there are countless works of charity, patience, energy, awaiting you. Believe that the whole line of earthly experiences can be lit up with God's present favour.—D.
The lunatic lad.
This incident is memorable chiefly on account of three truths it impresses on the mind.
I. THE APPARENTLY UNLIMITED RANGE OUR LORD GIVES TO FAITH. Promise, rebuke, and surprise are mingled in his reply. "if thou canst, all things are possible," etc. As if he said, "You do not surely question my power; it is no question of power, it is a question of faith; have you faith to receive, to evoke the power?" As clearly as possible he says to this man, "The cure depends on yourself." We are continually tempted to ask—Why should it be so? Why could not God overcome our unbelief by producing within us such manifest results of his health-giving power that we should find it impossible to doubt? The reason seems to be that our assuming our permanent relation to God is of more importance than any single blessing which results from it. Our trust in God and acceptance of him, as higher than all worldly power, are more than any other help we can receive from him, and therefore he first of all demands faith. And though it seems as if faith would be easier after receiving what we need, yet there can be no doubt it is the anxiety and restless thoughtfulness produced by trouble and difficulty which chiefly compel men to strive to ascertain for themselves what is the truth about God in his helpfulness. The visible and tangible blessings he bestowed were so far from being all he had to give, that he allowed no one to go away with only these.
II. THE POWER OUR LORD ASCRIBES TO FAITH. Here, too, are difficulties. God will not, we feel sure, contradict himself by reversing in our favour any law of nature. But it is of the very essence of prayer to ask for such things as we cannot get but by prayer. Prayer is the acknowledgment that we have to do, not with nature only, but with one who can govern and use nature freely, and to whom all things are possible. There is a way of speaking of natural law as if it were a thing sacred and not to be tampered with, whereas a great part of our time is spent in averting the consequences of natural law, and nothing gives ampler scope to our free will and reason and active powers than the guiding of nature to happier issues. The man who says he cannot suppose God will depart from those great lines of action he has laid down ought on the same ground humbly to submit to sickness and use no remedy against it; for surely it is more presumptuous to fight against the natural law of disease than to pray God that if he sees fit he would fight against it for us. No doubt natural law is one expression, nay, the fundamental expression, of God's will; and when day by day a man sees that the sun rises and sets with a regularity undisturbed by national disasters or personal necessities, he becomes convinced that it is God's will that sunrise and sunset be invariable. But though everything in nature may be as rigidly bound to its own cause as sunrise and sunset, it does not follow that everything is as necessary, as important, as unalterable. By the arrest of the natural course of disease in this boy no shock was given to the needful belief of men in the constancy of nature. While holding fast, on the one hand, to the truth that all things are possible, we cannot but consider, on the other hand, that some things are so extremely improbable that it is vain to ask God to perform them. Scientific men assure us that there is a region into which we cannot see, but in which the most powerful of all causes resides. This is the region we claim for God, and out of which he can send forth influences in answer to those who appeal to him. There are other effects possible than those we contemplate, because there are other causes in operation than those we see. We may always be leaving out of view something that is known to the only wise God, our Saviour.
III. THERE ARE KINDS OF SIN WHICH CALL FOR TREATMENT OF A SPECIALLY SEVERE KIND. The harping of David may be enough to cast out some devils, but others laugh to scorn the exorcism of nine apostles. What of your equipment in this warfare? You have a faith that has proved itself equal to some duty and fit for service of a kind. But are there not sins in you which sometimes assume a very alarming shape; and how are you equipped against these? Look first at the sin, at its inveterate hold on you, at its rootedness in the deepest part of your nature, at the skill with which it assails you all day long and in so many different ways; look with what ease it has survived any assaults you have made on it; and then look at the means you are using for its destruction, and say if it is likely, nay, if it is possible, that such sin can yield to such means. Were we to tell each other our experience, would not some of us have to say, "Unless there be some better remedy than those I have tried, I fear to think what may become of me and my sin"? Learn from this incident that your safety lies, not with subsidiary means, but with the Master, the one living Spring of life.—D.
The stater in the fish's mouth.
This was not an entangling question, such as was afterwards put by the scribes, who asked if it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. There was no question of the lawfulness of this tax, and all that the collectors wished to know was whether Jesus wished to pay the tax at Capernaum or at Jerusalem, or whether perhaps he had not some special claim for exemption. Peter, as usual, does not stop to think, but promptly assures them that his Master certainly considered himself taxable. No sooner does Peter come in than Jesus, without further introduction, says, "What thinkest thou, Simon? the kings of the earth, from whom do they receive toll or tribute? from their sons, or from strangers?" Peter promptly answered, "From strangers." "Therefore," says our Lord, "the sons are free." The heavenly King could obviously require no tax from him whom Peter had only a day or two ago acknowledged to be, in a special sense, the Son of God. He had no intention, however, of standing on his right, and claiming exemption. His whole life was a foregoing of his rights as God's Son. He submitted to this tax, therefore, as he submitted to baptism. But that Peter at least might clearly understand that this payment and every act of his human life was a voluntary humiliation, he provides the money in a manner which is meant to exhibit him as the Lord of nature. When Peter went down to the lake, and found all as his Master had said, he cannot but have thought with himself, "Certainly our Master is as humble as he bids us be. He has all nature at command, and yet makes no sign to these tax gatherers. He bids us accommodate ourselves to the ignorance and prejudice of those about us, as he himself stoops to the smallest child." This miracle, then, was meant to instruct; especially to illustrate the humility of Jesus. It was intended to follow up the teaching of the Transfiguration and of Peter's confession; and, on the other hand, to put in a concrete and visible form the teaching regarding humility which our Lord at this time gave to his disciples. Peter was to be helped to see that the most Divine thing about our Lord was his becoming man, and submitting day by day to all that was involved in that. And in this miracle he had his first easy lesson; for in it he was himself the instrument at once of his Lord's Divinity and of his submission. Our Lord himself assigns a reason for the payment: "Lest," he says, "we should offend," or become a cause of stumbling. To all followers of Christ, then, this action of our Lord says, "Forego your rights rather than cause any ignorant person to stumble at your conduct." We are very apt to justify ourselves by maintaining that it was not we, but the person who stumbled, who was in fault; if he was so narrow minded, so weak, he would have stumbled at something else if not at that. "Yes," says our Lord, "it is quite true; it must needs be that offences come, but woe to that man by whom they come!" All men die, but murder is not on that account a venial sin. Our Lord miraculously paid Peter's tax as well as his own. He supplied him out of his Father's treasury, giving him an inkling of the truth afterwards to be set in the clearest light, that in Christ we are all children of God, and that in him we get from God far more than ever we can give to him.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
"And six days after." This note refers to the conversation Jesus had with his disciples, in which he said, "The Son of man shall come," etc. (quote Matthew 16:27, Matthew 16:28). But the apostles are all dead, and the kingdom is still future. The Transfiguration, then, must be viewed as a symbolic anticipation and pledge of the kingdom, and Peter and James and John were those referred to who should not taste death until they had seen the Son of man coming in his kingdom; and they saw this when they were "eyewitnesses of his majesty on the holy mount." We propose to show—
