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April 13, 2008

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. (2 Peter 1:16; NIV)

The message of 2 Peter is about the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, in whom you will find everything you need for life. Now that raises a question. Our knowledge of Jesus comes through the Bible, but how do we know that it is reliable? Can we trust the Bible?

A reliable guide to knowing Jesus

Peter answers this question in verse 12-21. Our title today is “Everything You Need For Faith.” Dr. Wayne Grudem identifies four things that we need to know about the Scripture, and all of them are touched on in what Peter says here:[1]

Authority—Scripture is the Word of God. Peter says, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (v21).

Sufficiency—Scripture has all that we need for knowing Christ. That is the point of 2 Peter 1: God has given us everything we need for life in knowing his Son Jesus. And he has given us everything we need for knowing his Son Jesus in the Bible.

Clarity—in Scripture, God has spoken in a way we can understand. Peter describes Scripture as “a light shining in a dark place” (v19). Not everything in the Bible is equally clear. There are some things that are hard to understand. Peter himself says that Paul’s letters “contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16).

But the things that are most important are clear in the Bible. This is not an obscure book that only priests or scholars can understand. God says to parents, “Teach this to your children” (Deut. 6:6-7). The Word itself will “make the simple wise” (Psalm 19:7; 119:130).

Necessity—what would we know about God if we did not have the Scriptures? The answer is: “Very little.” We would know from the creation that God is great and glorious, but we could never know that he is love, or that Christ died for our sins and rose again, or that he is coming again in power and glory. So we need the Bible, and that is why what Peter says here is so important for us today.

The apostles and prophets

There are two parts to the Bible: The Old Testament was complete at the time Peter was writing, and the New Testament was not, although already some of Paul’s letters were recognized as scripture.

Peter says, “Paul’s letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). The Apostle Peter recognized the writings of Paul alongside the Old Testament Scriptures.

Peter wants us to know that we can trust the witness of the Apostles (v16-18), and the word of the Prophets (v19-21). These two together make up the whole Bible. The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20).

The prophets point forward to Christ in the Old Testament. The apostles bear witness to Christ in the New Testament. The phrase “The apostles and prophets” is really a short hand way of referring to the whole Bible: the Old Testament and the New.

The Apostles Saw God’s Son

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 (v16).

Peter is talking here about the second coming of our Lord Jesus. As we will see later, that is a major theme in this letter. The Lord Jesus Christ will appear in power and glory, and all his people will be with him.

Peter says, “This is not a cleverly invented story. I know because I have seen his power and glory.” He is talking about the transfiguration, when Peter saw the glory of Jesus Christ. He saw Jesus as one day you will see him.

The Apostles were eye witnesses of Jesus, and the New Testament records what they saw: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” John says. “We have seen his glory!” (John 1:14). Peter says, “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). “We ourselves heard the voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain” (v18).

The whole Bible is about Jesus Christ: The apostolic witness to him and the prophetic word about him. Jesus Christ is the message of the whole Bible. We see in the law, he is needed. In the prophets, he is predicted. In the Psalms, he is worshiped. In the Gospels, he is described. In the Acts, he is proclaimed. In the epistles, he is explained. In the Revelation, he is unveiled.

The Prophets Spoke God’s Word

No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man (v20-21).

Now Peter wants us to know how the Scripture came to be written. He speaks about the “origin” of prophecy (v21). Where did the Old Testament Scriptures come from?

Not their own ideas

Peter gives us two answers. First negatively, he says, “Let me tell you where they did not come from.” Notice that he says “No prophecy of Scripture…” (v20). He is talking about the Old Testament, and he distinguishes “prophecy of Scripture” from all other prophecy.

It’s easy to get up and say that you have a message from God. Anyone can do that. But if you had lived in ancient Israel, you would have thought twice before you did. Because in Israel the penalty for being a false prophet (claiming you had a message from God, when it was really your own idea) was stoning. There weren’t many things you could get stoned for in Israel, but this was one of them!

