The Transfiguration of our Lord
February 9, 2014
Jesus and the Bible
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 celebration of the transfiguration of our Lord brings the Epiphany season to a close. During Epiphany we look at how our Lord Jesus revealed his glory here on earth. While he had humbled himself from the time he was born, choosing a manger for his first bed, running from Herod to hide in Egypt, and living a life of humility and obedience, he also showed his glory. He changed water into wine. He healed the sick by speaking a word. He demonstrated his divine power by doing what only God could do. In displaying divine power he revealed his divine glory. Nowhere was his glory more vividly displayed than on the Mount of Transfiguration where his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.
When we look at Jesus transfigured before Peter, James, and John we can understand why Peter wanted to stay there on the mountain. Looking at Jesus they saw their own future. What a wonderful future it is to see! To be set free from every vestige of sin and to be confirmed in glory that can never fade away; to enjoy a pure and holy love without the slightest taint of regret, bitterness, hatred or sorrow; to experience pure joy! All of that and more was promised to those men on the mountain as they looked upon their Lord and teacher, their Savior and friend, their God and brother, Jesus.
But Jesus said you can’t stay here. We have to leave. Moses and Elijah were talking to him about it. Jesus had to leave that mountain in order to ascend another mountain where he would suffer and die. Make no mistake about it. The man who suffered and died on the cross bearing the sin of the world was the almighty God. The men who saw him die had previously seen him glorified. They were eyewitnesses of his majesty. They weren’t spinning tails. They weren’t passing on myths. They reported what they had seen with their own eyes and what they had heard with their own ears. We were not there. We did not see or hear. We have the testimony of those who did.
We have the Bible. From cover to cover the Holy Scriptures teach us about Jesus. The Bible was written for that very purpose. The reason the Bible is a light that shines in a dark place is because it shows us Jesus who is the Light of the world. Listen to the Father and take to heart what he says: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The eternal Son of the eternal Father is the perfect man. No one can find fault in him. He did not sin. His every thought, word, and deed was pure. His obedience shines forth with a beauty unsurpassed by anyone. Everyone else’s goodness is rotten and ugly in comparison. Not only did he please God, he did so vicariously, that is, in the stead of us all. His obedience is the offering of all of humanity to God. “In whom I am well pleased,” the Father said. That means that he is well pleased with those who are in Christ. The man whose glory shone forth on the Mount of Transfiguration revealed his true glory when he bore away the sin of the world on the cross. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the light of the Bible that enlightens us from Genesis through Revelation.
The Holy Scriptures enlighten us because of what they say. They will be the light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. When we see Jesus face to face we will no longer need to rely on what is written. We will be changed and confirmed in bliss. Between now and then we rely on what is written in the Holy Scriptures. They are a lamp for our feet and a light for our path.
Take Christ and his atoning blood out of the Bible and you ruin it. You might as well leave it on a shelf to collect dust. People use the Bible for any number of things: as a decoration on a coffee table, as a symbol of justice at the local lodge meeting, as a sentimental family remembrance, as a book of timeless truths from which to derive principles for successful living, or as a sourcebook for solutions to perennial political problems. The proper use of the Bible is to go to it to learn of him who is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father. As St. John said about the Gospel he wrote, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” The Bible is God’s word to us and God is the one who decides what he wants to talk about. He wants to talk about his only begotten Son in whom he is well pleased and he wants us to listen.
Christ’s church has always had to contend with false teachers in her midst who twist the Bible to teach lies about Jesus. From denying that Jesus Christ is true God and true man to denying that his obedience and suffering are all the righteousness we need to be righteous before God, false teachers have twisted the Holy Scriptures to get them to teach what they do not teach. Within the past couple of centuries, direct attacks against the Bible as God’s word have come from within the church. Trusted theologians with impressive academic credentials teach future pastors that the Bible contains myths, errors, and contradictions. They give lip service to the idea that the Bible is inspired by God but they teach that the Bible is the words of men about God, not God’s very word. St. Peter disagrees. He says:
What is the apostle saying? He is saying that the Holy Scriptures are more sure than what he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. “We also have the more sure prophetic word,” he said. What is written in the Bible is the standard – the only standard – that is infallibly true. Martin Luther said, “The Scriptures have never erred.” He said “It is impossible that Scripture should contradict itself; it only appears so to senseless and obstinate hypocrites.” Writing on the topic of Holy Baptism in the Large Catechism Luther said, “My neighbor and I – in short, all men – may err and deceive, but God’s word cannot err.”
We use the word inerrant to say that the Bible does not err. We use the word infallible to say that the Bible cannot err. The Bible cannot err because God wrote it and God cannot err. We may not interpret the Bible to mean whatever we want it to mean as if it can mean one thing to this person and something else to that person. It means what it says. We must accept what the Bible plainly says; neither reading into it what we want it to say nor reading out of it what we don’t want it to say. Why must we respect the Bible? Out of respect for the holy men who wrote it? More than that: out of respect for God. As St. Peter wrote, “Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
They spoke and they wrote the very word of God and what they wrote stands until the end of time. The teaching of all of the preachers in the church must be judged by the clear Scriptures. One reason we learn the Catechism and commit it to memory is so that we may have a clear summary of the teaching of Holy Scripture and be able to judge whether what we hear from the pulpit is sound. When Jesus told his sheep to beware of false prophets he gave to them the authority to judge the teaching of their own pastors. No man has the right to stand before God’s people and say that God said it unless he can show from the Holy Scriptures that God said it.
Ah, but this is all irrelevant, isn’t it, if we don’t read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Holy Scriptures? What good is a book that brings Jesus to us and impresses him on our hearts if it is left unread? Of what benefit is an inerrant and infallible Bible left on a shelf to be ignored? And what good is the most eloquent preacher who is not devoted to the pure teaching of the Holy Scriptures and preaches instead whatever is in style among the religious trendsetters?
St. Peter says that the Bible is a light shining in a dark place. That means it contains truth that cannot be found elsewhere. A candle gives off no light in the daytime. In heaven, the Son of God will be our light. We won’t require God’s word written down in a book to read. But the day has not yet dawned, nor has the daystar yet risen in our hearts. We live in a dark place. We need the Holy Scriptures, not as a good luck charm, but as the source of all truth. Jesus promised to send to the apostles the Spirit of truth who would lead them into all truth. He did. They wrote it down for the Church. The apostolic writings of the New Testament and the prophetic writings of the Old Testament remain until the end of time the light of God’s truth that delivers souls from bondage to lies.
You may know the story of Martin Luther’s discovery of the gospel. He was a bright young man. He was studious, devout, hardworking, and about as pious as they come, but he was wracked by doubts and he despaired of God’s mercy. He knew his sin but he didn’t know how to be forgiven of it. Every time he heard the words, “righteousness of God,” he cringed, because he knew he hadn’t done the righteous deeds God demands and he knew he must suffer the consequences. What was it that led Luther out of despair to faith in Christ? It was the words written down in the Bible. Luther studied the inspired text and learned what had always been there, written down. In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans he read that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. The righteousness of God wasn’t what God demanded of Martin Luther. It was what God gave to him freely by his grace.
When Christians read their Bibles to find their Savior revealed in its pages God will give them their hearts’ desire. It is easy to become discouraged when we see the Church under fire, blamed for every ill that plagues humanity, and the Holy Scriptures mocked and distorted. A tide of unbelief envelops our generation. Spiritual darkness has descended on our nation. But within the pages of the Holy Scriptures is the Light that enlightens us. He with whom the Father is well pleased has brought God’s favor to us. As his blood cleanses us from all our sins, we walk in that true light that lightens our way to eternal life.
Rolf D. Preus