Date: January 23, 1938
A Plea for the Vision of the Transfigured Christ
O Jesus, our divine Redeemer:
Only in Thee can we find pardon for our sins, soothing for our sorrows, desire and strength for a God-pleasing life. Be with us, then, and forsake us not, despite our frequent thanklessness, stubbornness, and blindness. Keep us close to Thee, even though Thy blessed comradeship lead us along unlighted and unpromising paths. Remove every influence or factor that keeps us from acknowledging Thee, our glorious Savior, from worshiping Thee in true devotion. Teach us by Thy Holy Spirit to accept without protest each turn of Thy divine direction through which Thou, our Good Shepherd, dost lead Thine own through trial to triumph. As Thou once didst glorify Thyself on a far-off Palestinian mountain top, display Thy splendor and power and grace again to us now that we may look with longing to the cross and beyond to the unspeakable radiance of the open heaven. Beholding Thy transfigured majesty, may we be blessed forever with a holy vision, directed not to men and their word, but to Thee and Thy never-failing promises. Hear us, O Christ, and reveal Thyself to us daily; for on Thee only do we rest our hopes, the Seal and Surety of our salvation! Supply all that we need according to the riches of Thy grace in glory; for we ask all this in Thy name! Amen.
When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man save Jesus only. – Matthew 17:8
NO anti-Biblical program has ever been permanently successful. Our skeptical age chisels tombstones to mark the grave of Christianity, publishes death notices to announce the demise of Christ’s Church; but it is the verdict of history that these prophets of ruin will charge into their own defeat. Godlessness tried to triumph over Jesus Christ in Russia, where some of the filthiest caricatures of the Savior that diseased minds have ever produced were flaunted before the masses. Yet in the new constitution of Soviet Russia, Article XII, with telltale irony, bases its exaltation of labor on a passage of the New Testament. The very men who boasted that they had driven Christ from all Russia unconsciously paid Him tribute when they embodied His word in their new constitution. Some day, soon, crosses will be lifted from Russian gutters to the spires of Russian churches that have been purified through the fires of atheistic affliction. For Christ, almighty, all-powerful, all-pervading God that He is, has a way of breaking the bonds by which puny minds try to banish Him from their affairs.
When a university teacher, writing in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, warns that, “if the Christian Church cannot adjust,” if it cannot change its doctrines to meet the spirit of this new age, “it is doomed”; when he insists that it is more than possible that the Christian faith will be completely wiped off the face of the earth, he knows neither history, the power of Jesus Christ, nor the permanence of the Savior’s creed. Wherever any Church, no matter how small and insignificant and unimportant it appears, builds its faith on Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, the human Son of Mary, the ever valid Ransom and the all-atoning Redeemer of our entire race; wherever any Church bases its doctrine and practice, its hope and conviction, on the one foundation of that blessed Savior and His wondrous Word of perfect truth, there men and devils combined cannot invent the diabolical dynamite required to blast that Church out of existence. They may resort to the tyranny of dictatorships and the reign of crimson terror in the attempt to destroy Christ; they may line preachers of our glorious Gospel before machine-gun squads for wholesale massacre; they may boast that they can hear the death-rattle of Christianity; but the cause of Christ, which in its earliest and weakest days triumphed over the worldwide assault on its defenseless followers, will today survive the most savage onslaughts, provided—and this is the decisive requirement—the churches place their faith, their hope, their trust, in “Jesus only.” As soon as the word of man is substituted for the Word of Christ, one link in the chain which holds the anchor of faith is made of straw, and the slightest storm on the sea of life can tear the ship of our hope from its safe moorings.
How necessary and blessed the supremacy of “Jesus only” must be in your life! Large numbers of you have been groping for a conviction that will lead you through gloom and black doubt. You want some truth to which you can cling when all human help collapses. You search disquietedly for a life motto and a perpetual guarantee that will pledge unfailing guidance. Search no longer! Here in the two words
is your pledge of power. Inscribe these words on the walls of your home! Engrave their truth indelibly on your innermost heart! Take from them the comfort for your sins, weaknesses, sorrows, granted to all of whom it may be said as of the three disciples in Saint Matthew 17:8: “When they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man save Jesus only.”