I. THAT THE SPIRITUAL GLORY OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS SET FORTH IN THE TRANSFIGURATION.
1. It exhibits the signs of a new dispensation.
(1) Here is humanity the shrine of Deity. This as a fact existed in the Incarnation. It is roundest in the Transfiguration. This is a new thing. Formerly the Holy Spirit was with men, now he is in them (see John 14:17). The indwelling of the witnessing Spirit characterizes this dispensation.
(2) Moses and Elijah shine in the glory of Jesus. The Law is illustrated by the light of the gospel. Its sacrifices and ablutions now become full of glorious meaning. So are the prophets illustrated. Their personal history is seen to have been typical. Their predictions of Messiah are fulfilled.
(3) Christ is the source of gospel law. The "voice" rebuked Peter's mistake in proposing to make equal tabernacles. "Hear ye him." No longer listen to Moses and the prophets otherwise than as they are heard in the accents of Jesus.
2. It exhibits the signs of a spiritual dispensation.
(1) Here is a remarkable concurrence. Moses fasted forty days in the wilderness of Sinai. So did Elijah. Jesus likewise fasted forty days in "the wilderness"—probably the same. Of no other is this recorded. Here are all those together in glory.
(2) The life of those forty days proclaimed that "man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word"—the precept and the promise "of God." This spiritual life may be studied in the history of that remarkable forty days of the life of Jesus after his resurrection. We are "risen with Christ."
(3) While they fasted from natural food, they feasted on spiritual. While the Israelites fasted during their forty years in the wilderness, they feasted on the bread from heaven.
(4) So the sun-clothed woman—the true Church of Christ—was nourished in the wilderness by the pure Word of God during these "forty and two months" in which she fled from the face of the Jezebel of Rome. The counterpart of this was the feeding of the prophets in the caves by good Obadiah, when they fled from the persecutions of the meretricious Queen of Samaria.
3. It exhibits the tokens of gospel grace.
(1) However glorified, Jesus still remembers Calvary. The matter of the conversation m the mount of glory was the decease he should accomplish at Jerusalem. And now he is in the height of heaven he lives there to make intercession for us.
(2) Calvary is the theme of celestial rapture. It is the burden of the song of the redeemed. Holy angels take up the strain.
(3) Prejudices are dissipated in the light of eternity. "Peter answered," viz. to the conversation about the decease, "Lord, it is good for us to be here." This was the same Peter who, six days earlier, had the presumption to rebuke Jesus for referring to the same decease (see Obadiah 1:16 :22).
II. THAT THE PHYSICAL GLORY OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS SET FORTH IN THE TRANSFIGURATION.
1. Jesus will yet appear in royal state.
(1) In the visions of the prophets the two advents of Messiah are blended; and it is only in the fulfilment of the circumstances of the first advent in humiliation that we get clear views of those of the second advent in glory.
(2) Of this glory there were remarkable prophetic anticipations in the glorious Divine forms or similitudes of Old Testament times.
(3) The Transfiguration is a still clearer anticipation. For here we have not only the semblance of a beatified humanity; we have the true humanity of Jesus beatified by the glory of the Godhead.
2. The bright cloud manifested the presence of angels.
(1) If we compare the passages in which the glorious advent of Christ is described, we shall see that those which mention the "clouds" omit the mention of accompanying angels; and so contrariwise, those which mention the "angels" omit the mention of clouds.
(2) Wherever Christ's presence is promised, the presence of his retinue of angels is understood, if not expressed. They are ever present with him in the assemblies of his saints (see Ecclesiastes 7:6; 1 Corinthians 11:10).
(3) Clouds and angels are promiscuously the chariots of God. The clouds of angels were with him in his ascension (cf. Psalms 68:17, Psalms 68:18; Ephesians 4:8-10; see also Psalms 18:10; Psalms 104:1-4).
3. Moses represented the sainted dead.
(1) His appearance upon the mount was a kind of specimen of the resurrection. He had a grand death when, on the mountain summit, God bowed his august head out of heaven and kissed away the soul of his servant. His body was buried. Then there was a contention about this (see Jud Obadiah 1:9). Was it with respect to the appearance of Moses in this scene?
(2) It was a sample of the first resurrection. The resurrection of the just will take place in two acts (see Revelation 20:4-6). In the first resurrection the "ancients" will appear in glory with Christ (cf. Isaiah 24:23; Daniel 12:1-3);
(3) May we hope for this distinction (see Philippians 3:8-11)? Let us strive.
4. Elijah represented the living who shall be changed.
(1) Paul had special revelation on this subject (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-54; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
(2) These transfigurations will occur during the course of the reign of Christ over the earth. Sinners will die off quickly. Saints will be changed—translated (see Luke 17:34-37).
(3) Of these, Elijah was a specimen. He was translated to heaven in a fiery chariot, and must have been transfigured in his transit. Flesh and blood cannot enter heaven.
(4) What a mingled scene is here! Christ with the glory of the Father. Clouds of angels. Elijah representing the quick. Moses representing the dead. The apostles representing the Church on earth. Heaven and earth will be thus blended in the kingdom of Messiah.
(5) Have we not a note of the time of the kingdom in the "six days'" interval? Does it not correspond with the six ages of Barnabas mentioned in his Epistle? Is this wholly without countenance from Scripture (cf. Daniel 12:12, Daniel 12:13; Hosea 6:2; Hebrews 4:9; 2 Peter 3:8)? There is a wonderful future for the Christian.—J.A.M.
