Sermon preached at Our Savior Lutheran Church for the last Sunday after Epiphany, the Transfiguration of our Lord, on March 6, 2011. Sermon text: 2 Peter 1:16-21
For the longest time, I just did not understand lighthouses. I mean, I knew what they are. They’re buildings, often tall towers, that give out light for ships on the water. It just all seemed a little pointless to me. I mean, they’re just big flashlights, right? Come on! How helpful could that really be? Is it really worth a huge tower for a light?
But when you see the fog rolling out on a body of water, you know it’s worth it. The fog on the water can be so thick it’s almost like being completely blinded. The fog is so thick it’s darkness you can see. And just imagine when it’s foggy at night! A darkness you can see and feel is all around you…and you’re supposed to pilot a boat into the right place?! It’d be nearly impossible.
That’s why you need the lighthouse. The light is designed to be big enough and bright enough that it will cut through the darkness of fog and night. So the person driving the ship absolutely needs to pay attention to this light. He uses the light to guide his boat safely into port, to save his life, to keep the ship from running aground and being destroyed.
Today we celebrate Jesus’ Transfiguration, when he showed his true glory and shined like the sun. And while we didn’t get to be on that mountain and see Jesus’ glory in person, three of his disciples did. One of them, Peter, wrote about it in our text for today. He was an eyewitness to Jesus’ glory. We didn’t get to see Jesus’ light in person, but Peter reminds us of a light that we do get to see.
We see the light of God’s Word. There, we have the only message we can really trust in this sin-darkened world. Without the Word, we are trapped in darkness in this world. We are bound to go off course. We are bound to be lost forever. And that’s why we pay attention to the light. We stay in the Word, we continue in the sacraments. And we can be sure that we have Jesus’ glory. We can be sure that he will give us his glory forever. Pay attention to the light!
The Transfiguration, humanly speaking, would be one of the most difficult events to describe if you saw it happen. Can you imagine it? “Yes, Jesus was with us on the mountain, and before we realized what was going on, he had just changed! He was super bright; you could barely look at him! And then, I don’t know, we kind of fell asleep for awhile or something, and then Moses and Elijah were there with him! Yeah, and they were talking about Jesus’ departure, and it was pretty amazing.”
Can you imagine someone telling you that? I think it’d be hard to get your head around. It would seem like Peter, or whoever happened to be telling you this, had completely lost it. At the very least it would seem like he was spinning a bizarre story for you. It seems that Peter was used to defending himself when it came to what he saw on that mountain of Transfiguration.
Listen to what he wrote about it. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Pet. 1:16) He didn’t make this up, but rather he (along with James and John) were actual eyewitnesses of the event.
Maybe you’ve talked to someone who was telling you something amazing or incredible. And the person is really excited about it, but then you ask them a question: “Did you actually see this?” And they admit, “Well, no, but so-and-so told me about it, and it was really great.” And suddenly the person has lost all credibility. But when someone has seen something for themselves, it means more.
Peter was there. He actually saw Jesus changed and show his glory. How amazing! And he heard things there, too. He received glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
(2 Pet. 1:17-18)
Peter heard the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven itself. Incredible! And the best part of all is what God said, This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. In other words, God said, “Yes! Jesus is the one! He’s the guy! He’s my Son and he is doing everything I sent him to do. He really is the Savior you need. He really is going to accomplish everything that you need him to do for your eternal life.
But there’s one thing that some people would consider a big problem. You want to call Peter an eyewitness? Fine. But Peter died an awfully long time ago — and so did James and John, the other people who were there. We don’t have living eyewitnesses anymore. We don’t have eyewitnesses of anything in the Bible. All we have is the Bible.
Can you see why some would see that as a problem? Look around at the people of this world! The Bible does not get a lot of respect for its reliability. People tend to refer to the Bible as a bunch of myths. The idea that Jesus performed miracles is seen as laughable, much less whether or not he actually had a Transfiguration or rose from the dead. Those events are barely worth discussing to most today. Actually believing things from the Bible is likely to get you laughed at in today’s world. Maybe the laughter will only be behind your back, or maybe it will be right to your face.
