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


“While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.

“He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant…

“Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me.

“He called me by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” -Book of Mormon, Testimony of Joseph Smith

Fantastical stories abound, like this encounter of Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon.  But how do we respond to such a testimony? We could guard against all spurious things, as if they were sighting of Sasquatch.  We could just write them off as the stuff of legend, because seeing is believing, after all, right? On the other hand, what’s to say we shouldn’t believe Joseph Smith?  After all, we weren’t there, so we can neither confirm nor deny what he wrote. Maybe even take the approach of some theologians and say, it doesn’t really matter if it’s true, but it sure brings hope to many people.

Imagine what it was like for the Apostles first sharing the news of crucified Jesus rising from the dead.  It must have seemed a far-fetched tale to some, if not many. Part of that Gospel includes the story of the Transfiguration.  Peter, James, and John are taken up a high mountain by themselves, and they see this incredible sight. Jesus’ clothing becomes like light.  Like ecstatic visions of prophets before them, they were given a view which even Moses was not privy to.

But what’s to say that it’s true or false?  Yes, there were three witnesses (as Deuteronomy 19:15 commanded).  Yet, as the Book of Mormon demonstrates, you can even get three and eight people to agree with you (about the golden plates).

The key to the testimony of Peter, James, and John is in verse 19: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.”  What the three Apostles saw was in accord with what God had said about His Son.  As opposed to Joseph Smith’s testimony, where the message of the alleged angel Moroni told him very different things about God the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit.  

In fact, on the holy mountain, it wasn’t just Peter, James, and John who were witnesses, Moses and Elijah were two witnesses confirming what God had said beforehand.  Moses had said, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)  Likewise, Elijah, representing all the prophets leading up to (and including) John the Baptist (Matt. 17:10-13), encompassed God’s call to His people to return and hope in the Son of David (2 Samuel 7), the Righteous Branch (Jerimiah 23), the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52-53), and even the one who overturned death’s reign (1 Kings 17:20-24).

Just like today, people had various ideas about who Jesus was.  Six days prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus had been asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and Peter had answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” (Matthew 16:13-16) The vision up on the mountain is the visible confirmation of that.

But what good is that for our lives today?  How does this 2,000-year-old Transfiguration story have any bearing on your life?  It has to do with what you think of the prophetic Word. What I mean is what is the Bible?  Is it merely information about God and His Son? If so, then we can absorb it like the classes we took in high school.  When all is said and done, you graduate and move on to the rest of life. Nobody needs to go back to high school once they graduate.  So, if the Bible is information about Jesus, then we graduate from studying it, graduate from our need to sit in church and hear it spoken to us. After all, it’s just the same thing again and again.  It’s reasonable to think if you wanted to be an expert in Jesus, you could study quicker on your own.

But what if it’s more than information?  If it is, as St. Peter says, that “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, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” then we’re not just dealing with one more factoid or subject to have expertise in.  It is more than literature to be familiar with; it is the voice of the Living God, the Words of Eternal Life (John 6:68).  More than that, it is the Word by which those who believe have life, and apart from it we have no life in us [John 6:53].

Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 7:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

For those who hold to the Word of God, they have a foundation which the inevitable chance and change of life cannot move.  Everything else will pass away—your job, your family, your school sports, your vacations, your health. God has given us with incredibly rich gifts to enjoy in our time and land.  The Lord has given, but what happens when the Lord takes away? [Job 1:21] You can’t guarantee you’ll live into your nineties. Even if you do, what will be the effect if you’ve neglected the life you have from God’s Word?

When it takes a special event to get you to reorder your schedule to come to divine service, that’s not good.  And for parents, what do your children learn when your family only goes to church for Christmas and Easter, or a funeral?   It communicates that there’s a divide between God’s Word and “real life” and most of the time “real life” takes priority. Great will be the fall of such a house.

If this hits close to your house, repent.  Repent before the floods come. Do not deceive yourself by saying “God understands that I’m busy.”  Stop it! God sees right through your excuses. Believe God, that He understands better what we need than our dim self-evaluation.  He earnestly wants for us to have “something more sure,” the firm foundation that will withstand the next election, cancer, poverty, and even the terrors which precede the Last Day.  “Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful.” (Joel 2:13)

At this point in other places, the piano music would start and there would be an invitation for you to ask Jesus back into your heart, and to make Him the Lord of your life.  And it’s true for all who believe in Him, that He does become Lord and center of your life. Yet returning to Him isn’t based on our commitment. What we learn from the mount of Transfiguration is this: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to Him.”  It doesn’t take an emotional, extraordinary experience to return to the Lord, and you really should stop putting it off because you want a sign that it’s the “right” time.  The power to be saved is in God’s Word—“listen to Him”:

Even though your commitment is flaky at best, His Word to you in Baptism is unbroken: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim. 2:11b-12)  His Word of absolution has the power to loose you from your sins: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” (John 20:23)  His Word is powerful enough to get through to even the densest among us: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isa. 55:11)

We don’t need a mountain top to come to Jesus.  He has already come to you here today, and every time we take Sabbath rest.  Do not refuse Him, for He brings you treasures eternal. Amen.

