The Transfiguration of Christ, 2017
The Eighth Sunday after Trinity, 2017
The Epistle – 2 Peter 1:13-18
The Gospel – Luke 9:28-36
Article 12 – Of Good Works
Article 13 – Of Works before Justification
Article 14 – Of Works of Supererogation
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
The three Articles that are up today are all to do with works. The works or good works or the things we do.
Article 12 defines Good Works, which are the fruit of our faith. They are the things we do in response to us being grateful for the salvation we have been brought into by and through Christ.
We call this beginning the time of Justification, which we will take up in a few weeks. But the concept is straightforward.
We are in a state, naturally, from birth, at enmity with God. The bible is very clear that before we are Christians, we are not in favor with God.
Once He calls us out of that darkness, and enmity, He brings us into His favor and we are declared Justified. More will be said about this when that Article comes up.
But what we are getting at today is that once we are in favor with God and His wrath is turned away from us and we are declared not guilty in God’s courtroom, we should, on account of this verdict, be bearing good fruit.
To be sure, the fruit we bear is also the work of God in us, so we can’t take credit, but it is present nevertheless and it is required of us.
These fruits…these good works we do follow after Justification.
However we need to be clear also that they are good works toward neighbor and for God. They are not designed to take away sins.
Part of our original state leads us to selfishness or self-righteousness.
We want things our way. Some will say that this is an American phenomenon. We are raised here to be “doers”, “go-getters” and “rugged individualists.”
This may be true, but it’s true of more than just Americans. All men are born this way to one degree or another.
We want to fix things and fix them ourselves….and then maybe take credit for it…or feel proud about it.
The Gospel includes this fact, which chops away at this problem we all have.
The Gospel says that Christ died for us. We don't die for ourselves.
Christ atoned for our sins. We don't do any atoning ourselves.
The Article even says that our good works cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment…
…meaning, no good works are good enough to satisfy God’s righteous requirements. Only Christ’s good works can do that.
Therefore, the works we do, do not atone at all for sins, past, present or future.
Good works are not to be done for credit, applause, atonement, fixing, or anything like that.
Good works are to be done by us because we love God for first loving us…when we were unlovely.
And they are done, it says, when they are done in Christ. Christians are called Christians because they are Christ-ians. Christ followers. Members of Christ’s body.
The works Christians do are what please God. So-called good works that unbelievers do, though they may have some value to others, are not in any way meritorious and are not accepted as “good” to God because outside of Christ, all works done are considered done for some other reason than to please God.
Again, they are done for selfish motives. They are done for no good reason, maybe. Or they are done because someone wants to be nice to someone else.
But this is not the way God has designed it. He requires faith in His Son for them to be acceptable.
If they don't spring from faith, as the Article says, they are basically dead works.
Some unbelievers may use these good works in some way to try to store up credit so when they die they can tell God about how many good things they did when they were on earth.
But again, this is not how God has set it up. Good works done by Christians are approved by God because He sees them as done through His Son Jesus Christ.
Though our good works are sometimes weak, or they are tainted with sin, they are acceptable to God because of the cleansing blood of Christ.
Not so with unbelievers. Their so-called good works remain tainted with sin and there is no faith so there is no cleansing blood of Christ to make them acceptable to God.
Finally, there are the works of “supererogation.” To pay out in addition.
This Article is fairly straightforward and quite clear about these types of works.
The idea of doing works over and above what God commands cannot be taught without arrogance and impiety.
The early Church placed a lot of emphasis on martyrdom. Martyrs were said by some to have, by their being martyred, had their sins blotted out.
Others placed a high value on virginity. This too was said by some to be a more virtuous life and held in high esteem….maybe leaning slightly to the side of gaining a higher approval by God.
But the examples of the early Church writers are so scarce, we don't see this as a pattern and certainly not a rule.
But like some other tendencies of the medieval period, this too gained some traction.
With the rise of monasteries and the monastic life came the idea that those inside the monastery were somewhat more holy than those outside.
This came to a head in the 16th century when the monastic life had gained a life of its own. The monks taught that their way of life was a state of perfection.
