The Sermon for the Festival of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ, Sunday, August 6th, 2023
The Lessons: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
The Text: 2 Peter 1:13-21
A missionary family was staying with their relatives. When the missionary children were called in for dinner, their mother said, “Be sure to wash your hands. Get the germs off.”
The little boy scowled and said, “Germs and Jesus. Germs and Jesus. That’s all I hear, and I’ve never seen either one of them.”
– Vesper Bauer, Audubon, Iowa, Christian Reader (September – October 1998)
The Apostles, who saw the Lord Jesus and were eyewitnesses of his passion, death and resurrection, have left us their testimony in the writings of the New Testament.
St. Peter the Apostle draws our attention to the fact that he and other Apostles were eyewitnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Transfiguration on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16-18). This is their testimony to the fact that they did not use “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16) in making known to his readers the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He records his testimony here, so that after his martyrdom, his readers, and even subsequent generations of Christians may always have this written record to stir them to remember the facts on which the Gospel is based. His endeavor to make a written record so that after his decease other Christians may always remember the facts of the Gospel refers at least to his record of being an eyewitness of the Transfiguration. But he may also have in mind the Gospel account that he delivered to St. Mark, and which became the Gospel according to St. Mark (Papias).
The record of St. Peter in this epistle that he was one of the Apostles who witnessed the Lord’s Transfiguration is a significant indication of the unity of the New Testament witness to the Lord Jesus Christ’s deity and humanity. In fact, this Epistle, if written shortly before St. Peter’s martyrdom under the Emperor Nero in Rome in about A.D. 66, might predate most of the Gospel accounts, or maybe all of them, if St. Mark’s Gospel was written down after this epistle.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
Why is it, though, that the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ, being a vision seen by the Apostles Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:9) and not to be revealed until after Jesus’ resurrection, was so important as to necessitate recording it in writing? The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ was a visionary experience, in which, before the resurrection, at least the principal Apostles witnessed the majesty, the glory, the purity, and the godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only did they see the dazzlingly white appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they also heard the voice of God from the cloud affirming that Jesus is God’s beloved Son in whom He delights. This experience would have reminded them of the Baptism of Jesus, in which God the Father made the same affirmation of Jesus’ being His beloved Son (Luke 3:21-22). The Transfiguration is a visionary event that clearly demonstrates the divinity of Jesus and shows him to be God’s beloved Son. It was essential for this event to be witnessed and recorded by more than one witness, since it shows Jesus not to be a mere man, but also God, and God’s beloved Son. Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, and the Christian faith is taught, the Transfiguration is recorded eye-witness evidence of the Lord Jesus Christ’s divine sonship.
The destiny of Jesus Christ is also shown in the Transfiguration. Being God’s Son, He was also a man whose exodus, or departure from this life, had to be fulfilled at Jerusalem, an event that Moses and Elijah appear to discuss with him (Luke 9:31). One of the purposes of this vision was surely to show the Apostles the truth of Jesus’ prophecies of His own passion and death, and to remove from their minds the idea that such suffering and death conflicted with his identity as the Messiah, or Christ, of Israel.
Another implication of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Transfiguration is that, just as the sufferings of the Cross could not be avoided by the Son of God, but had to be accepted as God’s will, so for Christians, our destiny of forever sharing in the divine life of Christ and reigning with Him forever, is not negated by the trials we have to suffer in this life for his sake. Sharing in these trials, and taking up our cross and following Jesus, are all the way to living with Christ forever, as St. Paul stated in 2 Timothy 2:11-12:
It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:
If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.
The Transfiguration, then, is a reminder that Christians must not imagine that eternal life with Christ precludes suffering trials in this life. For we have the recorded example of Jesus, who could not avoid his sufferings because he was the Son of God but had to face and endure them all.
THE POWER OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
Besides the apostolic witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, there are the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament, to which St. Peter refers, as Christians in the Mediterranean world would have possessed or had access to copies of the Old Testament Scriptures in Greek or Hebrew. The Septuagint version of the Old Testament was widely used. Therefore, he urges Christians to listen to and take note of these prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ, as they would observe a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in their hearts (2 Peter 1:19). What does St. Peter mean by this? The prophetic writings of the Old Testament point to the Lord Jesus Christ, as they foretell the passion, death and even resurrection and second coming of the Christ, who is the day star that arises in people’s hearts.
In other words today, Christians must keep reading, studying, meditating on, applying, and obeying all of God’s written word, until the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ arises in their hearts like the morning star, or like the sun at dawn, or until Christ’s Second Coming. The fact that we have the written teachings of the Apostles, and records of their writings, as well as of the Gospels, does not excuse us from neglecting the study of the Old Testament, including the Prophets. For the Old Testament points forward to the New and prophesies the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. These prophetic writings, St. Peter urges us, we must not subject to private interpretation, but we must rather be led by the Holy Spirit as we interpret them, so that we may discern the prophecies of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Coming.
The Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ is linked to all the Prophets’ predictions of His birth, passion, death, resurrection and second coming. Since we have the witness of the Apostles and Evangelists to Christ in the writings of the New Testament, and the prophecies of Christ’s coming in the Old, we must study the whole record of divine revelation given to us in the whole Bible.
Are you reading and studying your Bible daily, so as to grow in your knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and your awareness of Christ’s presence in your life?