Something More Sure
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“We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:18-19).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
How many times have you had to make an important decision and wished that God would speak to you and tell you what to do? How many times have you wished that God would give you some sort of sign about what you should do? How many times has He? I can think of at least a couple of occasions where I thought God was speaking to me, but as things turned out, it was not His voice at all.
But on this day on the Mount of Transfiguration, it was most definitely the voice of God the Father. He says, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Still, Peter tells the churches in our Epistle, “We have something more sure... to which you will do well to pay attention…”
Something more sure? What could possibly be more sure than Jesus shining in all His glory? What could be more sure than Moses and Elijah suddenly appearing to speak with Jesus? What could be more sure than the bright cloud of God’s glory covering your own mountain? What could possibly be more sure than a voice from heaven… especially the voice of God the Father Himself?
We’ll get to that, but first, let’s unpack the rest of our reading for today.
Jesus had just begun to show His disciples that God’s plan for Him will take Him to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Unable to comprehend a suffering and dying Savior, Peter had taken Jesus aside and rebuked Him: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” After rebuking Peter and his satanic words, Jesus teaches His disciples that their way will be the way of the cross as well.
But that does not mean there will be no glory. Jesus has grounded His teaching in the promise that He is about to come in power and glory to judge everyone. In fact, before they taste death, some of the disciples will see with their own eyes Christ coming in His kingdom. This Son of Man who goes to the cross is also the Son of God who will be raised and appear in unthinkable glory.
In the transfiguration, God gives some of the disciples the privilege of seeing the glory of Jesus, so that they might continue to learn that “cross” and “glory” are not mutually exclusive, but are the divinely ordained sequence of salvation, both for the One who accomplishes it and for those who receive it in Him.
Our text moves, in a sense, from one glory to another. Jesus ascends a very high mountain, taking three disciples with Him. Jesus’ appearance is radically changed before their eyes. His face shines like the sun, and His clothes become white as light. And if that were not impressive enough, Moses and Elijah appear and they speak with Jesus. Incredibly, Peter interrupts with his own impetuous words. “Lord, it is good that we are here.” And then he offers to make three tents, a proposal that is perhaps intended to prolong the mountaintop experience, but in effect, implies that Jesus is merely equal to Moses and Elijah.
The voice from the cloud sets the record straight: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” It’s basically the same words spoken at Jesus’ Baptism, but this time they are especially spoken for the disciples’ benefit, so we have the added words, “Listen to Him.”
So what does it mean, “Listen to Him”? On the one hand it would be easy to conclude that this is a general command from the Father that Jesus’ disciples should listen to everything that He has to teach them (Matthew 28:20). But given the context of this passage it probably has a more specific intent. The particular truth to which Jesus’ disciples need to listen is the new emphasis that Jesus has begun to show His disciples about the way of the cross for Himself and them. Without this understanding of Jesus’ person and work, there can be no true understanding of Jesus at all. Without this understanding of discipleship, there can be no discipleship, for without Jesus’ cross there is no salvation!
The disciples fall on their faces and are terrified. Jesus approaches, touches them, and speaks an encouraging word: “Rise, and have no fear.” The disciples look up. The cloud is gone, Moses and Elijah are gone, and they see Jesus only. And although the vision fades, the truth does not fade away. Jesus is the true Son of God, filled with splendor and glory. But before that glory is revealed to all, He has a strange and terrible work to do in order to save His people from their sin.
On the way down the mountain Jesus instructs His disciples not to tell anybody about His transfiguration until after His resurrection. The temptation to remain in the glory rather than obediently take up one’s cross is just too strong. Jesus would let nothing get in the way of His date with the cross.
In due time, however, Peter could tell the whole world. We heard his report just a few minutes ago. “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths 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, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.”
It was a spectacular affirmation of Christ’s glory. But Peter focuses on something more important: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
The Christians to whom Peter is writing are drifting into uncertainty about what to believe. False teachers are exploiting them with their own made-up revelations and are promising the people pleasure and “freedom.” All of this contradicts the Gospel they have heard from Peter and the other apostles. And much like in our own day, many of the people, no longer know which “truth” to believe or which authority to follow. But there are not many truths; there is only one truth. And so Peter points them to “something more sure,” the prophetic Word of God, the Word of the apostolic witnesses.