The severity of this law was to remind people of the seriousness of claiming the authority of God for their own ideas. That’s worth remembering if you are the kind of Christian who talks easily about how the Lord told you this, that, and the other.

If you talked like that in ancient Israel, you would have been up for a hearing before the elders. And, if they concluded that you were claiming God’s authority for your own ideas…, well, you wouldn’t be making any more statements about what the Lord had told you!

People in ancient Israel knew that there was a world of difference between the thoughts of men and the Word of God. And we need to understand that distinction today.

Go into Borders or Barnes and Noble and you will see hundreds of books. How did they come to be written? The author felt he had something to say. So he wrote a book. The book came from man’s will, man’s insight, man’s initiative, man’s creativity, and women’s too.

Postmodernism has recognized that the world is full of ideas that various people want to push on us and presume to tell us how to live. The history of the world is littered with interpretations of life and truth: There’s the communist view, the fascist view, the Islamic view, the new age view, the environmental view, the liberal view, the conservative view, and many, many more views.

Peter says, “The Scripture isn’t like that. It doesn’t belong in this line up.” It’s not another bunch of men pushing their own ideas of life on us. Don’t put the Old Testament prophets in that long list of interpretations of God, life, meaning, and existence that people are pushing around in the world today.

If you want to understand the Bible, you need to know that it is fundamentally different than any other writing the world has ever known.

They were carried along

For prophecy [of Scripture] never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (v21).

The best way to grasp what Peter is saying here is through a story in the book of Acts. Paul is under arrest, and he is being taken as a prisoner to Rome. Luke describes the journey:

We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete… (Acts 27:7).

Before very long a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘northeaster’ swept down from the island. The ship was caught in the storm and could not head into the wind so we gave way to it and were driven along (Acts 27:14-15).

The word Luke uses here for the ship being “driven along” by the wind is the same word Peter uses for the prophets being “carried along” by the Spirit.

How much control do you have when you are in a ship being carried along in the storm? Not much. The direction of the boat was controlled by the wind. The message of the prophets was controlled by the Spirit. The words of the prophets came from God.

These men did not control the message. The message controlled them. It came to them from God like a mighty wind. They were carried along in it so that what they wrote was exactly what God wanted them to say.

“Men spoke from God” (v21). God breathed his Word through Job’s pain and sorrow. God breathed his Word through David’s songs. God breathed his Word through Moses and the prophets who, far from feeling that they had something to say, felt that they were inadequate for the work to which God had called them.

The prophets sometimes didn’t even understand all that they were saying (1 Peter 1:10, 11). God was in control: “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This puts the Bible in a different category from every other book written—religious or secular—since the beginning of time.

Don’t you find yourself thanking God for this? If what Peter says here were not true, we could hardly know God at all. And if we did not know him, we could not find everything we need for life in him. If God had not spoken, all we would have would be the sum of human experience found in Barnes and Noble, much of which is immensely painful.

I’m thankful that, in a world of opinion, God has given us this revelation. The world is full of religion, philosophy, and psychology, but there is no other book like this one. In all the centuries of history and in all the continents of the world there never has been and never will be anything else like this.

We Remember the Gospel

I will always remind you of these things [the gospel] even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth that you now have (v12).

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body (v13).

I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things (v15).

In chapter two of Peter’s letter, we see that false teachers were worming their way into the church. One of the distinguishing marks of a false teacher is that they always have something new to say.

But Peter says, “You will find life, not in some new revelation or some new technique, but in Jesus Christ. As long as I am alive I will keep bringing you back to the same things. And even after I die, I want to be sure that you will be able to remember them.”

Being reminded of something you already know gets annoying really fast. So when Peter says. “I will always remind you of what you already know and are firmly established in,” it looks like a formula for failure and frustration.

If every time you get into your car, the person with you says, “Don’t forget to drive on the right side of the road. Don’t forget to indicate you are turning left!” It won’t be long before you pull into the side of the road and say, “Stop telling me what I already know!”

What it means to remember

So what does Peter mean when he says, “I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them” (v12)? What does it mean to remember? Remembering in the Bible is much more than being able to recall something that happened. It’s about what happened becoming real and fresh, alive and present for you.

