(The Last Sunday after Epiphany) February 19, 2012
2 Peter 1:16-21
Exodus 24:12, 15-18
132, 135, 720, 52, [TLH alt: 16 as first hymn, others remain in same order]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 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.
Language changes over time and expressions and sayings go in and out of popularity. For example, it is no longer swell to say, “That’s swell!” I have no idea whether or not it is still accepted in the often murky realms of student vocabulary, but I remember when I was in elementary school and middle school it was common to hear the phrase: “For real?” You would say it after you had just heard something unusual or amazing. If the whole class had found the algebra test to be too hard and then one student announced, “I got 110% on it,” someone would turn and ask: “For real?”
“Is it for real?” It’s something we all wonder from time to time. When I saw pictures from the earthquake in San Francisco in October of 1989—entire sections of Bay Area freeways buckled and in pieces—one of my first thoughts was, “Is that for real?” Many of us no doubt had the same question when we saw the video of the towers going down in New York City in 2001. When we hear of something astounding that someone else has done—something that we never would have thought possible—we might wonder, “Did they really do that?” Entire websites are dedicated to determining whether or not the information in that forwarded email is genuine and real.
History is full of is-it-for-real moments. Jesus was once approached by a father whose son was suffering at the hands of a demon. The Lord rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. At which point, “They were all amazed at the greatness of God…everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did” (Luke 9:43 NIV). “Is it for real?” some wondered, stunned at what had happened.
Another time Jesus saw a fig tree by the road, “He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. And when the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” (Matthew 21:19-20). In other words, the disciples wondered, “Could this be for real?”
As a matter of fact, it was not just Jesus’ miracles that would make people wonder, but the entire story of who He was and what He would do caused many to think, “Is it for real?” There is no account so amazing as the Gospel story! Think of it: Beginning with a few shepherds word spreads that the Son of God Himself has been born in Bethlehem—that God has taken on human flesh and human form in the person of Jesus. When Jesus begins His ministry, He tells people that He has come to seek and to save the lost. What lost? Those who are lost in their sins. He tells His listeners that their disobedience has separated them from God and the glories of Heaven, but He will offer Himself into death to make up for their failures. He tells of how He will be crucified at the hands of men and rise to life again the third day. He tells them just before He goes to His death, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 15:19). Thus Jesus preaches forgiveness of sins and a resurrection to eternal life for those who trust in Him. Could there be anything more incredible than all of this? Is it for real?
After Jesus had risen and ascended into heaven, there were indeed those who did not think any of it was for real. When the apostles spoke about Christ, not everyone nodded their heads in agreement. The Apostle Paul, for instance, more than once had to run for his life after preaching about the Messiah.
Even among followers of Jesus themselves there were at times lingering questions. After the resurrection when the disciples gathered at a mountain in Galilee the Bible says: “When they saw Him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17).
Is it for real? All this about Christ dying for sin, about the resurrection to eternal life? Is it real or is it a fairy tale, a myth? This is what Peter addressed in the opened paragraphs of his last letter, written not long before his death. He told the Christians that even though they knew the truth, He wanted them always to have confidence in what they believed. He wrote: “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.” [v.16]
Peter explained to His audience one last time that what they had been taught about Jesus was not mythology, it was true—it had been witnessed by him and by others. Nobody had ever seen any of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus or anywhere else, but he and James and John had actually seen Jesus glorified on the mountain when He was transfigured.
The transfiguration of Jesus was an event that Peter would never forget. As the book of Matthew relates the event, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain and there His appearance was changed (transfigured) before their eyes. “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). In those moments the disciples were given the privilege of seeing that Christ was truly the glorious Son of God. Nor was it some sort of hallucination for they all saw the same thing. Then later Peter would look back and say “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” [v.16]
Peter had not made up stories about Jesus being true God and true Man. He had seen the Lord shining like the sun. With His own eyes he had seen Him glorified.
Not only had Peter seen but he had also heard. There was a voice from the Majestic Glory that said “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” [v.17] That voice which gave honor and glory to Jesus was none other than the voice of God the Father in Heaven. With these words He put His own stamp of approval on His Son. Everything the Son would do with respect to His upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection would be done according to the Father’s will.
So when Peter wanted to assure his readers that everything the apostles taught about Jesus was for real, he pointed to the Mount of Transfiguration where he, an eye-witness, had received assurance that it was all true. He had, in fact, received double-insurance by what he saw and by what he heard.
Peter also serves as your eyewitness. For those moments when the Devil tempts you to think that Christ and what He promises just might be make-believe after all, Peter reminds you that he saw it all and his word is true. For those times when you are plagued by the guilt of mistakes you have made, sins you have committed, and you wonder, “Does Jesus really help me with this?” Peter reminds you that the Lord and His forgiveness is indeed real and you do not need to doubt it.
We go through times too, when Christ might seem “distant” from us—when we get so bogged down in the toils and troubles of the day that we forget the reality of His presence, the reality of His love, or the reality of His faithfulness. Perhaps we face pressure from the outside—our neighbors, co-workers, or others who are around us who may not believe in Christ. We may find ourselves being affected by their negative attitudes and false beliefs about Jesus. Whenever we have doubts we can listen to Peter and remember what he saw on the mountain: the glory of the Lord.
It’s been a long time since that day on the mountain, and only Peter, James, and John were eyewitnesses. Peter knew that we might be tempted to think, “Well, I didn’t see Jesus’ glory firsthand. How can I be sure?” So he leaves us with something even more certain than his own testimony. You have the testimony of the Word of God. Peter says: “We have the word of the prophets made more certain…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. [vv.19ff NIV]
You don’t just have Peter’s word for it that Jesus is for real, you have the Word of the whole New Testament! The Word which the prophets once spoke aloud has now been written down for all to see. And that Word written in our Bibles was not invented by those who wrote it down, rather the words were authored by God the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit, we are told, who moved the men like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, and Paul to write what they did. Nor was it just general thoughts that God gave to them which the writers then put into their own words. The Spirit gave these “secretaries” of His the very words to record for us. It was divine dictation!
Peter wants you to appreciate the greatness of this and understand how it leads you to see the reality of Christ! When you pick up your Bibles it is God talking to you. Things are revealed to you in that Word about Jesus and the forgiveness of your sins, about your life after death, about the way God wishes to bless you on this earth, and about His will for you. The Word of God shows you and has the power to convince you just how real your Lord actually is and how real His victory for you on the cross is. How real His sacrifice is. How real His resurrection is. How real His abiding help is.
“Is it for real?” On this Transfiguration Sunday we answer, “Yes! Certainly!” for we have the testimony of Peter who saw Christ on the mountain in glory; and we have the Word— authored not by men, but by God—which was not made-up, but revealed, so we could learn about Jesus and rejoice that He really is our great God and Savior. He is for real in every way. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.