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Sermon for the Transfiguration of our Lord

2 Peter 1:16-21

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Dear Friends in Christ,

  If you ask people what are some things they can be certain about the common answer is “death and taxes.”    That genealogy chapter in Genesis that no one wants to read because it has so many names that we can’t pronounce supports the first half of that common response.  Each section of names ends the same way, like a bell tolling at a funeral, “and they died.”  The apostle Paul reminds us that death comes to all men for all have sinned.  Since death is a certainty and no one will escape we would like a few more things added to this list of things that are certain.  We want to be able to be certain about where we are going and what’s going to happen to us when we do face death.  That’s something most people would say that you can’t be certain about.  But today we see that we can be certain.  The transfiguration of Jesus makes us certain, about Jesus and about the Scripture.  Because we can be certain about Jesus and about the Scripture we can be certain about where we are going and what will happen to us when we die.

  The gospels tell us that Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to a high mountain to pray.  While he was praying, suddenly his clothes began to glow.  His power and glory as God that he normally kept hidden began shining through.  The three disciples saw Moses and Elijah, who had been dead for a long time, speaking with Jesus.  Then a bright cloud appeared and enveloped them and they heard the voice of God speaking.  Peter has a vivid memory of this incident.  He can still see it in his mind in every detail as if it had just happened.  He remembers exactly what God said.  This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased.

  When Moses went up Mt. Sinai, he too saw the glory of God and heard the voice of God.  In fact, when he came down the mountain his face was glowing, reflecting the glory of God.  God spoke to Elijah at Mt. Sinai in a still, small voice.  Elijah saw the glory of God.  He saw it in the form of a chariot of fire that swooped down from heaven and carried him to glory.  Now Peter, James and John were witnessing something similar.  They were seeing the glory of the Lord; they were hearing the voice of God.  What a blessing God was giving them!  Why?  What was God’s purpose in letting them see and hear these things?

  It was so that they, and we, could be absolutely certain about Jesus.  Seeing Jesus shine in heavenly glory and hearing the Father declare that Jesus is his beloved Son leaves no doubt as to who Jesus is.  He is a human being; a man who had walked up the mountain with them.  But at the same time he is the very Son of God.  Peter had confessed this fact six days earlier, but their faith was about to be severely tested.  Jesus wouldn’t look much like the Son of God as the Romans flogged him and put a crown of thorns on his head.  He wouldn’t look much like the Son of God as he suffered on the cross or as they laid his lifeless body in the tomb.  Jesus wanted them to remember this day, to remember what they saw and heard on the mount of transfiguration as they later witnessed his suffering and death.  Jesus wanted them, and he wants us, to be certain that he is the Christ, the Son of God.

  We have an advantage over Peter, James and John.  As we go through Lent and review the suffering and death of Jesus we know that he rose.  We know that Easter is coming.  But we have our own challenges to face.  As Peter wrote this second letter he predicted some of those challenges.  He foresaw that there would be those even from within the church who would try to make us uncertain about Jesus; who would try to deny that he is the Son of God.  Peter hints that already in his life time there were those who were accusing the apostles of making everything up; of following cleverly invented stories.  How many books haven’t you heard about, or maybe even read, that purport to demythologize what you think you know about Jesus?  They claim to present to you the real Jesus, just a man who was married to Mary Magdalene and who accidentally got himself executed by the Romans.  Then his followers made up all these stories about him and claimed he was the Son of God.  Peter foresaw such false teachers who would then go on to mock the teaching that Jesus would come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  They would say, “Where is this `coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

  Peter tells us, 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. For he received honor and 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.  “We were there.  We saw it.  We heard it.”  Jesus is the Son of God.  You can be certain.  You can count on it!

  Why is this important?  Jesus himself says that all are to honor the Son just as they honor the Father for whoever doesn’t honor the Son just as they honor the Father does not honor the Father who sent him.  In other words, if you do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is equal, that he is one with the Father, you have an idol.  You are worshiping a false God. 