They believed that they not only obeyed and satisfied the Commandments of God, but that they exceeded them.
They even went to so far as to say they could apply their good works to another person’s and thus satisfy another man’s sins.
The Parable that is pointed to the most is probably the Parable of the Unworthy Servants found in Luke 17.
Jesus asks, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (ESV)
This sort of belief about ourselves is arrogant. To think we can in any way perform over and above what God commands of us. We cannot even fulfill the Law that He has given…never mind fulfill it above and beyond.
Of all of this, commentator Harold Browne summarizes it this way.
Lastly, we may observe that the whole of the doctrine of works of supererogation arises from a false view of the principles of Christian obedience. If we look for merit, it must be to Christ. Christian obedience is not a task of so much work to be done, and so much reward to be expected. When it is sound and perfect, it springs from a true faith and a holy love. And as no degree of perfection can excel the obedience which would be yielded by perfect love, so nothing can excel that holiness at which every Christian is bound to aim. The obedience of the Gospel is not the task-work of a slave, but the perfect freedom of a son.”
Today the Transfiguration also lands on our calendar. This amazing event was not seen by all of the Apostles but only by Peter, James and John.
Jesus had these three men set aside from time to time to witness certain things the others would not.
Peter’s own account, brief though it is, does show a bold and certain man who doesn't seem to be written about in the same way in the Gospel accounts.
He does speak up when the others don't. This might be a reason why Jesus chose Peter for specific tasks.
But Peter when writing his two Epistles later on will sound much more seasoned, clear headed, direct and reasoned.
He writes today in our Epistle section with such boldness.
He writes, knowing that he soon will be dead. He will be killed for confessing and preaching Christ.
And yet his desire is to remind his readers that even though he knows his so-called “departure” is near, he is still working to preach the Gospel.
“I will make every effort so that after my departure, after my death, you may be able to recall these things.”
He goes on…. “For, we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were eyewitnesses of His majesty.”
Peter’s design here is to give his readers hope, perseverance and encouragement.
We as Christians do not have to fear anything or anyone because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Nor do we have to work to save ourselves.
It was confirmed in the Transfiguration.
This is the sort of message that pushes the Christian along to good works.
Peter worked to the very end of his life for the sake of getting the message of Christ out to other people…to lost people….
…who did not know Christ. Who were still dead in their trespasses and sins. Who were performing dead works.
He did this…he wrote this… so that future generations would also come to Christ through not only his message but also the encouragement of his firmness and resilience even to the end of his life.
The life of the Christian, engaged in good works also possesses the knowledge that men like Peter have gone before us. They were eyewitnesses to the miracles of Jesus.
They were confirmed over and over in their faith in Christ because of the continuous flow of evidence that Jesus was the Christ.
Two figures appear with Jesus in the Transfiguration. Moses and Elijah.
Moses is the giver of the Law. Elijah represents the Prophets of God.
The Law and the Prophets.
They are speaking with Jesus about Jesus’ departure. In other words, His death. Exactly what Peter calls his own death. A departure.
Perhaps we might consider that wording the next time we encounter the death of a saint of God in our own circles. They depart to be with the Lord.
But these two, Moses and Elijah symbolize the Law and the Prophets. And Jesus is the fulfiller of both. Jesus fulfilled the Law and He did so for us. He is obedient for us.
Jesus is the fulfillment of all Prophecy and Prophets. He is said to be Prophet, Priest and King and is so perfectly.
These two today, Christ fulfills for us.
He obeys the Law perfectly in our place.
And, He is the perfect Prophet of God in that He is the mouthpiece for God. He is the teller of future events. He is the messenger of God to God’s people. He, by His message calls people back to God.
So with the works of Christ set before us, signaled by Moses and Elijah coming and speaking with Jesus, tells us that He is the One who fulfills all things to satisfy the justice and the righteous requirements of God.
So the works that we do, must be done with this in mind. Knowing that all that we are required to do, we do not do as we should.
We are at the end of the day, unworthy servants. Only Christ alone is the true servant of God who fulfills all that is required.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.