Monday, February 23, 2009

Sermon: The Bible and Experience--Mountaintops & the More Certain Word

sermon by Matt Kennedy

text: 2 Peter 1:16-21

Monday, February 23, 2009

Download "The Bible and Experience: Mountaintops & the More Certain Word" in MP3 format

Imagine the things you'd want to tell your family, your children, your church, before you die. Peter's advice is found in verses 1-15. In particular in verses 5-8: “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” Peter wrote these words from Prison just before his death. He was killed in Rome during Nero's first persecution of Christians between 64-67 AD. If you look down at verse 14, you'll see that he knew it was coming. His advice is good but it may not seem all that remarkable: make every effort to be men and women of good character. Sound solid fatherly advice...advice that even non-Christian father's might give to their children.

But today's text begins with an important word that the NIV has left out. Verse 16 should read:

“'For' or 'because' 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.” Well what difference does that make? The “because” or “for” means that Peter grounds his fatherly advice in vv 1-15 in who Jesus lives of obedience and purity not so you'll be men and women of character, not because it conforms with natural law or because its good to be good for goodness sake but because of who Jesus is.

Some look at Jesus' teachings and say, Jesus teaches people to live responsibly, to do good to others; to feed the poor, take care of the sick, to be socially conscious. I like these teachings. If these teachings were followed universally there 'd be peace and brotherly love. And thats the most important thing, not who Jesus is but what he taught because his teachings resonate with all spiritualities and faith traditions and show us how to be at peace and have a peaceful world. Jesus' words, like those of Ghandi and Dali Lhama and Confucius produce fruits of peace and harmony. The ultimate purpose of spirituality after all is to make the world a better place—a nice place with nice people doing nice things and having a nice time.

That's not Christianity. For Peter, the sum or the foundation of truth and “goodness” is Jesus. He validates his teachings, his teachings do not validate him. Follow the teachings of Christ, not because they accord with what is good and with the universal teachings of other wise spiritual men and women—not because you want to be nice people and make the world a nice place, but because of who Jesus is.

To make this point Peter describes what event in Jesus' life? Why? What's so important about the Transfiguration? Jesus took John, James and Peter to the top of a mountain and there his appearance, his “figure” was transformed. Matthew tells us that “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light”. Peter says, he was revealed in “majesty” and in the father's glory(17). Well so what?. Well Peter knew his bible. Turn to Isaiah 42:8 “I am the LORD; that's my name; my glory I give to no other.” Who's talking? God. God is a jealous God. He doesn't allow creatures or angels or prophets or teachers to be worshiped. He doesn't share his glory. So when Jesus was revealed in glory on the mountain what does that mean? Jesus is more than a teacher or an angel. He is one with God himself.

Peter saw this with his own eyes. He experienced it. “We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” Jesus is not simply messiah, not simply a good rabbi or teacher, not a spiritual avatar showing us a path to holistic peace and harmony. No for Peter, he is the path, he is the truth, he is the way and his teachings are to be followed not because they lead us to some other good thing out there but because they lead us to him.

Now it seems that Peter takes a little detour to talk about scripture. The next verse, v19 is a difficult one to translate and I don't want to get too geeky here with the Greek, but there are two possibilities. The NIV has: “And we have the word of the prophets made more certain”. The problem is that the Greek text literally says “and we have more sure the prophetic word” other translations will say: “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word.” So what? The NIV has Peter saying that the words of the made more sure by his own personal experience. The prophecies about Christ in scripture weren't quite certain enough until Peter personally saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain with his own eyes.

There are lots of Christians who believe experience is the measure of truth. There's no space or difference between their own inclinations and experiences and the voice of God. That's the sort of thinking that leads people away from Christ and into miracle ministries or to the occult or to psychics because these things are all very high on experience. I don't think that sounds like Peter. And the rest of this passage, as we'll see in a moment, from verse 20-21 is one of the strongest affirmations of the inspiration, supremacy, and inerrancy of scripture found in the bible. It wouldn't make sense for Peter to preface that by saying that his experience of Jesus makes scripture more certain. It sounds a lot more like Peter, a lot more like a first century Jew to say “my experience was a good thing and a fine thing, but even more sure, even more compelling, even more certain is the prophetic word... it reveals Christ far more effectively. Peter uses the words “prophet” and “prophecy” here in a general sense. He's not just talking about Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Everyone who speaks or writes God's Word is a prophet. So the prophetic books include all the books of the bible.

“You will do well” Peter says in 19, “to pay attention to it [the prophetic word] as to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” What day is he talking about? What star? The star is Christ and the day is the day he comes back. So he's just recounted his amazing experience of the transfiguration, but instead of telling them to pay attention to that, he says pay attention scripture because scripture provides a far more certain word.

Peter knows the people to whom he writes, he know us, he knows that we're far more likely to pay attention to our own opinions and feelings, the opinions of our friends, to the latest book we've read or the newest thing on Oprah...but all of that is darkness. Pay attention to scripture, study it, know it, hear it read, attend to it while it is being taught, let it shape and form you because scripture is the most sure word from God about Christ. Scripture connects you to him because it is from him and it reveals him.

Some think task of the church is to make the scripture relevant. And in order to make the bible relevant, bible studies and sermons have to be about us. So people sit through them waiting for the pastor to say something that deals specifically with their personal situations in life' waiting to “get something out of” the sermon or the teaching. So rather than paying attention to the bible, we often pay attention to ourselves and casually peruse the bible, casually listen to sermons, like we might stroll down a cafeteria line picking up bits and pieces for our journey because its all about us. But Peter says here that Scripture does for us what the transfiguration did for him but in surer way. Scripture is God's revelation of himself, it reveals his glory and the glory of his Son Jesus Christ. And if you're interested in knowing Jesus, then every single word is relevant to you. If you want Christ, if your aim is Christ, if your love is for Christ, then there are no boring parts or unimportant parts or parts that you can ignore.

“Above all,” Peter says, “you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.”(20) Nothing in the bible came about by the the prophet making it up. That's huge...nothing you read in scripture is opinion or fairy tale or culturally conditioned oppressive patriarchal taboo. The bible was written by human beings but the content and the words they wrote are not merely human. “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.”(21)

God is the source of scripture. But its not like a college lecture. He didn't just give a revelation to a writer and then let the writer take notes. I don't know about you but I can listen to a lecture and get all confused and get my notes God went further. He “carried” the human writer along by the Holy Spirit. He watched over or superintended the process of writing it down. So the words of Peter are the words of Peter but they're also words that originated with God and have been carried along by the Holy Spirit. Many will say, the bible “contains” the Word of God but there are parts that are not from God and not altogether true. There are errors and contradictions and mistakes. There are the God parts...usually, “the parts I agree with”...and there are the Paul parts or the Peter parts...usually, “the parts that make me uncomfortable”...and since my feelings are the measure of truth, then these parts just can't be from God.

Peter is very clear here. You're free to disagree with him of course, but Peter says, the bible is fully and wholly God's Word. It originates with him and was superintended by him and so what? Well the reason all this is so important to Peter and it should be so important to you and to me is that because the bible originate with God and was carried along by God, the bible is the surest way, the primary way, the fullest way that God reveals himself and his Son and the surest way to know him. Scripture is God's self-disclosure so if you want to know God, if you want to hear the voice of Jesus Christ, you don't go to a mountain top or to a babbling brook or for a walk in the forest, you don't do astral meditation or physic readings, or astrology or the magic Sufi dances, you go to the book. And in the book you meet Jesus, the way, the truth the life.

No comments: