Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 19, 2023
2 Peter 1:16-21 Commentary
There’s an old cliché that suggests that “seeing is believing.” It’s an adage that our materialist culture generally embraces. But this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson at least suggests that when it comes to Christian belief, hearing plays an even greater role than seeing does.
On Transfiguration Sunday, 2 Peter’s author devotes part of his first chapter to recounting his memories of Jesus’ Transfiguration. In verse 16 Peter recalls how James, John and he “were eyewitnesses (epoptai) of [the Lord Jesus Christ’s] glory (megaleiotetos).” For a brief, shining moment God gave some of Jesus’ disciples a front row seat at a display of Jesus’ majesty.
And what a dazzling show it was! Matthew 17:2 reports that Jesus “was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as lightning.” The sight of not just of the transfigured Jesus but also of two of Israel’s greatest heroes, Moses and Elijah, was enough to make Peter want to freeze that moment in time by organizing a campout.
Yet it’s not those eschatological fireworks that Peter emphasizes in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson. The apostle doesn’t, in other words, emphasize what he saw on that mountain. He emphasizes, instead, what he heard. It’s the speech rather than the pyrotechnics that Peter seems to remember and emphasize most strongly.
Jesus, the apostle says in verse 17, “received honor and glory (timen kai doxan) from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory (megaloprepous doxes), saying ‘This is my Son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased’.” The second part of the verse is familiar. It’s a quote Peter draws from Matthew 17:5. It’s essentially God the Father’s announcement of God’s love for and approval of the work of God the Son.
The first part of verse 17, however, is a bit more mysterious. Jesus, Peter announces there, received “honor and glory.” The Son of God, in other words, received what he deserved. Jesus received that, says the apostle, from “the Majestic Glory.” It’s the only time the Scriptures use this mysterious phrase. But we deduce that “the Majestic Glory” refers to God the Father.
Yet while Peter says that Jesus’ honor and glory came to Jesus from the voice of the living God, Peter insists that the disciples also heard that voice. They, in other words, overheard God the Father acclaiming and giving approval to Jesus, the Son of God.
That’s why Peter can insist that Jesus’ followers didn’t “follow cleverly invented stories (sesophismenois mythois exakolouthesantes)” when they talked about Jesus’ power and coming (16). They simply reported what they overheard God the Father telling God the Son on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Peter essentially says that he listened to that voice by responding to it with his faithful obedience. The apostle then goes on to add that his letter’s readers “will do well” (kalos poieite prosechontes) to listen as well.
Yet he doesn’t invite them to “pay attention to” to Jesus or even himself. Peter seems, instead, to challenge them to listen to “the word of the prophets” (propheticon logon). Those prophets were, after all, not making stuff up (20). They were, instead, simply following the prompting of the Spirit who inspired them. The prophets, insists Peter in verse 21, “spoke from God” (elalesan apo Theou).
This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s preachers can help our hearers by exploring with them what Peter means when he calls his readers to “pay attention to” the prophets’ words. The proximity of the apostle’s insistence that those words were “made more certain” to his report about Jesus’ Transfiguration at least suggests a link between them.
It’s almost as if Peter implies that God’s announcement about Jesus simply confirmed what the prophets had earlier said. So this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson at least suggests that Christians should see in what we now call the Old Testament hints at Jesus power and coming, as well as honor and glory.
Preachers, however, want to be properly thoughtful about the way we talk about the prophets’ testimonies about the coming Christ. Some scholars see Jesus, as it were, behind every Old Testament bush and under every prophetic rock. Christians always remember that the Spirit inspired the prophets to speak in a specific time and place. Their original task was to speak God’s truths about human sin and God’s rescue from it in the context of Israel and its known world.
Yet Peter reminds his readers that the prophets’ messages about God’s rescue find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. God’s dearly beloved people pay attention to the prophets because they help point us away from ourselves and our sinful ways to God’s gracious ways that God especially manifested in the person, life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet while it might seem to us to require a bit of theological gymnastics, Peter especially draws his readers’ attention to the link between the Transfiguration and our Lord Jesus Christ’s “power (dynamin) and coming (parousian).” In using terms that the New Testament generally links to Christ’s second coming, the apostle appears to be calling his readers to pay attention to what the prophets say about that coming.
The prophets’ testimony to that return may seem rather scant to gentile eyes. However, the apostle’s call to pay attention to that testimony is consistent with one of 2 Peter’s central themes: Christ’s return at the end of measured time.
This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson at least suggests that preachers pay more attention to and preach more from what we call the Old Testament. After all, while biblical scholars debate to what exactly Peter refers when he talks about “the word of the prophets” and the “prophecy of Scripture,” it’s fairly safe to see those references as pertaining to the Old Testament canon.
It’s tempting for at least some preachers to act as though the preaching “canon” doesn’t stretch far beyond the gospels and epistles. This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s Peter effectively summons God’s dearly beloved preachers to listen, pay attention to and even proclaim the prophets and other Old Testament passages as well.
[Note: We have a special page dedicated to further sermon ideas and resources for the 2023 Year A Season of Lent and on into Easter. Visit this page here.]
In his book, Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-1955, Harald Jahner writes about a set of rules the philosopher Karl Jaspers established for discussions concerning the question of guilt. Jesus’ friends, including preachers, might see it as a parable for our posture toward the Scriptures, including the prophets.
“Jaspers was sure that the most effective cleansing of Germans must consist of a profound change in their attitude towards discussion: ‘Germany can only return to itself when we communicate with one another.’ For Jaspers, the precondition for this was unsparing honesty.
“He knew that through excessive relativization we can duck out of obligations, and therefore urgently demanded: ‘Let us learn to talk to one another. That is, let us not merely repeat our opinion, but hear what the other person thinks. Let us not only assert, but reflect in context, listen for reasons, prepared to reach a new insight. Let us inwardly attempt to assume the position of the other.
“Yes, let us actually seek out that which contradicts us. Grasping what we hold in common within contradiction is more important than hastily fixing exclusive standpoints with which the conversations draws hopelessly to an end.” “Much is said these days about the threat of division in society,” Jahner notes. “Perhaps Jasper’s lessons, intended for a fragmented, conflict-prone country, deserve to be learned by all.”
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