Preached: March 6, 2011

Pay Attention to the Lamp until the Day Dawns
2 Peter 1:16-21

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is 2 Peter 1.

For we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ not by following wisely-crafted myths but by being eyewitnesses of his majesty, for example, when he received honor and glory from God the Father by such a declaration brought to him by the Magnificent Glory: “This is my Son, my Beloved, in whom I have been well-pleased.” And we heard that declaration brought out of heaven, since we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word as a more sure thing. You do well to pay attention to it as to a lamp shining in a dismal place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart, since you know, first of all, that no prophecy at all came about out of one's own explanation. For prophecy was never brought by man's will, but men spoke from God as they were brought along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:16-21)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Go to the light.” “Cross over into the light.” So many movies and TV shows portray death as seeing a light. But dear friends, by that time it's too late to see the light, unless you've already been paying attention to the lamp. Without the lamp shining into our hearts now, the only light death brings is the fires of hell.

“[Y]ou will do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19 NIV1984), Peter writes. The word translated as light is the Greek word for a lamp. Picture a lamp bringing light to a dingy, dismal room.

What is this lamp? Peter refers to it as “the word of the prophets” (2 Peter 1:19 NIV1984). Maybe you think of a verse from Psalm 119, which you've heard set to music of Michael W. Smith: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105 KJV). The lamp is God's Word.

Now just as we would have a lamp shining as the night grows long and we strain to stay alert not wanting to be caught asleep by the dangers of the dark, so also dear friends, pay attention to this lamp until the Day dawns. That's the theme.

Pay attention to the lamp until the Day dawns. For the lamp is the eyewitness testimony that the prophecies are fulfilled. The lamp is the Word from God the Holy Spirit. And this lamp alone prepares you to see Christ's majesty on that Day. Pay attention to the lamp.

A. It's the eyewitness testimony that the prophecies are fulfilled

Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, sets off to the mountain with his wild companion, Enkidu. You may not have heard that story. It's an ancient Akkadian myth based on Sumerian legends, pieced together from cuneiform tablets found in the ruins of Nineveh. But that's what many people, and even churches, think the Bible is -- just a collection of ancient myths and cleverly invented stories from the Middle East. They will say that these Bible myths are useful and teach us truths to help us be better people or feel spiritual connections. But that still just makes the Bible a collection of made-up stories and fables. That's not what we mean when we say that the Bible is true.

And that's not what the Apostle Peter meant either. “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 NIV1984). How different an eyewitness account is compared to fables or myths!

But maybe you've heard that eyewitness testimony can be unreliable. News stories tell how someone convicted by the testimony of an eyewitness was proved innocent years later by DNA evidence. The eyewitness had been mistaken.

But notice some key differences, dear friends. Prosecution may have only one eyewitness to rely on. And the events happened so quickly, so unexpectedly, and the observer was under such great stress and fear that it's easy to confuse two similar looking people. That's not the kind of eyewitness Peter or the other Apostles claim to be.

Peter gives one example of his eyewitness testimony of seeing Jesus' majesty. He takes us to the Mount of Transfiguration. There he witnessed this man, Jesus, with whom he traveled and ate, shine with divine glory, the glory and honor that came from God the Father. This wasn't a split-second flash of light and then it was gone. No, he and James and John watched it happen as Moses and Elijah also stood there talking with Jesus. And then, it wasn't only what their eyes saw, but also what their ears heard. The voice, the declaration spoken by the Majestic Glory, the Father saying: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (2 Peter 1:17 NIV1984).

Yes, they did experience fear and stress. Wouldn't we have in the presence of the Almighty? But that kind of fear and stress wouldn't lead them to forget or misidentify but all the more indelibly engrained in their minds what they had seen and heard.

And look at how we have multiple witnesses of this event. Peter here records his own eyewitness testimony of Jesus' transfiguration. Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the testimony which the eyewitnesses had told them. Think of them like court reporters. And none of these testimonies contradict another. Some find fault because the testimonies don't match verbatim. They use different words to describe the Transfiguration. But if anything that only confirms all the more the reliability and authenticity of these eyewitness account. Isn't it suspicious if two so-called eyewitnesses give the same account word for word as if they had been coached and told what to say, rehearsing it?

And remember, the Transfiguration is just one example of Jesus' majesty. The Apostles witnessed Jesus' earthly ministry. They saw him arrested, crucified, dead, and buried. Then they witnessed his majesty. They saw the risen Jesus, spoke with him, touched him, ate with him. They saw him not just once or twice but over a period of forty days, again and again. They witnessed his ascension into heaven. And even under pain of imprisonment, torture, and death, they did not rescind their eyewitness testimony.

