Follow the Light of the Morningstar…no matter how dark the night.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (James 1:2)…. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:6)… I have said these things to you.. in the world, you will have tribulation.”
How does it feel, to know what’s coming? How does it feel knowing deep down that no matter how enjoyable today is, that no matter how wonderful this weekend is, no matter how successful you are this year, you’re going to eventually suffer.
“Well, good morning to you too Pastor! That’s an awfully depressing way to start a sermon!” That’s not my intention, I’m not trying to be cruel. I think I’m telling you something you already know, you’re going to face “trials of many kinds, grief in all kinds of trials, and tribulation.” The Bible makes it clear. You know that it’s coming! In fact sometimes we can almost time it out, when things are going a little too well in life, we can bet one of those days is coming.
The truth is, the apostles aren’t the only ones who have ever felt that they will inevitably face bad news. In fact There are some right here, right now, who know that cancer or some other illness is eating away at them. There are others whose job or health benefits are scheduled to be taken away sometime in the near future. Maybe you’ve noticed your body has slowed down in old age, maybe many of your friends and loved ones have already passed away. Maybe for a few of you, bad news isn’t something that’s quickly coming. It’s something that’s already happened. It’s an accident that’s taken away your mobility. It’s the passing of a loved one. It’s consequences of a past decision. Or maybe it’s just the heavy and dark weight on your heart that makes trying to feel genuinely joyful and happy even some of the time really really difficult.
And that’s why we’re in the book of 2 Peter this morning on transfiguration. Peter knows his end is coming. 2 Peter is the last note we have that was written by him. And in it, Peter takes us back to the moment we read about in our Gospel this morning, the moment in time 8 days after Jesus had diagnosed himself with an upcoming crucifixion; a moment when Jesus told his disciples that their eyes were going to see something really bad happening. So to ready Christians for bad times, Peter takes us back to the Transfiguration, a brief moment of glory that went away far too quickly. But an event which impacted Peter’s heart so deeply that decades after it happened, through all the dark and difficult times he experienced and even looking to a very near end of his earthly existence, it still gave him all the hope and joy and confidence he needed. Just like it can for us today, no matter what darkness you’re facing. The apostle peter speaks to us this morning, listen to his words:
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”b18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and 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.20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Ron is a 67-year old waiter at a restaurant in Hollywood. A while ago he was clearing off the dishes from a table he had waited on when he looked at the receipt they had left behind for their $50 meal. On the line where they write the tip for the waiter was written “$7000,” next to the phrase, “Tips for Jesus.” So you know what Ron did? He threw away the receipt. He figured someone maybe had too much to drink. It turns out, they didn’t. “Tips for Jesus” is a real organization that goes around leaving generous tips for waiters and waitresses out of love for Jesus. The tip was real. But Ron never got it. He threw it away.
Which is exactly the advice Peter’s audience was getting when it came to the Jesus Peter was preaching. Peter urged them to put their hope in “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That was the note Peter wrote that he believed would give them hope. But just like Ron thought it was pretty foolish to expect a $7000 tip on a $50 check, these people said it was foolish to expect that a Jesus they had never seen was going to someday come back for them. “Why would you ever believe in such “cleverly devised stories,” they asked.
So Peter encouraged them to do a little fact checking for themselves, and he gives them an eyewitness account. “I was there!” he says, “I saw Jesus himself in all his glory with Moses and Elijah. I heard the father’s voice, and he was fulfilling the words of the prophets in Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Peter was essentially pointing out that if his stories were clever inventions, then so was the entire Old testament of prophecies these people believed. In this section, Peter did what nearly every New Testament writer does: he invites his audience to investigate and evaluate if the message about Jesus is accurate by pointing back to the proof. Did you know that Christianity is the only religion in the world that invites you to do that?
For example, in the Gospel of Luke, he writes all these details, “1. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar – when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, 2. Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanius tetrarch of Abilene – 3. during the high priest reign of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came …” Do you know what Luke is doing there? He’s telling the story of Jesus in the context of world history. All those names are names you can find in other historical documents. Luke is inviting you to investigate what he says about Jesus with the times, places, and people, so that you can verify that what he says about Jesus is historically accurate. No other religion does that.
