Sunday, February 03, 2008

2 Peter 1:16-21 - “Even an Eyewitness Doesn’t Trust His Eyes”

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(Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, February 3, and Monday, February 4, 2008

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord

Wait. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” On this side of the second coming of Jesus, I’m not sure that we can sing those words. We haven’t seen the glory of the Lord with our eyes. Considering what we just heard in the Gospel reading, the Transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain, I think that the only people who can sing those words might be Peter, James, and John, who were on that mountain and saw Jesus in His full glory.

In fact, in today’s New Testament Letter, the reading from Peter’s second letter, Peter just about says those very words from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Peter says, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty…. for we were with him on the holy mountain.”

You can almost hear Peter singing, (sing) Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. It’s like Peter’s saying to us, “You had to be there. You’d have to see it to believe it.”

At least that’s what we might think Peter would say. We might think that Peter would go around singing about seeing the glory of the Lord. We might think that as much as Peter might have told others about Jesus, still he’d always have to end up saying to people, “It’s too bad you couldn’t have been on that mountain, because seeing is believing. Seeing the glory of Jesus in person is about the only thing that would probably help you truly believe in Him.”

Peter must have believed in Jesus because he was an eyewitness to the Transfiguration. At least that’s what we think, because we have a lot of trouble believing in things we can’t see. We want proof. We want things proven in a scientific, rational, explainable way. So we imagine that if we were Peter, James, or John, that our whole faith in Jesus would exist because we got to see with our own eyes. We imagine that if we had been there, we’d believe in Jesus because we were eyewitnesses.

So we’d understand if Peter had said, “You’d have to see it to believe it.” After all, we say this to each other about much less incredible things than seeing Jesus transfigured, transformed and revealed in His divine glory, so it wouldn’t surprise us if Peter said, “You’d have to see it to believe it.”

But would it surprise us to think that Peter said just the opposite? Would it surprise us to think that Peter, an eyewitness to the Transfiguration, actually said, “I can’t believe my own eyes”?

Because that’s really what Peter is saying in our reading from his second letter. He’s not saying, “You’d have to see it to believe it.” He’s saying, “I can’t believe my own eyes. I can’t believe what I saw on that mountain. I don’t believe in Jesus because of what I saw. I don’t trust my eyes.”

Peter says: “But we have something more sure, the prophetic word.” We have something more sure? Something more sure than seeing Jesus go from regular guy to dazzling white with divine glory standing and talking to Moses and Elijah, the prophets from long, long ago? There’s something more sure than that experience?

Yes. Peter is saying, “I can’t believe my own eyes; I can only believe the Word of God.” Peter is saying, “I am an eyewitness who doesn’t trust his own eyes.” (cover eyes with hands)

And this is incredibly important for us who live more than 2000 years after the Transfiguration. Our faith can’t be based on sight, because we’re living long after the fact. If Peter was telling us that we had to be eyewitnesses, then we’d have no chance.

Now Peter does write about his experience on the mountain but not to make us feel like we’re left out in the cold. He talks about his experience to show his authority as an apostle, to explain why he can so forcefully write about the Christian faith. But he doesn’t bring up being an eyewitness in order to make us all feel left out, like we’ll always be lacking something crucial for salvation.

He’s saying that even he doesn’t believe his eyes, doesn’t trust in what he saw. “We have something more sure,” more sure than what he saw on the mountain, more sure than being with Jesus, more sure than all of his first-hand experience as an apostle. The prophetic word of God is more sure; it’s what we all can trust in for salvation.

Peter doesn’t want us getting caught up in dreaming that believing in Jesus would so much easier if we could just see Jesus. Faith in Jesus comes through the Word of God—which Peter so beautifully describes.

“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” (English Standard Version).

The Word of God is the light of God shining in our dark sinful hearts, shining brightly until the day dawns, until faith is created, and the morning star, Jesus, rises in our hearts. The Word of God shines into our hearts until the day dawns, the day that Jesus returns and takes us to be with Him forever.

I think Peter describes the Word of God with this beautiful image, because he was so very aware that experience was a poor foundation for faith. Peter experienced a lot of things, but none of it had any lasting impact on his faith—except the Word of God. Which is exactly what we’ll find in our lives: nothing we experience will be as sure as the Word of God.

Think about the experiences that Peter had. Peter’s the one who confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Promised One, but then turns around and tells Jesus not to talk about being killed, prompting Jesus to call him Satan. Peter says he will never fall away, never deny Jesus, but then hours later, he denies Jesus three times, vehemently, cursing himself.

