The Transfiguration of our Lord
January 21, 2017
“The Word of God”
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
Let us spend some time this morning talking about the Bible. According to St. Peter the Apostle, the Bible is the word of God. 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.” The writers of the Holy Scriptures did not write what they chose to write. The Apostle says, “Prophecy never came by the will of man.” They wrote instead what God chose for them to write as St. Peter goes on to say, “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
There was a time when if you claimed to be Christian you confessed that the Bible is the word of God. Only those outside of the church attacked the Holy Scriptures. That time is long gone. Most theological seminaries in the United States teach the future pastors of America that the Bible contains errors. While giving lip service to the Bible as God’s word, they reject what it plainly teaches, hiding behind the word “interpretation.” For example, the Bible says that God created the world in six days and that each of those days had an evening and a morning. The plain sense of the biblical text is that God created the world in six ordinary days, which as we all know, are about twenty-four hours long. Those who deny that the Bible is God’s word but don’t want to admit publicly that they deny the Bible is God’s word will say that the length of the days of creation is a matter of “interpretation.” In this way they can deny that God created the world as recorded in Genesis and teach instead that the world evolved over billions of years. Should you point out that the biblical text does not permit this point of view they respond by saying that it’s a matter of interpretation. Who is to say whose interpretation is correct?
The Bible clearly teaches that women may not publicly preach the word of God in the church. Those who refuse to be bound by this teaching argue that this is a matter of interpretation. The Bible clearly teaches that homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those who refuse to call on them to repent of this sin argue that this, too, is a matter of interpretation. Is marriage required before a man and a woman are to engage in the intimacy from which children are born? That, too, has become a matter of interpretation. What about the killing of the unborn? Issues of right and wrong that are clearly settled in the plain words of the Holy Scriptures have in our day become open to new interpretations. The reason for the confusion about men, women, sex, marriage, and the family is not due to any ambiguity in the biblical text. The Bible is crystal clear. It is due to a rejection of the authority of the Bible on the part of influential people in the church who no longer believe in the Bible and follow instead their own private opinions.
St. Peter tells us that “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” We don’t have the right to interpret the Bible anyway we please. We are obligated to take the written word of God seriously as the written word of God.
If this is important when dealing with matters of right and wrong, it is especially important when the Bible addresses the saving mysteries of the Christian faith. We Christians don’t trust in myths. There are no fables or myths in the Bible. Peter, James, and John were eyewitnesses of Christ’s majesty on the Mount of Transfiguration. They saw him transfigured. His face shone like the sun. His clothes became as white as light. They saw and they heard. They heard God the Father’s voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” They saw standing next to Jesus the great Old Testament prophets: Moses and Elijah. They saw and they heard what they passed on to us in the New Testament. We who have the written word of God, the Holy Scriptures, are to see it as a light that shines in a dark place. What is the light of the Bible? What is it in the written word of God that causes it to illumine the path of every Christian? It is Christ. The day will dawn and the morning star will rise in our hearts when we are fully conformed to the image of Christ on the last day. We will see Jesus face to face. Until that day comes we are to look for Christ in the Holy Scriptures.
It is not possible to be a Christian without hearing Christ. The Father says, “Hear him.” Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice.” Hearing the voice of Jesus makes us his sheep. We hear his voice. We belong to him. He knows us. We know him.
God guides his church to the Light of the world by means of the written word. God has ordained that his word be proclaimed. He binds his preachers to what is written in the Bible. St. Paul writes that faith comes by hearing the gospel that is preached. (Romans 10:17) The preached word must agree with the word the Holy Spirit inspired to be written. After telling Timothy that the entire Bible is given by inspiration of God or literally “God-breathed,” St. Paul went on to say how the Bible equips the “man of God” to do what God gives him to do. The preacher is to preach in agreement with what is already written.