Peter describes a person who professes faith but never grows. He says that he has “forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins” (v9). It is not that the person is not aware of this fact. But if you go up to a person like this and say, “Jesus died for your sins,” he would say, “I know that.”

The problem with this person is not that he cannot recall forgiveness, but that his forgiveness doesn’t mean much to him anymore. It is no longer something that is real, alive, fresh and present for him. It is no longer shaping his life.

When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, he took the bread and the wine, and he said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 19:22). What does it mean to remember the Lord Jesus? If you never took communion again for the rest of your life, do you really think that you would forget that Jesus died on the cross?

Of course not! You would always be able to recall that Jesus died on the cross. But Jesus wants his death and resurrection to be more than something you can recall. He wants you to savor its blessing, taste its goodness, and experience its power. He wants you to live in the sufficiency of all that he has accomplished for you.

I learned this at a meeting of ministers in London years ago. There was a Methodist minister, a Baptist pastor, a Church of England vicar, a charismatic lay leader, a Catholic priest and myself. One discussion centered on what makes a valid communion service. Does a priest have to be present? Did you have to have real wine? Should it be unleavened bread, etc.?

There was an Anglican priest in the group, an old man by the name of Canon Harry Wittenbach. He was a soft spoken man, and didn’t contribute much to the discussion. But after it had gone on for some time, he spoke: “When I think of what makes a valid communion,” he said, “I think about when I was in prison in China.”

The room went very quiet. We all knew Harry had been in prison in China, but like many who have gone through that kind of experience, he very rarely spoke about it.

“It was Christmas day,” he continued. “Three of us were believers. We didn’t have any wine, and none of us were ordained priests at that time. We had kept a few crusts of bread, and some water in a cup. And on Christmas day, the three of us remembered the Lord.”

His eyes filled with tears and his voice faltered: “I’ve never been at a communion service like it.” He said, “The Lord was there!” That’s remembering!

Harry Wittenbach found that he had everything he needed for life, even life in prison, in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Not simply because he had the ability to recall a few facts, but because, as he drew near to Christ in faith, he found in him that all that he had accomplished was real, and alive, and fresh in a prison cell in China.

Proving it in your life

Peter knew all about this. He had spent time in a prison cell too. That’s why his ministry was about one thing: “I want you to be able lay hold of Christ, savor Christ, feed on Christ, live on Christ. I will never stop reminding you about him! I’m going to do this as long as I live in this body. And I will make every effort to make sure that after I’m gone you will still live on him.”

That’s the purpose of communion. That’s the purpose of preaching. It’s not simply to impart information. What about reading the Bible? Why would you get up tomorrow morning and read the Bible? It’s much more than gathering information. It is that you should grasp all that Jesus is for you, savor all that he has done for you, and receive all that he holds in his hand for you.

We miss the boat when we tell ourselves that we know stuff, that in biblical terms, we don’t know. Like when a girl says “I know God loves me, but I hate myself.” If Peter were your pastor, he would kindly put his arm around your shoulder and say, “You say that you know God’s love, but you haven’t really grasped his love. You think you know his love, but if you were savoring God’s love for you right now, you would never say that you hate yourself.”

When a guy says “I know the gospel, but I can’t overcome this compulsive sin in my life,” Peter would put his arm around him and say, “You say that you know the gospel and you think that you know the gospel, but when you give way to temptation, at that moment, you have lost touch with the power and the presence of the Spirit in your life. Because if the gospel was alive for you, at the moment when you did this, you never would have done what you did.”

Peter says that we must always come back to these things, because this is where our life is. This is what communion is about, it’s what preaching is about, it’s what coming to the Scriptures is all about—seeking after Christ: That these things may become real and fresh to you again.

There’s an old song that captures this well:

Make the book live to me O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me, my Savior,
and make the book live to me.

Come humbly to the Word like that every day; come to worship and hear the Word like that every week, and it will change your life. You will find everything you need for life and godliness.

 

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), chapters 4-8.

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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