Following Islam, for example, means believing the testimony of one man, Muhammad, even though he not only gives you no other names or places or events that you can use to verify the accuracy of what he says happened, but also whose book, the Qur’an, has been proven to be inaccurate in numerous places. Match that against the 40 different writers of the bible over 1500 years who all perfectly agree on every detail of Jesus’ existence; as well as the 742 pages of historic evidence that back up different biblical events, and the more than 25,000 archeological sites that have proven what’s in the bible to be 100% accurate, and the fact that no biblical event has been proven to be false by history, geography, or science. The reason the bible writers like Peter and Luke invite you to investigate their stories is because they know history will back them up. The reason Islam doesn’t is because history can’t back it up. It’s a cleverly-invented story. It’s fiction. It’s made-up.
Peter wants you to know that you can trust this word; that it’s flawless message comes from a flawless God. And there’s a reason he wants you to believe that. It’s because he knows your heart feels dark and uncertain sometimes, and you need something solid to hold onto. Listen to what he says then in verse 19, “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and 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.”
Peter uses the natural beauty here of God’s creation to point his readers to something more. Do you know what the morning star is? It’s the planet venus. A lot of times if you get up early enough, you’ll see this bright morningstar on the horizon that precedes the sunrise, signals that a new day is dawning. It’s a light surrounded by a darkness infinite times its size. But though it’s so small, it’s so important because, after hours of deep darkness, it’s the promise that something brighter and more glorious is soon to be coming.
That’s what Jesus is for you. He’s your morning Star. In a world where we are constantly surrounded by deep darkness, we need a light reliable enough to always lead us through it. And though he looks incredibly small – crying from a manger in Bethlehem, gasping for air on a cross outside Jerusalem, or laying in your hand when you receive communion - on Easter morning, that one small star shining outside a dark empty grave showed that the only thing that can now separate you from him, the only enemy he can’t overcome, is “nothing in all creation.” “You will do well to pay attention to [him],” Peter writes, because, no matter who you are or how dark your situation, his is the only voice, the only note, the only light that gives you the God-given right to expect that something better, something glorious, is most certainly coming.
Have you ever seen the TV show “The Voice.” It’s a singing contest, but the big thing that sets it apart is that the judges can’t see who’s singing. They sit their chairs, backs to the stage so that they can really evaluate what’s supposed be most important, the voice.
Did you notice that that’s the only thing God told the disciples to pay attention to in the account of the Transfiguration in this morning’s Gospel? He said, “This is my son whom I have chosen, listen to him.” That’s pretty surprising when you consider what the disciples saw up on that mountain that day. But God told them not to pay attention to that, but instead to listen.
And if they did, then 8 months later, they’d hear the sound of a whip ripping his skin more than 40 times. They’d listen to his heavy grunts of air as the cross landed on his shoulders. They’d listen to his enemies laugh at him, as he begged his father to forgive them. They’d listen to pinging of an iron hammer pounding nails again and again. They’d listen to the dying shriek of an innocent man who’s love for us led him to cry out “It is finished,” a love we sometimes question because we think we have a right to expect an easier life than his.
Christians, there’s a reason why Jesus didn’t want to build a permanent home on that mountain like Peter suggested. Because like you, he would never want to live forever in a world like this, a world that would do that to him. He would rather sacrifice himself, to bring you to a home where there are many rooms; where death, mourning, crying, and pain, a place where you don’t have to expect “trials of many kinds, grief in all kinds of trials, and tribulation,” Jesus sacrificed himself to destroy those things and to keep a promise that “I am going there to prepare a place FOR YOU.”
When you teach your child to walk, you’re hold their hands all the way, they’re moving their legs, but you won’t let them go, you won’t them fall. That’s what Jesus does for you. He is your morning star, hold onto him no matter how dark the night. His words and promises are as true as the book in which they’re written. He will lead you, he will not let you fall. Amen.