Last Epiphany A
February 20, 2017
Author: Scott HoezeeIn the Harry Potter books, the students at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy have to take a course in “Transfiguration.” There they learn how to change teacups into rats or flowers into candles. And to most people’s minds that is pretty much what “transfiguration” is, too: it is a change of state from one thing into something quite different. The Greek word used in Matthew 17 is the word from which we derive the English word “metamorphosis” and that word likewise conjures up caterpillars turning into butterflies or a Franz Kafka character waking up one day only to discover he had turned into a giant beetle. But none of those associations seems quite apt for whatever it was that happened to Jesus on that mountaintop. We don’t want to say (do we?) that Jesus changed from one kind of being into a completely different type. For the better part of two millennia now the church has struggled to hold in tension the idea that Jesus was one person with two natures (fully human and fully divine) and that those two natures co-existed in Jesus without confusion, without mixture, without one altering the other, and so on (cf. The Athanasian Creed for an exceedingly thorough drubbing on this subject). So we can’t theologically countenance the idea that Jesus could toggle between being either human or divine, as though he had not been both at the same time all along. To avoid this, we could say that what happened on the mountaintop is that the divine nature rose to prominence in a way that had not generally been the case throughout Jesus’ earthly existence up to that point. Or we could say that for a few brief moments the Father showed the disciples what Jesus (as Son of God) had always looked like before he emptied or stripped himself of certain ordinary divine traits so as to become incarnately human (think of it as a temporary reversal on the kind of kenosis spelled out in Philippians 2). Either way or both ways, however, it was not that Jesus became something he generally speaking was not but more the case that something that was a part of who he had been all along was displayed in a different way. This may be important to remember. Because when Jesus said things like “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” he didn’t mean just this one incident of blazing glory. He meant that divinity had been on display every day of his life. Divinity was on display when he spoke kindly to ostracized women and outcast lepers. Divinity was on display when Jesus wept over a dead friend and when he smiled gently at a misguided yet earnest rich young ruler. In other words, we dare never say of Matthew 17 that this was one time when we could see Jesus as divine in addition to being also human. After all, this lection occurs on the final Sunday before the start of Lent and we want to be clear all through the Lenten Season that the glory of the Father and of the fullness of the Godhead were on display even when a crown of thorns got pressed into the flesh of Jesus’ scalp, even when that same man was hoisted up on a spit of wood like some grim scarecrow atop a garbage heap. When Peter made his impetuous suggestion that they capture the moment forever by building some shelters up there on the mountaintop, the foolishness of his suggestion is not what we normally think it is; namely, that you just can’t just reach out and bottle divine incandescence as though you were doing no more than capturing a firefly in a jar. No, the true folly of Peter’s suggestion stems from the fact that he didn’t need shelters to capture what was going on up there on the mountain: that same reality had been with him and the other disciples from the very first day they met Jesus. Peter suggested that they build skene, or “tabernacles/tents,” which is the same word John uses in his prologue about Jesus “tabernacling” in our midst. The skene Peter sought had been with him in Jesus’ fleshly tent all along. When the spectacle was over, verse 8 says that the disciples looked up “and saw no one except Jesus.” But had anything really changed? Was Jesus any less glorious then than he had been a few moments earlier? And what about when Jesus would soon get to that point when he would become, in the words of the prophet, “like one from whom people hide their faces”? Was he any less glorious there as the true Son of God than in those few moments of obvious shining? It is ironic that this moment of transfiguration always strikes us as being all about what can be seen and yet when God’s voice thunders from heaven, what he says is that the disciples must listen to Jesus! Apparently, if they listen to what Jesus says, they will discover windows on glory they had never before suspected were there. Perhaps it’s no different today. Our modern time is as enamored of outward glitz and glitter and eye-popping spectacles as any era has ever been. The media is drawn to megachurches full of