Phil MacInnes reflects on the transfiguration of Jesus and how we need to look to Jesus alone.
Luke 9:28-36 is a well-known passage of Scripture where Jesus took these three, and on three occasions in the Bible, Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on special occasions. One when Jairus’ little daughter was raised from the grave, raised from the dead, and then at the end, at Gethsemane. And this is the other one. And there they were. They went up this mountain, and as Jesus was praying, he completely changed, and he was like lightning before them. For some reason or other, the three disciples were able to sleep. But when they became awake and they saw Jesus and Moses and Elijah, let’s build three little booths to keep the three of them here. And the father’s voice came and said, “this is my son. Listen to him”.
Over the years, people have had a different view of Christianity in this country. For some, it was someone born in this country is a Christian. Well, that’s patently not correct. For others, it’s practising their faith, services, hymns, and so on. For others, being a Christian is being a good person. I can see in this little portion that there’s a summary of what Christianity really is. And I’ll outline this as we go through.
Philippians 2, which was read to us earlier, says that Jesus, though he was in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, took upon himself the form of a servant. So he came all the way down. But now here, it’s as though Jesus’s glory, which he had with the father before, now shines through the body of Jesus. And it’s as though Jesus’s glory, which he knew, the glory which was laid aside, something of it is now seen. And there it is that Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah. They spoke about what was going to happen shortly in Jerusalem, his departure there. But why these two? Well, Moses was the one who spoke about what God required of the people. You must be holy, for I am holy. That’s what the law in the Old Testament emphasized. What Elijah, as one of the prophets, emphasized is that the people were utter failures when it came to fulfilling the law. So the prophets went on to say, now that you’ve failed, here is God’s remedy. He is going to send someone who will make this possible.
So the two leaders, Moses emphasized the people’s failure, and the prophets represented by Elijah showed what God’s remedy would be. Well, what is Christianity? Here are a couple of things from this passage. Firstly, God is a God who speaks, and that’s good. He’s a living God. He’s a personal God, but he reveals himself by speaking. And so the voice from the clouds, now this is the one who the Old Testament says, stoops down to look at the heavens and the earth. And whenever people met with God in the Old Testament, they often fell down. You’ve got Moses, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah, and in the New Testament, John. When God speaks, the people just went, wow. And you know, there’s nothing that we need more in this desperately uncertain world than to hear God speaking. Really, it’ll make a whole world of difference.
Just by way of encouragement, I read an article where this particular old speaker spoke about how terrible things were. He said that we’ve never had a world like this before. The date when he said that, Charles Spurgeon, the 10th of August, 1865. So just to let you know that things do move around and come around. But it’s a very, very uncertain world, but God speaks. Now in the Old Testament, he often spoke through ritual, how their faith, their religion was expressed. And chiefest of this was the Passover. When the people were in Egypt, in captivity, God says, I want you to take a perfect lamb to keep your eye on it over a number of days, then kill it and apply the blood to the door frame. And that the eldest son would be safe when the angel of death went through the land. So God spoke through the ritual there, of their sacrificial system. But later on, he spoke through what the prophets taught, and ultimately through Jesus.
Hebrews 1 says, God at different times, in different ways, spoke to our fathers through the prophets. In these last days, he has spoken unto us in his son, by his son, who he is and what he’s done.
So Christianity is first, a God who speaks. But secondly, the God who speaks is a God who loves. In the parallel account of our reading, it says that this is my son whom I love. This is my beloved son. By the way, that’s one of the proofs of the Trinity. If God was only one person, he couldn’t love anyone. To be loving, you must have someone to love. And so, father, son, and Holy Spirit had an eternal relationship of love, one for the other. But the Bible emphasizes over and over again the love of God. God so loved the world. Paul says, the son of God loved me, as though he couldn’t quite take it in, and gave himself for me. John says, how great is the love that the Father has lavished on us. This is love, not that we love God. Don’t measure love by our love for him. This is not love, not that we love God, but that he loves us and sent his son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
So, Christianity is a loving God who has spoken, a God who loves, who speaks to people who have failed. Now, that’s good news. Failed in what way? Well, Peter, when he woke up, was so impressed with Moses and Elijah being there. And as they started to go, he said, in effect, I want to keep them here. Lord, let’s build three little booths to keep them here. And the father had to come and say, in effect, there’s no one on the same level as my son. Peter, you’re flawed. As we all are, there’s only one person who’s not flawed this morning, and he’s the one we can’t see. I was brought up in Guyana, South America, and to go to school, I had to wear a clean white shirt every morning. And I had to stand before my mother to get the once over, it was all right. And sometimes she would say to me, Philip, is that a clean shirt? And I would say, it was yesterday’s shirt. I would say, well, it’s okay for me. And she would say, it’s not okay for me. Go and change it. And if we look at ourselves, whatever your view is of your holiness, you might think it’s okay for me. And the father says, but it’s okay for me. And the father says, but it’s not okay for me. But God is a God who loves, and who speaks to people who have failed.