JESUS ONLY FOR THE PARDONED LIFE
Our text takes us to the close of a day, when Jesus, in the company of three disciples, Peter, James, and John, ascended an unnamed mountain, perhaps Mount Hermon in the far north of Palestine. It was customary for the Savior thus to retire from the busy world about Him; often He spent the entire night in prayer to His Father. As darkness descended over the Galilean hills and vales, the three disciples, fatigued by the day’s toil and labor, fell into heavy sleep. How long they slept none of the Gospel accounts reveals; but suddenly the three were awakened by a display of glory and majesty such as they had never witnessed before and were never to behold again on this earth. There was Jesus, no longer garbed in His coarse clothes, no longer weary and worn as His followers had often beheld Him after endless hours of healing and helping, not terror-stricken as they were to see Him when the agony of the cross and the ordeal of suffering for the sins of the world would torture His soul. Now their Lord appears transfigured, glorified. His clothing was “white and glistering,” Luke tells us; Mark reports that His garments “became shining, exceeding white as snow,” and His countenance beamed with heavenly glory that outshone the sun.
It was a new Jesus whom they beheld—as they now saw their heavenly King in His celestial beauty; and before they fully grasped this startling revelation, they discerned two saintly figures, Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah; the prophet, conversing with their Savior. As the bewildered disciples listened, they overheard the subject of that celestial conversation, the impending crucifixion, in which Jesus should suffer as no man had ever suffered and then die the agonies of all deaths. While Peter, perhaps in the short-sighted desire to spare his Lord these agonies, proposes, “not knowing what he said,” that they should all abide on that mountain top, bathed in this radiant glory, the voice of the Father, the heavenly Authority that removed any lingering doubts as to Christ’s deity, spoke this benediction, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Then fear overcame the three disciples. They had seen Christ in heavenly majesty and other-worldly beauty; the reverberating voice of God had shaken their souls; and filled with terror over their own sinfulness, they pressed their faces into the mountainside, not daring to raise their eyes and again behold that celestial company. There they remained prostrate until the Savior touched them, speaking peace to their souls with the calm assurance, “Be not afraid”; and when they cast their first timid glance to the spot where they had been privileged to see that glorious transfiguration, we read, “They saw no man save Jesus only.” Moses and Elijah had disappeared; the Old Testament Ceremonial Law was gone forever. The Old Testament prophecy was being fulfilled in Christ. As the wondrous gaze of the disciples focused on Christ, and on Him alone, heavenly calm, divine strengthening, banished fear from their souls.
In our neurotic decades we need this focus on “Jesus only.” The most formidable army in the world is not to be found in the battalions, ships and submarines, air squadrons, of any nation or group of nations; it is to be sought in the multiplied fears that surround human existence: the fear and worry over your money, your work, your health, your home; the dread of failure and loss; the worry that some dark chapter in your life which conceals a past misstep will be exposed and you will find yourself disgraced since “your sin will find you out”; the apprehension that you are losing the love of husband or wife; the anxiety over your children’s turning from God and swelling the ranks of infidels; beneath all this the basic fear that you are not at peace with your God, that you must stumble along the hard way of the transgressor.
Few of us are able to measure the terrifying tribute that this tyranny of fear exacts. The American College of Physicians at Chicago was told that more than one third of all patients who seek medical help are entirely or partially suffering from emotional disorders caused by fear or worry. Brain specialists will point you to the growing increase in mental cases which this generation has brought to overcrowded asylums as thousands of our fellowcountrymen worry themselves into nervous breakdown and insanity. Fear reduces and wastes the energies and powers of the body. It magnifies the dangers that threaten our lives and minimizes the help that is ours. It banishes peace and throws us into continual warfare with the specters and phantoms lurking about us. Fear is the deadly destroyer of men’s hopes and happiness, the greatest single factor in all the misery, failure, and suicide that the world knows.