After the Transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples came down the mountain side. Ecstasies, even in religion, have their sombre interludes. But in these we may still remain in the blessed company of Jesus. As they descended, Jesus "commanded his disciples, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead." This command astonished them. Interpreting the prophets, the scribes expected Elijah to come as the harbinger of Messiah. As Elijah had now appeared, the disciples were eager to proclaim this as the accomplishment of the prophecy. But they were now further surprised to learn that the prophecy had already been fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. Our Lord had before spoken to this effect (see Matthew 11:14); but these disciples, Peter, James, and John, appear then to have been absent on a preaching excursion. Note: It is the fate of prophecy to be fulfilled without being noticed by the world. "But the wise shall understand." Let us consider—
I. THE COMING OF ELIJAH IN THE PERSON OF THE BAPTIST.
1. The scribes looked for the Tishbite.
(1) They did so the recognized public interpreters of prophecy. Isaiah spoke of a harbinger of Messiah (see Isaiah 40:3-5). This harbinger is mentioned again, and distinguished as "Elijah the prophet" (see Malachi 4:5, Malachi 4:6). The scribes concluded that Elijah the Tishbite literally should appear.
(2) They "knew not" John the Baptist in the character of Elijah. He did not answer their expectations as the literal Elijah. Neither did his testimony to Jesus suit their prejudices. Jesus did not come as that secular king whom they fondly hoped to See. So does the spirit of the world blind the spiritual vision.
(3) The disciples of Jesus were influenced by the teaching of the scribes. They therefore rejoiced to see here in the holy mount the literal Elijah; and fain would they conclude that this was the fulfilment of the prophecy. They were accordingly eager to bear testimony to what they had seen. It had not occurred to them, any more than to the scribes, to identify the Baptist as the Elijah of the prophet.
2. Yet was the Baptist the Elijah of prophecy.
(1) Gabriel announced him in this quality. To Zacharias the angel said of John, "He shall go before the face of the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him" (Luke 1:17). The reference here to the Prophet Malachi cannot be mistaken.
(2) Zacharias, in the spirit of prophecy, confirmed the testimony of Gabriel. "And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways" (Luke 1:76).
(3) John came accordingly "in the spirit and power of Elijah." Like that prophet, his dwelling was in the wilderness; his attire was rough; and his habits were simple and severe (cf. 2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4). His preaching was repentance. "To turn the heart of the [believing] fathers to the [unbelieving] children, and the heart of the children to their fathers," and thus to avert the curse of God from the land.
(4) John roundly announced himself to be that voice in the wilderness of which Isaiah spake (see John 1:23).
3. In this quality John was recognized by Jesus.
(1) He did so practically, for he did not commence his preaching until John had ended his public ministry. Thus: "When he heard that John was delivered up, he withdrew into Galilee," and it is added, "From that time began Jesus to preach".
(2) The importance of this question of time is evident also from the reference to it again by Peter when he came to preach the gospel to Cornelius (see Acts 10:36, Acts 10:37). Peter evidently viewed it as an important mark of Messiah.
(3) Jesus in his teaching, as well as in his conduct, acknowledged John as the Elijah of prophecy. He did so to the multitude after the retirement from him of certain disciples of John who came to him with a message from John in his prison. "This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which is to come" (see Matthew 11:10-14). In this passage our Lord refers to both the prophets who mention the harbinger of Messiah, Isaiah and Malachi, and applies their prophecies to John. In the text also Jesus declares John to be "that Elijah" as "come already."
II. THE COMING OF ELIJAH AS THE HERALD OF THE JUDGMENT.
1. Such a coming may be presumed.
(1) For Christ is yet to come in judgment. Before his Transfiguration he announced this solemn fact (see Matthew 16:27). The Transfiguration was itself a symbolic anticipation of that coming. As the first advent of Christ was heralded by an Elijah, so may we presume that the second advent also will be.
(2) Daniel distinguishes the first and second advents of Messiah; otherwise the comings are so blended in the visions of prophecy that they appear as one. The distinction is now fully manifest since the first advent has taken place. By parity of reasoning we may infer that the prophecies concerning the harbinger are to be fulfilled in two acts.
(3) Differences may be presumed in the two appearances of the harbinger to correspond to the differences of the two advents of Messiah. The Baptist came in symbols of sorrow, without miracle, to introduce Messiah as a Priest coming to suffer for sin. The coming Elijah may be expected to appear in symbols of power, working miracles, to introduce Messiah in his quality of King.
(4) To anticipate this second coming, Elijah appeared in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. Trypho objects to Justin Martyr that Messiah can have no power until anointed by Elijah. He overlooked the fact that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Ghost when he was baptized by John (cf. Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:37, Acts 10:38). That anointing was to inaugurate Christ as a Prophet. But when Elijah was present in the holy mount, Jesus received his further anointing as a King.
2. The presumption is now confirmed.
(1) John's disclaimer that he was Elijah, while he declared himself to be the voice crying in the wilderness (see John 1:21-23), can only be reconciled on the understanding that Elijah was yet to come in another form. Mede makes John the Baptist to come again instead of Elijah in full form. The disclaimer of John would rather point to Elijah in person. The appearance of the literal Elijah in the holy mount would also point this way. The Jews say, "When Elijah comes he will solve hard questions." His coming will solve this.
(2) The coming of the Baptist has not fully satisfied prophecy. He came not immediately "before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord" (Malachi 4:5). For that day is yet future, he came more in pursuance of the prophecy of Isaiah than of that of Malachi. Yet is there a second fulfilment also for the words of Isaiah.
(3) In affirming that Elijah had come in the person of John the Baptist, our Lord did not say that there was no future coming of Elijah. When the disciples quoted the scribes, Jesus did not say that they were wrong in expecting Elijah to come, but in not discerning that the Baptist had come in the character of Elijah.
(4) Far from this, our Lord says plainly, "Elijah indeed cometh, and shall restore all things." This coming of Elijah in the future is all the more remarkable in that it was spoken after John had been beheaded.
(5) This Elijah of the future is to" restore all things." This did not John. He restored some things. He preached repentance, and his doctrine is still restoring. But the "time of the restoration of all things" is that of the second advent of Christ (see Acts 3:19-21). Why did Jesus command his disciples, saying, "Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen from the dead"?
1. One of the purposes of the vision was to intimate that the Old Testament must give place to the New. The time for the abolition of the Law of commandments contained in ordinances was not ripe until after the Resurrection.
2. The glory of the Resurrection would render more credible the testimony concerning the Transfiguration. Had the testimony been given earlier, the sufferings of Christ would probably be urged against its credibility.
3. The earlier testimony might imperil the witnesses. The heads of the nation appear to have been implicated in the martyrdom of John. "They knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they listed." If they did not imprison John, they made no effort to procure his release. They rejoiced in his death. Having tasted the blood of John, they thirsted for the blood of Jesus. "Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them" (see Acts 12:1-3). Christ's times are best for us.—J.A.M.
