The Great Truth
“You are the Christ,” the Apostle Peter exclaims in Matthew chapter 16, “the Son of the living God.” This declaration stands as a pinnacle in the narrative of Jesus’ ministry on earth. Jesus—living God, the fulfillment of the ancient promise to mend the brokenness of our lives—was everything the Christ must be to heal this aching world. The truth of it had seared through the heavy mantle of human ignorance and the disciples would now be responsible to carry this torch far and wide.
But the orientation was not over yet. Truth has a way of taking us from one peak to another, and in Matthew chapter 17 we see Jesus take Peter and two other close companions up a high mountain by themselves. They would be privy to a pre-taste of the fulfillment of a prophecy spoken only six days earlier: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus had promised His close group of friends, “some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
And there on a high mountain the glory of God the Son flared for a literal moment. We’re told Jesus’ “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light…a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
The bombardment upon the disciples’ senses knocked them face-first to the ground, terrified. Pure truth, like piercing light, is more than we can sometimes bear in these earth-bound bodies of ours. The three disciples had seen a glimpse of Jesus as He would appear far, far into earth’s future, “coming in his kingdom”—and His glory left them gasping for breath.
There’s some wisdom for us in the recollection of that moment. Truth is more magnificent than we often give it credit for. It is not some tidy little prescription that we can package in a pillbox and dispense as needed. We cannot wrap it around our little fingers and make it do for us as we please. Truth is as searing as a laser beam; it pierces, ignites, seals and reveals whatever it is aimed toward. It is faultless in reaching its target. Truth is God’s domain.
But truth is not only apparent on mountaintops. It extends into the valleys too. And so, Jesus reached down and touched His three companions, giving them courage, lifting them up, and explaining that they needed to walk alongside him through a deep valley. Before reclaiming the glory of being the Son of God, Jesus needed to complete the task given Him as the Son of Man: He must first suffer a humiliating death at the hands of darkness-driven men and take upon Himself the penalty each human owes the God of Truth and Justice.
This truth was harder for the disciples to accept than the bright-and-shining-revelation-of-Christ truth they had just witnessed. It always is. We much prefer the glory of triumph to the prospect of dogged perseverance. As humans we seem to have a particular aversion to suffering. We will do much to avoid it. Yet Christ was tenacious in his resolve to move forward in the Father’s plan for Him to suffer. Why? Because the great truth is that He had to suffer, to die an agonizing death in order to confront the laws of the moral universe that demanded a settlement for our human rebellion—for every time we’ve said, “It’s my life!”
We’re told, “the disciples were filled with grief.” They were torn by Christ’s news that He would be betrayed, killed and on the third day raised to life. It was natural to grieve. They didn’t want Jesus to suffer and they certainly didn’t want to share in the suffering by losing their Lord and Mentor. It was truth’s deep valley. But did you notice what they had failed to hear? The suffering would lead to glorious, triumphant Life. The truth of the valley would give way to the truth of the most magnificent peak—life unending. The Christ, the Son of the living God does the impossible to give you and me a second chance for the kind of life He designed us to have.
Why?—Simply because Jesus loves us. His love is deeper than the deepest valley, fiercer than hell’s scorching inferno, brighter than sun’s piercing rays, and higher than the highest heaven. He loved us through His own death and resurrection to save us from a suffering we know nothing about, and instead give us an eternity of love.
“For I am convinced,” pondered the Apostle Paul in a letter to later Christ-followers, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is a Great Truth.
(Photo Credit: By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands – Into the sun, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34928418)