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MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS

A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.

6421 W. Poinsettia Drive

Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419

 

 

Tuesday, December 26, 2000

 

KJV Matthew 17:1 And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2 And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3 And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. 4 Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5 While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6 And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. 7 And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. 8 And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. 9 And as they came down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, saying, Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead.

 

2 Peter 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18 And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. 19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: 20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

 

JESUS IS GOD

 

The Gospel and Epistle both teach in the clearest possible language that Jesus is God, because the Transfiguration reveals His glory, the glory of the only begotten Son.

 

KJV John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

 

I have mentioned before that we should remember Jesus appeared to be an ordinary man most of the time. His walks, eating, sleeping, praying, His anger and laughter, His thirst for water – all pointed to His human nature. The disciples tended to forget that Jesus revealed Himself as God in the flesh many different times. The lessons for the Epiphany season highlight His divine nature, because we also forget. Some will say, “Oh no, I never forget that!” But we do forget when we fall into doubt and despair, for those episodes represent a forgetting of God’s power and love. Most importantly, they reveal a forgetting of Jesus’ sympathy and understanding as man and God.

 

KJV Hebrews 4:14 Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

 

When Jesus took Peter, James, and John on the mountain, He was transfigured before their eyes. The disciples saw the divine glory of the Son of God. They witnessed Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, another miraculous event. They heard God the Father speaking, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” The voice of God terrified them, causing them to fall on their faces in fear. Jesus touched them and comforted them, telling them not to be afraid.

 

Liberals are troubled by this entire episode. They do not like to hear that Jesus is God. When they are done with this lesson, it looks like a twisted rag the dog has chewed on. And then they conclude, “Aha! Who can believe that?” They did not believe it in the first place. They see a conspiracy in that the disciples were not to discuss the miraculous event until the Resurrection. We should not be dismayed by this. Jesus revealed His glory according to God’s timetable. During the Passion He allowed Himself to be seen as a mere man. He confessed to being “the Son of the Blessed” and He cursed the fig tree. But He allowed Himself to be arrested, tortured, and executed. Jesus was completely obedient to His Father’s will. Therefore, everything unfolded as the Old Testament prophets foretold, in perfect harmony with those revelations.

 

We should never overlook opportunities to think about God’s amazing power and His love for each and every one of us. I was thinking about how this shows itself in His Creation.

 

KJV John 1:3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 

I was explaining the process of composting to someone who asked about the Compost Tumbler in our backyard. For those who are unaware of the process, let me mention a few things:

  1. It requires a mass of organic matter (grass, leaves, fruit peels, weeds, manure, soil), enough moisture to be damp, and enough nitrogen to get the process started. It also needs continuous moisture and some air to keep the process going.
  2. Mold forms very quickly, one of God’s ways of breaking down organic matter. Then nitrogen loving bacteria heat up the pile to 140 degrees and break it down. Some nitrogen escapes as gas (an ammonia smell) but much of it changes to compounds to be used by plants.
  3. When the initial heat is gone, sowbugs, pillbugs, centipedes, millipedes, springtails, and many other creatures invade the pile for a feast. Some creatures eat mold. Other primitive arthropods eat their compost brethren. In various ways a dead leaf, orange peel, or weed is transformed into compost, a dark earthy compound with an attractive aroma of earth. The soil animals themselves contribute to the mixing and breaking down, becoming part of the bio-mass.
  4. The last stage of composting is marked by the entrance of the King of Soil Improvement – the earthworm. Delicate and fussy in some respects (he likes sweet soil, organic matter, darkness, moisture, and no heat) he is mighty earthmover and a prolific family man. A few earthworms in compost can become thousands. Their egg capsules dot the compost and spread the earthworm community when the compost is used in various places.

 

The Compost Tumbler is off the ground, so some of the soil creature activity is limited, but I decided to use the device to keep the compost moist and aerated, two essentials for decomposition.

 

Non-gardeners are impatient with such details, but I would like to ask something I have wondered myself many times: How can we comprehend the absolute symphony of activity required for all of this to happen, anywhere, any time, given the proper conditions? Most of us have never heard of a springtail, or seen one, yet these tiny servants of God’s kingdom leap at every opportunity to break down rotting matter. The bacteria obey God’s command. The mold grows where needed. All of this ultimately serves mankind, for no civilization has ever grown and survived on poor soil. It was so important in ancient Egypt that it was a crime to hurt an earthworm.

 

If our world is ordered so perfectly at the cellular level, then what can we say about God’s power and love for each one of us?

 

The Transfiguration of Christ teaches us to remember that Jesus is God and can accomplish whatever He wishes at any time. Those who only know the power of God fear Him and in many cases hate Him as well. If they look upon Creation only from the viewpoint of the Law, they may lead obedient and outwardly righteous lives. But someone with the Law alone only knows judgment and not forgiveness.

 

Jesus, as man and God, knows our weaknesses and temptations, because He was also tempted. That is when we understand that the Gospel is not an abstract concept, but the power of forgiveness for us, for me. Luther stated many times that it does no good to say that Jesus died for the sins of the world, if we do not also confess “and for me.” The phrase “for me” means, “I have faith in His atoning death and His resurrection from the dead. He died for my sins.”

