In light of coming persecution for the saints in Asia minor, as well as God’s faithfulness in all things (1 Peter 4:12-19), pastors are to watch over the flock of God.  They are to do so with pure motives rather than for personal gain; they are not to do so in a domineering way, but rather as examples.  The difficult labors of this life will not last forever; Jesus will return (1 Peter 4:4).  All—whether pastors or hearers, young or old—should treat each other with humility. 

We should also humble ourselves before God.  He gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34);  saving them, but bringing down the arrogant (Psalm 18:27; Luke 1:52; James 4:10).  Each of us should remember his place as a creature.  Each of us should, in meekness, be mindful of our sin.  None of us should regard himself more highly than he ought (Rom. 12:3)—whether before man, or before the Almighty.  Instead, we should have the same mindset as Christ, who in humility gave himself into death in our place (1 Peter 4:1; Phil. 2:5-7). Pride is a snare of the Devil (1 Tim. 3:6).

Satan prowls looking for prey therefore the Christian should be sober and watchful (Job 1:7; 2:2; Eph. 4:27).  He is a liar and murderer (John 8:44).  We should pray against temptation (Matt. 6:13; Matt. 26:41).  If we resist the Adversary, he will flee; instead we should draw near to God (James 4:7-8; 2 Tim. 2:22). 

Whatever the nature of the temptation—whether persecution for the saints in Asia Minor, or fleshly enticements for us today—no temptation, no testing, lasts forever (1 Peter 5:10; 1 Cor. 10:13).  As the Book draws to a close, we see again one of the first themes of the Epistle: “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).  These trials work for our good and God’s glory (1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 3:14-17).   

Christ is the cornerstone of the church (1 Peter 2:7).  We are a building for his habitation (1 Peter 2:4-5).  He is the Head of the body, his church (Col. 2:19; Eph. 4:15).  He alone has brought us to God (1 Peter 3:18).  All things have been subjected to him unto all eternity (1 Peter 3:22; 1 Peter 5:11).  His power sustains us to the end, so that we might with him in his glory forever (1 Peter 5:10).

Jesus began to tell His disciples that He must suffer and die at the hands of men. Christ must walk the way of self-denial, and to be in Christ is to be like Christ, taking up the cross after Him (Matthew 16:24). But now, as Christ begins the way toward Golgotha, He takes Peter and James and John with Him up on a mountain, as He did frequently to pray (Matthew 14:23, for example). Three would be a satisfactory number of witnesses to testify afterwards (Deuteronomy 17:6).

Yet while He is on the mountain, Jesus is transfigured, or transformed, before them. Used of Christ, it refers to His appearance. In His incarnation, He had emptied Himself, taking on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7-8). Christians also reflect this complete change, though in a spiritual sense, since we are called to be transformed in our minds (Romans 12:2) and transformed into the same image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). As Jesus now shows Himself to be God to His disciples, so are we called to become like Him. Thus, the Transfiguration is not merely a light show, but a glimpse of the glory that is to come.

The imagery of shining like the sun is a sign of Christ’s deity. John’s vision of the ascended Christ in Revelation 1 includes the same detail. Ezekiel’s vision of God describes the one seated on the throne as having the appearance of fire (Ezekiel 1:26-28). God is, after all, light (1 John 1:5), dwelling in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16), and clothed with light (Psalm 104:2). Daniel describes God the Father as being dressed in clothing white as snow (Daniel 7:9). Everything about Christ’s appearance in this moment points to His divine nature, now uncovered before the eyes of His three witnesses.

Moses’ face shone with the borrowed glory of God, whom he knew face to face (Exodus 34:29-35). To be in the gracious presence of God is to be transformed. Yet as Moses brought the ministry of death, which could be concealed with a piece of fabric, Christ brings the greater ministry of righteousness, far exceeding it in glory (2 Corinthians 3). Even the clothes on Christ’s body are transformed with Him, shining brightly with the glory of God.

Moses and Elijah appear with Christ, talking with Him. Moses knew the Lord face to face, and his body was not found after his death (Deuteronomy 34). Elijah was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1-14). Jesus also frequently referred to “Moses and the Prophets” as a poetic way of speaking about the Old Testament (such as in Luke 16:29). These two chief prophets, then, point toward Christ now as they had in their writings. Here is the One that the prophets of old longed to see, but did not see (Matthew 13:17). Yet now we, with the three disciples, see Him in all His majesty. The fullness of God’s revelation has come in His Son.

