Sunday, February 10, 2013

The More Certain Word

Texts:  2 Peter 1:16-21; Luke 9:28-36

WHICH IS BETTER: TO KNOW JESUS, OR to know about Him?  Is it more important to learn from the Bible learn who Jesus is and what He has done, or should we focus on knowing Jesus personally in our hearts?

Surveys have been taken of evangelical Christians, and the great majority say the essential thing is to feel Jesus living in your heart.  The Bible is important in telling us how to live, the majority responded, but it's not that crucial in helping us experience the Jesus we should be living for.  "Heart knowledge" trumps "head knowledge" every time, and "Word" constantly takes a back seat to "Spirit."

If this is true, if all these Christian brothers and sisters are right about this, we can expect that the Apostle Peter would be right at the forefront leading those who would say experience is better than knowledge.

For who had an experience of Jesus Christ like the Apostle Peter?  Three years walking with the Savior, starting with seeing Him baptised in the Jordan.  Imagine, witnessing that miraculous catch of fish in the Sea of Galilee!   Being one of Jesus' inner circle along with James and John!  Getting out of the boat at Jesus' invitation and for a few steps actually walking on water!  Being the first to seriously confess Jesus as the Son of God!  Even the horrible experience of denying Jesus three times surely affected Peter in a deeply-felt way, especially when Christ later forgave and restored him.  And then Peter saw Jesus after He was raised from the dead, and witnessed His wondrous ascension into heaven.  And perhaps most impressive of all, Peter the ex-fisherman, alone among the disciples along with James and John, beheld the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in divine glory and majesty on the mount of Transfiguration.

Think of it!  Peter had the ultimate experience of Christ a man could have on this earth.  He saw and spoke with Jesus shining forth bodily as the eternal Son of God!  Imagine how he and the other two disciples
must have felt!  What cold historical facts, what writing, what words could ever compete with that?

But the amazing thing is, in his second letter to the churches, Peter does not base everything in the Christian life on his experience, even his experience of Jesus' transfiguration.  He doesn't urge God's people (including you and me) to strive to get a mountaintop experience of Jesus like his.  Instead, he cites his mountaintop experience as evidence of the power and authority of the Word of God that witnesses to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  He wants all who read this letter to know and understand who Jesus is, not because we have some spiritual experience or feeling about Him, but because we have received and believed reliable testimony to Christ through the prophets and apostles.

To see this more clearly we need to go back to the start of Peter's letter.  So if you have your Bible open look at verse 2.  Peter writes: "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord."  Grace and peace come through knowledge of Christ.  This word in the Greek, to quote Bible commentator Norman Hillyer, "denotes exact and full knowledge of God and his ways, which follows as a consequence of conversion to Christ."  In the next verse the apostle writes that we have everything we need for life and godliness, again through our knowledge of God (same Greek word) who called us.  He has given us his very great and precious promises (verse 4), promises given to us in His holy Word, including those spoken through the prophets concerning the coming Messiah.  In verses 5-7 Peter urges us on to the practice of many active Christian virtues.  Why?  Because (verse 8), these qualities will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge (there's that word again!) of Christ.  This knowledge of Christ is the good news of the gospel, telling us what Jesus did for us on the cross and how He has saved us by His own precious blood.  No experience of ours could ever tell us that!  It takes the word of Scripture ministered by the Holy Spirit to get this good news into our minds and into our hearts, and there it bears its fruit.

This knowledge of Christ and His finished work is so important that Peter says (verse 12) that he's going to keep on reminding us of it.  Even we who have heard and believed the gospel need to have our memories refreshed about these things.  It is so important that Peter is going to argue from his apostolic experience to prove to us that the Word he speaks is trustworthy.  So as we read in our epistle selection,  "We [apostles] did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus." 

Now, right here we see a number of things.  By bringing up "cleverly invented stories" Peter introduces the fact that there were those claiming to be God's prophets who were spreading that very thing.  Later in chapter 2 he will warn us against them and their corrupting influence.  The testimony of Peter and the other apostles isn't like that.  They are giving the church the true word about Jesus Christ, the facts about Him and His ministry on earth.  In our passage we also see that the truth the Apostle is emphasizing goes beyond salvation through the cross and to the time when Jesus will come again in glory.  How can we believe Peter's word about this?  He saw a preview of it.  He, James, and John were eyewitnesses of Jesus' majesty on the sacred mountain.  They saw Him receive honor and glory from God the Father.  They heard the voice from the Majesty Glory-- that is, from God Himself-- declaring "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."  If Peter tells us that Jesus Christ is coming again in power and great glory, we should believe it.

Having heard Peter recount what he heard and saw of the glory of Jesus, it would be good for us to turn to the gospel of St. Luke and read what the Holy Spirit has recorded for us there.

