Inspired Eyewitness Testimony

Text: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Today we gather to celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord. The Transfiguration is the event we heard of in the Gospel where, on His holy mountain, in the presence of Peter, James, and John, our Lord’s appearance was changed. St. Matthew writes that His face, “shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:2 English Standard Version) Moreover, Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus about what St. Luke calls Jesus’ “Exodus,” meaning, His suffering, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. (Lk. 9:31) Finally, the cloud of God’s glory overshadowed them and the Father Himself spoke, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (17:5) Understandably, the disciples were filled with fear; but when they rose again they saw only Jesus, who comforted them. In the Transfiguration, we hear the witness of Scripture and the Father Himself that Jesus is the Messiah and we receive a glimpse of the glory to be revealed when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.

The question before us today is brought up by our Epistle text and it is: why believe this stuff, or anything in Scripture? We live now, as Christians always have, in a world that doubts anything supernatural. Moreover, because the Scriptures speak about Jesus, the old Adam kicks and many assert that it’s all made up, or else borrows from other ancient literature. Why, therefore should we believe what the Bible says? St. Peter testifies, “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.” (2 Peter 1:16) In their preaching, the Apostles proclaimed what they themselves saw with their own eyes. The prophets of old, as well, did not prophesy their own ideas but, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (v. 21) Because the Scriptures were written by eyewitnesses and men inspired by the Holy Spirit, we can be certain of the forgiveness and hope we have in Christ.

I.

Said St. Peter, “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.” With these words, St. Peter responded to those who were critics of his preaching – and that of all the apostles. Evidently, the charge of these critics was that what the Apostles preached was made up, or, at least, borrowed heavily from myths. Peter says he had been charged with teaching “cleverly devised,” myths; that is, tales that were crafted with the intent to deceive people. The people who claimed this of Peter were once Christians themselves, but had rejected the Holy Spirit for the pleasures of the flesh and sought others to join them. Peter wrote in the next chapter, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them…And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2:1-2)

To the contrary, the faithful should continue to listen to the preaching of the Apostles because they were not spinning tales but relating events that they were eyewitnesses of. Peter references the Transfiguration. He said, “When [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’  we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain.” (vv. 17-18) Although we live in a time where eyewitness testimony is often questioned or qualified, in the ancient world it was the standard of proof. In December, we heard St. John’s testimony concerning his Gospel, “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” (Jn. 21:24) Why should Christians believe what Peter and the Apostles preached? Because they were eyewitnesses.. They did not relate what others saw or make up clever tales; but what they saw, they spoke and what they heard they taught.

II.

But what about the Old Testament? Peter’s critics weren’t content with accusing him of lying. They charged the prophets of old as also being false. If we credit the New Testament as being delivered by eyewitnesses, that’s one thing. Some of the Old Testament was written by eyewitnesses, but much of it is prophecy – things only to be fulfilled in Christ, hundreds and thousands of years later from the perspective of the prophets; why should we believe them? “We did not follow cleverly devised myths…,” said St. Peter; “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Then, he continued, “And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed…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.” (vv. 19-21)

Although there are many examples of the prophets writing of things they experienced firsthand, the ultimate reason we should listen to them is whose words they spoke. The pagan prophets would claim to receive a vision. Then they would take some time to interpret said vision, and that’s what the people would receive – the prophet’s interpretation of their vision or dream. In contrast, the prophets of God spoke exactly and only the words that God Himself gave them. When God sent a prophet, He didn’t let them ad-lib; He gave them the words and called them to speak. We’ll hear these words of God later in the year, “Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has My word speak My word faithfully.” (Jer. 23:28) When God sent a prophet, He sent them with the words to speak and they either spoke them or shut them up in their heart like Jonah. There was no human interpretation or spin, but only the words of the Holy Spirit.

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.” This is one of those passages where we receive what is called the doctrine of Inspiration. As Christians, we confess what Peter teaches, that Scripture is not the word of man, but the Word of God. We believe that the very words on the page were given to the prophets and apostles by the Holy Spirit. They were inspired. Though it is okay to speak of the human authors of Scripture – because they were men who set “pen to paper,” ultimately the words were not theirs but God’s. So, St. Peter responded to his critics, Christians should believe his preaching because it is not myth but eyewitness testimony. And, moreover, they should believe the witness of the Old Testament prophets because they, as well, spoke not their own words but as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

III.  

Why bring all this up, though, and why speak this way? Why did the Holy Spirit inspire St. Peter to write this paragraph at all? You know the answer. There’s a Bible verse we sing before the Gospel when we follow Divine Service, Setting IV. Take a second and run it through your head. “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” (Jn. 20:31) St. Peter turns our attention the way he does so that we can have certainty about the things we have believed. The things written in the Gospels and Epistles were not made up, but delivered to us by men who witnessed them themselves – or, in the cases of Mark and Luke, who wrote under the supervision of those that did. The Old Testament, too, was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so that the words we read and learn are the very words of God and are true.

Therefore, we can have certainty that we have the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus did come in the flesh. He was born for us. He did live in perfect keeping with God’s Law. He did suffer, die, and rise for us. These things did happen. The promise that Jesus makes – that those who trust in Him receive the free and full forgiveness of their sins – is true. And so we are forgiven. Because the Scriptures were written by eyewitnesses inspired by the Holy Spirit, not only can we be confident in the forgiveness of our sins but also in our hope of the life to come. Peter’s critics also doubted the return of Christ for judgement, but because His Words are true, so it will come that Christ will return on the clouds to raise the dead and bring us into His new and eternal creation.

Until that day, St. Peter says, “we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” (v. 19) Although we are coming out of one of the stranger years of our lives, it remains for us to continue in a dark and sinful world. Our lives now are filled with both joy and woe, bane and blessing, and the Word helps us to navigate through it all. By the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit works to point us (and repoint us) to Christ, so that we may be sure of the forgiveness and hope that we have in Him. “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.” Thanks be to God. Amen.

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