Peter, out of a mixture of fear and piety, proposes that three tents be set up in this place. As the tabernacle of old had covered the glory of God, so now it was only fitting that the divine glory receive a new dwelling place. His desire to give the Lord a fitting place for His glory is a noble one. As David says: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple” (Psalm 27:4). Likewise the Sons of Korah: “how lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts” (Psalm 84:1)!

Peter misunderstands the purpose of this transfiguration, just as he had misunderstood the purpose of Christ’s suffering about a week earlier. However, the Lord leaves no room for further misunderstandings. As Peter is speaking, a cloud descends upon the scene. Clouds like this are a sign of God’s presence among His people. God descended upon Sinai in a cloud (Exodus 19:9). He went before His people in a cloud by day (Exodus 13:17-22). The cloud of His glory filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35). He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind (Psalm 104:3). Now, just as He once spoke to His people in the wilderness in a pillar of cloud (Psalm 99:7), the great voice of the Father speaks again: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Obey him” (Matthew 17:5).

The usage of Psalm 2 here points toward two things. First, as Peter would later recall in 2 Peter 1:17, God the Father honors and glorifies Christ in this moment. Psalm 2 is, after all, about the coronation of the king. The Lord’s anointed King reigns on Zion, and the kings of the earth should tremble before Him who holds all authority in heaven and earth.

However, the time of Christ’s full glorification has not yet come. Only after His resurrection would He be vindicated by the Spirit (1 Timothy 3:16). Yet He is God’s chosen, sent into the world to redeem it. The Father testifies the truth about Christ, just as He testified using the same words at His Baptism (Matthew 3:13-17). Just as Christ then went into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan through much suffering, so also Christ now descends from the mountain to enter a greater wilderness, forsaken by men and the Father on the cross. The ministry of Jesus is thus bracketed by suffering, being tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. This transfiguration, therefore, is not a sidetrack in the Gospel. God repeats Himself to show His determination (Genesis 41:32).

Glory, majesty, power, dominion—all words used to describe the Lord and His perfect reign on earth. Yet God’s ways are not our ways, and the wisdom of God is foolishness to men (Isaiah 55:8-9; 1 Corinthians 1:20-25). God’s majesty and glory display themselves in unexpected ways. This reality prompts two important questions for the Christian. How and why does the Master of the whole creation take notice of such seemingly insignificant creatures as we? Why do the words of God and our present reality not seem to match up with each other? David addresses both these questions in Psalm 8.

This short psalm is unique in being entirely a direct address to the Lord. While other psalms certainly address God directly, they also speak directly to other men, whether calling on the congregation to praise the Lord for what He has done, calling on the Lord’s enemies to repent, or for some other reason. Therefore, Psalm 8 has the characteristics of a hymn, down to the repetition of the opening at the end as well as its three-part structure.

The very first word of the psalm proper is the divine name: “O Lord, our Lord,” or perhaps more to the point “O Jehovah, our Lord.” By opening and closing this psalm with God’s revealed name, David centers the answers to his questions in that name. God’s name is more than just a way to distinguish Him from others. God’s name expresses both who He is and what He has done. “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (Psalm 105:1)! God’s name has the power to save (Acts 4:12).

This name is “majestic” in “all the earth.” The creation itself bears witness to the works of God. Even Paul’s point that God’s perfect witness in the world leaves all without excuse (Romans 1:20) demonstrates that His majesty is not limited to believers. His specific glory is the redemption of His people, but His general glory also flows forth from His work of creation. The world endures because God reigns over it (Psalm 65:9-13). God’s glory, which can also be rendered “cloak” as in 1 Kings 19:13, envelopes everything, even the mighty heavens.

Yet, in the first section of the psalm, David clarifies that this glory does not express itself in expected ways. Though we might associate glory and power with human strength, God casts down the mighty and exalts the lowly. “Out of the mouth of children and infants you have established strength” (Psalm 8:3). Jesus rebukes the chief priests and the scribes with this verse, since they regarded the praise of children as shameful. Having worldly significance means nothing in the eyes of God (1 Samuel 16:7). The strength of children comes from having the name of God on their lips, even when it is lisped or stammered.

This reversal prompts another important question in the second section and which is the key question of the entire psalm. David is evidently out under the night sky, since he mentions the moon and the stars and omits any mention of the sun. Few sights in this creation as the glory of the night sky have the ability to make men feel so small and insignificant. The numberless stars, the brightness of the moon, the limitless arm of our galaxy—all make us ask an important question: “what is mankind that you remember him, and the son of man that you visit him” (Psalm 8:5)?