We see that Jesus took the three disciples and went up onto a mountain.  We're not told which of the mountains of Israel it was, and that's a good thing.  Otherwise we'd all be trooping up it trying to get the same experience for ourselves, and totally missing the point of what God revealed there.  We are told He went there to pray; that is, He entered into intense communication and fellowship with God the Father.  Jesus had gone up into the hills to pray before, but on this occasion "the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning."  And then, "two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus."  Why Moses and Elijah?  Why not David and Abraham?  Because together Moses and Elijah represented the Law and the Prophets.  In their glorified persons they stood for all the promises and predictions God had sent to His people Israel throughout the Old Testament.  They represented the Word of God that had always pointed towards the Messiah who was to come.  And now that Messiah, that Christ was here, and the two blessed Old Testament saints were speaking about His departure.

Departure?  What does it mean, "His departure"?

It might help to know that the word in the Greek is "exodus," which for Greek-speaking Jews and God-fearers would raise the echo of the exodus from Egypt.  It would remind them-- and should remind us-- of the great day when God led His people out of slavery under the leadership of Moses.  And now Jesus the Son of God was about to lead His people out of a greater slavery, the slavery to sin.  The befuddled disciples didn't understand it then, but soon they would know that Jesus would accomplish that through His sacrifice on the cross.  Jesus was about to depart in a particular way.  By His death He would perform the divine act of liberation that the law and the prophets had predicted.  Everything that had been written in the Scriptures led up to that crucial event.

We read in Luke what Peter said on the occasion, and it's significant that he doesn't mention it in his letter.  I don't think it was because he was embarrassed to.  Rather, how Peter felt about the Transfiguration wasn't important.  What was important was the fact of Christ's glory and the revelation of who He was.

Luke tells us something more that was said by the voice from the Majestic Glory.  The voice of God also said about Jesus, "Listen to Him!"  Listen to His word!  Listen to what He tells you about your need for His atoning death!  Listen when He tells you He is coming again to judge the living and the dead!  Moses and Elijah represented the Word of God, but Jesus Christ was and is the living Word of God, standing there transfigured before the terrified disciples.  The Law and the prophets all give witness to Jesus.  Listen to Him!

Peter personally heard the voice of God testifying to Jesus' divine Sonship when they were with Him on the mountain.  But should we believe Jesus is the Son of God only because of Peter's experience?  Well, in a way, yes, because he was one of Christ's holy apostles and the Spirit spoke the word of God through him.  But Peter adds this as well: "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain."  That is, "We have more than my apostolic experience; we have the fact that Jesus fulfilled all the prophets spoke about Him."  The Greek in this phrase literally means, "we can take a most firm hold on the prophetic word."  You and I can rely on what the prophets said in the Old Testament and take our stand on it, because in Jesus Christ it all came true.  We should and must pay attention to what the Scriptures say to us, because they are our light in this dark world and will help us see our way "until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts"-- that is, until Jesus comes again.  We can rely on what God's New Testament prophets, the apostles and evangelists have written by the power of the Spirit, because they have written by the power of the Holy Spirit.  For Old Testament or New, prophecy-- by which is meant the entire Word of Scripture-- never was a matter of human beings making up things out of their own heads.  No, true prophecy, the authentic Word of God that points to Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen, is from God and God alone.  It is to be believed and trusted and by it we should direct our lives, until the day of Jesus Christ.

The Word is essential; our feelings aren't enough.  Our personal experience of Christ won't save us and won't preserve us-- unless it's based on a true knowledge of Jesus Christ and what He actually said and did, as recorded in the Scriptures.  This world is very dark, squalid, and dismal, and if we rely on our emotions to assure us that we are saved, we will stumble and fall.  If we trust our feelings to guide us in what we should do, we are in grave danger of going astray.   But we have the truth of Christ recorded for us in God's written Word, and it shines as a light to all who have been called by God's own glory and greatness.

Let us thank God for those times when we feel especially happy or joyful in Him.  Let us praise Him for seasons of blessed peace and comfort.  But do not lose heart when trouble and distress and darkness come.  We have the prophetic word made most certain, for it testifies to Jesus Christ and what He has done.  He did it for you, to give you hope and everything you need for life and godliness through knowledge of Him.  He is the Word of God Incarnate, the Word made flesh.  He is the bright morning star, the same Jesus who was transfigured on the mountain, the Son of Man who died on the cross and rose for you in glory.  This same Jesus has promised to return and take you to live with Him in blessedness forever and by the testimony of the apostles and prophets we know His promises are good.  By the power of the Holy Spirit may His glorious word be established in your heart and may you grow in grace and knowledge of Him until He comes again.  Amen.

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