The secrets of faith.
A blended good and evil characterizes the present state of man. Ever since our first parents ate of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" their children have been eating of it. The hovel is found under the very shadow of the palace. What a scene of glory was that of the Transfiguration! What a scene of misery is this at the foot of the mountain! "And when they were come to the multitude," etc. Learn—
I. THAT THE POWER OF FAITH IS UNLIMITED.
1. For Omnipotence is pledged to it.
(1) Witness the miracle of faith on the waters of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14:13, Exodus 14:14). The distance across the arm of the Red Sea at Pihahiroth is about twelve miles; while the average depth of the water there is about eighty-four feet. The weight of the vast ocean sets into it. Yet was that world of waters controlled by the faith of Moses.
(2) So, had the disciples of Jesus "faith as a grain of mustard seed," they might have routed the devil from this boy. And the case of the demoniac may be taken as a sample of the moral condition of man under the tyranny of Satan.
(3) No limit is set to the premise here given to faith (cf. Matthew 21:21; Luke 17:5). Things great or small are equally easy to the Promiser. Properly speaking, to God nothing is miraculous. A rustic, witnessing the experiments of an electrician, may conclude that he is a magician. To the scientist these experiments have no more of miracle in them than the rustic may see in the furrow he cuts with his plough. "Things impossible with men are possible with God."
2. But Omnipotence is not pledged to caprice.
(1) In the heathen mythology there is one Phaethon, the son of Apollo, who was ambitious to guide the chariot of the sun, and importuned his father to entrust him with the reins. He soon found his arm too treble to restrain the fiery steeds; and the sun was rushing down upon the earth. Jupiter, seeing the danger, launched a thunderbolt at Phaethon and dislodged him from his seat, upon which the chariot came back into abler hands, and the world was saved from conflagration. If, then, Omnipotence be pledged to faith, may not ambition and folly destroy the world?
(2) The answer is that faith is the gift of God (see Matthew 16:17; 1 Corinthians 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8, Ephesians 2:9; Philippians 1:29; Colossians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:1). God will not inspire faith in the interests of folly.
(3) Hence quality rather than quantity is the thing required. "Faith as a grain of mustard seed." The idea of a grain of mustard seed dislodging a mountain! Abstractedly, faith is impotent; it becomes omnipotent as it is associated with God. A small band slipped over a wheel sets a factory in motion, because it links the machinery with the steam engine. Faith may link the machinery of the universe to the great power of God.
(4) True faith is distinct from mere credence. Some are Christians from the accident of birth, as others are Mohammedans, Papists, or pagans. Some are Christians from conviction, having studied and approved the evidences. But saving faith is a thing of the heart—an inspiration from God; it works by love, and purifies the heart and life.
II. THAT MORAL CONSIDERATIONS DETERMINE THE SUBJECTS OF THE GIFT OF FAITH.
1. Divine seriousness is a condition of the faith of miracle working.
(1) This our Lord declared. And Paul says, "No man can say Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 12:3).
(2) Simon the magician was mistaken in thinking that the gift of God could be purchased with money (Acts 8:20). The sons of Sceva found to their cost that they must not trifle with the name of Jesus (see Acts 19:13-16).
(3) The miracle working faith was given to authenticate the gospel. That end is now answered. Yet may it be given again at any time when God sees sufficient reason.
2. Repentance is the condition of saving faith.
(1) Christ came to save his people from their sins. So the promise is, "In the day that ye seek me ye shall find me, when ye search for me with your whole heart."
(2) Then seize the candle of the Lord, and search your heart to see what has hindered your salvation. Have you made restitution in that you have robbed? Have you made reparation in that you have injured (see Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24)?
(3) The faith that saves is a higher gift than the faith of miracle working. "Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Rejoice not so much that you have the miracle working faith as that you have the faith that saves, "If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). Miracle working faith is as nothing compared with that which is saving.
3. Godliness is essential to the faith of usefulness.
(1) The goodness of Barnabas is significantly associated with his "faith" and usefulness (see Acts 11:24). This also may be noted in respect to persons eminently useful in the Church in following ages.
(2) But what are we to say to the usefulness of those who are far from goodness? Not that they are useful in consequence of their faith; for they have none. The truth God may bless, whoever uses it. No credit in this case is due to the ungodly; nor will they receive any reward.
(3) For the faith of usefulness we must pray. "This kind goeth not out but by prayer." Because without prayer we cannot have that goodness which renders us eligible for the gift of faith.
(4) Fasting also is helpful to faith. Our Lord gave us his example in this (see Matthew 4:2). He also gives us directions as to the spirit in which we should fast (see Matthew 6:16). Apostles associated fasting with their special prayer (see Acts 13:2, Acts 13:3).—J.A.M.
Greatness in submission
The originality of Jesus meets us at every turn. The men of this world seek greatness in self-assertion and resistance—by force and cunning. Christ exhibits it in condescension and patience.
I. THE GREATNESS OF JESUS IS SEEN IN HIS PASSION.
1. His submission there was voluntary.
(1) He foresaw it.
(a) It was predicted. He was perfectly conversant with the prophets.
(b) He enlarged upon their anticipations. How circumstantial are his words (see Matthew 17:22, Matthew 17:23)!
(c) His clear foresight was an ante-Passion.
(2) He could, have avoided it.
(a) For he was "the Son of man." As the true Adam—the innocent and perfect Man—he might have claimed Eden. He was under no obligation to suffer.
(b) But he was also "the Son of God." In this quality he was acknowledged at his Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:5). Under these titles alike equally glorious attributes of Divinity are ascribed to Jesus. He was the Arbiter of life. His own life could not be forfeited without his consent.
(3) Yet he died. The "betrayed" of the Old Version is "delivered up" in the New (Matthew 17:22). His manhood was surrendered by his Godhead. The voluntariness of the sacrifice of Christ was superlative, infinite.
2. Behold now his greatness in the grandeur of his purposes.
(1) In the Passion of Christ we have the most wonderful revelation of God. Where else can we find an equal exhibition of the greatness of his love? It is also the most glorious vindication of his truth (cf. Matthew 26:24; Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18).
(2) Atonement is made for human sin. "They shall kill him." "Without shedding of blood there is no remission."