glamour. Our attention is nabbed by the spectacular, the superstars, the headline grabbers. But true glory lurks in unexpected places and in generally humble wrappings. It lurks in every believer, in all those about whom Jesus once prayed to be one with even as he and his Father were one. It’s when we listen to the Word of Jesus, including when that Word comes through any number of Jesus’ latter-day followers, that we start to see the glory we too often miss. Curiously, Jesus tells the disciples to tell no one about this incident until after he had been raised from the dead. But, of course, once Jesus was raised, he didn’t stick around long. By the time the disciples were free to tell folks about this, they would not be able to point to Jesus in physical form. He’d be gone back to heaven by then and so all that would be left would be words and witness and things to which people could listen. Compared to that, we’d all like to join Peter and capture the more obvious features of glory. What we really are left to do, however, is to see the glory that surrounds us always whenever we hear and repeat the Word of Life that just is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Additional Resources for Lent and Holy Week now available here. We are grateful so many hundreds of pastors visit our website every day. CEP’s resources have always been and will always remain free. But if you and your church find this useful, would you consider making a donation to help fund the Center’s work? Or might your church schedule an offering for the Center some Sunday? If interested in donating, please visit this page. Thank You! Textual Points Frederick Dale Bruner points out that the Transfiguration has three main biblical parallels: Exodus 34:29-35 where Moses’ face was said to shine with the reflected glory of Yahweh after his meeting with God on the holy mountain; 2 Peter 1:16-18 where Peter makes overt reference to this incident and all the confirming words and signs that accompanied it;. and Deuteronomy 18:15 where God (through Moses) predicts that he will one day raise up a prophet like Moses and that when that one comes, the people will have to listen to them. By the way: as most scholars of the Old Testament know, the Deut. 18 text is a key text to understand the role of the Prophet in ancient Israel but also as a key text that points forward to the ultimate Prophet, Jesus Christ. A key job of the Prophet in Israel was to mediate the covenant by applying Torah, the Law, to the people. Sometimes that application was in a call to return to God’s covenant intentions for his people and often that call came in the form of rebuke and the cry of repentance to a stiff-necked and disobedient people. This is in part why Moses (Law) and Elijah (Prophet) appear with Jesus even as Jesus in his own being fulfills the Law and the Prophets perfectly, not so much applying the Law to the people as fulfilling its very purpose through his own life and sacrificial death. Illustration Idea In popular culture in recent years a great many people are aware of a now-famous transfiguration scene from Peter Jackson’s first The Lord of the Rings films. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spHEw2n9LwE In this scene, the Elf queen Galadriel is offered the one Ring of power by the Hobbit Frodo Baggins. This is tempting for even as strong a spiritual being as Galadriel because in her hands, she could indeed wield the Ring to great and powerful effect. But like the wizard Gandalf (who likewise refuses to touch or take the Ring), she knows she would be utterly corrupted by the Ring’s evil. Thus, in the end, she will not touch or take the Ring from Frodo. She cannot. But in the scene, she briefly toys with the idea and so transfigures into a towering figure with a voice like the sound of many rushing waters. She shines with a bright, incandescent light of terrifying power before finally shrinking back down to an ordinary sized and normal looking Elf. The difference between this kind of scene and Christ upon the mountaintop in Matthew 17 is that Jesus did not transfigure into something he was not—much less into something potentially awful—but rather reveals what he already is as the true Messiah, the true Son of God. And it’s kind of a reverse Galadriel transfiguration in another sense: Galadriel transfigured at the prospect of taking on huge powers; Jesus transfigured into his true glory, which was ordinarily hidden from the disciples’ eyes on account of Jesus’ having given up his true divine powers in order to be born also truly human. And it was the giving up of those divine powers and perquisites that spells the salvation of our cosmos!
