Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, January 21, 2022
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Word & Spirit

Matthew 17:1-9 and 2 Peter 1:16-21

Today in our two Scripture texts, we are looking at the same event, the Transfiguration, from two different perspectives.

In Matthew 16, Jesus says, “Some of you standing here will not die before you see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.” This tells us that the Transfiguration is not a foretaste of the resurrection, but of the parousia, that is the second coming of Christ.

Jesus takes his inner circle of disciples with him and they go up onto a high mountain. Tradition says the Transfiguration happened on Mt. Tabor. Most Bible scholars today think it was more likely on Mt. Hermon, which is a high mountain, whereas Mt. Tabor is basically a hill. Also, Mt. Hermon is right next door to Caesarea Philippi, where the disciples were in chapter 16, so it makes more sense.

Jesus is transfigured. His glory is revealed for the disciples to see. And Moses and Elijah appear and Jesus talks with them. Together they represent the Old Covenant, the Law and Prophets. Many expected both to return before the coming of Messiah.

Peter, always one to speak first and think later, says, “Jesus, let me build three tabernacles (or shelters) here.” This tells us that the Festival of Shelters is fulfilled in Christ. Christ is God tabernacling with his people, journeying with them.

God speaks from heaven, giving an affirmation of Christ’s identity and his ministry for the benefit of the disciples. They are about to go through testing as Jesus is betrayed in Jerusalem, so they need to hear this affirmation.

As they descend, Jesus tells the disciples not to tell anyone about this until after the resurrection. And I think we should understand the Ascension to be part of the resurrection. The Transfiguration can only really be understood in light of the resurrection and ascension. Jesus will come again in glory. The Transfiguration foreshadows and confirms it.

2 Peter is looking back at the Transfiguration 30 years or so after the fact.

Peter says it is not a “clever story.” The Greek word he uses is “myth,” a word always used negatively in the New Testament, meaning an untrue story, often a fantastical one, as compared to a reliable eyewitness testimony. This tells us that even

in the first century there were people calling the parousia, the return of Christ, a myth. And certainly there are many people who call it that today.

Do we think it’s a myth that Jesus will return? We might affirm it with our words, but if we fail to live a watchful life, a life lived in preparation for his return; then perhaps we are living as if it were a myth.

Peter says, “We saw it with our own eyes. He received honor and glory. God spoke from heaven. We were with him on the holy mountain. So we have even greater confidence because of that experience in the testimony of the prophets.” In Peter’s mind, the prophets and the Transfiguration are both testimonies of the second coming, each confirming the other.

The Day of the Lord is described here as a sunrise or a new day dawning. We find the same language in Malachi 4, “The Sun of Righteousness will rise.” Verse 19 also mentions the morning star. The morning star, of course, is not actually a star. It’s the planet Venus, which often appears just before the sunrise, or just before sunset, depending on which side of the sun it’s on at the moment. It is a “herald” of the dawn. The Transfiguration and the words of the prophets are like the morning star. They show that the day will dawn.

This discussion of the prophets moves Peter along to talk about inspiration in verses 20 and 21. “No prophecy ever came about because of the prophets themselves.” They weren’t just sharing their own opinions. The Holy Spirit was at work in prophecy. We call the work of the Spirit in prophecy inspiration.

What does inspiration mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that the prophets were possessed; that they had lost all of their own will and faculties. The writers of the Scriptures are still there. We know that because each writer has his or her own particular vocabulary and style of writing. God’s Spirit was at work in the writing, but so was the writer.

How does inspiration happen? We see several different examples in the Old Testament prophets. Sometimes God spoke directly to the prophet. Sometimes there was a sign, such as in Jeremiah chapter 1, when he sees visible signs that communicate God’s meaning. Sometimes God inspired the prophets through a dream or a vision. Much of the book of Zechariah comes from a dream. Ezekiel 37, the Valley of Dry

Bones, is a vision. And sometimes the Spirit interprets a vision for the prophet, such as in Amos 7, where he has a vision of a plumb line that the Spirit interprets for him.

What we mean when we talk about inspiration is that God is leading the process of writing such that what is written is true and leads one to true understanding. Because of inspiration, we say that the Scriptures have a unique authority. They’re not just good words about God; they are God’s word for us and as such, they have authority in our lives. We also say the Scriptures are necessary for salvation; that we can’t find God or know God’s will without reading the Scriptures. And we say the Scriptures are sufficient; that there is nothing that needs to be added to them to make them complete for our knowledge of salvation. That doesn’t mean the Scriptures answer every question we might have, but they are sufficient to reveal the way of salvation.

If Scripture is inspired, then we must give it great weight. But if it’s not inspired, then one could argue that it should carry no more weight than any other religious text. If the origin of Scripture is God that means a whole lot more than if its origins are just someone’s understanding of God. We can’t be certain it will lead us to the truth if it’s just someone’s understanding.

I am convinced that Scripture is of God. God’s Spirit was at work in Scripture, and the Spirit brings the truth to us through the Scriptures.

I’m also convinced it is dangerous to read Scripture “on our own.” What I mean by that is that we need to rely on the Spirit while we read Scripture so that we can understand it correctly. Scripture should be read prayerfully. We also need to rely on tradition and the community of faith. Rather than just reading the Scripture all on our own, what have other believers found it to mean? How has the Church understood Scripture down through the centuries? When I’m preparing for a sermon, I always try to find out what others say about a text. I might misunderstand, so I want to know what others have said. And sometimes, I am wrong, and I’m glad that others can help me understand.

All of this is a moot point if we are not reading the Scriptures. I believe the Scriptures are God’s word to us. Why would we ever want to deny ourselves the opportunity to know what God has to say to us?

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