Bible Passage: 1 Peter 1:16-21
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: February 26, 2017
It was a once-in-a lifetime experience. There’s really no other way to describe it. This was definitely something you don’t see everyday. In fact, only three men were permitted to see it at all. Only three of the twelve were with Jesus on top of the mountain. Only three of the twelve got a glimpse of power and glory far beyond what anyone had ever seen. Matthew tells us that Jesus was transfigured. His appearance changed so that he didn’t just look like a 33 year old carpenter from Nazareth. A cloud of God’s majesty surrounded them, Christ’s face and clothes shone like the sun, and he stood in glory with Moses and Elijah. At that moment, Peter was face to face with God himself. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Imagine you were Peter. Imagine you were privileged to have that same experience. What would you want to do? Wouldn’t you be sharing your experience? Wouldn’t you be writing a book, describing every last detail? Wouldn’t the focus be on the experience, the glory, the majesty? That’s what we would do. Stories of near death experiences, supposed visions of heaven, have hit the bookshelves over the last number of years. And it’s easy to understand why. We like proof. We like glory. It’s hard to live by faith. We believe that Jesus is God’s Son. We believe God loves us more than we could ever imagine. We believe and confess that by his death on the cross, Jesus has washed away our sins and made heaven our home. But we don’t see it. And sometimes, when the bills stack up and the checkbook balance gets low, or when we pray and pray and pray but our health doesn’t get any better or when we try to deal with our loved ones the way God tells us to and it doesn’t stop everything from falling apart, it’s easy to think: I need to see something—anything! If only I had a sign. If only God showed me something really special. Then my faith would be stronger. Then I’d be the Christian God wants me to be—unshakeable.
I wonder if Peter thought that. If when he had this once-in-a-lifetime experience he thought: This is the end to my doubts, an end to my sins, an end to all the weakness I’ve had. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t the end. As Peter continued to follow the same Jesus, he faced darker days. A few months later he found himself not staring at a shining Savior, but sitting around a bonfire in the courtyard of the high priest as Jesus was on trial. And as Peter realized there was only one way that trial would end, Jesus’ power and glory, Peter’s experience didn’t seem like such a sure thing. Even though Peter had that amazing experience, he still had doubts.
And we know what that’s like, don’t we? We’ve had experiences where the majesty of God was impossible to miss. Whether it was the way the music moved you or the time when your prayers for healing were answered or how good you felt when you left church that day and like Peter you said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” And you felt like nothing could ever shake your faith again. And you know then how it breaks your hearts all the more when something else does. When the doubts creep back in. When we struggle to hold on to our faith. When even though we don’t deny God with our mouths like Peter did, our thoughts and our actions show how weak our faith can be.
So why doesn’t Peter talk about that great experience? Because as Peter lived, as he preached, as he struggled with sin, as he fell, he understood something more and more: It’s not the Majesty, it’s the Message. Peter realized that experiences may be interpreted in different ways by different people. He knew that our experiences can be unconsciously distorted. He knew that our experiences are subjective and therefore unreliable. No, Peter didn’t want us to know how bright Christ could shine or what the cloud of God’s glory was like. No, when given the chance, when people were claiming that Jesus wasn’t really coming back, that he wasn’t really God’s Son, Peter chose to share these words: “To be sure, we were not following cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the powerful appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when the voice came to him from within the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We heard this voice, which came out of heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.”
The most important thing that Peter took away from his experience was not the majesty, but the message. It wasn’t the glory, but the message that this Jesus was indeed the Son of God. It’s that no matter how dark things might look and how weak faith might seem, the Son that God loved, whom he was pleased in, was pleased to give his life for you!
It’s not the Majesty, it’s the Message. That leads Peter to say something that might be surprising: “We also have the completely reliable prophetic word.” Peter heard the voice of God the Father on the Mount of Transfiguration. And awesome as that was, he says we have something better! You have the completely reliable prophetic word. You have the complete Word of God in your Bible! There’s nothing subjective about what God tells you in his Word. There’s no guess work. You don’t have to wonder if this is just some fantastic story made up by a guy who was desperate for attention! Peter was an eye-witness! And besides, after his moment of weakness in the garden, Peter was really willing to die for his Lord. And no one is so holy that he would dare to die on the strength of something he made up! “To be sure, we were not following cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the powerful appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…No prophecy of Scripture comes about from someone’s own interpretation. In fact, no prophecy ever came by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit.” As you read the Bible, you start to realize that every promise God made from the beginning of the world came true. Because even though what Peter saw on the mountain convinced him of God’s power, it was the truth about Christ’s death that taught him about his Savior’s love. And because as you read it, you aren’t just reading the words of men, you’re reading the Word’s of the Holy Spirit, breathed into human authors so they could share it with you.
“We also have the completely reliable prophetic word. You do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place,” Even more certain than what Peter saw with his eyes, we have the completely reliable Word of God. Notice, that’s what Peter says to pay attention to! The word Peter uses literally means to “hold on to it tightly.” There will be dark places in this life. Peter knew that and so do you. But you still have the Word. Hold to it! That doesn’t mean that everything is always going to be rosy. Not at all. What it means is that when the money is tight, you can hold tightly to the riches you have in your Savior, when you health is failing you hold tightly to the promises of God’s care, when your family is fighting but you hold tightly to God’s promise that “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” you can say, “How good, Lord, that you’re here with me.
Peter saw the light, he beheld the glory, he experienced the majesty, but he doesn’t say hold to that. He says hold to the Word. He wants us to hold tightly to God’s Word not just because of what it promises here and now, but because of where it’s taking us. “You do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Morning Star rises in your hearts,” Peter wasn’t just talking about any day. He was talking about the Day. The day when Jesus comes back in all the glory he showed on the mountain to take his people home. When that Day comes, everything will be light and truth and you won’t need a Bible anymore. You won’t need to read about God’s love; you’ll see it and feel it and know it perfectly. But until that Day, listen to the one who had that once-in-a-lifetime experience and you points you to something better. Hold on to the Word of God that the Holy Spirit breathed through the prophets and preserved for you, and as you look forward to the great Day that’s coming, may the Morning Star fill your heart with faith and give you the joy to say, “How good, Lord, to be here with your Word!” AMEN