Transfiguration of our Lord| Matthew 17:1-9| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| February 6, 2022
In the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy chapter 19, God commanded through Moses that no charge should be established except by the evidence of two or three witnesses. No charge was permitted on the evidence of one witness. And this standard not only ruled the nation of Israel, but has been the standard for jurisprudence in the western world for millennia. God has given this standard for two significant reasons. First, because none of us is God. That means that none of us is omniscient or omnipresent. There are things that happen that we do not know about, because we were not there to witness them. So, a single witness cannot suffice to establish something as true. Just because one person said something should not convince anyone. This is why it is so evil to repeat or believe gossip. To repeat and believe gossip is to usurp God’s authority as Judge and Knower-of-all-things. And it is almost always for the purpose of harming your neighbor’s reputation, which you should instead seek to defend.
Second, the standard of two and three witnesses confesses the Holy Trinity. Our Lord Jesus says in John chapter 8, “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” (vss. 17-18) It is not enough to have multiple witnesses. The witnesses must agree. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three witnesses in perfect agreement. They are one God and have one will. Having multiple witnesses agree not only gives assurance that what they say is true, but they mimic the very source of all truth, the Triune God.
So, Jesus brings three men up to a high mountain, Peter, James, and John. And these three witnesses see Jesus transfigured before them. And with Jesus appears two more men, Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah represent the Old Testament. Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament. Elijah, a great prophet, represents the writings of the other prophets. Peter, James, and John represent the New Testament. These two witnesses from the Old Testament and these three witnesses from the New Testament bear witness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
The Bible has around forty human authors, who wrote over a span of about 1,500 years. These human authors are eye witnesses to the mighty works of God. St. John writes in the last chapter of his Gospel, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (John 21:24) And again, St. John opens his first epistle with the words, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it…” St. Peter declared, “We didn’t follow cleverly devised myths … but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16). And Holy Scripture records the eye witness accounts of many other witnesses besides the authors of Scripture (Luke 1:2), so that in the Old and New Testament, we have a body of witnesses above scrutiny. The Bible surpasses the standard given by the Law to establish a truth. There are not two or three Evangelists, but four Evangelists, who record a unified account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Old Testament is the most reliable historical book in all of antiquity. When people, trying to sound studious, ask, “What other sources do we have for such and such event besides the Bible?”, what they are asking is, “What other sources do we have for such and such event besides the most reliable record on earth.
And yet, the Bible is not simply a human book, not even the best of all human books. Greater than the forty authors with their many witnesses therein, is the one great Author who has caused all scripture to be written. St. Peter writes, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) All Scripture is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). It is not only that we have dozens of authors writing the testimony of hundreds and even thousands of eye witnesses, which all agree, but these authors did not write their own interpretation of events, but they wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is God’s book. It declares God’s Word. It is not only the testimony of many men, but it is the testimony of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
And this too we see in Jesus’ transfiguration. Not only do we have the two and three witnesses of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Apostles, we have the unanimous testimony of God. Jesus’ face shines like the sun and his clothes become white as light, proving him to be the Son of God. The bright cloud overshadows them, showing that the same Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus at his Baptism by water descends here as well. And God the Father speaks out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
On this holy mountain we have the three witnesses of the Holy Scriptures: the prophets, the apostles, and the three Persons of the Holy Trinity Himself testifying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. On this mountain we see the authority of the Holy Scriptures and their purpose. This is why St. Paul said that the household of God, which is the Church, is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The Holy Scriptures authored by the holy prophets and apostles as they were carried along by God himself, is the one reliable testimony of the truth. When you hear the words of the Bible, you hear God’s Word. When you hear the words of the Bible, you hear Jesus’ Word. This is why Jesus himself says, “Scripture cannot be broken,” (John 10:35).