Author: Doug BrattPerhaps few preachers and teachers will tackle Exodus 24 as a stand-alone passage, even on Transfiguration Sunday. That’s, however, at least somewhat regrettable. The Spirit has, after all, embedded at least a few gems into this passage. Exodus 24 functions as a kind of “swing chapter,” in the words of Old Testament scholar, Terrence Fretheim. We might also (far less eloquently) call it a kind of “peanut better and jelly” chapter. The Spirit “sandwiches” it, after all, between chapters 20-23 and 25-32’s guides for holy living. Among the things that distinguishes those two “slices of bread” is that while God speaks chapters 20-23 to all the people of Israel, God addresses chapters 25-32 to Moses, whom God, in turn, expects to relay that message to the Israelites. Moses spends a fair bit of Exodus 19-33 clambering up and down Mt. Sinai, sometimes alone, sometimes with a hiking party. However, he’s always alone when he reaches its summit. There he sees and hears things no one on this side of the new creation’s curtain can even begin to imagine. After all, on Mount Sinai, Israel’s leader, encounters Yahweh, the living God of heaven and earth. Exodus 24:1 reports that God calls Moses to leave most of the Israelites at Sinai’s base, but to take Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, as well as Israel’s seventy elders with him part way up the mountain. On their way, we learn in verse 10 (what the Lectionary for some unknown reason omits from its appointed text for this Sunday) that while they may join ancient cultures in expecting some kind of divine revelation, they actually glimpse the Divine himself: “the God of Israel.” We can only imagine how it must have made the Israelites’ eyes almost pop out of their heads and tongues nearly fall out of their mouths. Does this sight so rattle the members of the Israelite religious leaders’ hiking party so deeply that they forget to record what God looked like? After all, Exodus 24 doesn’t describe God’s physical appearance. It’s almost as if it can only stammer out what the ground on which God stood looks like: “something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.” It’s all enough to make Exodus’ narrator marvel: “God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, they ate and they drank.” Is it almost a picture of God somehow almost sharing a kind of picnic with the Israelite leaders? It’s no wonder, then, that when Moses obeys the Lord by telling all but Aaron to “Wait here for us until we come back to you,” those leaders don’t argue with him the way they so often do. Who on earth, after all, would want to risk running into the God of Israel a second time? Of course, those leaders eventually get so sick of waiting for Moses to come back to them that they do lethally dangerous things. But that’s another grim story for another Sunday. In verse 12 of the text the Lectionary appoints for this Sunday, God picks up on verse 2’s theme by telling Moses to come closer so that God can give him “two tablets of stone, with the laws and commands” God has “written for” the Israelites’ instruction. Though our text doesn’t actually say so, it implies that Moses sheds even Joshua on the final leg of his climb to the top. After all, God has insisted even Joshua “must not come near” (2) the Lord. God (and Israel, cf. Exodus 20:19) gave Moses the unique and, as it will turn out, dangerous job of serving as a mediator between the Lord and Israel. Moses speaks to Israel for God and for God to Israel. So the text the Lectionary appoints for this Sunday serves to impress on God’s Israelite sons and daughters that what Moses eventually brings back to them is not the result of his own brainstorm, but the very message of God delivered through him. It is to be faithfully obeyed in grateful response to God’s saving and sustaining work for her. As Moses approaches Sinai’s summit, a “cloud” swallows him up. However, this cloud isn’t just the typical collection of water droplets. This is somehow none other than “the glory of the Lord” (16). Yet while the biblical writers portray God’s presence with God’s people in a number of ways, including in the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle and temple, “God in a cloud” is a bit unique. It’s interesting to note that when the Israelites catch a glimpse of Mount Sinai, they don’t apparently see the cloud that has swallowed up Moses. Verse 17 says, “The glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” God is, after all, utterly holy. This God, the sight of whose glory must surely almost make the Israelites tremble, is no one to be trifled with. This Lord is majestic and holy, to be approached only with complete awe and reverence. And yet Moses, at God’s gracious summons, does approach the Lord. With what I imagine to be fear and trembling, with each passing day, six of them, in fact, he sits before the holy and living God of heaven and earth. Only on the seventh day does God finally call him to come even closer to the Lord. Where Moses promptly ends up sitting forty more days and nights. Where Moses hears God explain just what it will mean for Israel to live in holy ways when they finally arrive in the land of promise. On this Transfiguration Sunday the parallels