(3) The gospel has to be authenticated in the resurrection. "And the third day he shall be raised." Death was the necessary prelude to a resurrection. Note the occasion of the sorrow of the disciples. The prospect of the death of their Master swallowed up as it were that of the resurrection, of which also they had been pre-informed. So do the trials and sufferings of this life so fill our minds as to prevent our rejoicing in the blessedness of the glories that are to follow.
(4) To all these great purposes of the Passion of Christ add this, viz. that in it he is our Pattern. The believer is crucified with Christ. And that union with Christ which he finds at the cross carries him back into the life of his earlier history, and forward into the life of his resurrection. Men are at their greatest in this wonderful union with their Lord.
II. THE GREATNESS OF JESUS IS SEEN IN HIS SUBMISSION TO TAXATION.
1. Look at the fact assuming the tax to have been a Roman impost.
(1) Beza and Jerome were of opinion that the tax here, as in Matthew 22:7, was paid to Caesar. On that supposition the inquiry may have been, "Is your Master of the opinion of Judas of Galilee, that tribute should not be paid to Caesar?"
(2) Peter took it as matter of course that his Master would pay the tax; but Jesus put the matter to him in an unexpected light. We know Christ only as he reveals himself. The revelation was given, not to the tax gatherer, but to Peter. Truth is variously seen as it is viewed in relation to the world and in relation to Christ. The Word gives a distinct testimony to the worldly and co the spiritual.
(3) But where is the point of the reference to the "kings of the earth"? Might not Jesus, as the "Son of David" and rightful Heir to the throne of Israel, have contested the matter of the tribute to Caesar? As the "Son of man," was he not Heir to the royalty of the whole earth (cf. Genesis 1:26; Psalms 8:4-6; Hebrews 2:6-9)? In this he is "higher than the kings of the earth."
(4) Had Jesus urged these things upon the tax gatherer and contested the matter with Caesar, he would have sought greatness as the men of the world seek it. But to that he would not. stoop. God is in no haste. At the proper time "he will take to himself his great power."
(5) So can the sons of God afford to wait for the great day of their public honour when they shall claim the freedom of the universe.
2. Look at the fact understanding the tribute to belong to the temple.
(1) This is the sense in which it is generally taken. A half shekel was expected from every master of a Hebrew family to provide salt for the offerings and other things not otherwise provided for (see Exodus 30:11-16; Nehemiah 10:32).
(2) According to this view, then, our Lord refers to the "kings of the earth" as in contrast to the King of heaven. The temple for whose service the tribute was expected was the house of God; but Jesus was the Son of God—the Prince (cf. Daniel 9:25, Daniel 9:26). So was he Lord of the temple, and free (cf. Malachi 3:1; John 2:16; Hebrews 3:6). Jesus might have claimed exemption upon higher ground than that on which exemption was conceded to the priests who ministered in the temple.
(3) Those who are Christ's share in his rights as the sons of God. Hence the manner in which Jesus associates Peter with himself in this matter of the tribute. "For me and thee" (Matthew 22:27). The disciples of Jesus, like the priests that ministered in the temple, should be free. And here is a hint that disciples of Jesus should be released from Levitical obligations in general.
(4) Instead of arguing this question with the collector, Jesus left it to be disposed of by the issue of events. How truly great is he in his calm self-possession!
3. Now look at the manner of his submission.
(1) He waives his claim in tenderness toward the prejudices of men. "Lest we should offend them." Note: Men occupied in worldly concerns are most ready to be offended with the saints in money matters. Lest these persons, being ignorant of his Divine character, should impute his refusal to impiety. Love will conciliate prejudice.
(2) Consider further the extent to which he carried that tenderness. A miracle is wrought to avoid giving offence. How original is the conduct of Christ in this! How great is he in that originality!
(3) Here, then, is our Example. The loving Spirit will do anything for peace but sacrifice justice and truth (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13; Romans 16:13). Note: The business of Christians is with the morals of the world rather than with the politics of nations. In improving the morals of the world they go to the very root of the evils in the politics of nations.
4. View the greatness of Jesus in his superiority to the world.
(1) He elected poverty. What poverty is this! He has not in possession fifteen pence to satisfy a collector of tribute. Note: The original disciples did not follow him for worldly gain. His high example may reconcile his disciples to privation.
(2) But what resources are associated with this poverty! The miracle of the fish showed omnipotence and omniscience in many ways. The fish must be taken; it must be taken immediately; it must bring up money; the first fish must bring it up; the coin must be a stater. Note: The disciples of Jesus in their poverty may trust his providence. He can as surely supply their needs without as by miracle.
(3) The poverty of Jesus was voluntary. The power which commanded that stater could have summoned boundless wealth. It is Christ-like to forego opportunities of wealth for the kingdom of heaven's sake.
(4) When will men discern it practically, that there are better things than money?—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The mission of the selected ones.
On three occasions it is reported that our Lord took three of the disciples apart with him; and it was always the same three. We need not, however, assume that the reported cases were the only cases. Observing them, we note that they were representative instances. In the first case, the raising of the little maid, special witnesses were needed for the surprising miracle, the restoration of the dead. In the other two cases—Transfiguration and Gethsemane—we have glimpses of the private life and experience of Jesus with which the ordinary disciples had no direct concern. It need not have been told us how, or when, or where Jesus conducted his private devotions, or what happened on such occasions. Jesus had these three with him for two reasons.
1. For company.
2. That the revelation of his mystery might be kept for a while, and revealed when the life manifestation was complete, and his Divine Person and mission could be understood. The reason for the selection of these three is to be found in our Lord's estimate of character. He illustrates the Divine election, which is always a Divine selection, in view of fitness for position. In these three men we can see a power of faith, and a power of enthusiastic personal attachment, which suffice to account for their selection.
I. THEIR MISSION WAS TO KEEP THEIR SAVIOUR COMPANY. It is strange that in times of distress and excitement we both crave to be alone, and crave to have some one trustworthy with us. We have mingled feelings—we want to be alone; we cannot bear to be alone. In his fellowship with us in this peculiarity we gain a full impression of our Lord's humanity. It comes out even in a more striking way in Gethsemane.
II. THEIR MISSION WAS TO RECEIVE IMPRESSIONS FROM OUR LORD'S PRIVATE LIFE. It would not have been a private scene if all the disciples had been on the mount. Our Lord had a private life quite distinct from that public life which was the common property of disciples. Our Lord had right to that private life undisturbed. And yet some of the best revelations of his "Person" and "mission" came to view in such strictly private experiences as Gethsemane and Transfiguration; so a selection from the apostolate was permitted to invade his privacy.