All attacks of Satan on the Church eventually come around to this—an attack on the apostles and the prophets as the true and authoritative sources of information about the Lord. It is a tactic as old as Eden: “Did God really say…?”
Peter recognizes the potential peril. These new teachers are denying the power and coming of Jesus Christ. They are leading the people to doubt that Jesus really does possess and exercise God’s power, that He really does enter people’s lives and work on their behalf. They are leading people to think that Jesus will never come back, that they are not accountable to Him for their beliefs and lives. Sound familiar? It’s always the same lie: “You will not surely die.”
The bitter irony is that the very people who are accusing Peter of making up cleverly invented stories are the ones who are making up cleverly invented stories. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. But, as Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels rediscovered many centuries later, if you tell lies long enough and loudly enough, people will start to believe them, no matter how unfounded or outrageous.
Peter directs the confused Christians of Asia Minor to the timeless truths and righteous rock of Scripture. At a time when many people claim to be speaking for God, it is reassuring to know that there is a written, unshakeable source of spiritual information and authority—God’s holy Word is a glorious light in the spiritual darkness. A lamp for our feet and a light for our path.
Satan is the prince of darkness, and everybody who works for him—knowingly or unknowingly—spreads his darkness. In Satan’s darkness some people are proud of their own goodness, hostile to the idea of needing a Savior, and satisfied that they can get by all right on their own. Others in the darkness feel despair and fear, knowing that they are evil, but not knowing or daring to believe that there is a Savior for them. And still others simply do not care about spiritual things; apathy rules their hearts. Like animals, their highest concern is in satisfying their appetites. Satan, the father of lies, uses false teachers to push Christians into these kinds of darkness with His same age-old lies.
But God’s Word will never lie; it is absolutely dependable; we can stake our lives on it. The best way for us to grow in their certainty of what we believe is to go back to God’s Word again and again. The ugly things that fly out of the gates of hell itself cannot prevail against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we love to sing, “”This world’s prince my still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged the deed is done; one little word can fell him.” God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place. It illumines our minds and hearts, setting us free from darkness of sin and death. We do well to pay attention to that Word, for it alone drives back the darkness of sin and the confusion of hell.
In the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John were given a special revelation. The Lord was preparing them for what lay ahead as they went out in the world. But they wouldn’t go out alone against the world. Jesus would be with them, even following His death, resurrection, and ascension. As He promised, He would be with them to the very end of the age.
In the same way, Christ is with us now, not just in spirit, but in reality. When we gather together in the name of the Lord who comes to us through Word and Sacrament, it is good to do so. We declare our confession of the faith to God and to one another, and proclaim Christ’s name until His return.
As we exit this holy place, our steps do not take us directly to our eternal glory, rather back to our vocations—mother, father, son, daughter, student, employee, employer, or whatever. We have loved ones to care for. There are diseases to live with and burdens to bear. There’s work be done in our Lord’s kingdom. In the days ahead, we’ll walk through valleys of the shadow of death. Satan will be ready to accuse us and attempt to snatch us away. There will be troubles, disappointments, and challenges. In the face of such battles, you and I need encouragement. We need that “something more sure” to keep us going on.
What is something more sure than Moses and Elijah speaking on a mountain? The Word of God through which the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with His gifts, sanctifies, and keeps up you in the faith. The prophetic, apostolic Word, which guides and directs God’s people like a light shining in the darkness.
What is something more sure than a mountaintop experience with Jesus? Your Baptism, where God the Father declares that for Jesus’ sake, you are His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased. You are an heir of the kingdom of heaven, united with Christ in His death and resurrection.
What is something more sure than Jesus shining in all of His glory? The Lord’s Supper, where the glory of Jesus is hidden in, with, and under the bread and the wine. In the Sacrament of the Altar, Christ’s very body and blood is given to you for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith.
What is something more sure than a voice from heaven? The Absolution spoken by Christ’s called and ordained servant. Though the sound comes out of your pastor’s mouth and rolls off of his tongue, the Word of forgiveness comes from Christ alone. Listen to Him: “I forgive you for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.