between the Old and New Testament texts the Lectionary appoints are almost too numerous to list. Of course, no one gets transfigured in Exodus 24. But Moses does appear, of course, both there and in Matthew 17. On a mountain. In a cloud. From which people hear God speaking. However, Moses doesn’t really share Matthew’s spotlight with God the way he does in Exodus 24. He, in fact, seems to play a more minor part. After all, at the center of Matthew 17 is Jesus, the one whom the voice from the cloud calls God’s “Son,” with whom God is well-pleased and whom God wants Jesus’ followers to listen to. There’s no direct mention of God’s glory in Matthew 17. But it’s there. After all, John 1 tells us we have seen God’s “glory, the glory of the One and Only.” Who is that one in whom we see God’s glory, not just on the mountain where he’s transfigured, but also throughout the gospels? It’s Jesus. Only in his case, God’s glory doesn’t strike fear and trembling in the hearts of even those who glimpse it from a distance. God doesn’t even tell everyone but one chosen leader to keep a distance from God’s holiness in Jesus Christ. Instead, God summons us in God’s glorious Son to approach the Lord in hope, faith and love. And people do approach him, sometimes with anger and frustration, but often, propelled by the Spirit, with faith and hope. Additional Resources for Lent and Holy Week now available here. We are grateful so many hundreds of pastors visit our website every day. CEP’s resources have always been and will always remain free. But if you and your church find this useful, would you consider making a donation to help fund the Center’s work? Or might your church schedule an offering for the Center some Sunday? If interested in donating, please visit this page. Thank You! Illustration Idea In her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes, “I have never understood why so many mystics of all creeds experience the presence of God on mountaintops. Aren’t they afraid of being blown away? God said to Moses on Sinai that even the priests, who have access to the Lord, must hallow themselves, for fear that the Lord may break out against them.”
Author: Stan MastThis is Transfiguration Sunday, the glorious conclusion of the season of Epiphany. The story of Christ’s Transfiguration pre-figured in Exodus 24:12-18, told in Matthew 17:1-9, and retold in II Peter 1:16-21 (our other lectionary readings for today) is given a dark twist in our reading from Psalm 2. The other lectionary readings point to the brightest revelation of Christ’s glory before his resurrection. But Psalm 2 seems to speak not of a glowing Christ, but of a glowering Christ who rules with an iron scepter, flares into dangerous anger, and dashes his enemies to pieces. That is hardly a comforting message, unless you are feeling depressed over the seemingly overwhelming power of evil in the world. That is not a picture of Christ most of us will want to preach, unless our congregations are feeling endangered by the anti-Christian tsunami that is sweeping over the world. Even if some of your congregants feel that way, many others will not like the strident tone of Psalm 2, because they (appropriately) want to love even their enemies. But before you turn away from Psalm 2 on this Transfiguration Sunday, consider the value of presenting your listeners with a very different view of history than they will find anywhere else. All day every day we are assaulted with the story of nation rising up against nation, human beings going to war with their fellow human beings, and we get caught up in that story. We take sides and become partisan in multiple ways. Some of your more spiritual listeners, informed by Bible passages like Ephesians 6:10-20, will understand that our battle is “not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly realms.” Call that a more spiritual view of history. But Psalm 2 gives us a distinctively Christological view of history. At the heart of human affairs is not a geopolitical struggle between nations or spiritual warfare between believers and the Devil, but the age-old battle of evil against God. It began in the Garden (Genesis 3:15) and it will end at Armageddon. The nations and their rulers (humanity in organized rebellion) are trying to throw off the reign of God and his Anointed. “We can only be truly free when we are free of God and his rule.” Many of your listeners do not view history this way, and some will scoff at such an understanding of what is happening in the world. That is precisely why Psalm 2 is such a good choice for today. Here’s the heart of the matter according to Psalm 2. Verses 1-3 reveal that there is a conspiracy going on in human history, an earthly conspiracy against heaven. Verses 4-6 let us in on the heavenly response to the conspiracy. Verses 7-9 reveal the secret mission of God’s Anointed on earth. Verses 10-12 give fair warning and the promise of refuge to the whole world. Before we go