Transfiguration of Our Lord (Matthew 17:1-9, 2 Peter 1:16-21)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and Sweet Home, OR
Transfiguration of Our Lord + January 21, 2018
Text: Matthew 17:1-9, 2 Peter 1:16-21

The Transfiguration is vindication for all the Old Testament saints, here represented by Moses and Elijah.  Both of them had moments of vindication during their ministry:
Moses when his brother and sister rebelled against him:
1Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman. 2And they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” And the Lord heard it. 3Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. 4And suddenly the Lord said to Moses and to Aaron and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the tent of meeting.” And the three of them came out. 5And the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the entrance of the tent and called Aaron and Miriam, and they both came forward. 6And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. 7Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. 8With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” 9And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, and he departed. 10When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous.” (Numbers 12:1–10)
Elijah with the prophets of Baal:
21And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. 22Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. 23Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. 24And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.”
36And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. 37Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” 38Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.”” (1 Kings 18:21-24, 36–39)
They experienced these moments of vindication during their lifetime, that they had proclaimed the true God and He answered them with wondrous signs.  When Moses and Elijah are granted the privilege to stand on the Mount of Transfiguration, it is vindication of their entire ministry. Jesus is the goal of all the Law and Prophets.  As He stands there in the flesh glorified, the Father’s declaration affirms: This is He who would not destroy the Law but fulfill it.[1]  This is He whom prophets spoke of and looked ahead to.[2]
But vindication doesn’t always appear.  Not all the prophets were vindicated before men.  Jeremiah exemplifies that:
1Now Pashhur the priest, the son of Immer, who was chief officer in the house of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things. 2Then Pashhur beat Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in the stocks that were in the upper Benjamin Gate of the house of the Lord. 3The next day, when Pashhur released Jeremiah from the stocks, Jeremiah said to him, “The Lord does not call your name Pashhur, but Terror on Every Side. 4For thus says the Lord: Behold, I will make you a terror to yourself and to all your friends. They shall fall by the sword of their enemies while you look on. And I will give all Judah into the hand of the king of Babylon. He shall carry them captive to Babylon, and shall strike them down with the sword.” (Jeremiah 20:1–4)
But during his lifetime, Jeremiah did not see this recompense of God.  Rather, he was continually arrested, put in stocks, beaten, and lowered in a cistern.  Finally, he was carried off to Egypt against his will.[3]  All this led Jeremiah to cry out:
7O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. 8For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, “Violence and destruction!” For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long.” (Jeremiah 20:7–8)
The lesson for us is that vindication because we belong to the true God isn’t guaranteed in this life.  We hold fast to the Lord, hold His Word sacred and gladly hear and learn it, and yet we suffer.  As a congregation that remains faithful to the Word of God, our numbers are shrinking.  At the same time, we see the numbers increasing at churches that pick and choose what they want from God’s Word, deny Christ’s Sacraments, and use people’s emotions to make them “feel” like God is among them.
Christians in society experience the same disillusionment: they confess with Scripture that abortion is murder and that homosexuality is unnatural and contrary to God’s will.  But we don’t see the fruit of that Word working.  Instead, our state passes the most lenient abortion law in the whole country.  (Measure 101 only backhandedly asks permission to fund this abominable and unjust course of action, couching it in language of healthcare for poor citizens.  Nevermind the disenfranchisement of the babies who will never be born.)  When we take a moral stand against the queer movement, as Concordia Portland did, social media rises up and protests erupt so that the sons of Sodom gloat about how they pressured the administration into getting their way.
We do not see the victory and the truth…yet.  Just as the faithful people of Israel did not see the Christ they hoped in, the Transfiguration was a declaration that their faith was well-founded.  They had followed the true God and hoped for His Christ.
Now we, like God’s people before Christ, are awaiting the revealing of God’s truth.  But we are not left in the dark and uncertain where to find the true God or to know His will.  Consider the Epistle reading:
16For 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. 17For 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,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, 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,” (2 Peter 1:16–19)
In the darkness of the present, we can’t see the ending.  We wait for the end of time with eager expectation, and we look for the day when we can rest from our painful labor.  But our one true light in the darkness is the prophetic Word—the Scriptures.  When we hold fast to them, we are indeed on the right track.  Just as the true sons of Israel were faithful to God by keeping His Word, so it is for us until we wait for the Last Day to dawn and Christ to appear.
Even though Jeremiah did not see the vindication, he persevered in faith:
11But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. 12O Lord of hosts, who tests the righteous, who sees the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.” (Jeremiah 20:11–12)
God be your strength in the weakness of mortal life, your light in the darkness, and your Vindicator in eternity. Amen.
[1] Matthew 5:17-21
[2] Matthew 13:16-17; Luke 1:68-75
[3] Jeremiah 43:1-7

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.