Now, when we have “Jesus only”; when with the great, apostle we are determined to know “nothing . . . save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” and repeat his declaration: “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we have the heavenly cure for all earthly fears. It is not accidental that this “Fear not,” this protest against human fright and terror, marked our Savior’s earthly life from His earliest until His last days. Nor is it accidental that Jesus in multiplied passages spoke of peace. Once you look to Jesus and see Him who walked humbly as a man among men, transfigured, in His divine glory, as the Son of God in the radiance of His dazzling splendor; once you read of His death in Moses and the prophets with their predictions of the atoning, ransoming, justifying, substituting love by which, as Isaiah of old foretold eleven times in eight verses, He was to be “wounded for our transgressions” and to be “bruised for our iniquities”; once, like the same three disciples who witnessed His glory only to see Him later in the agony of the Garden, you behold Jesus with the sweat of anguish dropping from His pallid countenance, as He prepares to suffer in His own body the punishment and the consequences of my sins, your sins, all sins; once you approach Calvary and its central cross and see Jesus, not glorified, but “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,” and with all your heart you acclaim Him your Savior, His precious blood the cleansing of your sin, His death your life, His grace your assurance of heaven,—then the forces of fear have been completely routed because your sins are forgiven. As you clasp that cross with faith-filled eyes, let the world pass into the murky shadows of insignificance; beholding “Jesus only,” the Savior’s calming, comforting, quickening “Fear not” becomes your guarantee of sustaining grace.
Our faith is not a mixture of the human and divine. It is not in one part the Word of Christ and in the other part the fabrication of man. It is not Christ as one of many ways and truths, but “Jesus only.” It is not Jesus Christ, together with a select list of humanity’s leaders, who, pagan and Christian, believing and unbelieving, reverent and atheist, adorn public buildings and sometimes even churches; for our redemption and our victory it is “Jesus only,” as Peter reminds us, “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” It is not—this high and holy faith—the Gospel of Christ completed by some human authority; not Christ in addition to the advance of our twentieth century; not Christ supplemented by our own supposedly shining virtues; it is “Jesus only,” His suffering, His blood, His cross, His death, His resurrection, His power and glory, that gives us the conquest over sin and hell.
Will you not—and I am now addressing those who have never seen the Savior in His glory or in the depth of His suffering love—meet that Jesus face to face on the pages of His holy Word and in the pure preaching and teaching of His Gospel? You are barraged by a hundred appeals in this day of restless activity; yet nothing that you can ever hear has the same holy, imperative, personal appeal to your soul as this plea to meet Christ, accept Him, make Him yours, and repeat as the pledge of your faith: “Jesus only!”
How much of this focus on Christ those need who call themselves Christians! There is too much of compromise within the churches, too much of one hour each week with God and 167 hours away from Jesus; too much of that smug, mistaken notion that, when your name is written on the church roster, it is also inscribed in the Boole of Life. Instead of “Jesus only” the practical program of many lives demands: “First my business and social obligations, my food and drink, my luxuries and pleasures, my plans and ambitions,—and then Jesus.” Fragments of time, scraps of interest, pennies of support, crumbs of love for Christ, instead of all for Jesus, “Jesus only”! No wonder that the clumsy hands and blundering brains of men, permitting reason to triumph over revelation, have made such a chaotic confusion of His holy Church, splintering it into a hundred sects instead of seeing “no man save Jesus only”! No wonder some churches fail when, instead of seeing “no man save Jesus only,” they become attracted to human teachers and are led away from God and His Word! No wonder atheists point their scorntipped fingers at the churches where proud, self-satisfied members place one hand on the altar of Christ and the other on the shrine of mammon! Rather than see “no man save Jesus only,” they are swayed by the fears and favors of men and never raise their voices to testify publicly to Jesus; they are never so thoroughly saturated with the conviction of “Jesus only” that they bring real financial sacrifices for the kingdom of Jesus.
In protest against this spirit a business man, a leader in several large national enterprises, wrote me that he had arranged last Sunday to have our program made available through the radio connections to all the guests in the 1,300 rooms of a large hotel in Boston. (May I incidentally take this moment to encourage all of you to see that our radio exaltation of “Jesus only” is made available to the hotels, hospitals, institutions, prisons, of your community?) That preoccupied man concluded: “I know of no greater happiness than witnessing for Christ; but I must confess that, when I lay my head down at night, I am ashamed of no one more than myself. What a comfort to have a God of love, who sent His Son into the world, knowing the weakness of His children!” I am holding out this spirit of “Jesus only” in the life not only of this man of affairs but also in the faith of many traveling the humbler roads of life, as the pledge of divine power for yourselves and the kingdom of Christ. What glorious triumphs could be ours if, turning from error and bowing before the complete authority of God’s Word, every disciple of Christ would penitently look to the transfigured Christ, the crucified Christ, the resurrected and gloriously triumphant Christ, and see “no man save Jesus only”!