III. THEIR MISSION WAS TO KEEP SECRET FOR A TIME THEIR IMPRESSIONS. The twelve would never have kept such a secret. The three might, especially as they really did not understand the scene. They had to keep it as a mystery which time would unfold.
IV. THEIR MISSION WAS TO REVEAL THE MYSTERY OF CHRIST'S PRIVATE LIFE WHEN THAT COULD BE MADE EFFECTIVE. See St. Peter's use of his experiences (2 Peter 1:16-18).—R.T.
The reappearance of Moses and Elias.
St. Luke materially adds to our knowledge of this scene when he tells us the subject of the conversation of this mysterious company. They "spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." It may be seeing deeper into the mystery of the scene if we can apprehend that, for the time, Jesus was out of the bodily and within the spiritual sphere to which Moses and Elias belonged. Instead of thinking that they came down to him, it is better to think he was with them. That Transfiguration was the temporary freedom of the Son of God from his body limitations; a temporary resumption of heavenly conditions in a heavenly sphere; a freedom from the human for the sake of a time of Divine and spiritual communion. The scene lay in that region of the supernatural which was the proper, the eternal, sphere of the Son of God. The Transfiguration cannot be understood apart from a careful estimate of Christ's circumstances and moods of mind at this time. He had been virtually rejected in Galilee. His work there was finished. He retired northward, depressed in spirit. The failure in Galilee seemed a foreshadowing of the great failure. He was beginning to tread the pathway at whose end was a cross of shame. But why did Christ anticipate? Why did he not do the duty of the hour, and leave the morrow to take care of the things of itself? Explain that the virtue of Christ's death lay in its being a voluntary surrender; no mere accident—a real sacrifice. Then it must be known, distinctly thought about, and accepted beforehand. The glory came when he, in prayer, was wrestling to gain a full acceptance of this will of God that he should suffer. A part of his comforting came from the communion of representative men.
I. THE LIGHTER VIEW OF THE REAPPEARANCE OF MOSES AND ELIAS. There is a view with which we are so familiar that, maybe, we have never even thought of criticizing it. All the commentaries say, "The representatives of the Law and the prophets," though the reason for choosing Elijah to represent the prophets is never suggested. These two men are assumed to have given the witness of the Jewish Church to our Lord's death.
II. THE DEEPER VIEW OF THE REAPPEARANCE OF MOSES AND ELIAS. "The presence of Moses and Elias suggests far off unknown relations to, and vibrations of joy to, the pre-Messianic children of light." "He conversed with his great predecessors, Moses and Elias, who could thoroughly sympathize with him, and whose work his death was to fulfil." These were the two men most profoundly interested in the recovery and redemption of men. And therefore they were so supremely interested in the work of Christ. Even these three disciples could not give Jesus full sympathy. St. Peter's foolish talk showed that they could not. Jesus found sympathy in glorified saints.—R.T.
A repetition of the Divine approval.
The Transfiguration does not stand alone in our Lord's life. There are two other scenes with which it may be compared. "The one is the descent of the Holy Ghost on him, under the symbol of a brooding dove, after his baptism." The other is the sound as of thunder, and the responding voice of the Father, saying of his Father-Name, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." And it should be noticed that the first direct manifestation of God to Christ—at his baptism—occurred as the beginning of his active mission as a Teacher. The second—at the Transfiguration—occurred as the starting of Christ on the suffering portion of his mission. And the third—the thunder voice—as a precise assurance and encouragement when our Lord was entering upon his Passion.
I. THE KEYNOTE OF CHRIST'S LIFE WAS DOING HIS FATHER'S WILL. See his words at twelve years of age. He would not only do his Father's will, but do it in the Father's way; and bear it, if it involved bearing. Our Lord's meat and drink were to do the will of his Father.
II. THE JOY OF CHRIST'S LIFE WAS TO RECEIVE SIGNS OF THE DIVINE APPROVAL. We can hardly imagine how delightful to the obedient Son must have been these voices out of heaven. And never was the voice more strengthening than when our Lord was proposing to himself a full surrender to the Father's will, which involved humiliation, suffering, seeming failure, and death. Christ purposed to "accomplish a decease." The term is a striking and suggestive one. Christ's death was something he did, "accomplished;" it was not merely something he suffered. His own will was in it. He laid down his life. He gave himself for us. He offered in sacrifice his obedient Sonship. That saves us. That Moses and Elias approve. That God the Father approves. The Transfiguration was chiefly intended for our Lord himself. "It was a great gift of his Father, an acknowledgment of his faithfulness up to this point, and a preparation for what lay before him." "To Jesus the recognition of his Father's voice must have been a repetition of the transcendant joy of the baptismal greeting. Must we not say that for the moment all else was forgotten, or in that absorbed; that
"He heard not, saw not, felt not aught beside,
Through the wide worlds of pleasure and of pain,
Save the full flowing and the ample tide
Of that celestial strain"?
The transitory and the permanent.
It almost seems as if St. Peter's foolish speech spoilt the scene. It is said that "while he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them." It might be a "bright cloud," but it effectually shut out from view the glorified visitors and the transfigured Lord. True, out of it came the marvellous voice, which so alarmed the disciples that they "fell on their face, and were sore afraid." But when the cloud passed, and Jesus bade them "arise," the glory was all gone; there was only Jesus, and he was just as they were accustomed to see him. It is a peculiarity of Mount Hermon that a cloud will be seen to form with extreme rapidity on its summit, and with equal rapidity disperse and disappear, The point on which we dwell is, that St. Peter made a grave mistake when he wanted a special scene to be made a permanent one. The transitory and the permanent each have their mission and their proper relations. There is no wisdom in wishing to confuse them. Take each in its place. Illustrate this.
I. THE TRANSITORY IS THE GLORIFIED CHRIST; THE PERMANENT IS THE HUMAN CHRIST. Only for a little while could the earth bonds be loosened, and the glory which Christ was, shine freely out. That was not fitting for the continuous earth relations. For the present the permanent thing was the human body, with its limitations, endurances, and sufferings. But the relief moments must have brought holiest joy. (For Christ's voluntary limitations, see Philippians 2:1-30.)
II. THE TRANSITORY IS THE SEASON OF HIGH REVELATION; THE PERMANENT IS THE COMMONPLACE, EVERYDAY CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE. Christian biographies preserve records of ecstatic scenes and experiences enjoyed by Christ's people. In their very nature such things must be transitory. They would not be what they are if they continued. But what a help and cheer they are to us in the wearing and wearying experience of everyday Christian life! Yet is not this the fact—we might oftener have the cheer of vision and revelation if we set ourselves in the way, and climbed the lonely mount for prayer?