It is impossible to interpret this Psalm correctly without noting Paul’s words in Hebrews 2:5-9, where he identifies the son of man with the Son of Man, Jesus Christ. Yet I think it is important to note that while this psalm applies specifically to Christ, it also applies generally to the sons of men (a title also applied to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 2:1, etc). In fact, it is the transition from the general application regarding men in general to the specific application in Christ that answers the questions laid out by the Psalm.

Applied generally, then, the third section of this psalm describes the uniqueness of mankind with respect to the rest of creation. Man’s physical insignificance in the face of all that the Lord has created is offset by the Lord’s care and concern for Him. Because of God and God alone, man is what he is. The dominion given in creation does not belong to Adam because of something within him, but stems from God alone (Genesis 1:28). As the child whispering the name of God is stronger than the wicked man in all his worldly strength, so the importance of man stems from God’s words alone. God’s name from beginning to end makes us who we are, even as human beings.

Yet this is precisely the point where the other question comes into the forefront. Judging by our present reality, we no longer exercise the dominion given to Adam, or at least in an extremely fractured way. “Is the wild ox willing to serve you” (Job 39:9-12)? “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord” (Job 41)? Our present reality of sin shows that Psalm 8 is not a song of human triumph. The disparity between its words and our current mourning shows that it must look forward to something else.

This is why Hebrews 2 is so important for interpretation. Christ, the Son of Man, has been made a little lower than the angels. His dominion also awaits its completion, since “we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him” (Hebrews 2:8). But it is in Christ that we see the fulfillment. Jesus is man in the way that man is supposed to be. Adam was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), but Christ is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15). Adam exercised dominion under God (Genesis 1:28), but Christ has dominion under the Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-27). In God and God alone, man finds the full expression of who he is as God’s creation.

Therefore, Psalm 8 is not a glorification of man, but of God. Though man seems childish and insignificant in comparison with God’s creation, Christ proves to us that God cares for us. The cross, foolish in the eyes of the world, is God’s visitation among men and the proof that we are His chief concern. Even if our lives seem small and unimportant, we bear the name of God. Bearing that name will mean bearing a cross, so that our experience will be one of weakness and seemingly contrary to God’s promises. Yet as God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What is the hope towards which we press? How do we describe what no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mortal mind has comprehended? Listen as we finish our series on the four-fold distinction of human nature with a discussion of man in the state of glory.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 15

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Part 1 of this series

Biblical piety begins and ends in knowledge.

There is a tendency to locate piety either in the emotions or in the will. It is attractive to make piety part of emotion, because of the power of human feeling. Piety is not the same as the feeling of being content in the Lord or being happy or even “being on fire for God.” If that is the case, piety becomes man-centered rather than God-centered. Human emotion is certainly part of this creation, and a feeling of contentment is a good gift of God, but we should not confuse the two. Piety can certainly exist even in trying times.

Likewise, piety is not part of the will. This too is a man-centered approach. While the will of the regenerate man is certainly engaged and desires to please God, placing piety there makes it the work of man. Man does not act so that God may react. Rather, God is the one who gives and sustains faith, so that the regenerate man responds to what God has already done.

Rather, piety is located in knowledge. For who can worship the Lord if they do not know Him to be their God? As Paul says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard” (Romans 10:14)? Likewise Jesus said to the Samaritan woman: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

This knowledge is divided into two parts: (1) the knowledge of God, and (2) the knowledge of one’s condition before God. Both of these must be held together, because if one is lacking, the other is invariably skewed. To know God but to not know oneself is to walk the way of self-righteousness. To know oneself but not to know God is to walk the way of despair. But to know God and to know oneself rightly is to fear God and give him glory and to worship Him who made heaven and earth.

The knowledge of God consists in confessing what He Himself has revealed to us. Though we are but creatures who cannot comprehend God as He is, yet God has lowered Himself in love to us to proclaim clearly who He is. He is the holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the creator and sustainer of all that is. He is almighty, all-knowing, perfect, present everywhere. The Lord is righteous, holy, faithful, just. “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)? God depends on nothing, yet His creation depends wholly on Him. While this description hardly covers everything, it must be said that to deny anything which God has said about Himself is to worship something other than God. The Lord is who He says that He is, not what men presume to say about Him.

