Christ’s Transfigured Face
“His face did shine as the sun.” — Matthew xvii. 2.
August 1st, 1880
WHILE our Lord Jesus Christ was upon this earth, he was as much divine as before he left his Father’s court in heaven. He never ceased to be God, nor was the Godhead for a single moment separated from his humanity. He was, therefore, always glorious. Yet was there a greater glory about him than could usually be seen. This may seem to be a paradox, but it is true. For Christ to be glorious was almost a less matter than for him to restrain or hide his glory. It is for ever his glory that he concealed his glory; and that, though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor; though he was God over all, blessed for ever, he “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”
Our Lord’s humiliation was all perfectly voluntary; and I should not be surprised to learn that, when alone, his face was frequently radiant with glory as it was on this occasion of his transfiguration. I can easily imagine that he may often have returned to what must have been his natural condition when there was no human eye to gaze upon him. If you carefully read the four Gospels, I think you will see that there are indications that the glory was always there ready to flash forth. What was it that made those, who came to take him in the garden of Gethsemane, go backward, and fall to the ground when he said, “I am” Was it, do you think, because the light of Jehovah gleamed upon them at least in some degree Certainly there was a mystic glory shining about him at times, and those who came near him appear to have been arrested by it. I fancy that it was something more than natural eloquence which made the officers return without him to the Pharisees and chief priests who had sent them to take him, while they excused themselves by saying, “Never man spake like this man.”
A sort of radiance would shine forth from Christ, in some dim degree, now and then; but, on this occasion, he took off the veil; — nay, perhaps it would be more correct to say that he lifted just a corner of it, and permitted these three highly-favoured individuals to see what was always there, though usually concealed from their eyes. “We beheld his glory,” wrote John. “We were eye-witnesses of his majesty,” wrote Peter. They certainly saw the glory which may, I think, have been manifested at other times when Christ was alone; but whether that was so or not, he had a good reason for letting it be seen on this one occasion, and it may be that we shall gather some instruction while we meditate first upon the transfiguration as a whole, and then turn our thoughts specially to the brightness of Christ’s transfigured face.
I want you to notice under what circumstances Christ revealed his glory to his three disciples; and my first observation is, that it was in a lone spot. They were on “a high mountain apart.” Learn from this, dear friends, that if we would see Jesus in his glory, we must get apart from the multitude. He may come to us, when we are with his people, as he came to the disciples in the upper room; but there was a kind of loneliness and seclusion even there, for the world was shut out, and none were there but his own followers. Our Lord delights to talk to his beloved ones when they are in retirement. Leave the servants at a distance from the sacred meeting-place, even as Abraham did, and go up to the top of the hill alone, or with some specially chosen companion. We who live in London need more solitude, — at least, I mean that we need to find for ourselves more opportunities for solitude than those who live in retired spots. They almost inevitably walk the fields at eventide, and we may hope that, like Isaac, they there have communion with their God. But if we have not any fields to walk in, we must somehow manage to get alone. The best visits from Christ are like the best visits we have from those we love, — not in the busy market, or in the crowded street, but when we are alone with them.
Our blessed Master also, on this occasion, revealed his glory when he was in prayer. Luke says that, “as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.” Prayer is the key of all mysteries. When Christ would, as it were, unlock himself, the casket, so as to let his disciples see his inner glory, he prayed; and this should teach us that, if we would see Christ’s glory, we also must pray; and if we would glow with the glory of Christ, we must be much in prayer. These are practical truths, — much more practical than many imagine. We are far too often like Martha, “cumbered about much serving;” we need to be more like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus, looking up into his dear face, and listening to his gracious words. The active life will have little power in it if it is not accompanied by much of the contemplative and the prayerful. There must be retirement for private prayer if there is to be true growth in grace.
When our Lord’s disciples did see his glory, it was revealed in an amazing light; and this may teach us how truly divine he is, for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” It may also show us how he has come to us as the light; — not in the blackness of darkness, to overwhelm us in despair, and make us sit like the Egyptians during that darkness which might be felt; but Christ is “ the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world;” and when we see him, we shall perceive thi9. The glory which the disciples saw was a light that was perceptible by the eye; and there is about the glory of Jesus a moral, mental, spiritual light which we shall behold when we see him as he is. This will be the main thing that we shall see when we are favoured with a sight of him.
