Date: 21 Aug 2016
Text: 2 Peter 1:12-21
Last week we began a series of sermons from 2 Peter and we started by looking at 2 Peter 1:1-11. In that passage, after the usual greetings, Peter gave great instructions to believers in and followers of Jesus Christ on how they should grow in their faith. None of the things that Peter talked about are easy; but whilst they were and still are tough, they are attainable and will all help us to grow in our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Peter goes on to remind us of what can happen if we don’t grow in our faith and also, and probably more importantly, what awaits us when we do grow in faith and draw nearer to Christ.
Peter starts this particular passage, 2:12-21, by pointing out that he realises that they know all this anyway. So, if that is the case then why bother telling them of these things? We all need reminding of the basics of our faith from time to time; it’s not that we necessarily forget but that events sometimes cause us to drift away from our faith without truly noticing. Hearing the basic truth of our faith repeated from time to time can be of great benefit and give us a much needed lift when times get hard. Week by week many preachers repeat the same message; the message that Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth and lived among us. He preached the good news of the coming kingdom of God; performed miracles and healed people. He was arrested, beaten, crucified and then placed in a freshly hewn rock tomb. On the third day He rose from that grave and lives today in the lives of millions of people. Jesus did all this freely and willingly to pay the price for our sins; sins that demanded that blood be spilt before forgiveness could be given. It was Jesus’ blood that was shed and as a result all who believe in Him as Lord and Saviour have been forgiven for their sins. That is the basic story and the absolute essence of our faith. It is that message and the guidance to growth that Peter gave in 1:5-7, that he was determined to repeat in order to remind his readers of the truth and keep them “firmly established in the truth you now have” (1:12b).
Many may wonder why the message needs repeating and why we need reminding of it so regularly. Well, just think about sports men and women; they train and practice for their chosen sport day after day, week after week, and the results of so many of them in the Rio Olympics show that their diligent efforts have paid off. They train their bodies and minds to repeat the disciplines needed to succeed. Gymnasts don’t just come up with a routine and hope that it will go well on the day; no, they practice it until it becomes part of them. I once heard South Africa’s greatest golfer, Gary Player, say that when practicing he would hit 1000 balls a day. I have no reason to doubt that having seen him play. He won eight major tournaments plus dozens more around the world. Those victories didn’t come about by accident but through sheer hard work and repetitive practice.
This weekly reminding of believers of the message of salvation in Jesus Christ is nothing new. The Jews would meet each week on the Sabbath so that they would “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15). Similarly God told them to celebrate the Passover meal on an annual basis “so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 16:3). We still celebrate Communion today on the basis that as we eat the bread and drink the wine we remember the Lord’s death until He returns.
Just as it is with athletes, so it should be with Christians. No matter how long we have been Christians we all still need to train our hearts and minds to be confident in the truths that the Bible contains and the truth of the power of the Holy Spirit. Without that regular practice and training we could become spiritually flabby and lose sight of Who we are called to follow and serve. That is why Peter was insistent on repeating and reminding his readers of “these things”.
Now I’m not suggesting that we learn the basics of our faith by rote but rather than that we learn them so well that they become part of who we are. If Jesus is to dwell in our hearts then surely we need to welcome Him and know about Him and what our faith means as thoroughly as we possibly can.
Just look at 1:12b and that phrase “firmly established in the truth you now have”; what does Peter mean by that? We get some help in understanding what Peter is saying when we look at other Bible translations. The Message puts this verse slightly differently when it talks of our being “up-to-date on all this truth and practice it inside out” (1:12b). The NEB talks of our being “well grounded in the truth that has already reached you”, whilst the NLT talks of our “standing firm in the truth we have been taught”. All of this comes about through our constantly hearing and then constantly practicing the message that Peter is anxious to share and remind us of.
Peter did this because he was very conscious of his lifelong commission to help Christians grow spiritually and he was therefore especially anxious to remind everyone of this message given his distinct feeling that he would soon pass away. In mentioning this Peter likens his life to being in the “tent of this body” (1:13b). Once again we see Peter and Paul using similar phrases. In 2 Corinthians 5:1 Paul talks of “the earthly tent we live in” and, perhaps rather tellingly, he continues in 2 Corinthians 5:4 by telling us that, “...while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling”. No doubt Peter was also looking forward to joining his Saviour in His heavenly dwelling. Since Peter had this deep seated feeling of his imminent death, he was absolutely determined to remind believers of the truths of their faith and to ensure that, even after he had gone, they would still be able to remember these things. It is difficult to be totally sure what Peter meant by that although it does seem reasonable to suggest that he was attempting to write down as much as he could so that there would be written material available for everyone to refer to. He had obviously written his first Epistle and we are here looking at his second Epistle although whether or not he had anything else planned is difficult to determine. There are suggestions though that he was the major source for Mark’s gospel and if that was the case then that would be another way for him to have left a permanent reminder.
