And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart,
I. Not for the Apostles' sake only was the glory of the Lord thus revealed. In them the whole Church since saw it, and to us, as to them, it is given as a support of faith, a kindling of our hope. To us, too, it is a witness of our Lord's Divinity; nay, more, of His Divinity and humanity together; it is to us a faint gleam of that ineffable mystery, how man can be taken into God, how God can dwell in man, and fill him with the glory of the Father. Great is the comfort to us that He, our High Priest, our Intercessor, is thus glorified, is thus present with God, and is God. Yet does this mystery, in a still more definite way, open to us the greatness of our future hopes; it gives a glimpse of that which we have no thought to conceive, "the good things" which God has, in His boundless mercy, in store for those who love Him.
II. We have been made partakers of Christ's death, passion, resurrection, life; we also, if we be faithful, are being made partakers of His glory, for this the Apostle expressly says, that "we with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," contemplating Him and seeking, by prayer and daily diligence, to have His image, line by line, retraced in us, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory, through the Lord the Spirit. Through that indwelling glory did the face of St. Stephen shine like the face of an angel. Even now do we sometimes see the faces of God's saints gleam with unearthly purity and love; even now, as the parting spirit sometimes sees heaven open, and hears and almost feels the brushing by of the angels' wings who shall carry it, or knows the room to be full of angels, or sees the Redeemer Himself, so does the body catch the light it is approaching; even now, ere. we resign the sacred remains to be sown in dishonour, the solemn peace and holy calm spread over them seem to tell us by whom they were inhabited; they seem yet, like the parted spirit, to live to Him; the evening, so closed in, seems the dawning of the resurrection.
III. Our Lord stretcheth forth His hands to bless us, but it is in the form of His cross. The transfiguration is our glory; it sets forth that glory to us, but also how it was to be won for us, by bearing the cross for us; by us, by bearing ours, after Him, in His strength and following Him.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. iii., p. 223.
References: Matthew 17:1.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 92. Matthew 17:1, Matthew 17:2.—S. A. Brooke, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 376. Matthew 17:1-3.—R. C. Trench, Studies in the Gospels, p. 184; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 37. Matthew 17:1-8.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 476. Matthew 17:1-9.—J. C. Jones, Studies in St. Matthew, p. 274. Matthew 17:1-13.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 196; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 339; Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 19.
Matthew 17:2The portion of St. Matthew's Gospel from which the text is taken may be called the Section of the Transfiguration. In it the Church is led by her Lord to a creed, to a worship, and to a work.
I. The Church is led to a creed. The time has now come for estimating the effects of the ministry of Jesus. "Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" The object of the Saviour's education of His Apostles was twofold—to teach them that He is Messiah; to prepare them for the truth that Messiah is to be a sorrowing, bleeding, crucified man. The Church is led to the creed of the Divinity and Atonement as the prelude to the Transfiguration.
II. In the Transfiguration itself the Church is led on to a foretaste of glorious worship and high communion—the meeting for a while of the Church militant with the Church triumphant.
III. In the Transfiguration Jesus leads His Church to a work—a work which at first, indeed, they could not perform. On the next day, as they come down from the hill, they find a sufferer below. Strange contrast. Above, the pure heaven; the words of Divine attestation; the form of saints floating in light; the glory, and honour, and majesty given to Jesus. Below, the reproach; the well-meant but baffled effort; the foam on the cut lip; the withered body; the sullen muteness, broken by epileptic cries—the sad lines drawn by St. Mark in four pictorial words. Yet there is a fresh unselfish joy in the energy which Jesus throws into that victorious work. "And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour." It would not be difficult to point out in the Transfiguration (1) a remarkable prophetic symbol of the history of the Church, (2) a summary of the forms of her varied life.
