THE MYSTERY OF ATONEMENT
"Lo, I am come To do Thy will, O God," Heb. 10:7
The transfiguration had a close connection with the human life and the Divine mission of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, it may be said to have been the connecting link between the two. It carried the one over into the other. It was the consummation of ideal human life, and the beginning of the pathway that ended in the accomplishment of the purposes of God in the redemption of fallen human nature.
It is astonishing to find how may there are who look upon the transfiguration as an experience granted to Christ for the confirmation of His own dedication and how large a number of writers on the subject say that He was led to the mountain, in order that His own faith might be confirmed, and His devotion made more complete in view of the death that lay before Him. Without doubt the experience was of value in His human life, in the way of a satisfaction and strength. But to imagine that He needed such an experience to confirm His dedication is to misunderstand the whole of His life prior to this period. The consecration of the Christ to His Father's will and work was settled before He was born a Man. In that Voice which comes out of the past, and Whose words are written in the volume of the Book, "Lo, I am come To do Thy will, O God," (Heb. 10:7) is the declaration of a perfect and complete dedication, from which there was never the swerving of a hair's breadth, or the drawing back of a single moment. He needed no vision of glory such as this to confirm Him in His hallowing to His Father's will. The vision of the Father's face was never clouded for a moment to Him until the dark hour on Calvary's Cross, which as yet was not reached. So perpetual was His sense of the Divine presence that in conversation with Nicodemus, He spoke of Himself as "the Son of Man, Who is in heaven." (John 3:13) No, this was not something given as an encouragement to devotion. It was part of the perfect whole.
The transfiguration of Jesus was the consummation of His human life, the natural issue of all that had preceded it. Born into the world by the Holy Spirit, He had lived a life linked to, and yet separate from, humanity: linked to it in all the essential facts of its nature, separate from it in its sin, both as a principle and activity. He had taken His way, from His first outlook upon life as a human being —a babe in His mother's arms—through the years of childhood and growth, through all temptation and testing of manhood, and through the severer temptation of public ministry; and here, at last, that humanity, perfect in creation, perfect through probation, was perfected in glory. The life of Jesus was bound to reach this point of transfiguration. It could do no other.
In Jesus of Nazareth there was the perfect unfolding before heaven and before men, of THE DIVINE INTENTION AS TO THE PROCESS OF HUMAN LIFE (Matt. 5:48). Beginning in weakness and limitation, passing through difficulties and temptation, gaining perpetual victory over temptation by abiding only, at all times, and under all circumstances, in the will of God, at last, all the testing being ended, the life passed into the presence of God Himself, and into the light of heaven, not through the gate of death, but through the painless and glorious process of transfiguration. The transfiguration of Jesus was the outcome of His unceasing victory in every hour of temptation. The garrison of His life had been kept against every attack of the foe; no room had been found in any avenue of His being, or in all the circle of His manhood, for anything contrary to the will of God. His life was a perfect harmony, and the unceasing burden of its music was the goodness, and perfectness, and acceptableness of the will of God. He had ever done the things that pleased God. He had thought the thoughts of God, and spoken words, and done deeds under the inspiration and impulse of communion with God and at last, having triumphed over every form of temptation, He passed, not into the darkness of death, but into a larger life; and as He was transfigured He was filled with the answer of God to the perfection of His life—an answer that came not as a glory from without, but as the perfect blossoming of that which He had always enfolded in His human nature.
Reverently take a flower as an illustration of the process, watching it in its progress from seedling to perfect blossoming. The blossom rested in the seed in potentiality and possibility. Take a seed and hold it in the hand, strange little seed, without beauty, the very embodiment of weakness. But within that husk in which the human eye detects no line of beauty or grace, no gleam or flash of glory, there lie the gorgeous colors and magnificent flower itself. From that seed, through processes of law, plant and bud proceed, until at last the perfect blossom is formed.
God's humanity has blossomed once in the course of the ages, and that transfigured Man upon the holy mount, flashing in the splendor of a light like the sun, glistering with the glory of a whiteness like that of the snow, and flaming with the magnificent beauty of the lightning which flashes its radiance upon the darkness, that was God's perfect Man. That was the realization of the thought that was in the mind of God when He said, "Let Us make man in Our image."
The mount of transfiguration was the consummation of the life of Jesus, and if He had not been in the world for other purposes, if He had not been here because He loved man, He had not been here in order to win life out of the deep dense darkness of human sin and death, He might have passed back with Moses and Elijah to the heights of the glory of God—God's Man, having won His way to heaven by the perfection of His life. Such then is the place of the transfiguration in the life of Jesus.