Something is to be learned also from the persons to whom our Lord revealed his glory. They were very few; there were only three of them; and I venture to say that, amongst the saints of God in all ages, there have not been many who have seen our Lord Jesus Christ to the full. Blessed indeed are the eyes that have so seen him, but they are very few. All of us, who have believed in Jesus, have looked unto him, and have been lightened, and have found salvation through him; but, even amongst us, there are some who have missed many of their rightful privileges. They are partially blind, and cannot see afar off; by the grace of God, they will get to heaven all right, but they will have much darkness on the road. There are few of us who so abide in Christ, from day to day, as to see him as distinctly as he is to be seen. I must confess that I envy some saints, whose biographies I have read, who have seen the Lord far better than I have; and I aspire, I hunger, I thirst to see as much of him as can be seen on this side the river of death; why should we not all do so Eyes are meant to see light, and spiritual eyes are intended to see Christ; and they are never so fully used for their true design as when they are constantly fixed upon him; all lower lights being forgotten, and permitted to burn out, while he becomes the one great Light in which the soul basks and revels. Mark this then, ye multitudes of professors; out of the twelve apostles, only three saw the transfiguration; and what a small proportion were those three to the great company of men and women who at that time were disciples of Jesus!
Yet these three were very special persons. Some say that Peter was one of them because he loved his Master much; that John was another because his Master loved him much; and that James was the third because he was so soon to die, the first of the apostles who should become a martyr for the faith of Jesus Christ. I do not think, however, that is a good distinction to draw, for I should not say that Peter loved Christ more than John did. Peter was openhearted, bold, enthusiastic. To my mind, there is something very lovable about Peter; and, in my opinion, we need more Peters in the church of the present day. Though they are rash and impulsive, yet there is fire in them, and there is steam in them, so that they keep us going. As for John, you can all see that it was well that the man, whose head was to lie in the bosom of' Christ, who was so affectionately to care for the Master's mother, and who was to see his Lord “ in the isle that is called Patmos,” should behold him once in his glory, that he might recognize him when he again appeared to him. And as for James, we can easily believe that there were special traits of beauty about his character that made him to be one of those three; his early martyr death, and the fact that he was the brother of John, certainly lift him up to a very high position among the apostles of Christ.
There were three, I suppose, in order that there might not be any question concerning their testimony to the transfiguration. Two or three witnesses were sufficient to establish a case in a court of law. A thing that cannot be proved by three honest men as witnesses, probably cannot be proved by thirty; and if three men join to testify to a lie, probably thirty will not speak the truth.
These three apostles were specially chosen to see Christ in his glory because they were afterwards to behold him in his greatest agony. I cannot imagine what must have been their feelings when they first saw him brighter than the sun, and then beheld him red as the rose with bloody sweat. I know not which sight a man might more desire, — to see Christ robed in light, and brighter than the sun, or to see him crimsoned with his own blood, the very essence of his being poured out in agony for us. “Oh!” said Rutherford, “but was he not bonny when he wore the red shirt of his own blood for you and me” Oh, the loveliness of an agonizing Saviour! I cannot compare him in these two so strangely differing experiences; one would have needed to see him in both to understand either of them.
These apostles saw their Lord in his glory, and also in his agony; and perhaps somebody here is saying, “Oh! I wish I could be favoured with those two sights. I wish I could, in vision, if not in actual fact, see the Lord Jesus Christ.” Dear friend, do not ask for any - thing of the kind; be content to see him by faith, for that is the only sight that you really need. Recollect also that although Peter saw Christ thus, he yet lived to deny him; and although James and John saw him, they also forsook him and fled with the rest of the apostles. Well did Peter, therefore, set the revelation of Christ in the Scriptures even above the revelation on the mount of transfiguration when he wrote, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” Sacred Scripture, accepted by faith, will give me a better view of Christ than even if —
“Tabor’s glorious steep I climb;”
At the too-transporting light,
Darkness rushes o’er my eight.”
Therefore it is better calmly and quietly to see Christ in the Scriptures than to wish to behold him either in his glory or in his agony.