IV. I conclude by drawing two lessons for the spiritual life of each of us: (1) Our individual life must follow and summarize the Section of the Transfiguration. (a) We must lay the foundation deep and strong in the confession of Peter. (b) There must be the love of prayer, of communion with the world unseen; there must be the sacramental feeding upon Christ, the Bread of life; there must be the upward drawing by Christ into the eternal hills. (2) Think of our transfiguration as the result of His. Even our fallen humanity affords hints of this. Each face and form aspires to an ideal which it is the work of art to find. High thoughts and pure emotions ennoble ordinary features. Dying believers catch a radiance from a hidden glory. Such as Christ is in His Transfiguration, such in their measure shall His faithful servants one day be. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of the Father."
Bishop Alexander, The Great Question, p. 213.
References: Matthew 17:2, Matthew 17:3.—W. J. Keay, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 397. Matthew 17:2, Matthew 17:9.—C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 207. Matthew 17:4.—H. P. Liddon, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 145. Matthew 17:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 909; see also Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 22; H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2,459. Matthew 17:5-7.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1727. Matthew 17:6, Matthew 17:7.—J. Jackson Wray, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxiii., p. 90.
Matthew 17:4The disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration had—
I. A vision of Christ's Divinity.
II. A vision of glorified saints.
III. A vision of the Father's presence.
IV. A vision of Jesus only.
J. Jackson Wray, Light from the Old Lamp, p. 345.
Reference: Matthew 17:5.—C. Girdlestone, Twenty Parochial Sermons, 3rd series, p. 153.
Matthew 17:8The Transfiguration, with all its heavenly loveliness, its purity, its fellowship, and its glory, had evidently not been an unmixed enjoyment to the three men who were elected to see it. They were not yet capable of such a scene. It was a comfort and relief to them when it all passed away, and they awoke and lifted up their eyes, and saw "Jesus only."
I. Thus it has been, and it is and it will be, with the pageant of life. There are thousands of things in the world which glisten brightly, and they are about us a little while, and we feel it good to be there. But they were never made to stay. At the best, they are but the poor copies of some great original, for which we were created, and to which they are pointing. And presently, just when we least expect it, it is all withdrawn. And what is left? Truth, reality, simplicity, love, light, the eternal. And what are all these? Have they an embodiment? Jesus—"Jesus only."
II. At the Transfiguration all the rest was only circumstance. It could come and go, wonderful and Divine as it was. But it was not essential; essence never goes, and the essence of everything which is good, and true, and happy, in all worlds, is Jesus. What we have continually to do is to separate circumstance from fact, the non-essential from the essential; to reduce everything to its first principles, to its germs; to see the "I Am"—"Jesus only." (1) See it in the great plan of our salvation. So long as you allot a fraction of the work to yourself, you will never have peace. It is all and only Jesus. (2) Or see it in our sanctification. The Holy Spirit does His own proper work. We fight our great battle with sin. The righteousness of Christ is accounted to us, laid on us like a robe. (3) Or look at the rich and hallowed things with which God has provided, and decked, and endowed His Church—its order, its ministry. They are all the visible expression of great, deep, invisible truths, which lie within them all like hidden mysteries.
III. Could you live upon the mountain of beatitude, and every scene be tipped with gladness, and all this dull existence be transformed into brilliancy, there would be a void. You would want something; you would not be quite happy—never, till you have "Jesus only." Jesus is the soul's complement.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 13th series, p. 45.
References: Matthew 17:8.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 924; E. W. Shalders, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 187; E. D. Solomon, Ibid., vol. xx., p. 378; H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, pp. 79, 138; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 253. Matthew 17:14-21.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 344; S. D. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 102. Matthew 17:14-27.—Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii., p. 29. Matthew 17:17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv., No. 821.
