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.

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.