The knowledge of oneself consists in recognizing the depths of our own sin. Though Adam was created in perfection, yet he sinned. As he was our head, so the body of the human race suffers together with the head. “But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me” (Hosea 6:7). “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Further, knowing our own condition rightly also points us back to the knowledge of God. To know that you are a sinner is to know that you need a Savior. And to know Jesus Christ as your Savior is to be brought out of darkness into light, out of death into life. This too is part of a right knowledge of God, because God has revealed Himself not only as our Creator and our Judge, but also as our Redeemer. “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:22-23).

Piety also ends in knowledge, because we are pressing forward to the goal of being before God in righteousness and purity forever. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9). “Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4). “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name” (Psalm 86:9).

Beginning with the next article, we will discuss the Biblical forms of piety and their basis. Now that the foundation is laid, we need to look at the structure of the temple, so to speak. Once that is completed, we will look at practical questions, which may be likened to the outward appearance of the building.

I have talked earlier about Isaiah 6 at some length in the article “The Holiness of the Lord,” and I would encourage readers to read or re-read that article in conjunction with this lectionary study.  Briefly, Isaiah 6 speaks of the Lord’s utter uniqueness or holiness, from which even the sinless seraphim must avert their eyes.  But because all of Scripture is an inexhaustible mine, I will add additional notes here.

Isaiah 6 forms what is commonly referred to as Isaiah’s call.  This vision of the Lord is not Isaiah’s earliest, as his ministry has already begun in the days of Hezekiah (2 Kings 19).  Nevertheless, the clear language of Isaiah 6:8 justifies this title.  The Lord appears to Isaiah and sends him to the house of Israel to proclaim His Word (see the parallel calls of Jeremiah 1 and Ezekiel 2).

The reference to Uzziah, or Hezekiah, in Isaiah 6:1 places this passage shortly after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel.  His father Ahaz (or Amaziah) reigned in Judah when the last king of Israel, Hoshea, was set upon the throne (2 Kings 17:1).  However, by the end of Hoshea’s brief reign of nine years, Hezekiah had ascended to the throne of his father (2 Kings 18:1).  Even though Uzziah’s reign in Judah is long (compare 2 Chronicles 26:3 and 2 Kings 18:2, noting that the two authors have different starting points for counting), it still places Isaiah 6 within decades of the fall of the northern kingdom.

Regarding the passage itself, the Holy Spirit reveals through it several important truths about the Lord.  Holiness has already been mentioned elsewhere, as noted.  Closely connected to His holiness is the glory of the Lord.  Even though the “train [or hem] of His robe” is all that can be seen in Isaiah 6:1, it is enough to make the ground shake (Psalm 18:7; 77:18) and the house to fill with smoke (Exodus 19:18; 1 Kings 18:10-11; Revelation 15:8).

In addition to this revelation of the Lord’s holiness and glory, this passage also points to the Lord’s mercy and sovereignty.  The Lord is merciful, because Isaiah should have been destroyed at even this veiled appearance of the Lord.  “Man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).  Yet the Lord does not reveal the fullness of His glory and covers over the sin of Isaiah, so that he is able to stand in His presence.

The Lord is sovereign, because His question “whom shall I send” reveals His will.  It should not be interpreted as a question of uncertainty, as if the Lord does not already have in mind what He will do.  He is not deliberating.  A statement in the form of a question frequently occurs in the Bible (see, for example, Revelation 7:13-14).  Rather, the Lord appears to Isaiah precisely so that His will is carried out with respect to the remaining kingdom.

Being the Old Testament reading appointed for Trinity Sunday, a few concluding notes regarding this central revelation are in order.  First, the doctrine of the Trinity proceeds from good and necessary consequences of various statements in the Bible.  The word itself appears nowhere in Scripture and is really only the best we have, even if the word itself can lend itself to misunderstandings.  But we should not imagine that it is not a clear teaching of the Bible for that reason, nor should we assume that verses like Isaiah 6:3 do not need to be unpacked.  The Holy Spirit fully reveals that God is the Most Holy Trinity, even if we have to take some steps to make this clear to us.

Second, regarding Isaiah 6:3 in light of the previous note, the threefold repetition of “holy, holy, holy” in itself is not a decisive “proof.”  Repetition may be only for emphasis also in the Bible, such as Jeremiah 7:4, Numbers 6:24-26, or the very common tendency of the Psalms to restate ideas in succession.  The threefold holy here also expresses the utter holiness of God, holy in a way in which we will never be.  Nevertheless, it is true that there is a hint of the doctrine of the Trinity here, but hints need to be clarified with far clearer passages.