“JESUS ONLY” FOR THE CONSECRATED LIFE!
The three privileged disciples could never forget the glorious revelation of their Savior’s holiness and glory. That radiance, more dazzling than the purest white, was to help ennoble their lives. Moments of unfaithfulness, disloyalty, weakness, and sin were still to overshadow them as Peter traitorously denied his captive Lord, John’s bigotry sought fire from heaven to destroy the opponents of Christ’s message, or when he, like James, deserted the Savior in the depth of cruel suffering and ventured to return only when Christ was nailed to the cross. Supported by the Spirit, however, these disciples focused their faith on “Jesus only”; through that second birth they became new disciples, reflecting the purity and power they had beheld on the mountain.
What was it that made Peter, James, and John men of outstanding honor, truth, cleanness, loyalty, courage and enriched their lives with those sterling qualities for which many of you are searching? How could they overcome temptation? How could they repulse the legions of lust and selfishness? It was not merely by the strength of their good resolutions; for how often do not you and I resolve with intense determination to fight our favorite weaknesses, only to find that because of broken resistance we are doomed to surrender! How repeatedly must we not exclaim with Paul, “The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do”! These three disciples walked in the truth and the light, not because of university courses and cultural advantages; for education affects the mind without cleansing the heart. Recently President Hutchins of Chicago University told the parents of America not to send their children to American colleges if their character needs to be improved. He realizes that the master minds in crime often have been honor students. The moral strength in these three followers of Christ, their ability to follow in the footsteps of the Savior, came to them because “Jesus only” was the incentive and power to the purer life.
“Jesus only” must be the elevating, cleansing, exalting power if you, too, want to break the tyranny of sin and make yours a God-pleasing, consecrated life. Thousands of you are asking, “How can I lead a truer, better, cleaner life?” You have your individual weaknesses, and the Prince of this world directs his insidious and persistent attacks upon these vulnerable points. Some are troubled by tendencies toward dishonesty or untruthfulness; for others the fires of anger and hatred, envy and greed, flare up quickly. Here are those obsessed by the craze for gambling, the sinful, senseless wasting of money, followed by suffering, heartache, and tears; and there are others who must fight drunkenness and debauch. Many—and how few do not feel the rising, surging, coaxing persuasion of these sins?—are beset by the lust of the eye and the flesh, which threaten to ruin genuine happiness. Now you want to push all this aside. You want to shake yourself forever free from the dragging weight of these sins. You want to resist evil, choke off sensuous appeals, and stifle the suggestions of Satan. To you we offer no academic course in character-building; no rigid course of selfdiscipline; no scientific textbook on mental hygiene; no promises of psychoanalysis; no program of physical improvement which hints that a sound body will contain a sound mind; no creed of any Christless religion (it is noteworthy that the pagan beliefs are often full of sensuous appeal and the gratification of the lusts, just as modern, Christ-denying cults all tend to support loose morality and destructive laxity). Instead of all this, in the name and by the command of the Savior, we give the Christ of all grace, “Jesus only,” as the sustaining power for the sanctified life. When Christ lives in us and we in Him, ours are the resources of Heaven itself for combating evil, defeating temptations, and walking in the path of His truth and light. Once the seal of His blood-bought redemption is pressed upon our souls, the promise of His Word proves itself, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” For the noblest things in life, truth, honesty, purity, decency, it is “Jesus only,” the same Jesus who transformed the hell-holes of the heathen world in darkest Africa or lust-ridden Asia or any stronghold of heathendom where His Word has been effectively preached.
