Who had the best view of the Incarnation? Mary, the mother of Jesus, is certainly a good nomination. So is Joseph, Jesus’s father.
It might seem odd to suggest one of Jesus’s disciples in place of his parents. After all, they only spent three years with him.
However, there is (at least) one incident in Jesus’s ministry that shows his disciples had a perspective not available to Mary or Joseph.
Anyone who hung around Jesus was bound to witness glory of a certain kind. After all, Jesus came to make God the Father known to humanity (John 1:18). However, there was a special kind of glory revealed to Peter, James, and John at Jesus’s transfiguration that surpassed anything else in his ministry.
When these three disciples went up the mountain to pray with Jesus, they were “heavy with sleep” (Luke 9:32). But when they woke up they “saw [Jesus’s] glory” (Luke 9:32). His face was changed and his clothes “became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). This was a jaw-dropping moment, as Moses and Elijah were also there in glory (Luke 9:31). It was such a holy scene that Peter wanted everyone to stay for a while (Luke 9:33).
The unimaginable nature of this meeting was not just in Jesus’s appearance. After Peter’s impetuous words, “a cloud came and overshadowed them” and the disciples were (understandably!) afraid (Luke 9:34). They heard God’s voice booming out of the cloud, telling them to listen to Jesus, the chosen one (Luke 9:35).
The transfiguration is important in the context of the Incarnation because it gives us a brief glimpse of Jesus’s glory before becoming a man. This is part of Paul’s argument in Philippians 2—the best way for us to grasp the humility of God (and then also to have that “same mind”) is to see how low Jesus stooped.
Stooping So Low
In Philippians 2:5–8, Paul writes about Jesus going down, down, down. He was “in the form of God,” and the contrast between this height and his eventual death make his condescension all the more remarkable.
The Son did not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped”—he did not take advantage of his deity. He was “born in the likeness of men,” and in this he became a servant/slave. Jesus’s entire life was a picture of service, but it is in the spotlight when he washes his disciples’ feet at their final Passover celebration (John 13:3–11).
Jesus went lower, of course. He humbled himself to the point of death (Phil 2:8). And his death by crucifixion was the lowest sort of death—execution on a Roman cross as a dangerous criminal.
The Incarnation of Jesus puts the humility of God on display. God is condescending by nature; he stoops low to be with us. He stoops to save us.
The Best View
Peter, James, and John didn’t only witness the transfiguration. Those same disciples who saw Jesus in glory walked with him on dusty roads and saw him teach and heal. They heard him predict his own arrest and death and they pleaded with him to turn back. They fell asleep when he prayed in agony in Gethsemane, and they looked on as he was arrested like a common thief.
In the end, it’s not really important to determine a winner in this competition. Because of the Scriptures and the witness of the Spirit, we—21st century Christians—have an incredible view of the Incarnation of the Son of God. At this time of year we can, with all who encountered Jesus during his life, marvel that God would humble himself to become a man. O come, let us adore him! Christ the Lord!
Note: This article was inspired by my pastor’s sermon on Sunday.
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