Witness the Glory of the Lord
A sermon based on 2 Peter 1:16-21
March 2, 2017 -- Transfiguration A
Satan doesn’t really have all that many tricks. He doesn’t need that many. He can keep using the same tricks over and over again. Remember what he said to Eve to get her to doubt God’s Word? He said, “Did God really say you can’t eat from the tree?” In the late 60’s AD Satan tried the same trick. “Did God really say that Jesus is the Son of God? Did he really do miracles and display his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration? How do you know? How do you know they’re not just clever stories?”
So Peter set to writing. He would refute those agents of Satan, those false teachers who led people away from the truth about Christ. He pointed out why he was certain that his trust in Christ was well founded. He had witnessed God’s glory on the mountain. And he told those early Christians how they could be just as certain of God’s truth. They had witnessed God’s glory in the Word.
This morning, as we hear from Peter’s letter, we too witness God’s glory. We’ll witness the Glory of the Lord with Peter on that mountain. We’ll witness his glory revealed in the Word. And we’ll be encouraged to witness his glory to others. Listen now to what Peter wrote about that glory of the Lord…
16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
I. With Peter
Peter knew he would soon die. He wouldn’t be around on this earth much longer. So he set out to write one last reminder of the faith he’d shared with others. This time he wrote to counter the scoffers, as Peter called them, who mocked the Christians saying Judgment Day wasn’t really coming; that Christ wouldn’t return. “How gullible can you get?!” they said. “Dead people don’t come back to life! You Christians are believing in fairy tales! You might as well be waiting for the Tooth Fairy!”
But Peter assured the Christians under attack that what they believed wasn’t just a bunch of stories. It wasn’t fiction like some of the stories other Rabbis had told. What they believed wasn’t made up like the books of the Apocrypha that were already in circulation. He should know. He was there. He saw the glory of the Lord with his own eyes… 16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
We just read the account in our gospel lesson, but put yourself in Peter’s place. He saw a glimpse of the full glory of Jesus on the mountain. The closest thing I can imagine is being in a dark house with all the curtains drawn so no light gets in, then suddenly stepping out of the house into the blinding summer sun. He saw Jesus shine like the sun! He saw two prophets who were long gone alive and talking to Jesus! He heard the very voice of God the Father speaking from heaven! What an event! No wonder Peter could never forget that day when he saw the glory of God.
So what’s Peter’s point? He knows—without a doubt—that what he and those Christians believed was true. Jesus was—is!—true God. That assured him that his death on the cross is sufficient to pay for his, and for their, sins.
In 1969 the newspaper headlines read, “Man Has Landed on the Moon.” But some said (and still say), “No. They didn’t. The video we saw on TV was made on a fancy Hollywood set. The so-called ‘moon rocks’ I can find in my back yard. It’s all an elaborate hoax, a government conspiracy, a clever story, to get more funds for NASA.” But ask Neil Armstrong. Ask Buzz Aldrin. They were there. They saw it. They experienced it. They know it happened. There is no doubt in their minds.
“Well,” you might say, “great for Neil! Great for Buzz! Great for Peter! They got to be eyewitnesses of these spectacular events. But what about us? How are we supposed to know it’s true? We weren’t there!” And you’d be right. We weren’t there. We didn’t go to the moon. We didn’t see the transfiguration. We didn’t see the miracles of Jesus. We weren’t there on Good Friday.”
And in our weakness, we sometimes doubt that Jesus has power, that he has glory. We think, “He’s not really in control. He can’t really help me in this problem. He won’t really return soon.” And even if we don’t say it out loud, we certainly act like it, don’t we? We forget he’s watching our every action. We forget he hears our every word. We forget he knows our very thoughts because we forget about his glory. And for such unbelief—and let’s call a spade a spade. That’s what it is—we deserve to have no part in the Glory of the Lord, but to be forsaken by him.
But thank God that we are forgiven. The account of Christ is not a myth. We can believe it without a doubt even though we’re not eye witnesses. In fact, Peter tells us that what we have to cling to is better than being an eyewitness…
II. With the Word
He says, “…we have the word of the prophets made more certain…“ But the word “made” isn’t in the Greek. Perhaps a better translation would be, “We have the more certain word of the prophets.” In a sense, Peter answers the objection, “So what if you saw it. We didn’t.” “You’re right,” he says, “you weren’t there. You didn’t see it. So don’t take my word for it. Take the Word for it.”
