The Transfiguration of Our Lord (2 Peter 1:16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
The Transfiguration of Our Lord + February 26, 2017
Text: 2 Peter 1:16-21

On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John have a great experience.  They saw Jesus transfigured before their very eyes, so that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.”  They saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Him, and heard the voice of the Father from the glory cloud.  Incredible!
But they did not do what people do today and write a book about their personal experience—Jesus is For Real or I Saw His Glory!  And they also didn’t write a book about how you too can have a mountaintop experience and see Jesus—Six Days to See Jesus, or In the Cloud: How to Listen to the Majestic Glory.[1]
This is what Peter wrote about the Transfiguration:
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed[2], to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
Peter doesn’t base his testimony on high and holy experiences.  He doesn’t base it on feelings of euphoria that he felt as the cloud covered them.  He certainly doesn’t suggest that believers should strive to attain the stature to be with Jesus in a way that others are not.
Instead, Peter points to the prophetic Word, the Scriptures—“to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”  In this way, the religion of Jesus is open to all equally—men and women, infants to elderly, new believers and those raised in the faith.  You don’t need to be Muhammad in a cave, Buddha under a Bodhi tree, or sense a “burning in your bosom” (Mormons).  Don’t believe the Gospel on the basis of something in you; believe the Gospel on account of God who doesn’t lie and His Word which is true.  “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.”  Hear His voice and follow Him.  The mark of a Christian is one who listens to God’s Word and believes what it says about Jesus Christ.
Many times we find ourselves looking for God apart from His Word.  Why does God let evils befall us?  Why doesn’t He shake our indifferent loved ones out of their unbelief?  If I could just feel God’s presence or have some sign from Him then I would be comforted!  Maybe if I worship God through ornate rituals I’ll grow closer to Him.  Martin Luther had a phrase for this.  When you look for God outside of His Word, what you find is that God hides Himself.  The so-called “hidden God” is not a comforting one, because there you find only a holy and mighty judge.  If you look for God in your emotions or reason or transcendent experiences, you are effectively building a Tower of Babel, making your own high mountain with which to commune with God.  But God will only reveal Himself through His Word, because He is the one who comes down from heaven—not the other way around.
If the Gospel were only open to those who had a certain mystical experience, it would truly be a sad thing.  This is what drives people to question their faith when they’re told they must speak in tongues to know they’ve been “baptized by the Holy Spirit.”[3]  This is what causes people to think they haven’t been with God if they can’t feel it in worship.  This is not Christianity; it is the devil’s church where the ancient serpent teaches people to look inside and despise the prophetic Word of God.
Jesus had an important message for Thomas when He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”[4]  In that way, Jesus is encouraging all His brothers and sisters to be blind to what their eyes see.  Like blind people, the primary sense for our faith is hearing.  We find God in His Word—listen to Him, listen to the prophetic Word.  The flip side of that is don’t put your trust in your personal experience, because God does not promise to be there.
Truly, the experience of the Transfiguration was important for Peter, James, and John.  It was necessary for them to see it and bear witness that it happened.  But as Peter explains, “We have the prophetic Word more fully confirmed.”  The experience only confirmed what the Scriptures had said—that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”[5] and that He is the one whom Moses and the Prophets spoke.[6]
In the same way, the different experiences you have may differ from other Christians, but all of them ought to more fully confirm what the Scriptures say.  If you look up at the cross at church and suddenly it hits you, “That was for me!”  Praise God because that is what the Scriptures say.  If you are moved to tears or filled with joy at one of the hymns we sing, all glory to God because it confirms what the Word of God says to you.  If you come through to the other side of a time of deep anguish and pain, instead of looking for what steps or sayings helped you along the way, give glory to the God who wasn’t lying when He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you” and “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.”[7]  In your testimony about Jesus, it’s not so much about sharing what Jesus has done in your life as your life being confirmation of what the Bible already said to be true.
With the devil and our sinful nature always trying to lure us into glorifying man instead of God, it’s a good thing Peter didn’t write a book about his experiences.  Someone might try and make him the first pope.[8]  But Peter won’t have it, because it isn’t about him or James or John.  It’s about Jesus, and the testimony that comes to each of us in the prophetic Word.  That is the lamp which shines in the darkness of the world and the darkness of our hearts, so that with Peter, James, John and every believer, we may truly see Jesus.  Amen.
μῦθος – narrative, more often than not false (especially with σεσοφισμένοις before it)
γνωρίζω – to make known (cf. Hebrew YDA, Ex. 24:12)
ἐξακολουθέω – Follow, pursue
the power and coming – Power and appearance (Parousia)
ἐπόπται γενηθέντες – We became eyewitnesses
μεγαλειότης – majesty (cf. Luke 9:43, while the crowds are marveling at the exorcism, Jesus tells them about His suffering and death)
We were with Him on the holy mountain – some religions of the world set apart the leader.  Muhammad was in the cave and heard from the angel.  Buddha his moment of enlightenment as he sat under the Bodhi tree.
But Peter and the other Apostles do not set themselves apart.  We have something firm, reliable, and certain: The prophetic Word
To which you do well to pay attention to – the religion of Jesus is not one of mountain-top personal experiences.  (quote from American Christianity on Mysticism)  It is for all people alike and comes through the Word.
His certain Word speaks to each of us, where as a mystical experiences are personal and vary.  Say we were to find God in an experience, each person would find their own version of God (like the Blind Men and Elephant metaphor of Indian origin).
But God is One and our Lord is true, and that is what He gives us in His Word.  We dare not venture beyond His Word unless we want to lose our certainty.
The dark place is our hearts and the world.
Peter, James, and John all saw it.  There were witnesses to back up each other’s story.  It truly happened.  Moreover, their testimony is recorded in three Gospels.
[1] There is something called the Gospel of Peter, but it was not written by Peter and it claims that Jesus felt no pain during his passion and that his divinity left his bodily “shell” before death (similar to the Quran’s claim about Jesus’ death).
[2] English Standard Version, 2016 edition.  Previous editions had: “we have something more sure—the prophetic word…” The Greek βεβαιότερον (bebaioteron) could be substantive (we have something more certain) or descriptive (the prophetic word [which is] more fully confirmed).
[3] The teaching of the Pentecostal churches, see also the movie “Jesus Camp”
[4] John 20:29
[5] Colossians 2:9
[6] Deuteronomy 18:18, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Isaiah 52:13—53:11
[7] Joshua 1:9, Psalm 55:22
[8] The Roman church did.

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