2 Pet 1:16-21
Recently Amy and I were describing to our kids that we learned to type – we learned “keyboarding” – on a typewriter. We explained to them how our lives have spanned the time when there was only the typewriter; and then there were personal computers with word processing; and then there was the internet; and then there were smart phones.
The breathtaking advance in technology and scientific knowledge in all areas is truly amazing. We look back on the aircraft flown by the Wright brothers in 1903 and see that it was incredibly rudimentary. Look back further in history and almost everything else seems that way too.
No doubt we are technologically and scientifically superior to the people of the ancient world. But sometimes this very fact seduces us into assumptions that simply aren’t true. Because our minds have been partially closed by the Enlightenment to that which goes beyond reason, and earlier people were open to it, we assume that they were all superstitious and gullible. They were stupid and all believed in myths – hook, line and sinker.
However, our text for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord should disabuse us of that notion when it comes to the apostles and the first Christians. Peter wants us to know that the exact opposite was true. He writes, “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.” The early Christians knew all about myths. They knew them from the pagan world. They knew them from the heretical groups, the Gnostics, who were beginning to appear.
The apostles knew that Christianity was not based on a myth. You can’t describe when the events of a myth occurred. When did the Egyptian god Osiris return to life to impregnate the goddess Isis before dying again? The question is nonsensical.
We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus Christ, “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Now if you ask when and where that happened, it’s a different story. Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judea in Palestine during the years 26 to 36 A.D. We are not talking myth here. This is no “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
Peter seeks to impress that fact upon us this morning. The Christian faith is not about myths. Instead it’s about what really happened in this world – what God really did. In order to drive home this point, Peter refers to an event that obviously made quite an impression on him. He says, “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,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.”
What God did is the incarnation. As we celebrated at Christmas, the Son of God entered into this world as he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. God became man, without ceasing to be God – true God and true man.
During Epiphany we have been celebrating the fact that having done this, Jesus Christ began to reveal his saving glory during his ministry. Yet Jesus wasn’t revealing his glory to make himself famous or to get lots of money. Instead he was doing it to save us.
Peter says in the first verse of this letter that he is writing, “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” The righteousness of God was his saving action to put all things right. That is what Peter describes in our text. That is what we hear about in the Gospel lesson.
Jesus reveals his divine glory – his face shines like the sun and his clothes become as white as light. God the Father speaks from heaven and says “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is dramatic praise of the Son. But we have heard these words before. We heard the Father speak them at Jesus’ baptism. We learned then that these words are based on the first verse of Isaiah chapter 42 – words that described the Servant of the Lord. They describe the One who will be sacrificed in our place. That is why Jesus submitted to a baptism of repentance – because he was taking the place of sinners; because he was taking your place.
Jesus went to the cross. The coming three Sundays – the Gesima Sundays – will mark our transition into Lent. And then during Lent we will prepare to remember our Lord’s crucifixion on Good Friday. Jesus is headed toward humiliation and suffering. But in his transfiguration we see that this does not contradict Jesus’ glory. Instead, Jesus goes to the cross because he is the glorious One – because he is the Son of God who in God’s righteousness has taken on the role of the suffering Servant for you.
After sharing his experience on the mount of transfiguration, Peter then goes on to add a thought that he wants us to heed. He says, “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, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 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.”
Peter wants us to know that in the prophetic word we have something that, in a way, can be described as even more certain than his mountaintop experience. Peter had the experience in the transfiguration. Of course, his behavior there was not exactly stellar. We learn in the Gospel lesson that Peter, ever clueless, said, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Setting Moses and Elijah on par with Jesus was definitely not the right move, and while he was still speaking the Father spoke his words about the Son. Peter was left flat on this face, terrified.
Peter didn’t get it. None of the disciples did. They couldn’t until Jesus rose from the dead. The glory of our Lord’s transfiguration anticipates the glory that will be revealed on Easter. It is only the resurrection that allows the apostles to understand what Jesus has done for us. Luke tells about the time after the resurrection: “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’”
The risen Lord opened their mind to understand the Scriptures. They came to understand the ways that God had been working out his saving plan for all people through Israel’s Messiah. We continue to have that prophetic word. And we now also have the teaching of the apostles and evangelists who have shared this understanding with us. We too can see clearly how God carried out his saving will in Jesus Christ for us. We can see how Christ has given this salvation to us – how, as Peter says in his first epistle we “have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.
Peter says that God’s word – now found as Old and New Testaments – is the thing that you will do well to pay attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns. So are you? Do you read it during the week? Do you share in it as family in devotions? Do you talk about it in your families? Do you seek to learn more about it by attending Bible class? Do you let Christ’s word shape and form the way you think, speak and act?
The apostle reminds in our text that this word has been given to us by the Holy Spirit. He says that we need to know “this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 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.”
The Spirit of the risen and ascended Lord continues to call us to faith in Jesus through the word he inspired. The Spirit who gave us rebirth through water and the word has given us the saving knowledge of Jesus. This is the divine power which Peter says, “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises.”
This is what God in Christ through the work of the Spirit has done for you. And Peter says in this chapter that this now means something for the way we live. He writes, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord sets this knowledge before us yet again. Jesus Christ shines forth in divine glory because he is true God. The Father announces, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” He identifies him as the One who goes to the cross as the sacrifice in our place. But in the glory of the transfiguration we see that the cross and the tomb are not the end of the story. Instead his glory has burst out of tomb bringing life to us – life with God now, and resurrection life on the Last Day.