Transfiguration: Cleverly Devised Myths or the Sure Prophetic Word?

Transfiguration of our Lord
As Jesus is transfigured atop a mountain, Moses (left) and Elijah (right) appear while James, John, and Peter sit in amazement and fear, based on Matthew 17:1-9. From a 1702 German printing of the Holy Bible.

Lessons: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
Hymns: LSB 413, 395, 810, 401, 414

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone above).

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Today we observe the Transfiguration of our Lord. It is, in a sense, the culmination of Epiphany, for throughout Epiphany, Jesus is being manifested as God who has come in human flesh. Only the God-man Jesus can be transfigured as His face shines like the sun, His clothes become white as light, and Moses and Elijah appear to speak to Him of His upcoming exodus—that He will be crucified at Golgotha. It would have been an amazing sight to behold. And Jesus permitted three witnesses to behold His glory—Peter, James, and John. They would be allowed to tell others after Jesus rose from the dead. Yet, His glory would be seen by far more eyewitnesses when Jesus is on the cross—not by being transfigured, but by being the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin. As Jesus is transfigured, suddenly the voice of God the Father spoke, saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” And so we have the sure, prophetic Word confirmed, which we do well to pay attention to.

      In today’s Epistle, St. Peter reflects on the day of transfiguration, pointing out that he heard for himself the very voice of God from heaven when they were with Jesus on that holy mountain. I suppose Peter writes, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” because it may seem like the Transfiguration of our Lord is but a cleverly devised myth. After all, no human has the ability to do what Jesus did in His Transfiguration.

      Over the last several centuries there have been many researchers who have attempted to identify what they figure is the real Jesus—a mere man who has no ability to perform miracles or be transfigured. We may call these researchers higher critics, for as they interpret the Scripture, they try to determine the Biblical author’s true intents for writing. This may seem laudable, but what it really does is it opens the door to let anyone’s private interpretations of Scripture become accepted as scholarly. So if someone wants to claim the Creation Account was nothing but a myth written by Moses to accommodate the superstitions of a primitive culture, then those espousing higher criticism will react favorably, thinking they have some wise scholarship for the world to accept, even as they are denying what the Bible teaches, including what Jesus teaches on these matters.

      Unlike the higher critics, Peter’s account matches the various Gospel writers. The biblical authors are inspired by God the Holy Spirit. They teach us to listen to Jesus as they direct our hearts and minds toward Him, for He alone is our Savior. And in our Epistle, St. Peter teaches that Scripture is not written from man’s interpretation, but instead is written by men who are carried along by the Holy Spirit. They could only write the truth. This means there is no room for higher criticism in legitimate biblical interpretation.

      Knowing that the Bible is the truth is very comforting, because we have a standard to judge what is right and wrong—a standard to determine what is truth and what is not truth. We are then freed from the oppressive trends of the day, the feelings of man, and even the feelings of our own hearts which are often misled by the circumstances around us. Just remember how Eve listened to voices outside of God’s Word, looked at the fruit of the tree, and desired to know something that God did not teach. She was, in a sense, the first higher critic. And, in doing so, her act resulted in the entire world being corrupted by sin.

      From the lesson of Eve alone, we can recognize that God reveals His truth through His Word. God does not promise to reveal additional divine truths to us apart from the Bible. And most things revealed apart from Scripture is of a different spirit—a revelation of the devil.

      Just think, for a moment, what it would be like if God promised to reveal new things to us apart from the Bible. One person would say he learned this from God and the next person would say the exact opposite. No one would be certain which person truly heard from God. It would be chaos, and Satan would be having a heyday.

      But even though we know truth as revealed in Scripture, Satan (the master of lies) continues to have a heyday. For many Christians don’t read their Bibles to know what’s in it, and many people simply don’t want to believe what is written in the Bible, even though we know that God the Holy Spirit inspired men to write what they wrote, and they did not write any cleverly devised myths.