Another thing which we may learn from our Lord Jesus Christ having shown himself to his apostles thus robed in brightness is, that we are scarcely aware of the glory of which the human body is capable. Nobody knows what beauty may surround these bodies of ours; they are only “vile” in certain aspects. You know what a difference there is in the appearance of a man when his face is lighted up, as we say, or when he is sitting still, and a photographer is taking his portrait. The moment the operator begins to take the cap off the camera, the man’s soul vanishes, and his true likeness is not there at all. But see him when he is full of animation, when he is speaking upon some delightful theme; his face lights up, and his whole appearance is changed. I have known some persons, who have seemed to me to have a singular brightness upon their face when they have been speaking about Christ; and very often, the faces of the dying are lit up with a wonderful splendour. There is actually, as physicians know, a kind of luminosity that does arise from the human face in certain stages of disease; that is a brightness which is not to be desired, but our flesh is capable of becoming marvellously transformed when it shall please God to make that change in us. We shall ourselves wonder that such bodies as these can become so light, so bright, so ethereal. The body of Christ became so; and we, in our measure, are to be raised in the likeness of his glorious body. “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly;” and this image of the heavenly, which the apostles saw upon the holy mount, is a kind of index to us of the evident possibility of these poor bodies of ours being clothed with supernal splendour.
Now I want to talk to you, though only for a few minutes, about Christ’s transfigured face, concerning which our text says, “His face did shine as the sun.”
I. First, from this truth we learn that JESUS CHRIST IS THE SAME IN HIS GLORY AS HE WAS BEFORE.
He was transfigured, but he was not transformed into another person. Matthew says that “his face did shine as the sun.” Then, his face was the same as it was before. It was his face that the apostles saw; all the familiar features of his countenance were there, though illumined with supernatural radiance. So, whatever glory may come to Christ in the future it will be the same dear lineaments that will be lit up with heavenly brightness.
And as there was no change of feature, so there was no change of nature. The transfigured Christ was the same Saviour whom the apostles had known before; and I like to think that, though now he reigns exalted high, he is, so far as his identity and nature are concerned, the same as he was when here below. Nothing has changed in his heart, or in his purposes, or in his designs towards his people.
Further, when he was glorified, his disciples were with him, for Matthew says that he “was transfigured before them.” Do not imagine, dear friends, that our Lord Jesus Christ will forget his disciples when he is in his highest glory. No; even then, they will be with him, for this is part of his great intercessory prayer for them. “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory.” stances change some people; they rise in the world, and then they do not know their poor friends and relations; but Christ was not changed in heart by the wondrous transformation “which he had undergone in being clothed in light. After the transfiguration he spoke to his disciples with just the same gentle, human, tender tones as before; he laid his hand upon them in the old-fashioned, familiar way, and said, “Arise, and be not afraid;” just as, when walking upon the water, he had said to them, “It is I; be not afraid.”
No, dear friends, there was no change in him, for, as I have already reminded you, even when he was thus manifesting his glory, his talk was concerning his decease at Jerusalem. There was no swerving from the great object for which he had descended from heaven; and there was no change either in his feelings or in his manner towards his people.
O beloved, have you known Christ here? Then you shall know him hereafter. Have you trusted him on the cross Then he will not disown you when he wears his many crowns, and sits upon the throne. You shall say, when you see him in the day of his greatest glory, as we sang just now, —
“This is the Man, th’ exalted Man,
Whom we unseen adore.”
Oh, yes! you shall see the nail-prints shine resplendent, and you shall know that he is indeed your old familiar Saviour, who was with you on earth; and now you are to be with him for ever in heaven.
II. Our text also teaches us a second lesson, namely, that THE GLORY OF CHRIST SURPASSES ALL HUMAN EXPRESSION.
We can measure the illuminating power of the gas that we burn; we talk of it as having so many candle-power; but will any gentleman, who is quick at calculations, compute for us the candle-power of the sun Nay; that is a task he never can accomplish; for the sun has more light than all other lights put together. So far as we are concerned, all the lights that we can make or imagine cannot equal the sun; he is the very source of all the light that floods the world on our brightest days.