The Bible is a clear book. It is, as our text puts it, “a light that shines in a dark place.” The Bible speaks plainly. It speaks to anyone who is willing to listen. Any Christian who is capable of reading is capable of reading the Bible with confidence that God himself will be speaking in the pages of this holy book. This is why every Christian may and should judge the preaching he hears by the standard of the Bible. One of the reasons for teaching the Catechism to children and adults is so that they may learn a sound summary of biblical teaching by which to judge the preachers to ensure that they are preaching what God has given them to preach. The written word and the preached word go together. Both proclaim to us the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ the Savior of sinners, who revealed his unborrowed glory on the Mount of Transfiguration.
What a sight! Faith is content with what God says, but what a wonder to be able to see it with the naked eye! What Christian wouldn’t love to look and see what they saw that day? They saw Jesus as Jesus is. They saw the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth! They witnessed a conversation between Jesus and the prophets of old. They were talking about what would soon happen. They were talking about Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. They were talking about the fulfillment of all of God’s promises and all of our hopes.
Jesus could not stay on that mountain. He had to go to another and there to suffer and die for the sin of the world. Not long after his face shone like the sun, it was marred more than that of any other man as he was filled with the pain and guilt of the world’s sin. For us to receive the glories of heaven, Jesus had to remove from us the hell we had earned. This is why faith is focused on where Jesus suffered and died. There our glory was secured.
Sin is unbelief. Every sin we commit flows out of a denial of God’s truth. Unbelief is not limited to unfaithful theologians who deny God’s moral law, the Holy Trinity, Christ’s deity, his vicarious atonement, or the real presence of his body and blood in and with the sacramental bread and wine. Unbelief is why we question God’s promises. It’s why we worry about what we don’t have and what we do have. It’s why we neglect to hear God’s word. It’s why we think we need something more than we need the word and sacraments Christ gives us. It’s why we refuse to conform our lives to God’s will and insist on our will being done instead. The First Commandment is summed up in the words, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” When we don’t trust him we make idols in the place of him. When we do, we may not flatter our flesh with the false assumption that we are not like those Bible-doubters who question biblical morality and the mysteries of the faith. We are just like them when we doubt what God tells us in his word.
This is why we need God to break through our unbelief and establish in us a living faith. Jesus is the Word made flesh. The Bible is the word written down. The preached word is drawn from the written word and it is all about the Word made flesh.
In addition, we have the sacramental word. Jesus doesn’t invite us to the Mount of Transfiguration. He invites us to his Supper. He gives us his body and blood to eat and to drink. Faith sees that the sacramental bread and wine are Christ’s body and blood. This sacrament strengthens that faith. We eat his body and drink his blood in this holy Sacrament. The Christ who was transfigured on the holy mountain, revealed as the only begotten Son of the Father, comes to us and feeds us with his divine body and blood. It is not just bread and wine any more than the Bible is just the words of men or the man on the mountain talking to Moses and Elijah was only a man. The Lord’s Supper is the medicine of immortality because Christ’s body and blood are life giving.
The Word of God is Jesus, the eternal Word made flesh. The word of God is the Bible, the inspired and inerrant words written in the pages of the Old and the New Testaments. The word of God is the preaching of the gospel by which our Lord’s voice is heard so that his sheep may be led into heaven.
Tomorrow marks a tragic anniversary. Forty five years ago the Supreme Court of the United States, in its Roe versus Wade decision, legalized abortion on demand throughout America. Since then many millions of unborn babies have been legally killed in our country. The national conscience has been seared into insensitivity as the mass slaughter of the unborn is defended – even by some who claim to be Christians – in the name of women’s rights. What can we, as Christians, do about this? We can confess the Lord Jesus. God the Father said of him, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased: hear him!” Listen to Jesus! He says, “Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them for of such is the kingdom of God.” We don’t abort babies. We baptize them. We teach them God’s word. We bring them to Jesus. He makes them his own. Jesus loves the babies. There is no such thing as an unplanned baby. God knew us when he formed us in our mother’s womb.
The glory of Mt. Calvary is greater than the glory of the Mt. of Transfiguration. Jesus suffered for us. There sin is forgiven. There right defeated wrong. There all sin was washed away. No sin is so great that the blood of Jesus doesn’t cover it. That includes sins against the smallest and most defenseless among us. We seek refuge in Christ’s blood. We listen to Jesus. We invite others to listen with us and pray that all who hear his voice will be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.
Rolf D. Preus