 

So we can see why the disciples fell on their faces in fear when God spoke. Then Jesus touched them and said, “Do not be afraid.” This is also the effect of the absolution. The two parts of confession are: sorrow for sin and trust in forgiveness through the cross. Sorrow for sin can mean falling to the ground. When Peter saw the miraculous catch of fish, and realized the power of the Savior,

 

KJV Luke 5:8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.

 

Jesus comforted Peter at that time as well:

 

Luke 5:10b And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.

 

Confession and absolution means that we as sinners receive forgiveness through the cross of Christ. For that very reason we have strength from God, not ourselves, to resist temptation and to glorify God through good works. When we are burdened with sin, we think about ourselves or what has happened in the past. When we receive absolution, the Gospel gives us the righteousness of Christ. This turns our attention to God in thanksgiving and toward others as well. God’s purpose is realized in that His Gospel not only grants us forgiveness but also spreads the love of God to family, friends, neighbors, and fellow workers.

 

The power of Jesus as God’s Son is always before us in the act of prayer. The Gospel moves us to pray because forgiveness deepens our trust in Him. Believers always pray in the name of Christ, as He commanded. We know that Jesus will hear our prayers and will answer them according to His wisdom and love. We should remember at times of greatest weakness and despair that His human nature continues and makes us truly our Brother. He  understands us and also has the power to answer our prayers. When we doubt this, we should look back at all the times He has preserved us, blessed us, and given us blessings beyond our ability to imagine.

 

The liberals and the cults cannot understand how Jesus as the Son of God could pray to God the Father. The Jehovah’s Witness said to me, “I can’t understand Jesus as God praying to God.” I said, “A cow can’t understand it either.” That may sound brutal, but only the Holy Spirit can reveal these things to us. If we want to set aside the wisdom of God and replace it with our limited human understanding, then we should expect to be blind to everything worthwhile in the Bible.

 

There is nothing in the Bible about God that we can understand purely in human terms. Every attribute of God, every act of God is believed because the Holy Spirit has moved our hearts to trust the revelation of God’s Word. We can use human reason if it is subordinated to God’s Word, but never to judge the Word, to lord it over the Word.
”Human reason though it ponder cannot fathom this great wonder…These great mysteries unsounded are by God alone expounded.” Hymn #305, v. 6.

 

The closer we get to the power of God’s Word, the more some people rebel against it. Although all Christians confess that Jesus was transfigured before His disciples eyes and spoke with Moses and Elijah, dead for centuries, and God spoke to them all, many deny another passage in the Bible – This is My body given for you, for the forgiveness of sin.

 

The Gospel does not get more personal than this – We receive the body and blood of Christ together with the bread and wine. “Given for you, for the forgiveness of sin.” This is so significant that we express the last stage of church discipline in terms of holy communion – excommunication. That means, Unless you repent of your sins and believe in the forgiveness offered by Christ, you are going to Hell. You will no longer receive the sacrament of the altar. (Some are suspended from communion, but that is not excommunication.)

 

On the positive side, communion is the sacrament repeated for our benefit, because of our weakness, to give us forgiveness in a visible form. Because communion is so important, we take it seriously and pay attention to receiving the individual elements. Communion not only gives us forgiveness through the visible Word, but also strengthens our faith at the same time. We call it a Means of Grace because it is one of three ways (means) by which we receive forgiveness: through the Word, through baptism, through communion.

 

Someone phoned me about studying a Baptist book in his WELS congregation. I said, “Why? Are the Baptists studying Luther?” We went over the brief descriptions of the books by Phil Yancy, Christianity Today. The one on grace said it was mysterious and difficult to grasp. That’s true for a non-Lutheran. Non-Lutherans are never sure of forgiveness because no one teaches them that forgiveness comes only through the Means of Grace.

 

Usually the shift (among generic Protestants) is toward prayer, praying for forgiveness. If the power of forgiveness comes from prayer, then how do I know I prayed hard enough and  long enough for forgiveness? Then, what if I think I have to qualify to ask for forgiveness? What if I am a member of a sect that prohibits dancing and I danced; or if I had a sip of wine when alcohol is forbidden; or if I ate a pancake on Shrove Tuesday? The sects basically tell people, Go back and make yourself perfect and then ask for forgiveness. Therefore, there is always uncertainty about being completely and fully forgiven. Likewise, the Church of Rome teaches people that their sins are forgiven but not paid for. In other words, they must perform works now and in Purgatory to pay for their sins, as if Jesus did not do so on the cross.

 

Jesus is God and therefore paid for our sins on the cross. He is God, so He rose from the dead. He is God and answers our prayers. He grants us forgiveness through His Word and takes care of our needs, even before we ask. No fear or problem is too great or small to gain His attention. He is our comfort, our strength, our Savior, our Friend, our Brother, the Lord of Creation who listens to our prayers.