      In our day, there are many cleverly devised myths floating around that stand in opposition to God’s Word. The Bible says, “Male and female He created them” and now many believe in gender fluidity. The Bible speaks against divorce, and we have no fault divorce laws. The Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman, and now there are many who think marriage can between any consenting individuals. The Bible teaches God creates life in the mother’s womb and now many say unborn babies are not human life and can be destroyed. The Bible teaches lust is breaking the Sixth Commandment and today many promote cohabitation prior to marriage and many think nothing of pornography. The Bible teaches that the universe is not very old and many claim it is billions of years old. The Bible teaches the only way to salvation is found in Jesus for He alone paid for the sins of the world, and many believe that any route to Heaven is possible, simply by being sincere in their convictions.

      There’s no question that many have bought into the various cleverly devised myths out there. Many who consider themselves Christian—even Lutheran—hold to the many myths espoused in our modern times. And so, we must be on guard. We need to hear the Word preached to us. We need to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Sacred Scriptures in our homes. And we must continually speak the truth to our children so that they don’t blindly accept the myths of this world, for in the world, they are constantly hearing lies.

      We must also be on guard against the many theologians out there who teach things that are contrary to God’s Word. It’s stunning how many hold to false belief, and teach false doctrine. You can find a so-called Christian church which will teach anything you want to believe. But that doesn’t make them Christian churches, nor does it make their teaching legitimate.

      We would like to think that because Martin Luther recovered the Bible’s truths at the Reformation that Lutherans have held to pure doctrine ever since. But history has revealed that isn’t the case. The Formula of Concord—an important document in our Lutheran Confessions—was written to combat false belief among Lutherans. Rationalism impoverished Lutheran churches during the early 1800s in Germany to the point that many churches denied the miracles recorded in the Bible, denied the efficacy of the Sacraments, and even refused to preach Christ. Because they figured Jesus was irrelevant for their modern era, many preachers taught modern technological advances from the pulpit instead of Jesus. For example, instead of preaching Jesus, some churches were preaching the importance of crop rotation.

      Even in our beloved Missouri Synod, things have not been perfect. The darkest times in our Synod occurred about 50 years ago when most of the St. Louis Seminary faculty denied many of the miracles found in the Bible. This began slowly in the 1950s. By September 1972, a fact-finding committee proved that a majority of the St. Louis seminary faculty denied the authority of Scripture. The Seminary Board of Control suspended the Seminary President in January 1974, which led to the walkout in February 1974 and the formation of Seminex (Seminary in Exile). Thankfully, the Seminary was largely restored to its faithfulness on Scripture. But divisions have continued to plague our church body ever since, with many disagreeing on doctrine and practice. And many higher critics were allowed to stay in our Synod, preaching their lies throughout their ministry.

      What would our Synod be like today if the majority in our Synod just accepted the false teachings that were going on in St. Louis? Those who left the Synod in support of Seminex are now part of the ELCA. I suppose if everyone went along with what they were going for, our entire church body would part of the ELCA, which teaches higher criticism through its version of the Lutheran Study Bible and even in their Sunday School materials. The ELCA questions many biblical teachings like marriage, creation, the existence of hell, and salvation found solely in Jesus.

      Instead of listening to cleverly devised myths, let us hold to the sure, prophetic Word. It is written, “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). We cannot put our passive approval on all the ways in which the church’s doctrine is being attacked. Instead, we must contend for the truth. Above all, we must contend for the reality that Jesus came into this world to bear our sins in His Body, that He went to the cross to pay for our every last sin, that He died on the cross shedding His Blood as the ransom payment that sets us free from our sin, and that He rose victoriously from the grave so that our eternal salvation is secure. These truths were spoken of at the Transfiguration, and Jesus Himself told the disciples of His own crucifixion and resurrection. His Word came true. And God’s Word continues to be nothing but the truth—written for our learning—revealed to us for our salvation. It provides us the comfort that, despite our sin, we are reconciled to God and Heaven awaits us. This blessing is ours by grace through faith. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen