"Confirming the truth" by Rod Bayley, 28 November 2010, 2 Peter 1:12-21

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Danny

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Dec 1, 2010, 8:29:17 PM12/1/10
to Sermons from Wollongong Baptist Church
People are often fascinated by last words. We record a person’s dying
utterances as if we hope somehow to find a clue to the hidden truths
of life and death or some words of wisdom. Of course, if the person
is a comic like the Irish Playright Oscar Wilde, then we may not feel
we get much insight - he said on his deathbed: ‘This wallpaper is
appalling. One of us will have to go.’ Others want to encourage
those left behind. Actress Ethel Barrymore, who died in 1959 said:
‘Is everybody happy? I want everybody to be happy. I know I’m
happy.’

But if the person has a little more time, the final words can offer
important instructions to those who will go on. We take particular
heed of them, especially when the situation invests them with some
urgency. In 1997 an Italian film was first released called ‘Life Is
Beautiful’, which tells the story of an Italian Jew, Guido (played by
Roberto Benigni), who lives in his own romantic fairy tale world, but
who must learn how to use his fertile imagination to help his son
survive their internment in a Nazi concentration camp. There is a
scene towards the end of the movie when Guido instructs his young son
Joshua. They are facing what the father believes will be the final
night in the concentration camp, as the German soldiers’ actions
suggest the Allies are swiftly approaching. The father’s instructions
for his son to persevere in hiding till all is completely quiet might
save his life, as they will be separated and the father will not be
able to guide his son. The son trusts his father and listens intently
to his final words.

As we come to our passage in 2 Peter 1 today, the apostle lets his
readers know that his time is short. This letter represents Peter’s
final written instructions to his Christian readers. Peter is
conscious that he is about to die and wants to provide some final,
crucial instructions for the next generation. He will soon be
separated from them, and will no longer be able to guide them in
person. Notice again what he states in verses 12 to 15:
“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know
them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13I think
it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of
this body, 14because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord
Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort to
see that after my departure you wil always be able to remember these
things.”

Peter declares that Jesus has told him that he doesn’t have long to
live in verse 14, which may be a reference to the conversation between
him and the risen Christ in John 21, where Jesus tells Peter to feed
his sheep, or it could have been some subsequent revelation that is
not recorded. Whatever the case, this scenario brings an urgency to
Peter’s teaching, but he doesn’t want to present anything new, but
rather remind them of the foundational things that they already know.
Notice that in verse 12 he is writing about things they know, and that
they are already firmly established in the truth. They have received
the gospel and realise the need to keep growing too, because the
“these things” in verse 12 refers to what Peter has been sharing in
verses 3 to 11. He has just been talking about the need to keep
growing in godliness, to keep maturing in character, as he shared a
list of fruit of the spirit. He is concerned that they don’t simply
rest on their new found forgiveness in Christ, but that they become
fruitful and effective Christians. Like James says in his letter,
he’s not wanting just knowledge without change in the lives of those
who have received such a precious faith. And so in verse 12, Peter
says he wants to remind them of “these things” even though they know
them - that the gospel, which is the truth that they are established
in for verse 12, must lead to change in character, maturity in the
faith. Keep pressing forward, because this brings assurance and a
great inheritance awaits.

How does this all apply to us today, as we read Peter’s final words to
his readers, where he reiterates what they already know? Did you
notice how many times Peter uses phrases like “remind you of these
things” (v12), “refresh your memory” (v13), “remember these
things” (v15)? Do you find hearing something again boring? Do you
find it tiresome to be reminded of spiritual truths, and find yourself
constantly longing for the latest thing, some new teaching that will
captivate your mind? Australian society, western society generally,
has been besotted with the latest trend for at least a generation.
And so churches will present the latest course - there have been the
40 days of purpose, and 40 days of love courses from Rick Warren at
the Saddleback church in Los Angeles. There are the many Willow Creek
church courses and resources that are also promoted around the world,
or the latest offering from Holy Trinity Brompton in the U.K., home of
Nicky Gumbel and the Alpha courses. There is nothing wrong with some
of these courses, but the thing that often drives their commercial
success is our search for the new, or the silver bullet which will
bring instant growth to a church, or a sudden life of victory for the
individual Christian. In an age of instant service, and timers at the
McDonald’s drive-through window, we live in a society that requires
quick results, or at least the new shiny toy, the latest gadget that
is attractive and new to satisfy us. As has also been said ad
nauseum, the TV age has seen reducing attention spans - we’ve produced
a generation of people that are 10 second sprinters, but with very few
marathon runners.

But the Christian life is not a sprint - it is marathon, and there is
no silver bullet, no quick fix to your growth as a Christian. And so
the apostle Peter doesn’t offer a quick-fix, or a shiny new theology,
some false hope of a secret weapon that will make it easy for us to
grow in character, to grow in effectiveness and fruitfulness. As
Peter has already highlighted back in verse 3, we have been given
everything we need for life and godliness already, through our
knowledge of Jesus, and his divine powere that is at work in us by the
Holy Spirit. Rather, he reminds us of the ongoing hard work of
growing in godliness, which is motivated by the gospel. Reminders of
the basics are good - don’t tire of them. We are not to move on from
the gospel and the corresponding call to growth in godliness, we are
to move into the gospel and its implications more deeply. Keep going
back to the gospel, to the forgiveness of our sin, which should spur
us on, making us eager to live with Christ as Lord.

This brings us to the second point on your outline: ‘Apostolic
accounts of Jesus.’ Notice again what Peter writes in verses 16 to
18:
“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. 17For we received honour 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.’
18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were
with on the sacred mountain.”
Peter now shifts his argument from why he is reminding them of the
foundational doctrines of the gospel and growth in knowledge and
godliness, to why they can be so assured of these foundational truths,
and the return of Jesus. In this section he talks about why the
accounts of Christ’s life and work from the apostles come with
complete authority, by reaffirming the eyewitness nature of their
testimonies. Peter’s readers and hearers have not followed “cleverly
invented stories” but are depending on those who saw and heard and
touched and lived with Jesus, and who now proclaim Him as the Lord of
life.

As we’ll see in chapter two next week, this letter is written in the
context of false teachers who offer ‘pleasure’ and ‘freedom’ (2:13,
19) and view Peter’s message as a restrictive lie. And so in this
next section, Peter is defending the authenticity of what he says. To
do this he’ll put two sets of witnesses in the dock. Here in verses
16 to 18 he calls on the New Testament apostles, and in verses 19 to
21 it will be the Old Testament prophets, which we’ll come to
shortly. It seems that Peter is being accused by the false teachers
of manufacturing stories, and the main sticking point is with regards
to “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” in verse 16. This
phrase refers to the second coming of Christ, which will be a
powerful and glorious appearing. Later in chapter 3 the false
teachers mock this doctrine, when they say ‘Where is this coming he
promised?’ (3:4). Peter addresses their error at this point, not by
teaching on the second coming, but by re-telling the story of Jesus’
transfiguration, which was a glimpse of his future glory.

Peter no doubt chooses to reiterate this event recorded in the gospels
(Matt.17:1-8; Mk.9:2-8; Lk.9:28-36), not simply because it was the
most supernatural event in the life of Jesus, but because he and
others were eyewitnesses, and God the Father also testified to the
Son. The Father gave his verbal approval of the Son, and so these
false teachers dare to question not just the word of Peter, James and
John who saw this event, but the very Word of God. The
transfiguration pointed to the future majesty of Christ and therefore
provided support for the doctrine of the second coming whereby Christ
would return in majesty, in unveiled glory.

This second section provides a clear application for ourselves with
regard to the historicity of the bible. Just as the first century
Christians had to trust the word of the apostles, so we do today. But
of course many today seek to cast dout on the authenticity of the
Scriptures, and say that they are not historically trustworthy - that
they are corrupted, or that there are other documents of equal worth
that change the story, but the church has suppressed them.

Dan Brown’s novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2003) has now sold over 60
million copies worldwide and has been translated into 44 languages. It
is thought to be the 19th best-selling book of all time. The
subsequent movie which was released in 2006, starring Tom Hanks, made
over $750 million - the second highest grossing movie of 2006
worldwide. The novel claims that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene,
and that at the Council of Nicea (325AD) the divinity of Jesus was
voted on. Jesus was upgraded from mortal prophet to Son of God
following the Council vote. The novel argues that the reason that we
don’t see this lack of divinity in the pages of the New Testament
which was completed over two hundred years earlier, is that it was
rewritten following the Council of Nicea. The Roman Emperor
Constantine (who reigned from 306-337AD) supposedly collated a new
bible to support the new Christianity, ie. where Jesus is portrayed as
exclusively divine.

Well, conspiracy theories are attractive to many people in our world,
especially on topics such as the truthfulness of the bible and the
basis of Christianity. However, as even the actor Tom Hanks clearly
said before the film's release, "The story we tell is loaded with all
sorts of hooey and fun kind of scavenger-hunt-type nonsense. If you
are going to take any sort of movie at face value, particularly a huge-
budget motion picture like this, you'd be making a very big mistake."
Dan Brown’s take on the bible is purely fiction, with the N.T. being
the most attested document in the ancient world. In our passage
today, Peter is defending the authority of the apostles precisely on
the issue of whether they have spoken about God accurately, and so he
emphasise their eyewitness status - they both saw and heard. Today we
have to accept that same double authority, and it’s not like it’s an
unknown approach to us - our court system works on exactly the same
grounds to determine the truth. The one difference is that the
apostles not only provide the eyewitness accounts, but they also
provide the true interpretation of the events. They know the unique
meaning of the events they record because they heard that meaning from
God himself. The bible is not a record that we can supplement or
change according to our own ideas or experiences. God has spoken.