III. THE TRANSITORY IS THE RELIEF time; THE PERMANENT IS THE WORK TIME. But a man cannot permanently work unless he secures his transitory reliefs. The restings of life are not idlings or wastings. Transfiguration means soul preparations for Calvary.
IV. THE TRANSITORY IS THE TRIUMPH TIME; THE PERMANENT IS THE SUFFERING TIME. What makes life so hard is that successes are so brief. Right upon them we have to be down in the valleys of toil and suffering.—R.T.
Some of those with whom our Lord had to do wrought much mischief by failing in wise reticence. Told to keep their secrets, they blazed abroad their matter, and created a public excitement which our Lord felt bound to avoid. Reserve is said to be the "bane of friendship;" but reserve may be a sign of wise self-control and skilful estimate of circumstances and responsibilities. Reticence must be distinguished from untruthfulness. We should always tell the truth, but it is often our duty to say nothing. This, however, sometimes becomes distressing, because of our fear that saying nothing will leave, or will sustain, a false impression. Here our Lord commanded reticence. The three apostles were not to talk to the rest of the apostolic company of what they had seen and heard. They were to say nothing whatever about it outside their company. Let us see what may make reticence appropriate, right, and wise.
I. RETICENCE RELATIVE TO PRIVACY. It cannot be too forcibly impressed that the Transfiguration is not an event in the public life of Jesus. It belongs to his private heart history and experience, and only for very special reasons is any report of it given. If we do come to know some great passage in a brother Christian's private experience, we properly keep the secret, at least so long as he lives. It would be bad for him, and bad for all who know him, if it were talked about. Much mischief is done, much bloom is taken off Christian life, by too great readiness to talk about what belongs to a man's private feeling. Jesus shrank from common talk about his transfiguration.
II. RETICENCE RELATIVE TO TIMELINESS. This is brought out by our Lord's limiting silence "until the Son of man be risen again from the dead." There are times and seasons foreverything. The wise man watches, and fits his ways to times; the impulsive man is always upsetting things by simple untimeliness. This was St. Peter's mistake, and our Lord may have designed the caution specially for him. Happy they who can keep silence till the time to speak!
III. RETICENCE RELATIVE TO CAPACITY. The narrative of the Transfiguration might have been given to the other apostles if they had been on a sufficiently high spiritual plane to have entered into it. But it is only too evident that they could not receive any references to our Lord's decease. The report of the vision, if then made, would only have bewildered them. Keep it back. Wait until the complete circle of historical facts relating to Christ is complete; then, maybe, they will see the meaning of the Transfiguration.—R.T.
The coming of Elias.
It is difficult for us to realize the general conviction of our Lord's time, that the Prophet Elijah was about to reappear. "Elijah was the prophet for whose return in later years his countrymen have looked with most eager hope It was a fixed belief of the Jews that he had appeared again and again, as an Arabian merchant, to wise and good rabbis at their prayers or on their journeys. A seat is still placed for him to superintend the circumcision of the Jewish children. Passover after Passover the Jews of our own day place the Paschal cup on the table, and set the door wide open, believing that that is the moment when Elijah will reappear. When goods are found and no owner comes, when difficulties arise and no solution appears, the answer is, 'Put them by till Elijah comes'" (Stanley). Edersheim tells us that Rabbi Eliezer closes a curious chapter on repentance with these words, "And Israel will not make great repentance till Elijah—his memory for blessing—comes." The question of the apostles was suggested by the fact that, on the mount, Elijah had come, but had not stayed, so as to accomplish anything. Our Lord intimates that the appearance they had seen was not the fulfilment of the prophecy of Elijah's coming; for that they must look elsewhere. John the Baptist reproduced Elijah, and may be thought of as Elijah come again.
I. ELIJAH AND JOHN WERE BOTH PREPARERS. There was nothing like completion in the work of either. Both were mere beginners. Both would have been failures it their work had not been followed up by others. Compare the work of civilizing a new country. The hunter with his rifle goes first; then comes the woodman with his axe; and then the farmer with his plough. So in the moral world. There are men who only prepare. Theirs is trying work, because its results cannot be counted or measured. Yet their praise is sure, if they prepared well. Estimate the work of Elijah as preparing for the return of the people to Jehovah; and of John as preparing the minds of men for receiving a spiritual Messiah.
II. ELIJAH AND JOHN WERE PREACHERS. Proclaimers of messages from God. Both had virtually the same message—Repent, return to God. Change your minds concerning God and the claims of God. But the true preacher is a witness as truly as a herald. Elijah witnesses for the "living God before whom I stand." John witnesses to the "Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world."—R.T.
Causes of failure in spiritual power.
"I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him." Now, these very disciples had been able to heal and cure and restore, when on their trial mission. They had returned to their Lord greatly excited, and saying," Even the devils are subject to us in thy Name." It does not, however, appear that they had healing powers when their Master was present. True, he was not present on this particular occasion, but he was only temporarily absent, and he had left them with no particular commission. It is easy to find excuses for their failing and their feeling. Jesus does not so much reprove them as mourn over them. They did not come up to the standard he desired; they did not grow spiritually. Their failure showed failure to attain spiritual power. It is plain that the disciples were not fitted to receive news of the glorious but mysterious scene of the Transfiguration. Our Lord suggests two explanations of the failure of the disciples: they were "faithless and perverse."
I. ONE GREAT CAUSE IS SELF-CENTREDNESS. This is the mood which is indicated by their question, "Why could not we cast him out?" It really was not a question of their casting out. It was a question of their Lord's power to cast out, and of their Lord's gracious willingness to make them his agents in the casting out. They had come to be interested in what they could do; and, like the man who walks on a giddy height, they began to turn giddy as soon as they looked down to watch the goings of their own feet. The greatest secret of failure in spiritual power is still the growing up of self-centredness; the turning of our eyes in upon ourselves; the supreme interest in what we can be, or in what we can do. If these disciples had been able to cure, they would have been proud of their power; and that would have been ruinous to their Christian standing. Humbling lessons of failure are necessary to break us off from dangerous self-centralizing.
