Pastor James Preus
January 21, 2024
Those who profess to be Christians, but do not go to church will often say, “But I pray a lot.” And that’s good. Every Christian should pray. But what is prayer? Prayer is speaking to God in faith. As Jesus teaches us to pray the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9), we should believe that God is our true Father and we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence, we should ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. However, there is a time to stop speaking and to listen. In fact, you should listen a lot more than you speak, otherwise, you will not even know how to pray to God in faith.
“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” proclaimed God the Father, interrupting Peter while he was speaking. And so, we should learn from Peter’s experience to stop talking, even pause your praying, and listen. But how can we listen to Jesus? He has ascended to the Father’s right hand. None of us has ever seen Him. How can we obey the Father’s command to listen to Jesus.
We listen to Jesus today by listening to the Bible. The Bible is a book entirely about Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham,” before it lists Jesus’ lineage from Abraham down. In other words, the history that goes along with all those people of the Bible is a history about Jesus. Jesus is the culmination of all Scripture. On that high mountain stand Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, known as the Law or Torah. Elijah represents all the prophets. In the Bible, the Old Testament is called the Law and the Prophets (Romans 3:21; Luke 24:44). The New Testament is referred to as the writings of the Apostles. On that Mountain, with the two prophets and the three Apostles, we see the testimony of the entire Bible that they speak of Jesus. When you hear their words, you hear Jesus (Luke 10:16).
Scripture says that everything must be determined by two or three witnesses. In the Bible, we have multiples of that! Forty authors wrote sixty-six books over fifteen-hundred years, yet with one voice, they proclaim Jesus. Humanly speaking, the Bible is the most reliable ancient document in history. Yet, we do not trust it as a human document, we trust it as God’s Word. We heard Saint Peter conclude from the transfiguration, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:19-21) And St. Paul concurs in 2 Timothy 3, “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.”
The prophets did not write their own words, but God spoke through the prophets. The apostles did not write their own words, but God spoke through the apostles. In John 1, the Evangelist calls Jesus Christ the Word, because His voice is the voice of God. When we hear Holy Scripture, we hear the voice of Christ. When we hear Holy Scripture, we hear God’s voice. This is why Jesus says, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) And why the Psalmist declares, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).”
The Bible is the Word of God. It does not simply contain the Word of God, nor is it about God’s Word. The Bible is God’s Word. And for that reason, the Bible is the only source and norm of Christian teaching. The phrase “source and norm” means that this is where we get all of our teaching from. St. Paul writes to the Ephesians in chapter 2 that the household of God is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone.” The apostles and prophets are the New and Old Testaments of the Bible. The Church stands on the foundation of Scripture, Christ Jesus being the cornerstone, for all Scripture is about Him. This is why our Lutheran Confessions call the Holy Scriptures the pure fountain of Israel. The Bible is the source of all divine knowledge.
There are two religions in the world: God’s religion and man’s religion. And there are two sources of religion in the world: God’s Word and man’s word. All false teachings come from man’s word, from manmade traditions, which replace the pure Word of God. And all manmade traditions, which oppose God’s Word point to the same manmade religion, which teaches that if you are good enough, you will be saved. Have you ever heard someone say that all religions are the same? This is why. Because all manmade religions are the same. Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, the Watchtower, Papism, they all teach that if you do what is in you, you can be saved. It all depends on your free choice, your works. But Christianity is not a manmade religion, because the Bible is not man’s word. It is God’s Word.
