The Transfiguration of our Lord| February 5, 2017| Rev. Rolf Preus| 2 Peter 1:15-21
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 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. 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. (ESV) 2 Peter 1:15-21
The word Bible means book. The word Scriptures means writings. We refer to the prophetic Scriptures as the Old Testament and the apostolic Scriptures as the New Testament. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew by many men over a period of about a thousand years. The New Testament was written in Greek by several men over a period of about fifty years. Our topic this morning is what the Bible is and what the Bible is for.
The Bible is the word of God. In our text for this morning, St. Peter says that the prophetic word is “more sure” than what he and James and John witnessed with their own eyes on the Mount of Transfiguration. He says that the Bible didn’t originate in the mind of men. Rather, the men who wrote it spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The Epistle to the Hebrews begins with these words:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.
The Bible is unique because of who wrote it. God spoke by the prophets. That’s what we confess in the Nicene Creed. In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. Jesus personally taught his apostles for three years before he sent them out. Before sending them out as his witnesses to the world, he promised them that the Spirit of truth would guide them into all truth. He did. They wrote that truth down in the New Testament Scriptures.
The Bible is the word of God. St. Paul writes that all Scripture is God-breathed. The Bible is inspired by God. This describes what the Bible is; not what the Bible does. We could use the word inspiration to refer to how something affects someone. For example, the beautiful sunset inspired the poet to write a poem. The Bible is inspiring. That’s true. But that’s not the same as being inspired. When we speak of the inspiration of the Bible, we are talking about what the Bible is, not what the Bible does.
I will never forget a conversation I had years ago with a pastor of the Lutheran Church in America (which is today a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, where both of us were serving at the time. It was about 1983. I asked him if he believed that the Bible was inerrant, that is, without error. He replied, “I prefer to talk about the power of the Bible.” I thought that was an interesting response. Personally, I prefer to talk about Jesus. I also like to talk about the power of God’s word. It’s not a question of what you want to talk about. It’s a question about what is true. Is the Bible really the word of God? Is it true in everything it asserts?
Well, let’s change the subject and talk about the power of God’s word. Not so fast! Before we talk about what the Bible does, we have to talk about what the Bible is. If the Bible isn’t the word of God as written then it cannot possibly be the only standard by which we are to judge what is right and wrong, true and false. If the Bible errs on such topics as history, geography, science, or any other matter we don’t think of as being particularly spiritual or religious in content, then whatever it is that points out the Bible’s error becomes for us the standard by which we are to judge the Bible.
The inerrancy of the Bible is the issue that divides, not only the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but just about every other Protestant denomination in the world. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and many others are divided between those that hold to the Bible as the inerrant word of God and those who teach that the Bible contains errors of various kinds.
Why do some churches ordain women to be pastors, endorse same sex “marriage,” deny the historicity of Adam and Eve, accept the theory that we evolved from the animals, deny many of the miracles recorded in the Bible, teach that people can be saved without faith in Jesus, and permit their preachers and teachers to deny basic Christian doctrine? Because they have lost the Scriptures as the inerrant word of God, that’s why. When the Bible is no longer word for word inspired by God, it can no longer be the standard for what the church teaches. The denial of biblical inerrancy is the gate that opens the church up to every imaginable error. When the Bible is no longer the very words of God, entirely true in everything it says, true because God is true, then whatever popular notions that presently hold sway in the marketplace of religious ideas replace the Bible as the standard for doctrine.
This is why so many churches resemble political interest groups more than churches. They do not look to the Bible as to a light shining in a dark place.
The Bible is a light shining in a dark place because it is a clear book. Just because we don’t understand everything we read as soon as we read it doesn’t mean it isn’t clear. There is no secret code, no divinely appointed magisterium, no bishop, no pope, or preacher you must consult to know what the Bible means. It means what it says. It is a light shining in a dark place.
The Bible is a light shining in a dark place because Jesus Christ is the light of the world and Jesus is what the Bible is all about. The Bible was written to reveal Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary, is the topic of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The glory that Peter, James, and John witnessed on the Mount of Transfiguration where they saw Jesus revealed as the beloved Son of the Father was the eternal glory of God. It was revealed in Jesus, the Son of man.
Today marks the last day in the season of Epiphany. Christmas is when we Christians celebrate the incarnation of God. God became flesh and dwelt among us. Epiphany is when we Christians celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory to the nations. The wise men from the East gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Jesus revealed his glory in changing water into wine, healing the sick, and stilling the storm. Epiphany culminates in the Transfiguration of our Lord where, with Moses and Elijah the two greatest Old Testament prophets, and with Peter, James, and John, leaders of the New Testament apostles, Jesus showed forth the beauty of his divine nature. From there he went to the cross.
He is going from glory to suffering. The beloved Son is going to suffer and die. He with whom the Father is well pleased is going to be rejected by the religious leaders, handed over to sinners, and nailed to a cross to be publicly shamed and crucified between two criminals. He whose glory shines like the sun will bear in his own body the sin of the whole world and descend into the darkness of death. Jesus was going from glory to the cross. That’s what he was talking about with Moses and Elijah.
You look at your Christian life and you ask God why he has seen fit to watch you suffer the losses you have suffered. You consider the promises God has made to you and yet you watch the loss of health, and the loss of life. You feel the temptations of the flesh and the devil. You feel the darkness of this world all around you. What of God’s promises? Are they real? Are they sincere? Can you count on them?
Look and see in the Bible, in the words your God spoke through the mouths and pens of the prophets and apostles, a light shining in a dark place. See Jesus, in all his glory. See him shining with the brightness of heaven. Christ’s transfiguration wasn’t a hearkening back to the past glory from which Jesus came before he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. It was a promise of what was to come! God took on himself our human nature and fulfilled the law as the perfect human being. He suffered on the cross for the sin of the world and because he assumed the nature of all humanity he took away the sin of all humanity. But before he suffered, before he did as a man what we needed doing, he, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John saw the future.
When our Lord saw his future glory he saw ours as well. The glory of Christ is the glory of his church. What happened to him on that mountain was not just his foretaste of glory. It was ours. It is a promise to us. This is why the Holy Spirit had it recorded in the New Testament. Christ’s transfiguration is a promise of ours. He, who exchanged his righteousness for our sin and then went to Calvary to die in our place, replaces our shame with his glory.
The reason the Bible is the light shining in a dark place is twofold: first, because of the nature of the world in which we live, and second because of the content of the Bible. We live in a spiritually darkened world. The word “spirituality” has been stylish for some time to use as a reference to every kind of religious enthusiasm that arises in the heart. But as the Bible says, “
The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
The deceit of the human heart passes for spirituality. Folks who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Christian congregation where God’s word is purely preached and who do not read the Bible and take it to heart will always have religious opinions, and their opinions will always feature ways they can escape responsibility for their own sins. Only Jesus, who went from glory to suffering and back up to glory, can bring us out of the darkness of sin, spiritual folly, and the invincible ignorance of this fallen world.
The world is a dark place. We need the Bible to see where we are going. For the Bible is the book about Jesus. And one day, all those who know Jesus now by faith, will no longer depend on the Bible, or on preaching. The morning star will rise in their hearts and they will be perfectly glorified. They will enjoy the beatific vision – that is, the sight of pure joy, pure blessedness, pure holiness, and pure love. There will be no remembrance of sin. All regrets will be like the mist burned off by the sun. We will know even as we are known. And that joy will never diminish or grow old.
That’s what the Bible says. The Bible is all about Jesus and everything it says is so. That’s what makes it a light shining in a dark place. Amen.