into a detailed study of those four stanzas of Psalm 2, we must wrestle with a larger question. Who is speaking in Psalm 2? Or more accurately, who is “the Anointed” of which Psalm 2 speaks? Older scholars like Calvin assume that the Psalm is talking about King David first of all. With God’s help, he had conquered many nations, but now the leaders of those nations are rebelling against the Kingdom of God represented by Israel. Psalm 2, then, is a promise of David’s ultimate victory. More recent scholars see Psalm 2 as a royal Psalm used at the coronation of kings in the Davidic line. Rather than applying the Psalm to the original king, it becomes an assurance or a blessing to each subsequent king who sits on the throne of David. Because Yahweh is on our side and, indeed, our king is “the Son” of God, the line of David and the Kingdom of Israel will survive and be victorious, even if the present geopolitical situation is threatening. While not denying those original meanings of Psalm 2, many scholars give an explicitly Messianic interpretation of this Psalm. They note that the word “Anointed” in the Hebrew is meshiac, while the Greek is christos, both of which are the English word “Messiah.” While that may be no more than verbal coincidence, the use of Psalm 2 in the New Testament is more conclusive. Again and again, New Testament authors take Psalm 2 as the story of Christ written on a cosmic or at least global scale. Acts 4:24-27 claims that the crucifixion of Christ by the Jewish and Roman authorities was an explicit fulfillment of Psalm 2. Hebrews 1:5 uses Psalm 2 to prove the divine superiority of Christ over all things. Revelation 12:5 quotes Psalm 2:9 in ascribing to Christ world-wide dominion. The words “you are my Son” were central to the early Christian claim that Jesus was precisely that. See also Acts 13:33, Heb. 5:5, and I John 5:9. So, in the last analysis, Psalm 2 is about Christ, the Messiah whom God sent to earth to quell the rebellion and establish the Kingdom of God in all its glory. It does, indeed, give us a Christological interpretation of human history. Whatever humans and demons might being doing in history, here’s what God is up to, and what God will accomplish. Let’s look at the details of the story. The Psalm opens with a word that is ubiquitous in human experience and, thus, in Scripture. “Why?” Often this question is addressed to God when we face unexplainable suffering. “Why, O God, is this happening to me?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Here the question is addressed to rebellious humans by God, or by his people. It assumes that “the nations and peoples” (the typical Hebrew words for non-Jews) are rebelling against God. It asks in amazement and puzzlement, why would they do that? As the rest of the Psalm reveals, such rebellion is as foolish as it is useless. Why would God’s most god-like creatures rebel against a loving God who only intends them good? And why would mere creatures think they could possibly succeed in their rebellion against the Almighty? But rebel they do. What shape does their rebellion take? Well, at this point, it is all talk. They “conspire” and they “plot.” “They take their stand and they gather together against the Lord and his Anointed.” They present a united front. “We all agree. It’s all of us against the two of them.” But all they can do is talk. “’Let us break their chains,’ they say, ‘and throw off their fetters.’” Humans in rebellion see God and his Law as the source of their bondage and failure, so they want to get rid of them. “If we could be gods and do whatever we want, we would be free and happy.” So they say. And that’s all the rebels can do in the face of God’s sovereignty—say, speak, conspire and plot, take a verbal stand and present a united front. But they can’t ultimately do a thing that will change God’s sovereignty. The fundamental powerlessness of rebellious humanity is the reason for God’s surprising response to their rebellion. “The One enthroned on high laughs….” Is this the amused laughter of an indulgent father who has just been struck on the leg by a defiant toddler? No, it’s not quite that benign, although the word “laughs” does hint at what will come later, much later. This is a scoffing laughter, a laughter born of invincible power, a laughter that sees such rebellion as foolish, irrational, infantile, and useless. Though it may ultimately prove to be loving laughter, it is not gentle or approving laughter. Instead, this laughter turns to anger after a while, when God’s patience wears thin. “Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath….” This kind of talk about God is not acceptable to many Christians today. With Marcion and many sensitive Christians throughout the centuries, some of your listeners hear such language as pre-Christian, even un-Christian, the legacy of the primitive, violent religion of the Old Testament. Since Jesus came, we think of God as more loving and gracious. The