And this instructs us on how we should read and listen to the Bible! If you read and listen to the Bible as if it is just another manmade book, then you will come to manmade conclusions! If you read the Bible looking for answers to geology, geography, history, art, literature, math, science, and music, then those are the answers you may find. If you look at the Bible simply as a rule book, the writings of wise men on how you can live a fulfilled life or achieve salvation by your works, then you may rank the Bible with the Koran and the Hindu Vedas. But how does Jesus tell you to read the Bible? “You search the Scriptures, because you think in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness of me,” Jesus says. (John 5:39) The Scriptures bear witness of Christ Jesus, the source of eternal life. St. John writes toward the end of his Gospel, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name!” (John 20:31)
You read the Scriptures, so that you may know Christ Jesus and have eternal life through faith in Him. And here, we see that on that high mountain, it was not simply Moses and Elijah, and Peter, James, and John, as representatives of the Old and New Testaments bearing witness to Christ, but Christ was bearing witness to them. That is one of the reasons Jesus brought up His three apostles on that mountain. It is so that He may say to us, “You want to listen to me? You want to hear what I have to say? Then listen to these men. Read their writings. When you hear them, you hear me. You want to find me? Read the Bible.”
But what does Scripture say about Christ? How does it say that He saves us. In the transfiguration of Christ, we have a summary of it. Jesus was transfigured, that is, His appearance changed, so that He shone bright as the sun and His clothes white as light. God the Father declared, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Here, we see that Jesus is true God. His humiliation, by which He hid His divine nature, has for a moment been lifted. This is how Christ will appear when we see Him on His glorious throne in heaven.
Jesus is true God, yet He remains true man. They still recognize Him as the man Jesus. Here they see the miracle, which has been occurring since Christ was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Christ is God, yet He is a man! It is like the burning bush, which Moses saw in the wilderness of Sinai. The bush was aflame, yet the flame did not consume the bush. Moses must fall to the ground before God. He cannot even see His face without dying. The people of Israel are terrified even to see the reflected glory of God from Moses’ face, so he must wear a veil just to speak to them. Yet, the flame does not burn the wood of the bush. And the divine nature does not consume the humanity of Christ.
Jesus’ humility is a disguise. It is a coverup. In His humility, he looks like an ordinary man. But he is and always will be God. As they return down the mountain, Jesus appears as He did before, but that glory they saw emit from Him is still there. He remains their God. This saying of the Father, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” was prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 42, “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon Him.” Yet, of this same servant, Isaiah again prophesies in chapter 52, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you—His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…” So, this most beautiful Son of God will become hideous for our sake, yet He remains the Son of God.
Likewise, God remains pleased with Him, even as, or rather, especially as He ascends to Golgotha to bear our iniquities. God is eternally pleased with His Son. Yet, here, as in Jesus’ Baptism, His Son stands before Him in human flesh. So, when we hear the Father say, “in whom I am well pleased,” He is not speaking simply of His eternal pleasure with the Son with whom He shares one divine substance. Rather, He is speaking of His Son as He is in human flesh. He is pleased with His obedience as a child of Adam.
And so, you cannot separate Jesus’ transfiguration from His holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings and death for our sins. Though we see the gore and the blood, the spitting and mocking, the suffering and death, He is still the same beautiful Only Son from Heaven, in whom God is well pleased. And it is because He goes willingly as a Lamb to slaughter which so especially pleases the Father. This is why Jesus tells His three disciples not to tell anyone the vision until after He has risen from the dead. Jesus told them the end of the story, but they must not spoil it. We cannot reach that mount of transfiguration again without Christ first suffering and dying for our sins.
In the transfiguration, we see who it is who bears our load of sin and shame on the cross. And we see that our sin and guilt have no chance against this Son of God. Hanging on the cross is the same Jesus, who shone like the sun on the Mount of Transfiguration. Remember that as we again journey with Christ to the cross. Our God has paid our debts. No mere man died for our sins, but God Himself in human flesh. And that same God continues to live as a human for all eternity to mediate for us. With Peter, James, and John, Moses and Elijah, and all the saints, we will see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him. The Transfiguration tells us what is really going on at the cross, and what we are headed toward in our journey.
This is the message of Holy Scripture. We read, mark, and learn the Bible until this Morning Star rising in our hearts through faith. And although we do not see Him transfigured before us now, we know from Scripture that the same Morning Star is with us now in His Holy Word and Sacraments. May we continue to receive Him through faith, until we see Him in glory. Amen.