My father was a pastor for many years, and he had a little verse, not phenomenal poetry, but gosh, it makes sense. “There’s one who knows the worst about us but loves us just the same. There’s only one who loves like this, and Jesus is his name.”
So this God speaks to us who have failed. And we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. There are a number of verses in the Bible which emphasizes what sin is. And one particular word means missing the mark. This word was used by some soldiers in the Old Testament who were very good with a slingshot. And it says that at a long distance, they could throw the stone and not miss a hair. When you think of the level of accuracy that entailed, even if it was symbolic, just a little bit off and they would miss. And that’s the word used for sin. So sin can be missing the mark, not by doing the big things, but just by not loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
So here’s a God who loves, a God who speaks, a God who speaks to people who have failed, and points them to Jesus. This is my son, my chosen one. The Old Testament pointed to Jesus in so many ways. And I mentioned the Passover lamb, where they took a male lamb, it was kept for a number of days. Their sins were confessed to the people as well, and then it was killed. And the prophecies of the Old Testament pointed forward to this. Isaiah says unto us, a child is born unto us, a son is given. Zechariah, the prophet says that they will look on him whom they have pierced. And to come back to Isaiah, he said, we all like sheep of God, we are like sheep of God astray, we’ve turned everyone to our own way, but the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. So the Old Testament over and over again is pointed to Jesus. And this is captured so accurately and beautifully by Paul, when he said about Christ, God made him be the son of God, beautifully by Paul, where he said about Christ, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. So though we have failed, when we trust the Lord Jesus, the Father treats us as if we had never sinned, which is absolutely incredible.
I love old hymns, I read old hymns every morning, and I’ve gone through a dozen really old hymn books. And there’s one lovely little verse which goes like this “because the sinless saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free, for God the just is satisfied to look on him, yet pardon me.” Incredible. And so this God who loves, who speaks, who points us to the Lord Jesus. But then here’s the next step. A God who loves, who speaks, who speaks to failed people, who points them to Jesus, and then he says, this is my son, listen to him. Listen to him. Jesus, the Father says, is my son. That was the reason why Jesus was crucified. Sometimes people will say he was crucified because he upset the political system. That he was against what was happening. No, if you read the gospels over and over again, Jesus was crucified because he said that he was the son of God. That’s why when he was on trial before the Jewish authorities, who are you? And when he admitted it, they said, that’s when he admitted it.
They said, that’s it. We don’t need to know anymore. You’re worthy of death. So the Father owns him as his son and says, listen to him. And that’s very strong. He said, you plural, you three there, you listen to him. In other words, don’t be satisfied with secondary ones like Elijah and Moses. Don’t take up for us, don’t be involved to the extent that the rituals of your faith, good though they are, replace the Lord Jesus. Listen to him. And the Father was saying, it’s an insult to put anyone on the same level as Jesus. Listen to him. It’s possible for a minister to get that wrong. The church I go to, Bill Mason, who’s since gone to be with the Lord, he was a vicar. He had served the Lord in a number of parishes before he became a Christian. And when the Lord opened his eyes and he trusted Christ with his life and his eternal future, he went back to his previous church to confess to them that he had been trying to lead them and that he didn’t know Jesus for himself. Utterly amazing. There was quite a move of God in Cornwall in the 1800s. There was a man called William Haslam who was a vicar and God was moving and the church was absolutely packed. They said something like 49% of Cornwall would be in church on a Sunday. Absolutely packed and as William Haslam was preaching, it dawned on him the truth of what he was saying. And someone in the congregation stood up and said, the vicar, he’s been converted. He got saved listening to his own sermon. So don’t be satisfied with secondary issues, the father is saying. He is my son. Listen to him.
Now I mentioned earlier that Moses dealt with the law, what God expected of them. Elijah represented the prophets, how they have failed and that God would provide a way for them to be right with him. Elijah represented the prophets, how they have failed and that God would provide a way for them to be right with him. And that the father would send someone and listen to him. Listen to what he’s saying. Very interesting. In a reading, it said there that they spoke of his departure. The New Testament was written in Greek and the word departure is the word Exodus. He was speaking of his Exodus. In Exodus, again, the Passover, there it was that the angel of death was going to go through the land and that the eldest son was going to die unless there was blood. And so they chose the Passover lamb, they collected its blood, and they put it on the doorpost and on the lintel. The eldest son might say, Father, am I all right? Yes, son, look at the blood. The blood has been applied, be encouraged. Look at the blood, concentrate on the blood, but I don’t feel good. What’s that got to do with it? Look at the blood, but maybe the angel of death will come for me. No, he can’t. The blood has been shed and applied. Just the same passing, I trust my dear friend that the blood of Jesus in your case has not been shed in vain, that it has been applied to your life. And there’s nothing more wonderful than when the Lord opens his word to us to understand who he is and what he’s done through his blood shed on the cross and that we have a loving heavenly father and we have a hope.