Father of Jesus would never get angry, so we will simply ignore passages that speak of the wrath of God. What shall we say to this way of reading Psalm 2 and so many other passages? Well, quite apart from the fact that we lose much of sacred Scripture with such a bias, we also end up with a God who is morally tepid and spiritually weak. If God doesn’t respond to evil with something like anger, what kind of God is that? Indifferent, uncaring, uncompassionate? A sort of “whatever, dude” God who is not moved by the suffering of vast portions of the human race? What kind of God doesn’t rebuke human rebellion? What kind of God doesn’t get angry and do something radical to stop the rebellion? Not the Father of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it is precisely Jesus Christ that the Psalmist turns to next in Psalm 2. God’s response to human rebellion is not just scornful laughter and angry rebuke. It is, pre-eminently, the proclamation that there is a new King. And God doesn’t just speak (the only thing the rebels can do). God actually does something. “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill.” As I said before, this undoubtedly referred originally to David and his successors. But ultimately all of them failed in the mission God gave them. So God let them sink into the dust of history and sent a new King, the Messiah. He will bring the freedom the rebels hoped to find by getting rid of God. “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Verses 7-9 lay out the mission of the King God will send. That mission begins with his commission. “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” Some scholars see these words as reflective of the ancient tradition of seeing kings as “sons of God.” But our Gospel reading for today (Matthew 17:1-9) pushes us in the direction of taking these words literally. At his Transfiguration (as well as at his Baptism), Jesus was publicly declared to be God’s own Son. Though he was always God the Son, there were moments in history (“today”) when God made that eternal Sonship public to a select few. The mission of the Son of God, the Messiah King, was to end the rebellion, to take the earth back for God, and to re-establish the kingdom of God on earth. Thus, God urges his Son to ask for success in his mission (and we are told by the New Testament how often and how passionately Jesus prayed). God promises that the rebellious nations will be “your inheritance,” “your possession.” That’s all well and good, but what will become of the rebels? “You will rule them with an iron scepter.” Isn’t that the very kind of harsh reign against which humanity rebelled in the beginning. And “you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” How can we preach such repressive, violent stuff? Who can look forward in hope to such a terrible end for millions of our fellow human beings? Well, let’s ask this question. Are we doing people a favor if we don’t warn them of danger on the road ahead? If you see a child about to run onto a busy freeway, are you a loving and responsible person if you don’t shout a warning and even try to jerk that child out of harm’s way? That is exactly what Psalm 2 does next. Quite apart from the question of final justice, Psalm 2 uses the picture of Christ’s strong reign as a warning to all the rebels. “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.” This is a surprising turn in an otherwise fierce Psalm. Rather than simply threatening the rebels who want to throw God off his throne and who reject his Anointed One, God invites them to come home. Granted, it’s not an easy home-going. You don’t just waltz back into the kingdom carrying your armor and weapons, proud and cocky that you’ve survived your own foolishness. No, you have to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” You have to surrender to the King. Indeed, you have to kiss the King, the Son of God. That kiss is not so much a sign of affection as it is a sign of surrender, fealty, obeisance, loyalty. Jesus is not a King to be trifled with. The rebellion has been a terrible thing. God has done a terrible thing in sending his Son to suffer and die for rebels. So, we must take him and our sins seriously. A King despised and rejected is dangerous, even though he is full of mercy. That must be what Psalm 2 means when it says that a final rejection of the King will end in destruction. We don’t like to think of an angry Jesus, but we see him in the Gospels sometimes, when sinners won’t repent or when death wins. But that isn’t what God wants, obviously. What God wants is that people finally come to the King, the Son of God, and “find refuge in him.” Speaking to the nations and peoples, the rebels and the members of his kingdom, God’s final word is a beatitude that matches the beatitude with which Psalm 1 begins. That one says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked….” This one says, “Blessed is the one (even the wicked) who takes refuge