Matthew 17:19I. There are two different ideas about the way in which the problems of the world are to be solved, the salvation of the world, whatever it is, is to be brought about. Pure irreligion looks to man to do it. Let man go on thinking, inventing, planning, governing, and the result must come. On the other hand, a certain kind of religion looks to God to do it. Let men lie still, purely submissive, without a movement or a will, and God, in His good time, will bring the happy end. The first of these two ideas has no faith, and it fails. The other idea fails also. Man standing aloof, and expecting to see God redeem the world, sees no such thing. Then, too, there is a lack of faith; man learns that simply to trust God with expectation that He will do everything is not faith. Then, in the failure of these two ideas about the world's salvation, comes another, which is distinctly different from either. Not man alone, and not God alone, is going to purify the world. But man and God, made one by perfect sympathy, by the entire openness of life between them, they are the two together; nay, they two together are not two; they are the one which is to make the old world into the new world by the driving out of sin. The principle which makes God and man to be one power is faith.
II. In Christ there was the fulfilment of that which when men try to conceive of what the world needs most, is the complete expression of their fullest dreams—man in God, God in man, the Divine and human perfectly reconciled, perfectly united; not two forces, but one force. That was the Christ who went from haunt to haunt of the devils, and bade them flee; and they, the devils of hatred, cruelty, lust, selfishness, brutishness, superstition—they all fled at His presence. And now to fill the earth with Himself, that is His wish and purpose, that is what He is labouring for through all these slow, discouraging centuries, in which, beneath the turmoil and distress upon the surface, the watchful ear can never fail to hear below the sounds which tell us that He is still at work. What is the real meaning of His purpose? Is He not trying to make His brethren what He was, to assert in them, as it was asserted in Him, that it is an Incarnation, a God in man, that is to save the world?
Phillips Brooks, Sermons in English Churches, p. 179.
References: Matthew 17:19.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 346; T. Kelly, Pulpit Trees and Homiletic Undergrowth, p. 36; S. Macnaughton, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 232.
Matthew 17:19-20Christ our Pattern.
I. There are two things very hard to our moral natures, and yet most necessary to our happiness; the one of these is that we should be very much afraid of sin, the other that we should not be afraid of death. We know quite well that we ought to be both the one and the other. But this is not enough; we require to learn how we may become so, as well as to know that we ought to become so. Now it was for this end that Christ lived and died openly amongst us, and that the particulars of His life and death were recorded. He might have borne our nature as truly, and died for our sins as truly, had His life been passed away from the sight of men, or had He, like Moses, resigned His spirit on the top of some lonely mountain into the hands of His heavenly Father. But how much of the best support of our souls should we have lost had this been so. We are not only told briefly that He took our nature upon Him, that He lived upon earth for more than thirty years; but we are made, in a manner, the witnesses of His birth, the companions of His ripened manhood. We see Him forsaken, and we see Him insulted; we see Him enduring the extremity of bodily pain; we see Him—and it is the divinest mercy of all—suffering the extremity of inward trouble, of desolateness and fear. We see Him in all these, and we see Him triumph over them all; and we hear Him, when all were over-past, giving up His spirit into the hands of God, to show that in all things we too may be more than conquerors "through Him that loved us."
II. The book in which we may read this is in our hands, and we can use it when we will. It hardly matters what particular chapter of the Gospels we open, for Christ's life is in every part of it more or less our pattern. The readiest way to have our faith so strengthened as that it may cast out the evil of our hearts is to make ourselves fully acquainted with all the particulars of Christ's character and life and death. Making His words, on every occasion, familiar to us; so bringing before our minds His actions, so imaging—for surely we may and should try to do so—His very voice and look, may we bring our souls into constant communion with Him.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iii., p. 17.
Consider the principles which flow from this text.
I. We have an unvarying power. (1) We have a Gospel which can never grow old. (2) We have an abiding spirit. (3) We have a Lord, "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever."
II. The condition of exercising this power is faith.
III. Our faith is ever threatened by subtle unbelief.
IV. Our faith can only be maintained by constant devotion and rigid self-denial.
A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, p. 1.
References: Matthew 17:19-21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 549; Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 23; S. R. Hole, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 154.
Matthew 17:20The ground of faith in God and immortality is not authority or demonstration, but our sense of right.
