The Transfiguration of our Lord
February 13, 2011
“Why We Should Pay Close Attention to What the Bible Says”
2 Peter 1:16-21
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. We also have the more sure prophetic word, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:16-21
The Christian faith is not simply an arrangement of timeless truths. For that, Aesop’s Fables would do. The writers of the Holy Scriptures did not recount fables. They were eyewitnesses of Christ’s majesty. They reported what they saw. Our Christian faith is grounded in history.
The biblical accounts of creation, the fall into sin, the great flood, and the lives of the patriarchs are historical accounts. The Bible reports what happened. The Bible describes for us the lives of Moses and Elijah. The Passover and the Exodus from Egypt by the miraculous crossing over the Rea Sea on dry land happened just as Moses recorded in the Book of Exodus. Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel where he showed their gods to be idols and the LORD sent fire from heaven showing himself to be the true God happened exactly as recorded in First Kings. None of these events is myth, legend, or fable. They are literal history. Our faith is grounded in history.
The historical event to which God directs our attention this morning is the Transfiguration of Jesus. His appearance changed. He didn’t change. His appearance did. Jesus’ face shone like the sun. His clothes became as white as light. Moses and Elijah joined him. They talked. Peter, James, and John were eyewitnesses. They saw with their own eyes the radiance of Christ’s glory. They heard with their own ears the voice of God the Father identifying Jesus as his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased. This was no mirage. This was no fable. This was an historical event confirmed by those who were there and recorded by the evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The Bible contains no myths or fables. The truth that we as Christians believe, teach, and confess is grounded in literal history. The gospel we confess has to do with historical facts. Christianity is not a philosophy. It isn’t an abstract system of ideas. Christianity is about a person. That person is Jesus. Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity. He was begotten of his Father before all worlds. He was born of the Virgin Mary just over two thousand years ago in the town of Bethlehem in Judea. The Bible traces his lineage, and recounts his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
Jesus is the light of the world. Moses preached about him. Elijah preached about him. He is the topic of the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi. He is the Light that enlightens anyone who will ever find spiritual enlightenment. Indeed, there is spiritual enlightenment nowhere else than in Jesus.
He is the reason the Bible was written. God did not have to give us the Bible. He communicated with his people for thousands of years before Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. When God spoke through the prophets, some of them wrote nothing down. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of all. He spoke God’s word with courage, exposing the false religion of the prophets of Baal. But God left us no book bearing Elijah’s name. God doesn’t need the Bible in order to speak to us.
But God chooses to speak to us through the Bible. In making this choice, God has established the Bible as the standard for true teaching in the Church. God commands us to test the spirits, to judge the teaching of our teachers, and to make sure that we are being instructed in his holy truth. He wants our faith to rest secure in the mercy he gives us in Christ Jesus. St. Peter urges us to look to the Bible as to a light that shines in a dark place.
From the inspired words in the Bible about the Bible we are given three good reasons why we should pay close attention to what the Bible says. First, we should pay close attention to what the Bible says because it tells us the truth. Second, we should pay close attention to what the Bible says because it is a light that enlightens us. Third, we should pay close attention to what the Bible says because it reveals Christ to us.
The Bible is true. St. Peter writes,
For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
Modern Bible critics claim that the writers of the New Testament were not witnesses of the life of Jesus. Blinded by an anti-supernatural bias that captured the academic world some generations ago they think the very idea that a man could die and rise from the dead is impossible. They think that such creatures as angels and demons are mythological and cannot be taken literally. That God would speak from heaven or that Moses and Elijah would return to earth are regarded as impossible to accept by modern minds who have been delivered from the religious superstitions of the past.
In the face of such bullheaded unbelief the inspired Apostle declares: We were there! We saw! We heard! We are eyewitness of the majesty and power and glory of Jesus Christ. More than that, two of the greatest Old Testament prophets were there as well, signifying the unity of the Holy Scriptures. The Old Testament and the New Testament both testify to Christ. Both teach the same doctrine. Both come from the same Source.
