Sermon for Lent Midweek Service, March 30, AD 2022

2 Peter 1:16-21

We heard several weeks ago, at the end of Epiphany, about our Lord’s Transfiguration. To refresh your memory, Jesus had taken three disciples, Peter, James, and John, up on a mountain, and then was changed before them as his face and clothes shone with a bright light. Moses and Elijah also appeared and spoke to him, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The three disciples were told to tell no one about this until Jesus rose from the dead.  

After the resurrection, Peter describes this here in his second letter, “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.” Peter is not saying this just to brag. He is supporting his claim to be able to exhort us as he writes to us.

Peter says earlier in the letter that he is writing in order to remind us of the qualities which establish us in the truth of the gospel. For hearing the gospel, knowing that Jesus Christ has died for our sins and risen from the dead, has by faith given us divine power for godliness. For in baptism, we have been cleansed from sin, the old Man has died, and have risen to a new life in Christ. By faith, as we trust in Christ in our baptism, we also are united with him. We are godly because we share in his godliness. Yes, the blood which covers our sins gives us the righteousness of Christ in that God sees us and declares us righteous and holy. But also, that righteousness is more than skin deep. Peter is saying here that the fact that we have been forgiven by Christ’s work also means he is rubbing off on us and making us actually holy. That is, in Christ we are doing righteous actions – good works and virtues.

This is necessary because it is possible to have faith and then be unfruitful and ineffective – to fall away. Jesus explains this in the parable of the sower as the seed which grows up and then is choked out by the thorns which are the cares of life and the deceitfulness of riches. If we say we believe in Christ but then spend our time pursuing everything for our own benefit, without love for the brother, without self-control and other spiritual gifts, we are in danger of being unfruitful. Therefore, Peter finds it so necessary to remind us to continue practicing the qualities of virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. Not that these earn forgiveness, but they are ours by faith in Christ Jesus. Jesus has given us the freedom to live and practice these things as we are forgiven only by his blood.

Peter wants to remind us of these things, while as Christians we should already know them, he is still exhorting us all the more. Peter writes this well for a group gathered here for a midweek service, those of you who are here often and know the teaching of Christ, for you have made hearing it a priority. Yet not all preaching is just teaching and building the foundation. With the foundation built, the holy scriptures also continue to remind and exhort us to remember these things. As St. Paul says elsewhere to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Not only teaching, but also reproof, correction, and training in righteousness are important uses of scripture which the Holy Spirit works on our hearts through preaching.

Peter then is speaking of the Transfiguration which he saw as eyewitness to testify to the truthfulness of his claims to exhort Christians. For someone could come back to him and say, “well what gives you the right to tell me what to do?” or “this person says something different – how do I know he’s not right and you’re wrong?” It’s not a bad question -  a lot of people make religious claims on others.

Peter has an answer – what he speaks of is the power of God through the gospel, which is founded on the work of Jesus Christ. That coming of Jesus in power is not just some story, but is a real event to which he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses. He especially saw the Transfiguration – the manifestation of the glory of Jesus before the resurrection. This is not ancient tales of Zeus and Hermes or Aesop’s Fables, but the true power of God which he has seen and known. In fact, he has the Word of God confirmed even better than the prophets, for no prophet saw the face of Christ in all its majesty. This Christ whom he saw confirms the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament and validates the writings of the apostles in the New Testament.

Being confirmed by Christ as the very Word of God, we can sure that scripture which Peter preaches is sure and can be held to firmly and strengthen consciences, for it is filled with the Holy Spirit. In scripture there is nothing which is merely the writing of man, and no mere writing of man is scripture. If the scripture we had was just wise thoughts, morals, stories by this or that person, it might be somewhat useful, but nothing to bind our consciences to, and nothing to put all of our trust in. If we are to hold to Christ in faith, if Christ is our only salvation, then we must be sure that the word which we have heard has the power and eternal nature of God. Otherwise, we are standing on shaky ground.

No other Word gives the assurance that God’s Word does, to feed and sustain consciences. It is gravely important that what we hear in the church is the Word of God. The Father is interested in no other Word. No prophecy in scripture was something which came from man. The prophets did not write interpreting omens or by cleverness or their own reason. They were given the words to speak and write by the Holy Spirit. Prophecy is the direct inspiration of God, and has the assurance of God.

Peter writes this because he knows he will soon die. The church in his time has the benefits of the apostles and the eyewitnesses, but they will not last forever. He knows he must write so future Christians may be reminded to supplement their faith with virtue. Unfortunately, that which he fears does come true. In many places scripture is obscured and people do not hear the true gospel. Their sinful flesh may prefer inspiring stories written by men, or may find a certain interpretation flattering to themselves. Many times feeling can be confused for the work of the Holy Spirit.

Thus we must always return to the scripture, preachers and hearers both. We must diligently hear and learn as much as we can and as often as we can so that we know the Holy Spirit’s voice. We want to believe that there are shortcuts to know who preaches truly – just follow this guy, read from this publisher, anyone who calls himself “Lutheran” – but these are never foolproof. The only answer is for all of us to do the hard work of knowing the Scriptures. Yet while our sinful flesh hates this work, it is life and salvation for our new man, and balm for the troubled conscience. For nothing shines in the darkness of our life like the dawning of our morning star, Jesus Christ, who truly died and rose to unite us with him into life and godliness. Amen.

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