That brings us to point three on your outline: “Old Testament prophecy
about Jesus.” The second set of witnesses that Peter calls forth in
his defence, are the O.T. prophets. Notice again what he states in
verses 19 to 21:
“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.
20Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came
about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21For prophecy never had
its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were
carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Peter’s second witnesses are the prophets, or specifically ‘the word
of the prophets,’ which was a standard way of referring to the whole
Old Testament. Having effectively defended the New Testament by
affirming the word of the apostles, he now points out that the
apostolic accounts are backed up by Old Testament prophecies. These
prophecies predicted that which had now been fulfilled in Christ’s
life and ministry. Peter is saying that his hilltop experience of the
transfiguration confirmed all the O.T. prophecies about Jesus and made
him look forward to Christ’s return. God has now spoken again,
confirming what he said before. And He has given a partial fulfilment
of the prophecies, but complete fulfilment awaits the second coming of
Christ.

We therefore need to pay attention to the Old Testament, which not
only points to the coming of an awaited Christ, but also His
accompanying majesty and judgment, which still awaits. We might ask
what O.T. passages Peter has in mind? Well, Peter obviously doesn’t
tell us in this passage, but we could do worse then going to Psalm 2,
which the transfiguration account echoes. In verses 6 to 9 of Psalm 2
we read:
“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will proclaim the
decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have
become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your
inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule
them with an iron sceptre, you will dash them to pieces like pottery.’
Like all O.T. promises, this Psalm was written to make its readers
hungry for the way God intended to fulfil his word through Jesus. The
Son is promised his inheritance, and it will be global, encompassing
all nations. Just as in the Psalm, Peter warns those who reject Jesus
in chapter two of his letter, saying that they should make peace with
the Son before he comes as Judge. The phrase “until the day dawns” in
verse 19 is referring to the ‘Day of the Lord,’ the great O.T.
expectation of judgment. The second coming of Christ would bring the
expected judgment of the ‘Day of the Lord.’

Secondly, not only is the word of the prophets made more certain by
Christ’s life as recorded by the apostles, but the origin of prophecy
is not man-made - it is the inspired word of God. For example, Isaiah
didn’t get out of bed one morning and say ‘I have decided to write
some prophecies today.’ Instead, the prophets were gripped by God as
He spoke to them and gave them a message to communicate. Notice how
Peter balances the human authorship (‘men spoke’) with God’s
authorship (‘from God’), even though he is aware that such a
partnership in not the work of equals, but that humans were carried
along by the Holy Spirit. Like 2 Timothy 3:16, Peter is affirming
that Scripture is God-breathed, that God controls what is recorded
through the work of the Holy Spirit, despite using human instruments
with their own particular background and abilities. They were
‘carried along’ or ‘borne along’ or lead by the Holy Spirit, so that
God is the ultimate author of Scripture.

Well, how can we apply this last point to ourselves today? I believe
we are forced to think about how we know what we know of our faith,
and reflect on the nature and importance of Scripture today. We
should ask ourselves questions like: ‘Is our faith in Jesus founded on
the trustworthy basis of the apostole’s eyewitness testimony and the
O.T. prophets? Do we view Christ as the fulfilment of the Old
Testament, and so read it in the light of the coming of Christ? These
questions focus on our attitude to Scripture, and our reading or
method of interpreting Scripture. Such questions assume that
Scripture is inspired by God, and therefore has authority for all
matters of faith and conduct. Sadly today, there are many who have
only the loosest of views of inspiration, defining the word as we
might speak of an artist or sportsperson, who was particularly
inspired or at their peak that day. Although that is an extreme,
whereby the bible is almost seen as purely a human document, there is
a more subtle stance held by some, that is just as damaging to our
trust of God’s word. This view is that God must have accommodated
himself to the human writers, the result being that God didn’t fully
control the final product, and so we have errors in the bible. But
God by nature doesn’t lie, and cannot utter any falsehood, and so if
the words of Scripture are genuinely God’s words as they claim, with
the Holy Spirit superintending the writing of every human author, then
the words of the bible must be without error. There is a lot at stake
here, as the authority of scripture to challenge our
beliefs and actions is directly dependent on its complete
truthfulness. Allowing for mistakes in the bible, even in matters of
history, dating or geography is a non-negotiable for any serious bible
believing Christian. Other books were given for our information, the
bible was given to us by God for our transformation. Well, are you
reading your bible and responding as God speaks to you? Charles
Spurgeon once said to his congregation: “There is dust enough on some
of your bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.” In contrast,
the bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.
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