Text: 2 Peter 1:12-21
How good are you at remembering things? There is a little exercise that I sometimes do with my students. I get people to line themselves up according to how they see themselves on certain characteristics. Do you see yourself as tall or short, as old or young, as out-going or shy, as optimistic or pessimistic? Do you have a good sense of humour? Do you have a good memory? Two things I have discovered without fail: nobody ever admits to having a poor sense of humour. And everybody wishes they had a better memory. It is with good reason that memory has been defined as ‘the thing we forget with.’
Did you know that there is a ministry of reminding? You’ll find this, not in Whitehall, but in various places in the NT, including 2 Pet 1:12-15. ‘I will always remind you of these things…I think it is right to refresh your memory…I will make every effort to see that you will always be able to remember these things.’
I do not doubt for a moment that God still has fresh truth to bring forth out of his holy Word. But a principle part of the role of any Christian teacher, be it a preacher, Bible study leader or Sunday School teacher, is this: to remind people of what they already know, but are perhaps in danger of taking for granted; to present familiar truths in fresh ways and then to urge ongoing application to life.
Peter has a particular reason for wanting to remind his readers of certain things. He knows that he is soon to die. ‘I know that I will soon put the tent of this body aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.’ This is apparently a reference to the occasion recorded in Jn 21 when our Lord predicted ‘the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.’ Early Christian tradition confirms that Peter was crucified under the Emperor Nero, not later than AD68.
What would be on your mind if you knew that you were shortly to die? Phineas T. Barnum, the famous American showman, was worried about the almighty dollar right up to his last moment on earth. His last words were: “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”
But for Peter, it’s very different. He has glimpsed eternity. He regards his life here as of only temporary importance; his body a mere tent, v13; a flimsy, temporary habitation but not a lasting home. Soon to depart this earthly life, then, Peter wants to leave something that will be remembered ‘until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’, v19.
For one thing, Peter wants his readers to remember the gospel message he has already outlined in the first part of this chapter. They have been chosen and called by God to this great salvation, but they must confirm it by demonstrating holiness and godliness of life. But it is also clear from reading Peter’s letter that he is anxious about the damaging influence of certain false teachers. In the light of all this, Peter wants his readers to know that this message is fully dependable. In the passage before us this evening, his gives two reasons why his message is dependable. (1), it is backed up by eyewitness testimony, and (2) it is backed up by inspired prophecy.
1. It is backed up by eyewitness testimony, vv16-18.
‘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. For he 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.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.’
Yes, Peter had been one of that trio of disciples who had witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus. They had seen Christ’s majesty. They had heard God’s voice.
Mark 9 shows that the Transfiguration was very much a preview of Christ’s glory at his Second Coming. It is clear from ch 3 that the return of Christ was one of the very things that the false teachers were denying. So Peter backs up his message with an appeal to his own eyewitness testimony.
Historicity does matter. Christianity is not just a set of imaginative ideas or lofty principles. The Christian faith is built on a very earthy foundation of what God has done in space and time. Whereas these false teachers probably based their claims on some kind of mystical insight, Peter asserts, ‘We know that what we say is true; we were there; we saw it.’
I was talking recently with some folks who were in the process of applying to train for the Reader ministry in the Church of England. None of them was from an Evangelical background, so I was interested in hearing about their view of the Bible. One of them told me that he’d been reading a book about the Bible which took the view that just about everything in the Gospels is myth and legend. ‘But then,’ he said, ‘I began to notice that, for example, in Mark chapter 6 it says that Jesus directed his disciples to have all the people sit down on the green grass. And it just struck me that the people who wrote the Gospels knew what they were talking about.’
But it’s one thing to be an eyewitness; it’s another to thing to leave your eyewitness testimony for others to benefit from. Hence Peter’s promise in v15 – ‘I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.’ How did that happen?
Was there anybody around who might have been in a position to record Peter’s eyewitness testimony? We know from what he writes at the close of his first letter that Peter had a trusted friend called Mark, whom he affectionately refers to as ‘my son’. Early Christian sources consistently support the idea that this is the same Mark who wrote the second Gospel, basing it on the eyewitness testimony of Peter. Papias, who lived just one generation after Peter, quotes an even earlier Christian leader as saying: ‘Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately everything that he remembered, without however recording in order what was either said or done by Christ.’
Peter promised to make every effort to leave for posterity his eyewitness account of the Gospel. ‘No document would redeem the apostle’s promise so well as a gospel, and if a gospel is meant, the reference can hardly be to any other than that of St Mark.’ (Bigg)
So, then, Peter wants to remind his readers, as I would like to remind you, that the teaching of the apostles is trustworthy because it is based on the reliable testimony of those who knew what they were talking about, because they were there. It is backed up by eyewitness testimony.
2. It is backed up by inspired prophecy, vv19-21
‘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.’
V19 – ‘We have the word of the prophets made more certain.’ The big question here is, ‘more certain than what?’ I think the answer must be, ‘more certain than it was before’. The prophets were honest and godly men who had predicted the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, together with his sufferings and subsequent glory. Their message was certainly trustworthy. Peter and the other apostles could now say, “We have seen these prophecies coming to fulfilment. The word of the prophets was always true; now we have seen that truth confirmed. Peter still has the Transfiguration in mind when he says this. We have already seen Christ in the glory with which he with return to earth with his holy angels at the end of the age. We have seen the word of the prophets made more certain.
The prophetic word is aptly described, v19, as a ‘a light shining in a dark place’. Many people today are desperately trying to discover what the future holds. Horoscopes, the occult, New Age religions, and strange religious sects are all symptoms of an age that still struggles in darkness. Christians, on the other hand, have Scripture, God’s own word on the matter, and it is to be trusted and listened to. When Christ returns, he will shine in his full glory. Until that day, we have God’s written word as a light to guide us on our way.
V20f – ‘Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation [invention]. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’
Here is the fullest and most explicit reference to the inspiration of Scripture. Here is a perfect blend of the human element in Scripture – ‘men spoke from God’ – and the divine element – ‘they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
I’m not sure that we place enough emphasis these days the divine inspiration of the Bible. But it’s very important to have our thinking straight on this one. ‘Let a man question the inspiration of the Scriptures and curious, even monstrous, inversion takes place: thereafter he judges the Word instead of letting the Word judge him; he determines what the Word should teach instead of permitting it to determine what he should believe; he edits, amends, strikes out, adds at his pleasure; but always he sits above the Word, and makes it amenable to him instead of kneeling before God and becoming amenable to the Word.’ (Tozer)
That alerts us to the danger of liberalism. But for those of us who regard ourselves as evangelicals there is another danger. Let me put this more personally. I became a Christian, after several years of scepticism, at the age of 19. For me, trust in the Bible as the inspired word of God came with the package. I have never seriously doubted that what the Bible says, God says. So for me, as perhaps for many of you, the challenge lies elsewhere. Believing as we do in the authority of the Bible, do we actually live by it? Knowing the truth is, by itself, useless. It’s knowing and doing the truth that counts.
Look back one more time at v19: ‘we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it.’ ‘We will do well’ to remember and apply the teaching of Peter and the other apostles, which is backed up eyewitness testimony and by inspired prophecy. And so may each of us hear at the last day that most coveted of accolades from the lips of our beloved Saviour: “Well done (you did do well), good and faithful servant.”