in him.” That’s what God is doing in history, in response to the rebellion. He’s offering refuge to the rebels by sending his Son. All who find refuge in him will finally be blessed, happy, the very thing humans were seeking when they rebelled against God. What kind of God does such a thing? The God who is revealed in the Transfiguration of Christ. How can we apply this Psalm to the lives of our people? We could preach a challenging sermon, taking Calvin’s tack and emphasizing the absolute necessity of allegiance to Christ. “Let this, therefore, be held as a settled point, that all who do not submit themselves to the authority of Christ make war against God. Since it seems good to God to rule us by the hand of his own Son, those who refuse to obey Christ himself deny the authority of God….” Or we could preach on the comfort of knowing that Christ is in charge of everything, even when it seems as though the “nations and peoples” are in control of history. We should not be unduly alarmed over attacks against Christ and his Kingdom. In the end, the rebellion cannot succeed. Or we could preach Psalm 2 as a message of hope. Even though human rulers regularly fail, we have a hope that is certain. God has declared that his Son will reign. He does reign now, but not yet in a way that is visible or complete. But he will reign one day in all his visible glory. In other words, on this Sunday of Transfiguration we could preach an eschatological message of hope. What only a few saw at Christ’s Transfiguration, every eye will see at his final Epiphany, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess…. Additional Resources for Lent and Holy Week now available here. We are grateful so many hundreds of pastors visit our website every day. CEP’s resources have always been and will always remain free. But if you and your church find this useful, would you consider making a donation to help fund the Center’s work? Or might your church schedule an offering for the Center some Sunday? If interested in donating, please visit this page. Thank You! Illustration Idea The view of history presented in Psalm 2 is presented graphically in the movies based on Tolkien’s Trilogy of the Ring, where a battle between good and evil shakes the earth. Or think of the whole “Stars Wars” saga, except that in those movies the rebels are the good guys and the Emperor is evil. And the deciding factor is the Force, not the Son. But as a foil, those movies might help contemporary and younger audiences live into a story of global, even cosmic battle.
2 Peter 1:16-21
Author: Scott HoezeeIt’s wonderful when you can see that a very important lesson finally took hold and sunk in for someone. If you are a teacher, then seeing a student avoid making the same mistakes all over again as a result of your instruction is so very rewarding. Some days those of us who teach wonder if we are doing any good at all—does anyone really listen or learn? And then the day comes when you realize people do learn and can change for the better as a result and that’s a mighty fine day! Among the many interesting things going on in these verses from near the beginning of 2 Peter is precisely a revealing of just such learning. When Jesus had been on earth, Peter had for so long been focused on the wrong things. He wanted Jesus to wield political power, to wow the world with power and strength. When Jesus talked about sacrifice and death, Peter tried to dissuade Jesus. That was no way for a Messiah to talk! Even when Jesus was about to be arrested so as to set in motion the very sacrificial death that Jesus knew would save the world, Peter tried to defend Jesus and cut off a person’s ear. (Ever wonder what Peter was doing carrying a sword around in the first place?) And then there was that remarkable day up on a mountaintop when it was just Peter, James, and John. They had no idea why they climbed up to the peak in the first place but not long after they were there, it happened! They became eyewitnesses to one of the biggest light shows in history as Jesus became dazzlingly bright and glorious. Next thing you knew, Moses and Elijah showed up to have a conversation with Jesus (who knows just how the disciples recognized it was Moses and Elijah but somehow they knew). For Peter one very clear thought popped immediately into his head: “Now THIS is more like it! This is what I’ve been talking about: not death and sacrifice and humility but spine-tinging, eye-popping power! Just imagine how the Romans would scurry away like scared children if they got a load of THIS version of Jesus!” With holy radiance reflecting off his eyes, Peter made a proposal: “Lord, this is more like it! Let’s bottle this glory and set up three permanent shelters here so this can become our base of operations in re-taking the world for ourselves and for a New Israel!” Well, let’s admit Peter and the others were scared silly and awed beyond rational thought so we can give him a break for making