2 Peter 1:16-21
For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased" – and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the more sure prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday 2/06/22
More Certain than Seeing
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There is the old proverb that says "Seeing is believing." The Bible, however, teaches us that ‘seeing' is knowing, and believing is quite another thing, and it rests on something more certain. When we see something, we aren't believing it. In fact, seeing it removes the need for and risk of simply believing.
Our text speaks of something more certain than seeing it yourself. What, you may ask, could be more certain? Well, a great deal actually, when we consider the problems of human perception, but we know that the Word of God is more sure – it is utterly dependable. So, I invite you to take a fresh look at an old passage and discover something that is more certain than seeing.
Peter's words never fit so well as they do today. Okay, maybe they always fit as well – but today people are referring to the Bible as "myth". They tell us that the Bible stories are just that, stories. They are not true, in the sense that they actually happened. They call them "myths," stories of the interaction of humanity and deities for the purpose of teaching some overarching lesson – or to support some less-than-credible religious teachings.
Now, compare that to Peter's words. What our English translations call "cleverly devised tales," Peter in the Greek actually called "sesofishmevnoi muvqoi" or, simply transliterated into English, "Sophisticated Myths." It is almost as if God was listening to the popular unbelieving critics of our day, and chose His words to directly address their words.
Peter challenges the unbelief of his day – and of ours – with a clear assertion, ". . . we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty."
Peter was seeking to assure the Christians of his day in the face of the scoffers and unbelief that confronted them. Just as is it for us today, they were being told how this new religion was an old religion "re-upholstered," as it were. I was told at a Missouri Synod college that the stories of the Bible were common re-workings of old religious myths – the mystery religions of ancient Rome, the Gnosticism of that day. But Peter answered those attacks back then with the forthright statement that he was not following some cleverly devised tale – rather, he was there.
God intended those words for us, as well. He inspired Peter to write them so that we would have his eyewitness testimony today to refute those "scholars" who take to the airwaves with one network news program or another to ridicule and deny our religion, and who publish those remarkable pieces of blasphemy each Christmas and Easter in the major metropolitan newspapers. Peter was there. He saw it all. It really happened. These are not myths or tales, but historical accounts of God stepping into human history, taking on human nature and flesh and blood and doing the amazing things the Bible tells us that He did.
I don't think the false teachers understand what they are selling. If the accounts of Scripture were merely myths and tales, there would be no reason for the religion and no need for them and their jobs. The truth, which the devil and all unbelievers understand, is that either the whole thing is fact and truth, or none of it is. Likely none of it can be if any of it is mere myth and fable. Their theology would leave us no Savior, only moralism and law, and guilt and sin – and death and hell.
We need the Jesus that the Bible portrays to us. We need Him to be human so that He can take our place, earn life, and die for us. We need Jesus to be true God so that His death is sufficient for all of us, not just for one of us. We need the death to be real, the resurrection to be factual history, the events of Scripture to be just as they present themselves, or the promises of God would be uncertain, if not simply untrue.
But God has stepped in by inspiring Peter to pen these words for us. Peter was there. He was there. He saw it. He heard the voice from the cloud. He saw Moses and Elijah and heard them speaking with Jesus about the death which lay ahead of Him in a just few days in Jerusalem. He not only claimed that these events were true, as opposed to "cleverly devised tales," but he died in the confession of these truths.
Remarkably, Peter is not saying, "You can take my word for it." He is saying that God's Word is all that we need -- if we believe! And then He tells us that we do well to pay close attention to it, as we might to a lamp burning in a very dark place. It is the light of God's Word, showing us the way we should go. It reminds one of Psalm 119:105, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path."
Peter says something really remarkable! I know that our modern translations say something like, "and so we have the prophetic word made more sure." What Peter was saying is not that his seeing the transfiguration made the Word of God more certain, but that the Word of God is more certain than seeing it with his own eyes! He said what I read at the beginning of the sermon, "And we have the more sure prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts."