With regard to His mission, the transfiguration was the preface to His death. It was the crowning of the first part of His mission that of realizing perfect life. Because of (this crowning), He was now able to pass to the second part of His mission, that of atoning death. It will immediately be seen how closely united these things are. The death of Christ would have been of no avail for the redemption of the world, had it not been preceded by His perfect life. To say this is not for one single moment to undervalue the death of Christ. Had the life not been perfect, the death would have been nothing more than the tragic end of an ordinary life, ordinary because conformed to the tendency and habit of the centuries, that of sin. But blessed be God, there had been no such conformity in the years that had preceded the Cross. Amid the self-idolatry of the entire race, He alone had stood erect, and therefore His death became the very door of life for a lost race, because of the infinite value of the life that had preceded it. No other man could be found as ransom for his brother, for every other man in coming to death had nothing in life that made death of value. When God had found none that could by any means ransom his brother, it was not that He had not been able to find one man willing to die for another. Men have always been found ready to die for others. The old story of how a soldier found a comrade ready to don his uniform, and take his place in the ranks, and answer “Here" when his name was called, is well-known. But on the higher plane, no man can answer "Here" for his brother, for each must answer for himself, and every man's life is in itself imperfect, and the life of one cannot avail for that of another, for that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) Men have in all ages been willing to die for others. Savonarola died for Florence, but he could not redeem Florence by his death. George Whitfield died for England, but he could not redeem the country by his dying. But this Man on the mount finished His life, wrought it out to absolute perfection, crowning it with the glory of heaven in the sight of men and God. Having done this He took that life—perfect, spotless, entire—and poured it out in death. His death thereby became more than the end of life. IT BECAME THE MYSTERY OF ATONEMENT, the darkness through which the eternal morning broke, the death through which life as a river passed through the ages, for every man who forsaking sin, commits himself to the Perfect One Who died and lives.
The transfiguration divided the ways. Amid the glory of that magnificent hour, the first part of His mission was ended. There was ushered in the second part, as He descended from the mountain, turning His back for the second time upon the light of heaven, and taking His way to the Cross, passed into the darkness of death. Follow carefully the life of Jesus from that mount to the green hill without the city wall. The one thought in His mind was that of His death, and of His Cross. May it not be said that after the mount He was eager for death? There was no drawing back, there was no flinching. He set His face towards Jerusalem, and it almost seems as though He were impatient of delay. With straight undeviating course, He passed from the mount of transfiguration to the Cross. Death was the goal, the Cross the throne, the passion-baptism the loosening of prison bonds, the darkness of Calvary the prelude of the dawn of the age for which He longed. So the transfiguration came into the life of Jesus as the crowning of His humanity, and therefore His preparation for the death by which man is redeemed.
In conclusion, it may be best to glance at the companions and the converse of the mount as they affected Him. His disciples were dazed, half asleep, not with the sleep of carelessness, but with that overpowering that follows the vision of glory. As He stood in the glory of that crowning moment, these men spoke to His heart, by their very blindness and blundering, of the incompleteness of His work. The words of Peter and the needs of these men were two different things. Said the words of Peter, “Let us stay here." Said the need of the men, even expressed in the blunder of Peter's prayer, Stay not here, but pass to the Cross. In the light of the mount Jesus looked upon these men, and heard the cry they themselves did not understand, their cry for the Atonement of His death, and the light that should follow the darkness of His passion.
Then, again, Moses and Elijah, the spirits of just men made perfect. They talked with Him of His Cross. In this there is deep significance. What they said to Him, or He to them, concerning that Cross is not recorded, but may it not have been that as He looked at them He saw again the necessity for His Cross? Did He not know that the perfecting of the just had been through the faith they had reposed in the purpose of God? And did He not know that the purpose, in which He had had fellowship, was that of redemption by blood? Did not these men say to Him by their very presence, Heaven as well as earth waits Thy Cross, and unless Thou dost pass from the mount of crowning to the mount of crucifixion, heaven must be unpeopled, for we are of the company of those who have died in faith looking for Shiloh, our Desire and our Redeemer. We wait amid the splendors of the upper world, and all is lost to us if Thy work of redemption be unfinished?
With reverent daring follow the thought to its issue. Had He, the crowned and perfected Man, passed upward into light, heaven would have been UNPEOPLED, and in its splendor there would have been one only Man. The plea of heaven and earth in the ears of Christ was a great cry for the deeper work that lay as yet beyond Him. Earth with no language but a cry which itself did not understand was asking for the Cross. Heaven in its glory of perfected vision was looking for the same and because He willed one will with God, He left the glory of the mount and with resolute step trod the way to Calvary; and from the darkness that overwhelmed Him has broken a light, that falls in radiance of hope and certainty upon the ruined race.