I Was There

2 Peter 1:16-21
For Sunday, February 26, 2017
Transfiguration Sunday, Year A

Following Christ well means giving special consideration to those predecessors who were there from the beginning.  We have just such an example in the Apostle Peter who says of the Transfiguration, “Look, I was there.”

giovanni_bellini_016-medium

Giovanni Bellini, “Transfiguration of the Christ“, circa 1480, Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy.

At 53 I’m old enough now to remember important things in our country’s history that aren’t part of the collective memory of younger generations.  As I read Peter’s account of the Transfiguration this week my mind went back to “The Miracle On Ice” in Lake Placid, New York, in 1980, when the U.S. Olympic Mens’ Hockey Team, a bunch of amateurs, somehow managed to defeat the mighty juggernaut represented by those red jerseys with the white letters that spelled C.C.C.P. (for Сою́з Сове́тских Социалисти́ческих Респу́блик, or in English, U.S.S.R.).  This was supposed to have been impossible.  Yet I saw it happen live on TV.  I was there.

Peter was there when Christ was Transfigured.  This was among the few seminal events of his life.  As Matthew tells us in this week’s gospel reading, it was Peter who upon seeing Jesus along with Moses and Elijah on top of the mountain where the Transfiguration took place said, “Lord, if you like I could put up tents for each one of you.”  At that very moment a bright cloud overshadowed the already brightly transfigured beings and said not of Moses or Elijah but only of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  So awe-inspiring was this that the disciples fell to the ground in abject fear.  Peter suddenly understood the significance of who Jesus really was in a new and dramatic way.  This was literally God’s own son!  That put Jesus beyond category even with respect to the great Moses or Elijah.

Peter is concerned that his readers keep their faith anchored in Christ Himself as the Son of God.  There were “cleverly designed stories” (v. 16) threatening to lead his fellow believers astray.  So it is in every age.  What are some of these stories in our own day?  Perhaps that Jesus promises health and wealth.  Perhaps that Jesus didn’t really intend marriage to be between one man and one woman.  Perhaps that Christianity is just one attempt to lay claim to ultimate truth among many others.

In order to discern truth from deception we need the help of our friends who were with Jesus from the beginning.  Peter is just such a friend.  Here is the help he gives us in this passage:

  • Anchor our faith in the truth of God’s word.
    We have the prophetic message” (v. 19a).
  • Interpret subsequent revelation in light of the revelation already given.
    You would do well to be attentive to this as a lamp shining in a dark place” (v. 19b)
  • Remember that ultimately Scripture comes not from men but from God (v. 20-21).
    No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation …

This last point is especially important.  The difference in the way progressives versus conservatives interpret Scripture can be represented in two contrasting syllogisms, as I learned from the dear Dr. Harold O.J. Brown at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the 1990’s.  The progressive syllogism goes like this:

  • Scripture was written by men
  • Men are fallible
  • Therefore, Scripture is fallible

Conservatives however, follow a different syllogism for their interpretive approach:

  • Scripture was written through men but ultimately by God
  • God is infallible
  • Therefore, Scripture is infallible

Each of us must choose which syllogism or paradigm we will follow.  This choice will then determine whether we interpret the Bible in light of culture, or culture in light of the Bible.  Only in the latter case do we obtain a point of reference from which to discern where our culture is blind and how it can begin to see again.  In the former case we are merely a bunch of blind people mumbling to one another within an ever darkening room.

What are the formative events of your own life for which you can say, “I was there?”  Do you approach Scripture with the same authority that Peter did?   What are your thoughts regarding the extent to which our belief about the infallibility of Scripture impacts our ability to speak prophetically to culture?

 

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