The Transfiguration of our Lord| Rev. Rolf Preus| February 5, 2006| 2 Peter 1:16-21
I grew up on the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. My best friends were children of seminary professors. During the sixties a controversy was brewing at the seminary. The topic was the Holy Scriptures. Did the Bible contain errors? Or was it inerrant? My father taught that the Bible was entirely free from all error of any kind because it was God’s word and God cannot err. Other professors at the seminary taught that the Bible had errors of fact in it, but that it didn’t really matter so long as it was true in spiritual matters. They said that there were errors in the Bible on matters of history and science, but so what? This didn’t affect our salvation. One professor said that his faith didn’t depend on the accuracy of ancient historians.
I was confirmed in April of 1967 and immediately joined the Walther League, which was what they called the youth group for the Missouri Synod in those days. At Walther League meetings we would alternate between having a Bible study of some kind and having a social event. We were taught at Walther League meetings that it wasn’t important whether or not Adam and Eve really existed. The youth leader told us that the Genesis account of creation was a myth. It was the way the ancient people tried to explain the beginning of this world. Do you really believe that God made Adam out of the dust of the ground and Eve out of his rib? And when we argued with him – and many of us did – he patiently explained that the truth of the Bible was much deeper than historical details. It was spiritual truth that mattered, not scientific or historical truth.
At the age of fourteen I couldn’t tell the difference. At the age of fifty-two I still can’t tell the difference. Truth is truth. St. Peter agrees. He 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.
The Bible is God’s word, but it didn’t drop down from heaven already written. It was written here on earth. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. God publicly showed Moses to be a true prophet by doing great miracles through him. The plagues, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the many miracles in the wilderness during forty years of wandering all demonstrated that Moses was God’s prophet. He spoke God’s word and he wrote them down. Similarly, God did great miracles through Elijah, showing the religion of the Baal worshippers to be false. Remember Mount Carmel when the prophets of Baal cried out to their idol and received nothing, while Elijah prayed to the true and living God who sent fire from heaven. The prophets didn’t weave fables together. God confirmed their word with miraculous signs.
Moses and Elijah stood with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus face shone like the sun. Peter, James, and John were there. They saw it. They heard the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” They were terrified. Peter was there. He wrote down what he saw and heard.
God has always confirmed His word with signs. Jesus Himself said to the Jews, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” He predicted his resurrection. He claimed the power to raise Himself from the dead. When He did so, His words were confirmed.
Today many Christians are turned this way and that, wandering around in doubt because they have lost their confidence in the Bible. They are taught the myth of evolution as fact and are thereby led to regard the account of creation in God’s word as myth. Just as I was taught nearly forty years ago in Walther League, young folks today are being taught to question the accuracy of the Bible. How can you believe in the accuracy of ancient men who were ignorant of what modern science has taught us? Those ignorant ancients couldn’t have known any better, but we do. We are so much more knowledgeable than they.
Don’t you believe it! The Holy Scriptures are a light shining in a dark place. This is so because they are true. Light is truth. Error is darkness. Light is clear. Error is obscure and complicated. Light enlightens. Error blinds. The greatest folly comes from rejecting the clear Scriptures, inspired by God.
The reason the Bible is true is because God is the Author of the Bible. We don’t confess that the Bible is God’s word because of what the Bible says. We confess that the Bible is God’s word because of who said it. As St. Peter explains:
. . . 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.
When you read the Bible you may not impose on the Bible your own notions. People will often go to the written word of God with their own agenda. They have their own opinions and they impose them on the biblical text. They say, “This is what it means to me.” But it doesn’t mean one thing to you and another thing to you and another thing to the other guy. It means what it says.
True, one needs to know how to read a text. This is sometimes challenging when the text was written two or three thousand years ago. But it’s not as challenging as you might think. You can read the Bible and know what God is saying. When you come to a difficult passage that doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry about it. Just keep on reading. What does make sense will help to clarify what doesn’t immediately make sense. The Bible interprets the Bible.
The reason we may not impose our own opinions or traditions or prejudices on the biblical text is because this text is holy. It is sacred ground. Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit speaks, we should listen. We may not presume to correct Him, even if His words defy the opinion of the majority. When you consider how fickle public opinion is, you see how foolish we are to base our beliefs on it. The Holy Spirit cannot mislead us. He is called the Spirit of truth. This is why we can rely on the Scriptures as we rely on God Himself. God wrote the Bible.
We know the Bible is true is because God wrote it. He chose fallible men to speak infallibly. He chose men who were capable of error to write what was inerrant. But the fact that the Bible is true is not enough. Much that is true is of little benefit. Some things that are true are downright frightening or even harmful. What makes the Bible such a precious book is not just that it is God true word, but that it is God’s saving word.
When we speak of the means of grace we usually mean to speak of the gospel that is preached and the sacraments that are administered. We go to church. We listen. We eat and we drink. God comes to us through the words that we hear. That’s the way it should be. As God the Father said to Peter, James, and John: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”
But the Bible is also a means of grace. That is, when we read the Bible we find Jesus in it. There is nothing the preacher has to say that isn’t already in the Bible. When Jesus had died, risen from the dead, and was about to ascend into heaven He appeared to His disciples and, in St. Luke’s account, showed them why it was that He had to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. Here’s how St. Luke relates it:
And he said unto them, “These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)
The reason Jesus had to suffer and die is because the Bible said so. The reason He had to rise from the dead is because the Bible said so. The Bible is not just a record of events that is entirely accurate. The Bible is God binding Himself to promises that He simply must fulfill.
Consider what this means. As Jesus was dying on the cross and taking upon Himself your sins He was quoting the Bible. He cried out in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was what he was talking about with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was talking to them about fulfilling the Scriptures.
The biblical text is always more than a text, that is, more than words on a page. I know that the Bible may appear to modern sophisticates to be outdated. It’s so called errors are simply assumed by most people who regard themselves as educated. But appearances are often deceiving. The man crying out in agony on the cross in fulfillment of the psalm was thought to be a pathetic failure crying out to a dead prophet for help. Instead, he was crying out for you and for me and for all sinners ever born. He was crying out all our errors and failing that, no matter deeply we may regret them, we cannot remove them. He was fulfilling every promise of forgiveness and grace that God has ever made. He was taking away the sin of the world as the Bible recorded he would do.
And he did so flawlessly, without any error along the way. His perfection now covers our imperfections. Wherever we go and whatever we do we are covered by the faultless righteousness of Jesus who never erred in thought, word, or deed. And the words written down in the Bible are as faultless as the One about whom the Scriptures are written. Whether describing the creation of the Adam and Eve or recounting a miracle or describing the history of Jesus life, the Bible is entirely free from error. When we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it we find ourselves solidly grounded on Christ. Within the sacred page lies the blood and righteousness of Jesus. This is why we treasure this book, hold on to what is says in childlike faith, and confess its truth. In so doing we are confessing that God’s promises to us are sure and certain and cannot fail.