  If, as so many even in the church today seem to want to believe, Jesus is only a man, a human being, then he can’t be our savior.  If he is only a human being and not also God, he could not have lived without sin, and if he had any sins of his own he could not have paid for our sins, his death on the cross would be meaningless to us.  We need to be absolutely certain that Jesus is the very Son of God with whom the Father is well pleased, the one who came to earth and lived a perfect life in our place so that he could be punished in our place and pay for all our sins.  The transfiguration makes us certain that he is.

  The transfiguration of Jesus confirmed for Peter that Jesus is who he confessed him to be, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  But the transfiguration made Peter, and it makes us, certain of something else as well.  It makes us certain about Scripture.  It makes us certain that the words of the prophets and apostles are not their own words, but the very words of God.

  As Peter, James and John reflected on what they had heard and seen on the mount of transfiguration they were more confident than they had ever been before that the prophets of the Old Testament had spoken God’s word.  Not only did they see the prophets Moses and Elijah in heavenly glory, but they heard what they were discussing with Jesus.  They were discussing the things that had been written about Jesus in the Old Testament.  They were discussing his suffering and death.  These three disciples lived the fulfillment of those prophecies.  They were there when Judas betrayed Jesus.  They were there as he was mocked and beaten and spit on.  They were there as they pierced his hands and feet.  They were there when his body was laid in a rich man’s tomb.  There were there at the empty tomb to witness that his body did not see decay.  They witnessed these, and hundreds of other prophecies coming to life right before their eyes.  They testify that the words of the prophets are certain, 100% reliable.

  How could the words of mere men be so certain, 100% reliable?  Because the words they spoke were not their own words.  Over and over again they made that clear.  They said things like, “thus says the Lord,” or “the word of the Lord came to me saying.”  They didn’t think something up on their own and offer it to God to see if he liked it, like a journalist does with their editor.  No.  God came to them and said, “This is what I want you to say.”  Or God moved them to gather information that he wanted preserved for his people and then guided them as they assembled it so that what they wrote remained without error.  Peter says, above all, (this is one of the most important truthsthere is) you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation.  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.

  Luke reminds us that after the Father conferred glory and honor on Jesus by proclaiming that Jesus is his Son with whom he is well pleased, he said listen to him.  The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that, in the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  Peter reminds us, since this is the case, since Scripture is not a collection of myths and fables but the very word of God guided and preserved for us by the Holy Spirit, 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.

  How much attention do you give to God’s word?  We all have to admit that we fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent.  We may have good intentions of spending time reading the Bible, but there are so many other things that have to get done.  We have to work.  We have to pay our bills.  We have to take care of our children.  We have to do maintenance work on the house and the car and the machinery and the out buildings or things will fall apart.  Then there are all the kids’ or grand kids’ activities, and everyone needs some time for rest and relaxation.  The list could go on and on.  And then there are those times when we know what the Bible says, but we think we know better.  We have to admit that we don’t always pay attention to God’s word like we should, or always consider it to be the light of truth shining into the darkness of our hearts.

  But remember what’s certain.  Death is certain.  And if death is certain, we want to be certain about what’s going to happen to us when we die.  We want to be certain that when the last day dawns and we get to see what Peter, James and John saw, Jesus shining in all his heavenly glory, we want to be certain that we will be escorted by the angels to his right hand and be invited to join Moses and Elijah to bask in the glory of heaven forever.

  The transfiguration makes us certain.  It makes us certain that Jesus is the Son of God with whom the father is well pleased.   It makes us certain that he is our savior; that he was able to do what was necessary to pay for our every sin, even the times we let the tyranny of the urgent get in the way of paying attention to God’s word.  It makes us certain about scripture.  It makes us certain that when the prophets spoke they were speaking God’s word, not their own ideas.  Everything they foretold about the Messiah was fulfilled perfectly in Jesus.  Now we need to listen to him, to listen when he says that whoever believes in him has eternal life.  We need to listen to him when he says that no one can come to the father except through me.  We need to listen to him when he says that we need to be constantly watching and waiting in faith for his return because he will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night.

  The transfiguration makes us certain.  It makes us certain that the Bible is God’s word.  It makes us certain that Jesus is the Son of God, our Savior.  Because of these things we can be certain that our sins are forgiven and that, when we die, we will get to live with him in glory forever.