I particularly asked if we could sing the hymn, How Great Thou Art. The first two verses were written in Sweden when there was a day just like today when creation looked amazing. And so the Swedish writer, “when I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made”. Those are the first two verses. The last two verses were written by a Methodist evangelist around the 1920s. He was in Ukraine and he found that the only Christians in that area were a couple. And the lady had taught herself to read using a Bible that a Russian soldier had left. And she taught herself to read and so Stuart Hines wanted to go and meet this couple. So he comes along to the house and he hears an amazing sound. The woman was reading about the crucifixion of Jesus and the guest in the house were in the very act of repenting for their sin. And this repenting was done out loud so that Stuart heard people calling out to God, thanking him and praising him for his love and his mercy. Stuart wrote down some of the phrases that he heard and then later on he wrote the third verse. “And when I think that God his son not sparing sent him to die, I scarce can take it in that on the cross my burden gladly bearing he bled and died to take away my sin”.
So there it is. A God who speaks, a God who speaks, a loving God, a God who speaks to failed people, a God who points to Jesus and says listen to him. Well if that’s Christianity how does someone become a Christian? And when they became awake they saw no one except Jesus, Jesus alone. All others have left. So they were listening to what Jesus was saying, Jesus and the cross or in New Testament terms Paul says I determined to know nothing else but Jesus and him crucified. Don’t get this wrong. It’s Jesus alone. It’s not Jesus and your holiness. It’s not your holiness that makes you right with God. It’s not Jesus and your faithfulness in church life. It’s not Jesus and your service. They saw no one but Jesus alone.
Now all the other things flow from that but it’s Jesus alone and we sometimes sing my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. And the most horrible thing that we can do is when we think that we can add to the work of Christ by what we do. It is a perfect finished work. You can’t add to it but the wonderful thing is this God is so wonderful and he has done so much for us but we want to live for him. We want to be ready to meet him. We want to share him with others but that doesn’t make us right with God. That’s the fruit of it. Charles Spurgeon was one of the best-known preachers in Victorian England. He had an amazing effect. Preached to thousands every Sunday. As a 15-year-old in Essex, he couldn’t go to his own church and this was in, make sure I got, January 1850. There was a snowstorm and he had to go to the local Methodist chapel and because of the snowstorm, the preacher didn’t turn up. And one of the guys in the church just filled in and he preached on the verse from Isaiah, look to me and be saved all ye ends of the earth. And Spurgeon said in broad Essex the man invited the hearers to look to Jesus and that’s all he did for 15 minutes one way and another. And Spurgeon said that the Holy Spirit enabled me to believe and gave me peace through believing. Look to Jesus and so my dear friend look to Jesus or you can forget everything that I said but look to Jesus.
Why is this important? Well because the eternal God addresses us by saying this is my son, listen to him. It’s important because our eternal future depends on it. One day we will stand before God and we will again hear him speaking. Now in the Passover time the son was free because the blood was shed. On the cross another eldest son, this time he died, that we might be free. And so like Peter, if we’ve never seen him before, look to him alone, alone, alone. Not yourself, not your successes, even worse not your failures, not the failures of others, not the stuff that you’ve gone through which has made you what you are, not what people have done for you, people have done to you. Look to Jesus alone. It could be that you’re in church but you’ve drifted from him. Well, look to him again. If you’ve looked at him in the past, look to him again. Make it your aim that you concentrate on him and by his grace look to him always.
That was verse three of How Great Thou Art. The fourth verse was written in this country by Stuart Hines. This is now 1948 and he visited a camp in Sussex for displayed Russians because they couldn’t go back to Russia because Stalin was starting to kill a lot of their people. One man that they were, they were a group of a lot of their people, one man that they were ministering to and there were only two professing Christians in this camp but one of them told an amazing story. He’d been separated from his wife. His wife was still in Russia and when they lived together, though she was a Christian, he wasn’t and his deep desire was to be united with his wife. He couldn’t go back to Russia, he knew that and he looked forward to heaven where they could share eternal life together he told Stuart Hines he didn’t think that he would ever see his wife again but he’s so looking forward to being with her in glory and the word so inspired Stuart Hines that they became the basis of the fourth verse of this song. “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart then shall we bow in humble adoration and there proclaim, my God, how great Thou art”.
There’s nothing more that we can add to that. The God who speaks out of love to failed people who points them to Jesus and says, listen to him, may by God’s grace we become fully awake and see Jesus alone and only.
Dear Father, thank you so much for the grace in sending the Lord Jesus for us. Lord Jesus, thank you so much that you came to be a sin offering for us and because you died, we are counted free, we are accepted by the Father. Even in our failures, He accepts us in Christ. Father, thank you so much. Now by your Holy Spirit, may we live lives which reflect you, which show you. The praise is yours, loving Father. Thank you that you have spoken in Jesus. Thank you that you point us to Him. Thank you that you’ve opened our eyes to listen to Him. Listen to Him. Keep us faithful, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.