II. ANOTHER GREAT CAUSE IS UNBELIEF. But this is not to be taken in its active form. What is meant here is weakness, ineffectiveness of faith. It was not there, ready for an emergency. An unexpected demand was made on faith, and faith was caught at unawares. It was no question of denying truths. It was a question of daily reliance, mood of trust, the life of faith, the state of mind and heart that finds such noble expression in St. Paul's words, "I can do all things through him who strengtheneth me." These disciples should have had an established faith which linked them to the Divine power of their Master, and would have given them power to use his power to heal.—R.T.
Self-discipline the secret of moral power.
"Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting. There is some uncertainty about the word "fasting." The Revised Version omits the verse altogether. It is found, however, in Mark's Gospel, and introduces a valuable topic, which finds other expression in our Lord's teaching. A man can only be ready for a time of strain by constant and careful training. A man, to be always ready, must be always disciplining himself. And if his work is to take specially serious forms, his trainings and preparations must be specially adapted. Carefully distinguish between the moral character of self-discipline, which aims at gaining acceptance, and of self-discipline, which aims at faithfulness, and power to serve.
I. SELF-DISCIPLINE, ITS CHARACTERISTIC FEATURES. Character is the product of self-discipline. Our natural dispositions are not our character; it needs to be more clearly seen that character is something that a man wins by effort, or fails to win by wilfully making no effort. The measure of a man's self-discipline is the measure of his nobility; it is the sign of his manhood. This is true in the lower sphere, but it is much more true in the higher sphere. Self-discipline provides an infallible test of the Christian man, whose moderation, whose self-restraint, should be known in all things. The terms, "prayer," "fasting," classify the characteristic features of Christian self-discipline.
1. Prayer heads and represents all the positive forms.
2. Fasting heads and represents all the negative forms. Self-discipline is often misconceived, because it is represented only by fasting. It is thought of as only self-restraints, personal deprivations, bodily austerities, stern dealings even with our pleasant things. Fasting represents bodily subduings and humiliations. The Christian self-discipline is more vigorous on the positive side. Prayer represents putting life into good shape; ordering our habits; making and using all pious opportunities; laying hold of the strength of God. There is so much to do as well as so much to undo.
II. SELF-DISCIPLINE, ITS CHARACTERISTIC EFFECTS. The weak man is the undisciplined man, who is mastered by himself. A man gains moral power as he gains control over himself. A man never finds a harder foe to conquer, when he has mastered his own habits and passions. And our Lord here shows that no man can possibly have power to influence others unto noble attainments until he has won power over himself. The parent does no good with his children while he keeps his own character undisciplined.—R.T.
Hints concerning the coming Resurrection.
"The third day he shall be raised again." Our Lord tried to prepare his disciples for his resurrection by frequent allusions to it, and yet they never seemed to be able to take it into their souls. Perhaps they thought he was only speaking in his usual figurative and paradoxical way, though what he really meant they were unable to guess. The disciples would not allow themselves to contemplate their Lord's violent death; and they could not else to conceive, of his abiding spiritual presence as altogether more important than his temporary bodily presence. Our Lord made much of his coming resurrection. Can we understand what it was to him?
I. THE RESURRECTION INTIMATES THE CLOSE OF A HARD LIFE. Our Lord's human life was a hard life. That is the best word for it, because human life is hard that involves constant humiliation and self-restraint. We should avoid exaggeration in speaking of Jesus as "a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Life is hard for the man who is "cribb'd, cabined, and confined," and has always to be forcing his will into subjection to a superior will. Our Lord's trouble was the power of the body to affect the will; but that would be done away with in the Resurrection.
II. THE RESURRECTION LIFTS HIS THOUGHT OVER THE LAST STRUGGLE. Illustrate by the patient anticipating a serious operation. The best thing you can do to cheer him is to lift his thoughts over that time, away beyond that time, to the time of convalescence, and what is to be done then. So Jesus had Gethsemane, judgment halls, and Calvary to go through, and his best cheer was to slip over them, and think of the glorious resurrection life beyond.
III. THE RESURRECTION WAS THE SIGN OF THE ACCEPTANCE OF HIS WORK. His release from the grave was the intimation of Divine approval, and the occasion for giving him his trust of the work of saving humanity. To think of that acceptance assured Christ that the Father's smile was on him while he was working and suffering.
IV. THE RESURRECTION WAS THE TIME WHEN HE COULD BECOME THE SPIRITUAL POWER HE WANTED TO BE. This point will open out with some freshness. Jesus always wanted to be a spiritual power in the souls of men. While he was in the body, the body seemed both to help and to hinder both him and them. It was a necessary help for a time, but Jesus longed for the risen and ascended life, in which he could be unhindered spiritual power to redeem and save.—R.T.
The avoidance of needless offence.
The miracle of the stater in the fish's mouth is one of the most difficult miracles to deal wisely with; and that for this reason—it seems to be opposed to the principle our Lord adopted, and so readily carried through, that he would work no miracle for the supply of his own needs. All Christ's miracles are acts of service; sometimes evidently the service of teaching moral and spiritual truth to his disciples. But if this incident be carefully observed, it will be seen that, though the supernatural element is clearly present, the precisely miraculous element is absent. Christ, by supernatural power, knew which fish would first seize St. Peter's hook, and what would be found in that fish; but not a word is said which intimates that Christ put forth miraculous power in order to place that stater in the fish's mouth. There is, indeed, no miracle to explain to those who believe in the Divine-human nature of Christ. The point we take is the reason given by Jesus for allowing this tax money to be paid—"Lest we should offend them." Those who note the finer shades of language can scarcely fail to trace in these words the tone of what we should describe in a human teacher as a half playful, half serious irony.
I. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE DO WELL TO STAND TO OUR RIGHTS. There were such times in the life of Jesus. Standing on our dignity is a very doubtful thing. A man's dignity is but a poor thing if it cannot take care of itself. But every man has rights. He ought to be prepared to assert them on all fitting occasions. A man's rights represent his trust, his mission for God, and he must be jealous of them.
II. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN WE DO WELL NOT TO PRESS OUR RIGHTS. It may be that men do not recognize them, or do not admit them, as in the case of Christ. Then we do better to live them rather than assert them. It may be that those around us are unsympathetic and prepared to object, as in the case of Christ. Then Christian prudence advises a careful reticence, lest we offend them.
III. THE SKILL OF CHRISTIAN LIVING IS SEEN IN DISCERNING THE TIME TO ACT, AND THE TIME TO REFRAIN FROM ACTING. Many things are not abstractly right, but are relatively right. We have to act in view of existing circumstances, in ways we should not adopt if all the circumstances were according to our mind. A Christian should not hesitate to give offence, but he should avoid giving needless offence.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29