Yet, it is not enough to believe and know that the Holy Scriptures are God’s own word, trustworthy and sure. What must we do with this knowledge that the Bible is the Word of God? We should listen to it! When St. Peter teaches us that the Holy Scriptures are God’s own word, he teaches us to pay attention to them “as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the Morning Star rises in your hearts.” That Morning Star is Christ. When St. Paul teaches us that Scripture is God’s own word, he tells us that it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Scripture is not meant to be a closed book. It doesn’t do you any good sitting unopened on a shelf, just as the preaching of God’s Word does you no good if you do not come and listen to it.
God the Father interrupted Peter to tell him to listen to Jesus. Peter was talking too much. He didn’t know what he was saying. He was trying to hold on to Jesus’ glory. He wanted to capture it here on earth, but he couldn’t. He did the same thing six days earlier, when he rebuked Jesus for telling them that he would suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and be killed, and on the third day rise. This happened right after Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, for which Jesus commended his faith. But Jesus rebuked Peter for forbidding him to suffer and die. Likewise, the Father rebukes Peter for talking instead of listening. St. Luke tells us that Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah about his exodus, that is, his departure from this world by way of the cross (Luke 9:31). Peter loved confessing Jesus as the Christ. He was glad to see Jesus’ transfiguration. But he didn’t want to hear about the cross. He wanted to talk about his own ideas. He didn’t want to listen to Jesus the Christ talk about his.
We are like St. Peter. We don’t like to listen. We like to talk. Even those who don’t talk too much, would rather listen to their own thoughts than the Word of God. But the Father speaks to all of us when he says, “Listen to Him!” Our ideas will fade with the grass. The wisdom of this world, which is cringeworthy when compared to the wisdom of God, will certainly pass away. The wisdom of this world does you no good. But Jesus’ Word gives eternal life to all who believe it. And holy Scripture is the word of Jesus.
The mistake Peter made by talking instead of listening, was that he ignored Jesus’ cross in order to focus on worldly things. But we cannot have Jesus without his cross. When Jesus was transfigured, he gave a foretaste of what is promised to all Christians. We shall see Christ as he is. His glory will shine on us, and we will share in it. We will join the hosts of heaven, with all the saints, and we will be with Jesus and share in his joy and holiness forever. Yet, Jesus’ transfiguration was just a foretaste. Peter couldn’t hold on to it by building tents. Jesus needed to go to the cross. And Peter needed to follow the cross.
Unless Jesus suffers and dies for our sins, we cannot see his glory. Unless Jesus pays our debt, we cannot enjoy his splendid presence. We hope to see Jesus in his transfigured glory. But we can only do that if we first listen to Jesus tell us about his cross. We need to learn to repent of our sins and to trust in Jesus, who alone suffered for the sins of the whole world, died, and rose again.
Jesus’ passion for our sins teaches us that we can only be saved through faith in Christ’s death for us. Yet, Jesus’ passion also teaches us that we will bear our own cross in this life. The world hates the words of Jesus. Those who cling to Jesus’ Word will be hated by the world. This is why so many, when they are suffering, will stop listening to Jesus, stop meditating on the Scriptures, and stop going to church. Jesus’ Word gives us a cross to bear for a while. Yet, neglecting God’s Word to avoid the cross is foolish, because it is only through the cross that you can share in Jesus’ glory.
Only the Holy Scriptures are God’s Word. Only preaching according to the Scriptures is trustworthy. The opinions of billions of people do not shine a light on Scripture. Rather, they confuse and lead astray. Following Jesus’ Word is painful for a time. It means that we must repent of our sins and crucify our sinful desires. It means that we might be hated and mocked for believing Christ’s teaching. Yet, this is a light cross to bear when you get Jesus. Jesus takes all our guilt away. He promises us eternal life and a glorious resurrection where we will shine with reflected light from his glorious face. He promises peace and fellowship with the Father. When the disciples lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. That is what we see when we follow Christ’s holy Word. The cross becomes a light burden, an easy yoke. The hatred of the world slinks into the shadows as Christ’s face shines on you; you don’t even notice their hateful words. When you listen to Jesus, walking according to Scripture, then you see no one but Jesus only. And he gives you peace. Amen.