Pay attention to the light shining from the Scriptures. It's the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles, written down for you so that it could not be doctored over the ages. It is the lamp shining into the dark, dingy, dismal world we live in. It shows you your Savior, Jesus. He's not just a man, not just another teacher or prophet. He is God the eternal Son, sharing the Father's glory. The eyewitness testimony of the Apostles proves it. He is the Christ, the Anointed One, whom the prophets had foretold. He is the Offspring of the woman who crushed Satan's head. He is the Seed of Abraham through whom all nations are blessed because he took the curse of our sin on himself. He is the Star rising in Judah, great David's greater Son. He is the Sacrifice for our sins, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All these prophecies and more, fulfilled in Jesus. The eyewitness testimony of the Apostles proves it. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the Christ, whom the Father sent on the mission to save sinners. He is your God in majestic glory. He is your only Savior from sin and death. Pay attention to the lamp of God's word illuminating Jesus for you.

B. It's the Word from God the Holy Spirit

What's more, these prophecies of the Old Testament and the eyewitness accounts of the New Testament are both the words from God the Holy Spirit, given to the prophets and Apostles to write. “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophets own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:20, 21 NIV1984).

How could the Bible be any more sure! This book is not the words of men. It's not human ideas about God. It's, literally, the Word of God. By the miracle called verbal inspiration, the Holy Spirit carried along those writes so that what they spoke, the words the wrote, was exactly what God wanted them to. His word, not theirs. They are the writers, but God is the Author.

Now God is certainly trustworthy and true. So his word also must be trustworthy and true. It alone is the sure foundation on which to build your faith and life. The Apostle Paul uses that picture as he writes, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself the chief cornerstone”(Ephesians 2:19,20 NIV1984). The foundation of the apostles and the prophets, God's Word. How sure a foundation! Or to go back to the picture of the lamp, how clearly and brightly God's Word shines out into the darkness!

We know that the Bible is God's sure, inspired word. Knowing that is a great blessing, for many churches have lost that truth. You and I know and confess the Bible as God's inspired word. What a reason to give thanks to God! But are we practicing that truth? Are we paying attention to the lamp?

To say the Bible is God's inspired word, and then leave it as a closed book is hypocrisy. To say the Bible is God's inspired word and then neglect it excusing ourselves by saying it's boring, out-of-date, too hard to understand, or not practical for a busy life, blames God as an inept communicator who doesn't really know what's useful for us.

Rather, dear friends, as you read the Bible, you read the mind of God. As you hear his Word preached and taught, you hear his voice coming out of the majestic glory. As you study his word, meditate and chew on it, inwardly digesting it by making it a part of your thinking, you are lining up your heart and mind with God's. For since this book is the word from God the Holy Spirit, he is powerful at work as you grasp his message. He shines through the Word. Don't throw a blanket over this lamp by despising preaching and his word, figuring you know enough of the Bible already. Rather gaze into it. Believe it's message. For nothing in this life is more sure than God's Word. It alone is the sure foundation for your faith. Gaze into the light of the word. Cherish it. Treasure it. Pay attention to the lamp.

C. It alone prepares you to see his majesty on that Day

Pay attention to the lamp until the Day dawns, the Last Day. The Bible is not like a math book where you reach the last lesson and then your done with book. It's not like a dictionary that you keep for years but only pull out when you need it. Rather it's the only book that prepares us to see Jesus in his majesty. So keep on paying attention to it throughout your life. It's not just for Sunday school or confirmation. “You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19 NIV1984). It's for a life time of study, until the Last Day.

Yes, the basic message is so simple even a child can confess: “Jesus died and rose to save me.” And yet the more you study these Scripture, the more you'll bring out new treasures as well as old, as Jesus says in Matthew 13:52. The Bible is so clear that it's like a brook a lamb can wade across and yet it is so profound, so broad, so deep, that even an elephant can swim in it. It's for a life time of study.

And as you pay attention to the lamp of God's Word day by day, then, dear Christian, you are ready every day to see the majesty of your Savior Jesus Christ, returning in his glory with his holy angels. You are ready for the end of the night of this dark world and the dawn of eternity with your Savior. For by faith in this word you are his bride awaiting your Bridegroom. As the Bridegroom he shares everything with you, just as a married couple shares all. He has taken your debt, your sin and guilt to be his own nailed to the cross, and he has given you his riches, his righteousness and innocence. How we long for the heavenly wedding banquet when we will see our Bridegroom in his majesty and glory!

On that Day we will not tremble in terror as Peter, James, and John did. Rather we will lift up our heads in joy. For our Savior, who has reigned in our hearts by the lamp of his Word, now shines as the King of kings for all to see. He is the Morning Star ushering the everlasting Day.

So pay attention to the lamp until that Day dawns. You won't have to wonder about what you will see when death comes. For you won't see some vague, bright light. You'll see Jesus, your Bridegroom, in his glory. Your Jesus who died to take away your sin. Your Jesus who rose from the dead to bring you eternal life. Your Jesus,who know shines for you through the lamp of his Word, will then shine in his glory. So pay attention to the lamp until that Day dawns. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Questions for Catechism students:

Why pay attention to the Bible?

Why can we be sure about what the Bible says?

Since we know the Bible is the sure, inspired word of God, how are we to use it?

How does God's Word prepare us to see Jesus' majesty?

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313