Peter did of course die and he died a rather brutal death. In 68 AD, the year after he wrote this Epistle, Peter was martyred for his faith. Rumour has always had it that he was crucified upside down as he did not feel worthy to be executed in the same way as His Lord and Saviour.
In 1:16-21 Peter gives the background to what he had been teaching and saying about Jesus. I mentioned last week that false teachers were active in many parts of the region and so Peter was anxious to teach just how wrong they were.
Many at the time, and even more so today, didn’t believe the Bible at all feeling that it was just a bunch of fairy stories; Peter clearly intends to show otherwise. He says in 1:16, “...we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power”. There are many religions that have arisen since Jesus’ time that rely solely on an individual’s apparent meeting with Christ or with Christ’s messenger. Tablets of stone have allegedly been found containing revelations about Jesus and they have been used to found a religion and teach a different way to salvation. They are the modern versions of the “cleverly devised stories” that Peter refers to here. What Peter wants to demonstrate is that Christian faith is based on the truth of the prophets and his and others own witness of specific events with Jesus. Peter was of course a very special and unique witness. He has described here all that happened on that day when Jesus was transfigured in full view of Peter, John and James. He was also with Jesus throughout the Lord’s earthly ministry and saw Him heal people and perform more than a few miracles. He heard Him preach and teach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. And who can forget that he was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested and when Peter went on to deny that he knew Jesus three times. It was Peter who then skulked in the background as Jesus was flogged and then crucified and it was the same Peter who went to Jesus’ grave and found that it was empty; Jesus had risen. All of this meant that Peter could testify honestly to what Jesus had done and precisely Who He was.
Peter starts his explanation by describing the time that he was with Jesus, James and John as they went up a high mountain together. It was whilst they were there that the event that we know as the Transfiguration took place. Jesus was enveloped in a bright cloud and was joined by Moses and Elijah with whom He conversed. The three disciples saw Jesus transfigured as His “face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). As this happened they heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5b). If ever they had any doubts about Who Jesus was before this event those doubts were certainly dispelled by what they saw and heard on that amazing day.
Having explained what he saw and heard when with Jesus on the mountain, Peter moves on to remind everyone that “we also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable” (1:19a). He is referring to what we know as the Old Testament which included the many books written by the prophets and which all told of the coming Saviour. I particularly like Peter’s injunction to us that we should 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” (1:19b). That is a beautiful phrase and a beautiful thought since the Old Testament does throw light into the dark corners of the world by explaining all about the coming of the Messiah, the One Who would bring salvation to the world. Jesus can be seen throughout the Old Testament. I recently heard a speaker at the Bournemouth & Poole Bible Convention, Simon Manchester, explain and expound Deuteronomy to show Jesus in almost every chapter. The audience were held spellbound at this amazing, but true, thought.
These prophets though weren’t simply writing down random thoughts as they came into their minds at odd times. No, as Peter reminds us “no prophecy of Scripture came down by the prophet’s own interpretation of things” (1:20). Yes, the words were written down by human beings but they were simply recording the words that had come from “God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1:21b). We can open any of the books of the prophets and see that they will state quite clearly that the prophets were writing down the words of the Lord, as in God. They are not their own words but God’s words and as such can be regarded as being the absolute truth.
It is these Scriptures that formed the basis for all that Jesus taught during His earthly ministry; and it was these Scriptures that Jesus expounded as he walked on the road to Emmaus with the two disciples on the day of His resurrection. On that occasion when Jesus left them suddenly they hurried back to their friends to tell them of their experience and as they did so, said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32) It was these exact same Scriptures that Peter used as a further part of his teaching of the good news of Jesus Christ.
In talking of his own experiences of being with Jesus and of the veracity of Scripture, Peter is demonstrating beyond all doubt that what he has been teaching is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The story of the saving work of Jesus was not a man-made fairy story nor something revealed to a single individual in a forest somewhere, but the fully prophesied and revealed story of the Son of God.
In the first half of Chapter 1 of his Epistle Peter has reminded believers of the need to grow in their faith and how they can grow and draw nearer to Christ. Now in the second half of the Chapter he explains why he feels the need to remind them of the basis of all that he has taught them.
False teachers abounded at the time Peter was writing this and he was more than anxious to combat the nonsense that they were spreading. That is why he reminded his readers that he was a witness to much of what Jesus did and what happened to Him, especially the Transfiguration. Having done that he went on to explain that his teachings were also based on the prophecies contained in Scripture. None of these prophecies were written as such by human beings. Yes, it was a human hand that did the physical writing but the words being written were given by God Himself.
None of what Peter taught was a “cleverly devised story”. Rather, it was the truth of the Son of God Who came to save the world; a truth that we could all do with being reminded of from time to time and then remembering as we grow in Christ.