this rather unhelpful suggestion. Still, it betrayed the kind of spectacle Peter actually had been waiting for all along. But in the end, it turned out that the world’s greatest light and glory show was not about the light and the glory per se. After all, the divine voice of God the Father that came out of the cloud did not say—as you actually might expect—“This is my Beloved Son. LOOK at him and be amazed and afraid!” Nope. God says “This is my Beloved Son. LISTEN to him.” Listen? This whole sight and sound spectacular had been about NOT the light show but about listening to something? Turns out, the outward razzle-dazzle was in service of making the disciples stop foisting their own agendas onto Jesus so they could just listen to HIS teachings about sacrifice and humility. Jesus had been saying right and true things all along but the disciples didn’t really hear him. They were not listening. Or they listened but only after having first passed Jesus’ words through their own religio-political filter so as to make Jesus conform to their aspirations for a New Israel on this earth. It would actually take a long time for this to sink in. This Mount of Transfiguration did not seal the deal, as you can see in all of the Gospels when hard on the heels of this spectacle, the disciples are again jockeying for power and steering Jesus toward the political coup over Rome they were counting on him to lead (so keep those swords handy, boys!). All of which brings us back to 2 Peter 1. This is a relatively rare passage in the New Testament in which something written in an Epistle harks back directly to a very specific Gospel narrative/event. Clearly Peter is remembering the Transfiguration here. But notice how he frames it: he almost blows clean past the razzle-dazzle glory light show and zeroes in instead on what the voice of Majestic Glory SAID from the cloud. Verse 18 is all about their having HEARD the voice from heaven. The fact that Jesus was shining brighter than 1,000 suns at the time is like an afterthought now in Peter’s memory. It is what God SAID that mattered because it pointed to what Jesus had been saying all along, too. The Gospel is about the power of love not the power of the military; it’s about the force of humility not the force of pride; it’s about laying down your life for your friends not about taking lives to gain power for yourself. That is what is animating this entire pericope. The Gospel is not from cleverly devised myths or old wives’ tales or some humanly invented scheme. No, we believe the Gospel and cling to it for dear life precisely because it was revealed by the singular glory of the one who set aside the ordinary perquisites of divine glory in order to die a horrible death in the place of all those sinners who deserved that death in ways Jesus never did. Embrace this message, Peter says, and it will be like . . . well, not fireworks in the sky initially. Not blazing glory or searing flames or eye-popping razzle-dazzle but like a lamp—just a single lamp—shining in an otherwise dark place. But go to this modest light, Peter says, and you will discover soon enough the morning star dawning in your very heart—a light that will shine in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it (to borrow from Peter’s mountaintop comrade John). Yup, Peter was teachable after all! It took a while but once he got it, he really got it. Now what remains is for the rest of us likewise to learn that the best things in this world come not by might and not by power but by our examples of Christ-like humility, service, and sacrifice. THAT is what makes the morning star dawn like nothing else ever could. Additional Resources for Lent and Holy Week now available here. We are grateful so many hundreds of pastors visit our website every day. CEP’s resources have always been and will always remain free. But if you and your church find this useful, would you consider making a donation to help fund the Center’s work? Or might your church schedule an offering for the Center some Sunday? If interested in donating, please visit this page. Thank You! Illustration Idea The novelist Marilynne Robinson is always reminding us of an insight she traces back to John Calvin: viz., we are surrounded by glory all the time in God’s good creation. It’s just that most of the time we cannot see it. But this is why Robinson loves lawn sprinklers. Because on clear days, sprinklers shoot forth water droplets into sunlight and when this happens and the sunlight refracts through the water, we realize that every single water droplet is really a cathedral, a jewel, a luminous rainbow of God’s own glory that suffuses us at all times. We glimpse this glory too rarely but it’s always there. Jesus on the mountaintop was like that: it’s not that he changed into something he was not ordinarily and all the time. It’s just that he got turned just so into God’s light and the glory inherent in him always shined with peculiar radiance!