I have to admit, I feel bad for the apostle Peter. He’s at the same time the best and the worst of human nature and discipleship. He boldly confesses that Jesus is the Christ; two minutes later, boldly tries to keep him from the cross. On the one hand, a rock of faith; on the other, a real devil of dissuasion for our Lord. Tragic, because Peter was among the close confidants of the Lord. Peter, James, and John it always was. This week, the ones who went with him up onto a mountain where he was glorified. And what a scene! Jesus’ face shining like the sun, dazzling white clothes; saints of old appearing and talking with him – Moses & Elijah, Jewish celebrities. So that Peter can’t keep it in. He can’t contain it. He blurts it out (or so I imagine)! “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” And then he holds forth his back-of-a-napkin, Savior-housing plan. “I mean, sure, it’ll just be some stick huts for a while, Jesus – but the master site plan – oh, there’ll be a meditation studio over by the cliff; we can probably fit foreign dignitary housing just down the way; and…it could be glorious!” At least that’s what I imagine he was after – God only knows, actually. We do know this though. Peter proposed to stay on the mountain and, essentially, Jesus said, “No, Peter, we can’t stay here…”
And they didn’t, as we know… Fast forward 30 years or so. Peter, who had seen his Lord die and rise to life again and ascend away, he’s writing to a congregation of Jewish people who are contending for the faith in their day to day lives. They have enemies to battle in society. There are false teachers threatening their church. Peter doesn’t want them to forget the things they need to know in order to meet the glorious coming of Jesus Christ again without fear. And after all this time, Peter truly understands what they need. They don’t need to go far to find it. In fact, as he was first inclined to do on that holy mountain, Peter urges God’s people to stay right here… Because God’s people are ready for Jesus’ glorious coming – they have everything they need – when they stay right here with God’s beloved Son.
That’s where Peter heads this morning. Peter says he wants to make sure God’s people remember all the things they need to know. But they aren’t story-things. They’re not things that Peter and others made up. They’re not myths craftily devised about the beginnings of the world, or of superhero figures, or self-actualization. No, these are facts – real-life – eye-witness things. In a brief, passing way, Peter’s making a case. Eyewitness testimony is important stuff in a courtroom. It’s not like hear-say evidence (what somebody heard about something else). Eyewitness testimony says that one was there, right where they needed to be to see how things went down, what really happened. Peter emphasizes that he was there to see the majesty of Jesus Christ – the royal power and authority. Why is that important? So he can intelligently encourage about what’s necessary to meet that majesty on Judgment Day, when Jesus comes again with power. Do you see what it is? The majesty of Jesus Christ is the glorious honor that he received from God the Father on that day on the mountain. Exactly what’s necessary to meet God’s glory is this: that about Jesus it was said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Mark what Peter’s saying. Of all the things we might feel we need or are told we need for this life – or even to be ready for the next life – this is it. The knowledge that Jesus Christ is God’s Son – one God with him from eternity, distinct from him in person – the Son of the Father, sent by him to us… Not only so, but he is God’s Son who was sent among us, and upon arriving and living and working and preaching, he is loved by God for the work he has done. In fact, more than just loved – everything Jesus did left the majestic, glorious, and almighty God pleased. In the work of Jesus Christ, God is totally happy.