So is it with Christ. He has in him all brightness and glory. If there be any virtue, if there be any goodness, if there be any excellence, it is all in him. One said of Henry the Eighth that, if the portraits of all the tyrants who ever lived had been lost, they might all be painted again from his one face; and, surely, I may change the expression and say that, if all the beauty, and all the goodness, and all the love, and all the kindness that there ever were among men should be forgotten, it might all be reproduced from the character of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We cannot really see the full glory of the sun; some have been blinded by looking at him too intently; and no mortal eye can gaze upon all the splendours of Christ. You may see much of him; but there is such a wondrous mystery — such a marvellous excess of glory — about him that, if any man says, “I know him fully,” he proves that he knows him not. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “that I may know him;” yet he had known Christ for many years. I suppose that he knew a great deal more about Christ in the first year of his Christian life than most of us know after twenty or thirty years; yet, after that long period of gracious instruction which the Holy Spirit had given him, he still had to write, as the expression of his most ardent desire, “that I may know him,” for he felt that he had not yet comprehended, with all saints, what are the heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, of the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.
There is an inexpressible glory about my Master; I can never exaggerate in speaking of it. I can never go to any excess in praising him; I can never extol him so much that anyone shall dare truthfully to say to me, “You have said too much in honour of your Lord.” No; if all human tongues were eloquent, and all did speak his praise for ever; and if all angelic voices never spake except to laud and magnify him, so glorious is he that the praises of all combined would not rise above the soles of his feet.
III. I gather from our text, in the third place, that THE GLORY OF CHRIST IS ALL MEANT TO CHEER AND TO ENLIGHTEN.
The light of the sun reveals, and Christ also reveals much to us. In his light we see light. He who knows Christ knows God, who is light. The light of the Spirit of God is given to such as know Christ. They have an unction from the Holy One, and they know all things. Christ has brought immortality to light by his appearing. He is indeed a wondrous Revealer.
Christ, like the sun, is also a great Consoler. What comfort the sun brings to us! How sad we should be if we were to lose his light! But, oh! what floods of comfort come streaming down to darkened hearts when Christ, the Sun of righteousness, appears! No lonely watcher on the tower did ever sigh for the dawn as they do who love the Saviour, and have lost his company; and never were hands so heartily clapped with exultation at the light of the sun reappearing in the far North as we clap ours, in a spiritual sense, when Christ manifests himself to us, for he is indeed “the consolation of Israel.”
Jesus, also, like the sun, is a great Healer. The Italians say, “Where the sun comes not, the physician will soon come;” but where the sun shines, his beams usually bring at least a measure of health to men. So, where Jesus is, there the sick revive, for healing is found beneath his wings. Thus the face of Jesus is as the rays of the sun, scattering no malicious vapour, no deadly darts of baleful wrath, but only goodness and love. Oh, that we would all look, by faith, upon his blessed face, and receive all the benefits that he is waiting and willing to bestow upon us!
IV. I am obliged to speak very briefly upon each point where one might enlarge almost without end; so I ask you to notice, in the fourth place, that THE GLORY OF CHRIST IS SUCH THAT IT MAY BE REFLECTED BY US.
Everybody knows that the sun’s light can be reflected; we owe much to reflected light. Well, the glory of Christ is such that it can shine upon you, so that you can see it; and then, afterwards, you can reflect it, and retract it, and send it back upon others. You can give to others something of what Christ has given to you, and this is a very blessed thing. “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” in order that we may let that light shine out upon others.
