Jesus ' question to his own : Who did they think he was ? He tells them of a suffering Messiah , and describes the lot of his own true followers.
For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? Godet's comment here is pithy and quaint: "Jesus supposes, in this twenty-fifth verse, the act of saving one ' s own life accomplished with the most complete success … amounting to a gain of the whole world. But in this very moment, the master of this magnificent domain finds himself condemned to perish! What gain to draw in a lottery a gallery of pictures … and at the same time to become blind!" "O flesh," writes Luther (quoted by Dr. Morrison), "how mighty art thou, that thou canst still throw darkness over those things, even to the minds of the holy!"
Our Lord has taught us as no other teacher ever has—
I. THE TRANSCENDENT WORTH OF OUR HUMAN NATURE . When he came that was held in very small esteem. Men showed what they thought of human nature by the use they made of it, and of human life by the readiness with which they threw it away. There was no thought of the inviolable sacredness of a human spirit. Jesus Christ has taught us to think of it as precious beyond all price. Man's body is only the vesture of his mind; man, like God, is spirit, but he is spirit clothed in flesh. He is a spirit
(4) coming into close contact and fellowship with God;
II. THE TEMPTATION TO LOSE SIGHT OF THIS GREAT TRUTH . There are two things that often have such a deteriorating effect upon us that it is practically erased from the tablet of our soul.
1 . The love of pleasure ; whether this be indulgence in unholy pleasure, or the practical surrender of ourselves to mere enjoyment, to the neglect of all that is best and highest.
2 . The eager pursuit of gain. Not that there is any radical inconsistency between profitable trading and holy living; not that a Christian man may not exemplify his piety by the way in which he conducts his business; but that there are often found to be terribly strong temptations to untruthfulness, or dishonesty, or hardness, or unjust withholdment, or a culpable and injurious absorption in business. And under the destructive influence of one of these two forces the soul withers or dies.
III. THE CALAMITOUS MISTAKE THAT IS SOMETIMES MADE . It is not only a grievous sin, but a disastrous error to gain worldly wealth, and, in the act of gaining it, to lose the soul. That is the worst of all possible bargains. The man who makes many thousands of pounds, and who loses conscientiousness, truthfulness, spirituality, all care for what God thinks of him and feels about him, sensitiveness of spirit—in fact, himself , is a man over whom Heaven weeps; he has made a supreme mistake. Gold, silver, precious stones, are of limited worth. There are many of the most important services we want which they have no power to render; and the hour is daily drawing near when they will have no value to us whatever. But the soul is of immeasurable worth; no sum of money that can be expressed in figures will indicate its value; that is something which absolutely transcends expression; and time, instead of diminishing, enhances its importance—it becomes of more and more account "as our days go by," as our life draws toward its close. Jesus Christ not only put this thought into words,—the words of the text— he put it into action. He let us see that, in his estimation, the human soul was worth suffering and dying for— worth suffering for as he suffered in Gethsemane, worth dying for as he died at Calvary. Then do we wisely enter into his thought concerning it when we seek salvation at his cross, when, by knowing him as our Divine Redeemer, we enter into eternal life.—C.
The Saviour's secret revelations.
After the miracle of the loaves Jesus resumes his season of devotion, and in the course of it he asks the disciples who had just returned from their mission-tour what reports are being circulated about him. They tell him that some say he is John Baptist, some Elias, some one of the prophets risen again. This shows that they regarded his present life as preliminary only. The idea of his being the real Messiah, "the Christ of God," was not entertained by any of the outsiders at all. It is then he asks them what their idea is, when Peter answers unhesitatingly, "The Christ of God." And now we must inquire—
I. THE REASON FOR THIS SECRECY ABOUT THE MESSIAHSHIP . (Verses 18-22.) Though the disciples believed in his Messiahship, they are directed not to make it known. Now, we must remember how different the Jewish ideas of the Messiahship were from the reality presented by Christ. Even such a noble-minded man as John Baptist had doubted the propriety of the course Jesus took. How much more liable to mistake would the common people be, if it had been blazed abroad that he was Messiah! It was needful, therefore, to wait till the picture was nearer completion before people were asked to look upon it. In fact, it was only his intimates who could at such a stage realize his magnificence at all. £ To give the people time to form a proper opinion, to prevent them from rising into premature opposition, to allow them no valid excuse if they rejected him at last, was the purpose of his secrecy and patience. He saw clearly that he "must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain," but he would not provoke the crisis by publishing his Messianic claims. His modesty and secrecy in this matter are in striking contrast to the manners and methods of the world.