That’s key, my friends. When we gather like this in the coming weeks – and think of our sins and the guilt that stains us on Ash Wednesday – we’ll look to Jesus’ work to remove that guilt. And he is pleasing to God. When we see him handed over by his own disciples and we know our own betrayals and our own fears – we’ll look to Jesus’ death to pay for those sins. And his work is pleasing to God. When we’re tempted with the disciples to not really grasp that Jesus could be alive again or what value that holds – we’ll look for his resurrection as the promise that the power of sin over us is dead and, indeed, without that work our faith is worthless. And Jesus’ resurrection work is pleasing to God. That is, God fully accepts the work of Jesus Christ the Savior, the work he does on our behalf to win our salvation — God loves it and him and, by faith in that work, God loves and is pleased with you. Peter says, “We were there with him. We saw this glory. You? For confidence as you look toward the powerful return of Jesus? You stay right here with God’s beloved Son and you’ll have everything you need…”
But…is he here? Peter had Jesus right there, in the flesh, shining and glorious. But you and me? Jesus isn’t whispering in our ears. Jesus doesn’t raise us up from face-down fear. Not in-person… Perhaps we think about that… We don’t have a glorious mountaintop existence – we’re worried about coronavirus and how long the market can stay at 29,000. We haven’t seen the shining face of Jesus ourselves like Peter did; we don’t even really know what he looked like. Perhaps we’re tempted to think we need Peter’s experience ourselves. The world is dark and scary and unsure and we’re tempted to all sorts of wisdom to light our ways – to take up the so called “enlightened” ways of our culture so we can really understand how life ought to be and enjoy all the things it provides. Maybe as Christians now and again we’re tempted to think, “Well, we’ve just got this musty old book…”
I think Peter understands that distinction between you and him – in fact, I think he marks it by his own words. In the gospel, God’s sentence went like this: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” In his letter, Peter leaves off that last bit… Perhaps it’s because Peter understands that we don’t have Jesus face to face like he did. But Peter also knew that God still does speak to us through his Son. It happens right here where we have God’s sure Word.
There’s no doubt we have what we need right now – to translate it in a slightly better way, “We also have the completely reliable prophetic word.” Go back and read the prophecies of Isaiah of the Savior who was to come – the hundreds of prophecies you can mark out – and each one fulfilled in Jesus – each prophecy from long before, the prophets’ words fulfilled in history and witnessed by many. And, what’s more, it’s not just human words we have. Jesus asked that God would do what Pastor Kolander referenced last week – make us holy – “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (Jn 17:17) He proclaimed that these words we read each week aren’t just human words. Not just the encouragement of a sinful, broken apostle in Peter. No – by the Spirit of God men conveyed the very Words of God himself – they were carried along by him and used to put his Words out to the world by way of the words of each of those prophets. And, in fact, our conviction is if we’re faithful to our jobs, then even here it’s not just the ramblings of a pastor on Sunday morning – but the Word of God expounded and explained as God himself intended it. Not my private, own interpretation. Not Peter’s pet project. Not Paul’s personal word… The Word of God, very, very sure and certain we have.
Peter’s encouragement to you and to me? “[Y]ou will do well to pay attention to [that Word of God], as to a light shining in a dark place…” Imagine being in your basement at night when the power goes out. Down there it’s bound to be black as pitch with no light. If you were in that situation, and you had a flashlight, you would hang on to that thing. Without it you’re stumbling in the dark, potential injury, fearful. But with it, you see exactly where to go. This world is dark. People seek enlightenment and wisdom – light on the path to see where to go. But human paths lead only to the dark fires of hell. They can do nothing more than produce the same outcomes humans have always achieved: they fall short of God’s glory. But through his Word, God has “made his light shine in our hearts [by faith] to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6) That is, we are enlightened; we understand what is truly glorious, what readies us to meet majesty. It’s in the shining face of Jesus Christ on this Transfiguration Day. It shines with all the glory of heaven Jesus previously owned but had set aside to come here; shining so his disciples could see it as he set it aside again and turned that face toward the cross to do one thing only — accomplish the will of God by his death to win our salvation. There is light – enlightenment – the way through this dark world. Literally the only one of its kind. Not by our works but God’s gift, free and clear, to us. In God’s very certain Word this way of salvation is ours. As Peter says, we more than “pay attention to” but hold and keep it so that in Jesus’ light we walk and toward his heaven we go and with Jesus’ light we shine in every kind of good work that will call others to acknowledge with us the glory of God that is coming – and we be ready for it.
I recognize on days like these then, that Peter’s in a rather enviable position for all his foibles. Used by God to point you and me to the confidence we have as wait for the bright Morning Star to dawn and trumpet God’s great, final day, when brilliant beams of heavenly light spill over the horizon and into our hearts. When we will have the joy of knowing God, not by faith, but by sight. This morning, God speaks through Peter to remind that in order to get there we have everything we need right here. Stay, my friends, where God’s beloved Son is shown in the Word of God that is certain and sure. Amen.