I. First, the very fact of our having a sense of right makes it probable that God exists. We do not know where that sense of right comes from. It is the one thing which the theory of development has to stop short of; it is the one thing it cannot give any credible reason for. It seems that there must be an intelligent Will outside of us who is the source of truth, a living Goodness which does not grow into being in us through ages of development, but which has been always and is.
II. Let us take this sense of right with us, and look at the world around us. How shall we explain its being? There are two theories of the world—the Atheistic and the Theistic. We are bound, as scientific men, to choose that theory as probably true which explains best the greatest number of facts, which agrees and harmonizes best with what we have observed. We find order, intelligence, progress to an end, unity among infinite diversity; and the conclusion is that it is probable, in a very high degree, that there is a thoughtful Will behind and in the universe.
III. I turn to the spiritual world. I find existing in myself, and in the greater number of mankind, a whole world of feelings which belong to this idea of God; I find, on looking back through history, that these and similar feelings existed in all civilized communities, nay, that in savage nations, even before the social ideas took shape, these existed in rude form. Did these ideas develop out of nothing? Are they going in the end to nothing? All my sense of right in matters of feeling denies that. I must suppose some One who is Himself the feeling source of all this feeling, and who is its end. Thus probability is added to probability in our minds, and by such addition faith is built up—built up not out of spiritual feeling only, but also out of the confessions of probability which the intellectual sense of truth and the moral sense of right are induced to make.
S. A. Brooke, The Fight of Faith, p. 38.
References: Matthew 17:20.—D. W. Simon, Expositor, 1st series, vol. ix., p. 307; H. Goodwin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 296. Matthew 17:21.—H. W. Beecher, Ibid., p. 2.83; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 223. Matthew 17:24, Matthew 17:25.—W. F. Hook, Sermons on the Miracles, vol. ii., p. 180. Matthew 17:24-27.—A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, p. 223; T. Birkett Dover, The Ministry of Mercy, p. 182. Matthew 17:25, Matthew 17:26.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1,780.
Matthew 17:27The story of the tribute-money is not one of the great miracles, and yet its lessons are well worth our careful study.
I. There is what, for the want of a better word, we must call the modesty of Jesus. Rather than offend the prejudices of the people, He would waive His claim. Are not we who call ourselves His disciples too ready to put forth our titles to men's respect and to stand upon our dignity? Let us not be too exacting, but seek the spirit of Christ, "who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross."
II. We learn something of the poverty of Jesus. If ever there was a poor man, it was the Lord of life and glory. There is something of greater moment than wealth, and that is character. Money may not elevate, good deeds do. In the conventional meaning of the words, Christ was not worth fifteen pence; yet He could heal the sick and raise the dead. It will be worth our while to weigh ourselves in the true balances, and to find out Heaven's assessment of our belongings.
III. The story gives us a peep into Christ's resources. Though He had not the money by Him, He knew where it was. The gold and silver are all His. It could be brought out if the Lord willed it, and yet His treasury is often empty.
IV. We learn that God does not often act without human agency. Christ could have done without Peter. It would have been easy to have willed it, and the fish would have swum to His feet as He stood by the side of the lake, and have dropped the coin within His reach. But He knew that Peter could catch the fish, and so he was sent to do what he was able. It appears to be the Divine plan to do what men cannot, but not to act for us.
V. The story teaches us that he who works for Jesus is sure to get his pay. Christ wanted fifteen pence, and Peter took out of the fish's mouth half-a-crown. And thus in obeying Christ he paid his own taxes. In keeping His commandments there is great reward.
T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, p. 102.
References: Matthew 17:27.—Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 316; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 118.
And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.
And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.
Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.
While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.
And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid.
And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid.
And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.
And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.
And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.
And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying,
Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water.
And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.
And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?
And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.
And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men:
And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall be raised again. And they were exceeding sorry.
And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Doth not your master pay tribute?
He saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying, What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the children free.
Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give unto them for me and thee.