And I wish it was just non-Christians who would do this. I wish that we could count on everyone who called themselves Christians to take the Bible at its word. But we can’t. There’s a famous Christian pastor out there named Rob Bell who will soon be releasing a book that supposedly says you don’t really have to believe in Jesus or have even heard of Jesus to go to heaven. The Bible, of course, says that Jesus is the only way. (John 14:6) And all over Christianity, churches are changing what they believe and teach, even though the Bible does not change.
We might just think we’re immune to all this. We might think we believe what the Bible says, and we always will. And I sure hope and pray that that’s true. But human hearts like mine and yours tend to want to go away from what the Bible says. We’re born wanting to not trust God’s Word.
Maybe you’ve felt some of that. Somethings brought up from the Bible and you think, “Yeah, I guess that’s officially “true,” but I’m not sure I buy it. Or we know what the Bible says on something, but we just ignore it. We treat the Bible like a buffet; we take the parts we like, and the parts we don’t we just leave there.
Or, our sinful hearts can just leave God’s Word on the shelf. Our sinful hearts want it to not be important, to not be a priority. We don’t want to make time for it. Is reading the Bible a priority for you? Do you remember your baptism as a vital gift from God for your faith today or as a time in the past when your family took a few pictures of you? Do you see the Lord’s Supper as a life-giving, sin-forgiving gift from Jesus himself, or is it something that just adds a few minutes to a Sunday service?
You see, that’s one of the devil’s most powerful emotions to work inside of us: apathy. If he can’t make us attack the Bible and call it a bunch of hogwash, then he’s perfectly happy to have us shrug our shoulders at it. What’s the big deal what the Bible actually says?, we might think. Well it is a big deal, because without it, you’re in darkness.
Peter said, We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Pet. 1:19)
We live in a world of sinful darkness. Nothing is sure. Nothing can be trusted. Except God’s Word. It’s the light shining in the dark place. Pay attention to the light! If you don’t, you won’t have the morning star rising in your heart, as Peter says here. He’s talking about the day when Jesus returns and we don’t need the Bible to point to the truth anymore, because we’ll have the fulfillment of all his promises.
But if we don’t follow God’s Word, if we don’t continue in the sacraments, we will go off course. If you think you can get by without God’s Word, if you think that baptism and the Lord’s Supper aren’t that big of deal; then you’re in for a world of hurt. Like a ship with no light to guide it in the fog, you will crash. You’ll hit on the rocks of your own sins. You won’t make it into the port of eternal life. You’ll be lost forever.
You need that light. Pay attention to the light! It’s the one trustworthy thing we have in this world. Above all, Peter wrote, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. (2 Pet. 1:20) People weren’t making this stuff up in the Bible. Human beings wrote it down, but it wasn’t really their doing. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:21)
We will never understand how God caused the Bible to be written. That God would take human beings and give them the exact words to say. That each person in their own individual style would write exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted them to say. We can’t understand it. But that’s why it’s God’s Word. It’s the light in this dark world. Pay attention to the light!
It’s the light that first prophesied that God would send a Savior into the world. It’s the light that insisted that this Savior would suffer and die to pay for sins. It’s the light that said that Jesus did not fall into the sins of this world, that he never took God’s Word for granted, but he was perfect. It’s the light that tells us that Jesus was nailed to a cross and then suffered and died to pay for your sins of not always trusting his Word, for your sins of going along with this world, for all your sins. It’s the light that tells you that it’s this Savior who has won you heaven, who has guaranteed you a spot in God’s heavenly glory forever.
Pay attention to the light! If you don’t remember anything else about Jesus’ Transfiguration, remember that it tells you that Jesus is our true Savior. Then keep paying attention to the light of God’s Word. Make regular Bible study a priority, not an exception. Make the Lord’s Supper a privilege and a joy that Jesus gives you, not an occasional time where you have to follow the crowd. Make going to God’s Word and trusting in that Word something that you just can’t help doing, because you know it’s the only thing you can trust.
We live in a world of darkness. There is hatred, there is violence, there is death. Left to our own devices, we would wander this darkness only to be lost forever. But, like a lighthouse shining the way home, we have God’s Word. We have the good news of a Savior who rescued us from the darkness. We have a Savior whose glory covers all our sins and gives us eternal life forever. We have a light that shows us the way, and shows us how Jesus is the only way. Pay attention to the light!