Let me ask, then, Are you purified by this cleansing power of Jesus? Can you direct your vision so that beyond the alluring power of sin you can see Jesus, and “Jesus only”? Can you concentrate your hearing so that the din and clamor of the world as well as the seductive, teasing melodies of sensuous pleasure drop into the unnoticed background when you hear the voice of Jesus say, “Come, follow Me”? Do you read your Bible, the Word of His grace, “which is able to build you up,” the holy Truth whereby the Spirit sanctifies us? Do you know the washing of regeneration, the blessings of Baptism? Have you ever studied the Scriptural meaning and the full import of the Lord’s Supper in which Christ’s body and blood, given for the remission of our sins, also helps to strengthen our inner life? Fathers and mothers of this nation, is Christ in your homes to extend His building, helpful powers? Our houses are inspected and approved from almost every other point of view. They are subjected to rigid inspection for construction, water-supply, wiring, fire hazards. Traveling across the country, we see homes certified for their cleanliness and comfort. If only we had homes inspected and endorsed as to their Christian faith, purified by the presence of Jesus,—with the family faith and hope summarized in the two words of this message, “Jesus only”! Show me a home with a father and mother to whom parenthood is a sacred responsibility; a home in which children love, honor, obey, and support their parents and their grandparents; where peace and happiness reign even during the trying hours of reverses and distresses; where patriotism and civic virtues, honesty, frugality, industry, are demonstrated; in short, show me the type of home that our nation needs imperatively, and in the vast majority of instances I will show you a home in which “Jesus only” is the prompting power, the energizing force, the renewing, uplifting blessing from God.
“JESUS ONLY” FOR THE VICTORIOUS LIFE
The three enthralled disciples were to discover that the Christ of glory often led those who were His along hard ways, too inscrutable for human understanding. They were to know that, as Jesus suffered, so the life path of the disciples is often the road of sorrows. Centering their faith on “Jesus only,” they were to experience in their own destiny that the life of Christ is always the victorious life. Hardly ten years elapsed when James, sentenced to death by Herod Agrippa, became the first of the Twelve to seal his discipleship with blood. Peter, according to the best tradition, lived longer, but his career for Christ was crowded with persecution and sorrow until, about the same time as Paul was beheaded, Simon, the rock-disciple, was crucified on an inverted cross. Only John, of these three distinguished disciples, seems to have died a natural death, and even his testimony for Christ involved ache and pain in soul and body, banishment to lonely Patmos, hatred, and oppression. With “Jesus only” as the sacred climax of faith and hope, these three witnesses learned the blessings of adversity. Listen to Peter as he tells you today, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, . . . but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s suffering.” Listen to James as he cries, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life.” Listen to John as he sees the heavens open and hears God say: “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten,” and then turn to “Jesus only” for the solution to your sorrows.
Every Sunday afternoon as I cross our Seminary campus to speak to you, I wonder what new sorrows have befallen the multitude from coast to coast that worships Christ with us. I try to visualize your homes with their hopes and fears. Some of you, I say to myself, lost your work yesterday. Some of you during the last week heard the verdict of a specialist that you must undergo a serious operation. Some of you have incurred large and sudden expense and suffered painful injury. Others have spent a harrowing, peace-robbed week haunted by the sin which, once attractive and alluring, now demands its fearful price and threatens exposure. In some homes a husband this week deserted his family; a mother hurled disgrace upon her children; and a heedless son brought tears to the eyes and numb pain to the hearts of his parents. Among the thirty thousand deaths recorded in our country in the past week, some of you mourned the departure of a loved one as the deepest of all sorrows overshadowed you and your home.
What is it that I must place before you as the Word of God rings in my ears “Comfort, comfort ye, My people”? If you want to rise from the depths where you cry for help, then ascend in spirit that Mount of Transfiguration which you can find on every page of Christ’s promises and, looking beyond the pitiful consolation that men of themselves can offer, see “no man save Jesus only.” He was afflicted and knows the weight of sorrows that may burden you. He was made “perfect by suffering,” the world’s salvation demanding the agonies of the cross; and you, too, will be refined by the test of trial. He promised, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” In His name I promise you, the world-weary, pain-ridden, heart-crushed, destitute, and all who seem to have come to the utter end of human help, that, if you raise your eyes contritely to the Christ of your souls and say, “‘Jesus only’ for my pardon and my peace, ‘Jesus only’ for my comfort and strength, for my trials and triumphs!” you will share the radiance of the transfigured Christ every day that you live; your last and darkest hour will be the happiest and brightest as you pray:
Hold Thou Thy cross before my dosing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.