Sermon audio here.
The transfiguration of our Lord stands between the glory of Christmas and the agony of Lent. Epiphany shows us that the Christ Child is also the Lenten Scapegoat for your sin. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but they’re also the reason we rejoice. Somehow, we can gather together on a Friday to observe the greatest act of injustice the world has ever known and still call it “Good.”
Epiphany draws our attention to some of the most wonderful truths of Sacred Scripture, painful though they may be. Epiphany shines the Light of Christ into the darkness of your heart, bringing you face to face with your hatred of God. Epiphany diagnoses you as terminal.
Epiphany’s also a thief who steals away your idols. According to Epiphany, you know less about God than any other religion or sect in the world, and this is a good thing. This is because Epiphany insists that there are no angels or stars or warm fuzzy feelings to help you find Christ. Epiphany brings you to His Word, the only place you find Him.
It’s true that you don’t need the Bible to know there’s a god. The Bible itself says all creation declares His glory. This is why there are lots of people who believe in “god” but aren’t Christian. Every religion knows enough of the truth to know there’s a god. Even St. Paul would admit that Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism know something about God. The apostle writes:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Romans 1:18–21).
Everyone knows right from wrong because God has written His law on your heart. It’s true that you can suppress this and the heart can be hardened by sin. As the apostle says, God gave those who persisted in their sin up to their dishonorable passions. Though it causes God an incredible amount of pain to do it, if you love your sin enough, God will let you have it. Satan fishes for men too, only he uses sin as his bait.
Christ fishes for men using something that isn’t self-evident. Other religions know something of God’s will, but they know nothing of the Gospel. How could we have ever known that God would love us enough to send His Son to die for our sin had Christ not told us what He was up to? Left to our own speculation, we’d have no choice but to conclude we have an angry and wrathful God. But Holy Scripture assures you of God’s love for you in Christ Jesus.
But this raises the question about the Bible’s trustworthiness. How do you know you can believe what it says? After all, there are lots of books and people who claim to speak for God. How do you know Christianity’s right? How do you know the Bible isn’t just one great big fairy tale for children and adults?
That’s the subject of today’s epistle. According to St. Peter, speculation has no place in religion. Unfortunately that happens all the time, not only within religions which are inherently idolatrous, but even within Christianity. Speculation belongs to such disciples as philosophy and science. When used rightly, speculation in those areas can result in great blessing and bring glory to God. But in religion, there is no place for speculation.
There can’t be. Religion deals with matters infinitely more valuable. Christianity’s not just about there here and now, though that’s certainly a big concern of God’s. Neither is Christianity all about the hereafter, so we shouldn’t neglect things that are concerned with the present, things like science and ethics. Christianity’s about the life of the world, both now and in the age to come.
This is why we need to avoid speculation when it comes to God. Unless we’re dealing with real, tangible historical facts, we’ve got nothing but opinion and conjecture. But matters of eternal life and death are far too important for guesswork. So the apostle writes:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
There’s no shortage of cleverly devised myths when it comes to religion. Christianity’s different because unlike the other world religions, it’s grounded in history. The Christian faith stands and falls on the claim that Christ, who suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, was raised up to life three days later and presented Himself alive to hundreds of people for the next 40 days.
The historicity of Christianity can also be seen in the fact that Scripture’s filled with genealogies. Why do we have list after list after list, filled with names of people we don’t know? Why include even a single genealogy in the Bible, let alone 30, give or take? Because when you’re dealing with facts, history matters.
Christianity contains no cleverly devised myths. We don’t base our religion on mysterious gold tablets from heaven that nobody ever saw except the guy who dreamed them up, like the Mormons do. Holy Scripture contains the eyewitness testimony of countless men and women through the centuries, men and women from different cultures, who spoke different languages, who knew, in many cases, nothing about the other people involved in the story.
Think about it: the Bible tells a single story that was written by many different people over thousands of years. For such a project to even hang together loosely would be miraculous; yet the testimony of Scripture agrees with itself 100% in every detail. This would be impossible in a book written by so many authors apart from divine intervention. And that’s just what the apostle says: all Scripture is God-breathed. Men spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
And these fallible men spoke the truth, even when it called attention to their fallibility. Who writes a story in which they come off as dense, disloyal, and cowardly? Honest people. In Mark’s Gospel, every time one of the disciples speaks, they sound like utter buffoons. On the evening of Easter Sunday, they’re locked away in terror. Many of the characteristics of those who followed Jesus were far from admirable. Some of them were extortionist, prostitutes, and murders, just to hit the highlights. St. Paul describes the ministry of the Apostles in this way:
We have become as the refuse of the world, the rubbish of all things, even to the present day.
Much more could be said about the historicity of the Bible, but there’s another important sense in which the Holy Spirit reveals it to you as the truth, and that’s by the impact it has on you. Speaking of Scripture, St. Peter says,
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.
The Bible and sermons aren’t mere information about God. They are the very Word of God, even as Baptism crucifies you with Christ and the Sacrament is His very Body and Blood. God’s Word brings about the dawning of daytime in your heart, casting out the gloom of doubt and sadness. The grace of God, which He always and only gives to you through His Word, replaces the cares of this world with the peace that passes all understanding.
God asks you to put this to the test. This is the promise He makes to all who have ears to hear. And yet, so few people bother to pay any attention to His Word and build their lives upon it. You can come to church and go through the motions, but the day never dawns in your heart. This is what happens when your faith never informs how you think or what you say and do. Christianity isn’t merely a list of things you need to believe to go to heaven. It’s a way of life.
Our Lord says those who hear His Word but doesn’t put them into practice will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. When the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, it fell, and great was the fall of it.
But those who are doers of the Word and not hearers only will be like a wise man who built his house on a solid foundation. The rain, floods, and wind will still come, but you will not be destroyed, because your life is founded on Christ. And not only that, but the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
It’s said that death and taxes are the two certainties in life. As likely as these things are, there’s something that’s even more certain: the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God will endure forever.
Soli Deo Gloria
+ Rev. Eric Andersen
Portions adapted from “The Foundation of Our Faith” by Fred H. Lindemann, The Sermon and the Propers
2 Peter 1:16–21
The Transfiguration of Our Lord, 2016: More Certain than Death and Taxes
Around the Word Bible Studies