II. PERSONAL SALVATION THROUGH SELF - SACRIFICE . (Verses 23-27.) While predicting his death, he also predicts his resurrection. This is salvation through self-sacrifice. He immediately indicates that we are under the same law. The man alone saves himself who dedicates himself even unto death to Jesus. There are two policies pursued.
1 . The selfish policy. People think they are so very valuable that they must save themselves at every turn. Hence they give the strength of their time and attention to self-preservation. This is their first law of nature. In doing so, they think that if they can only gain as much of the world and worldly things as possible, the better. They think it wise to win the world. But now Jesus shows that such a course only ends in utter loss of self. What does the self-centred, self-preserving soul become? What is the fate of the grasping, worldly mind? Such a soul shrivels up, becomes a nonentity, a mere derelict or castaway on the sea of existence. Such a life is "not worth living."
2 . Notice the self-sacrificing policy. This is the policy pursued by the soul which is devoted to Jesus as supreme. It is no trial to carry the cross; such a soul is ready to die any day for Jesus. He cannot be ashamed or' Jesus, or of his words, but prizes him and them as beyond all price. And what is such a soul's experience? He feels that he is self-possessed and the subject of a grand development. He really has gained himself. His powers of mind and of heart grow into luxuriance, and he feels enriched in all the elements of being as he goes onward. And if perchance he becomes a martyr for the faith and lays down, as these disciples did, his life for Jesus, he finds in an immortal future of further dedication all his best being carried forward. Death may cripple him in working powers here, but promotion awaits him beyond the shadows, and he finds that "he is himself again" after the death-experience is over. Jesus thus presents the case in the proper light —self-sacrifice is real salvation of self if our self-sacrifice is for the sake of Jesus.
III. THE PRIVATE GLIMPSE OF GLORY . (Verses 28-36.) Eight days after the noble confession of Christ by the disciples, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to a mountain-top, that he might have another season of prayer. Though so busy, he never became prayerless. A most useful lesson! And here we have to note:
1 . That transfiguration came through prayer. (Verse 29.) There is nothing changes people's appear ance so suddenly and so satisfactorily as being on the mountain-top of prayer. Jesus in transfiguration-glory is but a type of his people who come radiant from the secret places too. If there were more prayer on the part of God's people, there would be more transfiguration and less scepticism about its efficacy.
2 . Transfigured ones are attractive to the heavenly world. (Verses 30, 31.) Moses and Elias from their abodes of bliss are but indications of a perpetual interest in transfigured men. A new star is not more attractive to the astronomer than is a transfigured and radiant soul to the inhabitants of heaven. And further, the decease to be accomplished at Jerusalem is the supreme topic with the men from the heavenly city. For to this did the Law and the prophets point, and in the abodes of bliss other interests have not superseded this. If the cherubim were represented as gazing rapturously upon the mercy-seat and its baptism with blood, so may we believe the whole society out of which Moses and Elias came concentrate their interest upon the salvation which comes through the death of Jesus.
3 . Transfigured ones attract attention from the inhabitants of earth. (Verse 32.) The disciples had fallen asleep, but the glory awoke them, as a candle will when brought before a sleeper. They saw the Master's glory, and Moses and Elias at his side, and they regarded the Messianic kingdom as having in this triple glory dawned.
4 . There is a natural desire to retain the rapturous vision. (Verse 33.) As soon as the disciples became watchful witnesses, Moses and Elias appear to have moved away. Their converse has now been interrupted by unspiritual auditors, and so they prepare for their departure. It is in these circumstances that Peter proposes to retain the visitors by making " tabernacles " in the mount. With such a reinforcement, he thinks, as Moses and Elias, in radiance bright, the victory of Messiah will be assured. It is thus we dream. We read the history of the heroes who are gone, and we imagine that it' we were only reinforced from the past we should be triumphant all along the line. Their spirit and their history may well inspire us, but they cannot take our burden.
5 . The rapture may pass away in cloud , but Jesus abides with us for ever. (Verses 34-36.) There can be little doubt about this bright cloud being the Shechinah. £ It came to indicate the true manifestation of God in the incarnate Son, and to withdraw the possible competitors. The disciples feared as they entered the cloud. But a gracious paternal voice assured them, "This is my beloved Son: hear him." And when the cloud cleared away, they saw no man, but Jesus only. To the teaching of Jesus, consequently, they would yield intenser attention. Besides, they kept it secret what they had seen. It was one of those glorious visions which could not wisely be yet revealed. Let us enjoy Jesus, no matter how rapturous associations may fade away.—R.M.E.