The accounts we have of what Jesus has done aren’t human stories or fairy tales. They’re not the invention of the prophets who sat down to try to come up with something that would stir their readers. No! They are the very Word of God, what we call verbally inspired. And that Word can be trusted, Peter says, even more than his eyewitness account.
But what does verbal inspiration mean? Well, first let’s discuss what it doesn’t mean. When I was dating Becky, my desire to be with her and spend more time with her inspired me to write a few cheesy lines of poetry (which I’d rather not share with you, to be honest). But that’s not the way we understand the inspiration of the Biblical authors. It’s not like a pretty sunset or a pretty girl inspired them to write something nice. It’s not like the inventor of Velcro saw burrs stick to a dog and was inspired to invent. It’s much more.
To better understand, let’s take look at the word inspired. When the milk in the fridge that’s been there too long expires it breaths out its life and dies. Inspire then doesn’t mean breath out, but breath in. The Holy Spirit breathed into the human authors giving them the very words and sentences they wrote. That’s what Paul meant when he said to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed…” (2 Timothy 3:16)
And what comfort that is to you and me! The Bible stories that you’ve learned are not on par with Aesop’s Fables or Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. They are the truth of God. That means that Jesus’ death on the cross isn’t just some fairy tale to make you feel good. It’s a fact. Jesus’ resurrection isn’t some myth to sell more copies of the Bible. It’s a fact. Our forgiveness isn’t imagined or made up. It’s very real. And the return of Christ to judge the world is not some legend, but is true and will certainly happen.
You have seen the Glory of the Lord in Jesus through the Word. And through him you have forgiveness even for your doubts. And so even though in our sin the thought of seeing the glory of God was once terrifying, exposing all of our shameful secrets, now, in Christ (as he’s revealed to you in the Word) the glory of God is exciting. That glory becomes our own. And now that we’ve witnessed the glory of the Lord for ourselves, we can’t help but witness to others…
III. With Others
When Peter saw Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus, he wanted to set up three tents. The best thing that he could do, he thought, was to stay right there and worship Jesus with the ancient prophets. But that wasn’t what God had in mind. Peter wouldn’t stay on that Mount of Transfiguration, but would continue with Jesus on his way to Calvary so he could witness still more and in turn share with others what he saw.
And that’s exactly what Peter did. Now, near the end of his life, he would do all he could to encourage the believers who were ridiculed and persecuted for their faith. He wrote to those who were tempted to turn their backs on Christ to follow cleverly invented stories. He wrote them to share with them the certain hope that he had and the certain hope that could be theirs too from the Scriptures.
And now we too can become witnesses for God. We have that same hope that Peter had made more certain. We have not only the Old Testament prophetic Word, but the New Testament apostolic Word as well. We have the certain Word of God himself.
Let’s resolve today to make a better effort of paying attention to that Word; to hold on to it as the only source of light in this dark world. Let’s read it, study it, and learn it, not just for ourselves, that we might grow in our faith and be more certain of our hope, but also that we might always be prepared to share the reason for the hope that we have.
This week I was again reminded of the acronym S.A.L.T. in Evangelism. It stands for Start, Ask, Listen, Tell. First, just start a conversation with someone. Ask how they’re doing. Ask about their kids. Ask what’s going on in their lives or what they’re doing this weekend. Then steer the conversation to ask deeper questions. Ask what church they go to? What they like about their church or don’t like about it? If they have no church, ask what’s kept them from going? Then listen. Really listen. Hear what they’re saying and try to figure out what they mean. Try to understand not just the words, but the emotion behind what they say. Follow up with more questions to ask why they think or feel the way they do. And really listen. Then, once you’ve earned the right to be listened to, by the listening you’ve done, tell. Tell them what you’ve become convinced of. Tell them what the Word (which is more certain than what we see or feel) says. Tell them the Law and the Gospel. Speak of sin and grace. Speak of our Savior’s glory on the cross to pay for their sins. Tell them of his resurrection that they too may be more certain.
Yes, we’ve witnessed the glory of the Lord! We may not have witnessed it with our own eyes on the mount of transfiguration. But we’ve witnessed his glory shining through most clearly in the more certain Word. Now let’s resolve to witness to others to share our certain hope with them that they too might see the glory of the Lord, that they too might have that light in the darkness, that they too might be prepared for that day when the Morning Star returns in glory. Let’s witness. In Jesus’ name, dear friends, amen.