John says, “We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Well, now, you can have grace and truth, and you can so live that you shall be the means of bringing grace to others, and you can so display the truth that some, who have not yet looked to Jesus, can see something of Jesus reflected in you. Some Christians are very poor reflectors; but when we are as we ought to be, we shall be like that invention you see sometimes for underground rooms, where they try to send some of the daylight down by means of a reflector. The poor people of London are many of them, both literally and spiritually, underground; very little light ever gets to them; so try to be reflectors, to shed the light upon them. Reflectors are not of much use when they get dirty. Unless they are cleaned, they cannot be of much service; and I know some Christians who need a good shower to cleanse them. There are some professors who do not reflect much credit upon their profession, I am sorry to say; and they generally blame the minister when this is the case. I sometimes wish that some of you Christians would be more careful as to what you do, because the blame for your inconsistencies often falls upon me. If I could do you any good by bearing it, I would not mind; but it is not so, you bring discredit upon the name of one who wishes to live to the Lord in the best way he can, and who has quite enough faults of his own without having all those of other people unjustly laid at his door. “Ah!” say the fault-finders; “that is one of Spurgeon's people.” Of course they do; and I am blamed for your wrong-doing, although I am not in the least responsible for it. If the sheep go astray because the shepherd has not done his best to keep them from wandering, blame him; but if he has done all he could, and the sheep then stray, so that the dog has to go after them, do not say that the shepherd ought to have the dog set at him. O beloved, do try to reflect the glory of God so that people shall ask, “What makes that man’s countenance so bright” And the answer shall be, “He has set his face so close to the Well-beloved’s face that he reflects the light that shines from it.”
V. Lastly, — for our time fails us, — we learn that THIS GLORY OF CHRIST WILL SOON BE MORE FULLY DISPLAYED.
In heaven, the glorified face of Jesus is always to be seen, for we are expressly told that “his servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face.” Their eyes will be specially strengthened so that they can gaze upon it without injury.
“O long-expected day, begin,” —
when we, too, shall be caught up to see that wondrous countenance! Do not your desires often make you feel like a bird that wants to fly, but cannot, because it is held down by a chain Then you sing, —
“My heart is with him on his throne,
And ill can brook delay;
Each moment listening for the voice,
‘Rise up, and come away.’”
They who do behold Christ in glory, even from the outermost rank of the saints, are to be envied above all earthly kings and princes. One said to an old saint, “You cannot see God’s face, and live.” “Then,” he replied, “let me see God’s face, and die;” and I will be glad enough to die a hundred deaths if I may but see Christ. One hour with Christ in glory will more than make up for a weary lifetime of service, or suffering, or poverty, or persecution. I have often tried to imagine what the first five minutes with Jesus Christ in heaven will be; but I have in vain sought to picture the novelty and freshness of that wondrous time when the soul, filled with amazement, will exclaim, “The half has never been told me.” The Queen of Sheba was astonished when she saw all the glory of King Solomon; but he was a mere nobody compared with our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh! what will it be to see him
Now I close with this thought, — the glorified face of Jesus is also to be revealed here on earth. In a short time, according to his promise, he will come. I do not know that he is coming to-morrow, lout I do not know that he is not coming then. His return may be a thousand years hence, — perhaps, fifty thousand years hence, or it may be before that clock strikes again; but, whenever he comes, he will fulfil his own word, “Surely I come quickly.” One thing is certain, he will come again. In like manner as he went up into heaven, he will return in his own proper person, enthroned upon the clouds of heaven, to hold the last assize. And, my hearers, you will be there, every one of you. As surely as you are here, you will be there. When rocks the earth, and shakes the sky, you will be there. When stars are falling like the leaves of autumn, and when heaven and earth shall flee away from his presence, you will be there; and, whether you love him or not, you shall see him, for “every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him.” Are you ready for his appearing Say not, “It will be a long while before it happens.” It may not be; it may be to-night; and if it be a long time, yet he will surely come; and then where will you be If you live and die without the Saviour, how will you face him His eyes are as a flaming fire to search you out, and burn into your very soul. Oh, seek his face this very hour! It still shines as the sun. You know that, when you are out of doors, and the sun is shining, you do not ask, “Where is the sun” Why, my dear man, you cannot help finding out where he is. “Oh, but how can I look at the sun” My dear man, nobody needs to ask such a question as that; you just open your eyes, and look. It is the simplest thing in the world to look; and so, to look to Jesus, which is faith, is the simplest, easiest thing ever performed by man; and that is why it is so difficult to many people. That is another paradox. If it were really difficult, men would do it; but because it is so easy, they say they cannot. “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?” said the servants to Naaman their master; “how much rather, then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” and so, when the message is, “Look, and live,” you, proud gentleman, want to have a much more elaborate system of salvation. You do not like simply to look to Christ, that you may be saved; but if there is a poor soul anywhere, who is willing to have a whole Christ for nothing, he may have him, and have him now. Accept him; and God bless you, for Christ’s sake! Amen.