And that source is God. God is the author of the Bible. Therefore, it is true. St. Peter explains how this is so. He writes:
No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth. He promised that he would guide the apostles into all truth. The same Holy Spirit who moved holy men of God to write the Old Testament moved holy men of God to write the New Testament. All Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, are the very words of God. God cannot err, deceive, or lie. Therefore, the Bible cannot be in error on anything it says.
Don’t be deceived by smooth talk that flatters your intelligence by explaining how you are more sophisticated in your understanding than those who have gone before. Don’t be conned by those who argue that since the Bible is not a history book it needn’t be accurate in all of its historical details. The Bible is God’s word period. When it teaches history it does so truthfully. When it recounts what happened it does so accurately. How do we know this? Because whether it speaks of the creation of the world, the history of ancient Israel, or the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the Bible is God’s word and God cannot err or deceive us.
Second, we should pay close attention to what the Bible says because it is a light that enlightens us. It is not an obscure book. You don’t need a secret code to understand its meaning. You don’t have to be a bishop or a scholar to understand what it says. St. Peter writes:
We also have the more sure prophetic word, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
The Bible is a clear book. It is a light. It enlightens those who read it. It is clear. You don’t need the Church to tell you what the Bible means. Rather, the Church herself must submit to what the Bible says because what the Bible says is clear.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t unclear passages. It means that the Bible is written in clear and straightforward language that is accessible to anyone who can read. It isn’t written only for an elite group of people especially educated to learn its secrets. It is written for all Christians to read. It is written to enlighten all people who read it. And it does. Solomon writes:
For the commandment is a lamp, and the law a light. (Proverbs 6:23)
The psalmist writes:
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 19:8)
The psalmist writes again,
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
It is the light that enlightens us until Christ returns. He is the morning star who will arise in our hearts on the last day when the reading of the Bible will give way to the direct experience of knowing Christ even as we are known.
And this brings us to the third reason we should pay close attention to what the Bible says. It reveals Christ to us. There is no other way to understand it. If you look to the Bible in search of someone or something else, you will only mislead yourself. Jesus Christ is the key to understanding the Bible.
St. Peter makes it clear that the Bible is not of any private interpretation. God alone can interpret the Bible because God is the One who wrote it. The human authors did the writing but it was God who moved them to write only what the Holy Spirit wanted them to write and everything that the Holy Spirit wanted them to write. When the Bible interprets itself God is interpreting it.
But why did the Holy Spirit inspire the Bible to be written? Why should we pay close attention to what the Bible says? So what if it is true? Many things are true. So what if it is clear? Many things are clear. What is it specifically about the Bible that makes it such a precious book for us Christians?
The Bible reveals Jesus Christ to us. We treasure the truth and the clarity of the Bible because we treasure Jesus. Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. His transfiguration showed that he was true God and true man. He revealed his divine glory. He was talking with Moses and Elijah. What were they talking about? St. Luke tells us that they were talking about Jesus’ exodus. That’s the word he used. His exodus. When we hear that word we think of the Exodus of the children of Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea on dry ground. That was a miracle! It set God’s people free.
Jesus’ exodus was by way of the cross. He left the glory of one mountain to bear the sin of the world on another. That was the topic of conversation. That is always the topic of theological conversation among us Christians. We don’t want to be right to be right. We don’t want to be enlightened to be bright. The truth and the light of the Scriptures are centered in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ for us sinners. That is where he manifested the fullness of his glory. There as he bore our shame and guilt and death. There where his love confronted all evil and where his truth confounded all lies is where we were set free from the sins that cling to us, that accuse us, and that would condemn us. Today we stand before God forgiven of all our sins because Jesus descended the Mount of Transfiguration to ascend Mount Calvary.
Holding to the Bible as God’s infallible, inerrant, clear, and saving word we hold to our Savior, Jesus. God the Father’s verdict of approval upon him – “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” – rests upon us who believe in his name. This is the comfort we have in reading the Bible. This is why we pay close attention to what it says. Amen