We have the more sure prophetic Word. An eyewitness can err. We can think we saw something we did not see, but God's Word is clear and plain, and reliable. We can go back to it time and time again, and it will be the same. It is patient and consistent and always the same Word of God.
How can the Bible be more certain than seeing? well, we begin with the truth that We walk by faith, not by sight – 2 Cor. 5:7. Nothing in our lives is to be ruled by our judgment alone. We judge every situation according to the Word of God, not simply our sense, for what feels good and seems desirable is often quite the opposite.
The application of this truth, that we walk by faith and not by sight, to our topic this morning is this; we believe Scripture is the Word of God, therefore we trust it. When it reports to us the love of God, we take that report as truthful by faith. When it tells us of our sins forgiven, paid for by the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross for us, we believe that good news and rejoice in it! When we face trials and pain and sorrow, we have the promise of God that He will work all things together for our good, and so we find strength and comfort there and keep going and praising God in spite of what our feelings tell us because we walk by faith, not on the basis of sense or reason alone, but guided by God's promises and His love.
Now, the message of the Transfiguration is significant. We need to know that it happened. It is the testimony of God, as Jesus is about to enter the last days of His life, to be tried and executed for our sins, that Jesus is still qualified for the mission of being our Savior. It tells us that He is still the beloved Son of God and is as well-pleasing to His heavenly Father as He was at His baptism three years before, as He began His public ministry. That is important to know. But even greater than that is the testimony of Peter that the naked Word of God is even more reliable than an eyewitness account. It is more certain than having seen it himself.
Why is that important? Because, frankly, that Word of God is all that we have today. We are not eyewitnesses. We have his testimony, and that of the other eyewitnesses, and of the prophets of old. And we have God, speaking through His Apostle, telling us that the written Word which we have is more certain and reliable than seeing it for ourselves. For a scientist, seeing is the evidence. For faith, the sure Word of God is the foundation that we need – and faith is, as Hebrews says, "the evidence of things not seen".
God has answered His critics in the newspapers in advance. He has asserted that His Word is true, and theirs is the suspect account.
The Bible is the Word of God. Because God has spoken to us and for us, we pay attention! He knows what we need. He knows how we can best live and what is going to be most helpful and healthful. We do well to pay attention to that word - like a light shining in a dark place, just as Peter tells us. It is God's Word, spoken to accomplish God's Will for us. And what is the will of God for us? [Our Salvation.]
Peter reminds us that no prophecy was made by an act of human will. None of the Scriptures are an accident or a human invention. Nor are they meant to be twisted and taken to say things that they do not say – . . . no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation. No, God's Word means what it says, not what we may want it to say, or try to twist it to say.
That is important for us to remember because God's Word tells us that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake. Men, even in the church, are always trying to interpret that away. "You can be forgiven," they say. "You can earn forgiveness," they say. "You must be holy enough first, you must do something to receive it, you must merit it, or claim it, or something." Then you have to walk the "Christian Walk" (whatever that means) or you can lose it, or so they say.
God says that Jesus took care of it all. He has done everything we needed done because we could not be relied upon to do it – we are simply not capable of doing the holiness that we need, or bearing the price of our own sins, and yet continuing to live. So God sent Jesus to do it for us on the cross. He lived the holiness we need and bore the wrath of God against our sins in our place, He died the death that God's justice demands for our sins, and now He pours out forgiveness for all, resurrection from our graves, and eternal life – all of which is received by grace, through faith.
A final thought: Luther taught that either we believe God's Word because it is God's Word, or we make ourselves out to be God. It doesn't even matter whether we believe other doctrines of the faith, confess some version of Christ and live pious and exemplary lives. If we reject any portion of the Word of God and deny anything that it clearly teaches, we set ourselves up as the judges of truth and the source of what is to be believed. We stand as masters over God's Word, and anything else we might believe is believed only because we choose to, and because it agrees with us, or because it pleases us to believe it -- not because it is from God or His Word.
The Word of God is more sure than seeing for yourself because the One from whom the Word comes is more reliable than we are. We may count the Bible as more certain than seeing.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)