Even back at the Transfiguration, Peter sees this wonderful sight, and then in his very human way, says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let us build three shelters.”?

What do you mean, Peter? Three shelters? Who needs a shelter? You know that Jesus never sleeps in one place for very long, and Moses and Elijah are in eternity. Don’t you get it, Peter? Heaven and earth are meeting in the person of Jesus.

But no, yet again, Peter was showing how human he is, how much like us he is. Peter wasn’t easily convinced about the truth. All of the disciples seem to follow Jesus quite easily, but all along they were confused over what was really going on.

That’s why I don’t like so many of the movies made about the Gospels, because they make the disciples out to be like they’re walking around in a trance. “We will follow Jesus.” But the disciples were all very human, confused and having difficulties with many of the same questions we have.

Peter is like us. We struggle at times to believe, struggling to understand that Jesus dying on the cross gives us salvation, struggling to believe that the Jesus is true and not just some made up story. Peter wasn’t easily convinced of the truth either, and he wasn’t convinced because he was an eyewitness. He was convinced in the same way that we can be convinced: the Word of God shining as a lamp in our dark hearts.

Yet, we struggle because we have times in our lives when we feel so close to God. . .and then when those times are gone, when we’re feeling distant from God, we start to wonder: where is God? We wish we could get back to those good old days. We wish we could feel close to God again, never realizing that our feelings, our experiences, the events in our lives will never be as sure as the Word of God.

Again, think about what Peter experienced. He might have said to himself, “Gosh, I wish I could have that feeling again that I had when I walked on water, walked on the water because I trusted in Jesus. Now that was a time when I really felt strong in my faith.”

But as soon as Peter would think about that day, that moment of strong faith, he’d also remember how quickly he began to doubt, he saw the wind and waves and started to sink and Jesus had to grab him to save him.

Peter may have sometimes gotten caught up in thinking he needed to get back to some shining moment of faith, some experience that would somehow keep him strong in the faith, but Peter—just like us—would have to admit that a moment of feeling close to God is often minutes away from an experience that proves just how distant we are from God.

Instead, Peter points to what we need: the Word of God.

That transforming word is passed onto us. Instead of being something that we can’t experience or know, instead of Peter saying that we’d have to see it to believe it, Peter shows us that the Word of God is the foundation, the standard, the base, the rock on which our faith is built.

(place chair in front of altar)

I remember one time sitting in my office, trying to write a sermon, and just staring at the chair across from my desk. I wanted Jesus to be in that chair. I wanted Him to truly be with me there in my office. I wanted Him to help me understand His message and give me the words to say.

I prayed saying, “Jesus, you should be in that chair. I want you to be here right now. I’m tired of trying to figure this out on my own. Why aren’t you here with me?”

I stared at the empty chair in my office, and it still didn’t make any sense. So out of frustration, I kept studying, reading, working on that sermon. I took my eyes off of the empty chair and—saw the Word of God.

I wanted Jesus to be in that chair, and I wanted to hear His comforting words. I was getting so frustrated because Jesus wasn’t physically sitting in the chair that I almost missed the fact that God’s Word is gives me all of the comforting words I need. (place Bible on chair)

Through God’s Word, we are eyewitnesses to the Transfiguration and everything that God has done for His people. Through God’s Word, we are able to see what God is doing in the world, why He sent Jesus, what it means for us, and what it means for the future. Through God’s Word, we can sit at His feet, so to speak. We can read His Word, we can hear His comfort and peace, His promise of forgiveness for our sins, His promise to save us and give us eternal life. We can hear His words, His promise to always be with us. He may not be literally sitting in the chair, but still we have His Word.

If we just see the empty chair, we’re thinking that we have to see to believe. If we just see the empty chair, we want to see to believe.

But if we ignore the empty chair and see the Word of God, now we’re thinking that we can’t believe our eyes. If we can’t believe our eyes, then we’re no longer wishing to see Jesus in the chair. If we can’t believe our eyes, we don’t need to see Jesus, because even if we could see Jesus, we know it wouldn’t be enough. If we ignore the empty chair, then we’re just listening to the Word of God. And the Word of God is the only sure thing, the only sure prophetic word, the only foundation for our faith. Whether an eyewitness like Peter or people living 2000 years later like us, the Word of God is the only thing we need to believe.

And praise the Lord, we have the Word of God.
Now may the Word of God be a lamp shining in your dark hearts, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.