When I was 15, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to walk up Mount Kenya. You can’t get to the twin highest peaks without an 11 hour rock-climb of a high grade. But there is another peak, Point Lenana, which is 700 feet lower than the top two, and that is a 2 day walk and a bit of a scramble. One thing you need on Mount Kenya, because it’s a large mountain, is a guide.
Of course, the less clear the path, the more you need a guide. The more people there might be who would try and point you in the wrong direction, the more you need a guide. And so you need a guide, one you can trust, one who will point you the right way.
Last week we began our look at 2 Peter. You will remember, if you were here, that Peter wrote to Christians to tell them how secure and stable they were. If you know Christ, you have everything you need, now and for the future. But you do need to build on that relationship. But he had to write, because there were some very confident teachers in the church, who would cause these Christians to leave behind their security.
To go back to Mount Kenya – it really matters that we reach the summit. The stakes are really high. But there are also lots of false trails and false guides to waylay us. So we need a reliable guide.
Let me read verse 12 again. “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you know have.” Peter starts “So”. Therefore. Peter knows it matters that we aren’t waylaid. So Peter will personally make sure that his readers get there. And, if we listen in, he’ll tell us how to get there too. He’s going to tell us how not to be waylaid. He’ll tell us which guide to follow to the summit.
And he points us in two directions for this reliable guide. Two things to do if we want to make it to the top safely.
1. Remember what the apostles saw and heard.
The first thing to do is remember what the apostles saw and heard. Remember what the apostles saw and heard.
Peter says three things about this in verses 12 to 18.
First, we didn’t make it up, we saw it. We didn’t make it up, we saw it.
Verse 16: 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.
As they taught about Jesus’ second coming, they weren’t making it up. They talked about Jesus’ second coming because they saw the transfiguration for themselves.
Newscasters say some silly things sometimes, doubtless because there isn’t always a lot of time between a story coming in and needing to present it. One newscaster is reported to have said, I forget which event they were reporting, that “eyewitnesses were on the scene in minutes”. Actually, that story is probably an urban legend in itself!
That’s the point of being an eyewitness isn’t it? You didn’t get it from hearsay. You saw it yourself. You’d be surprised how many people have Jesus all wrapped up with Winnie the Pooh. But the stories of Jesus that are handed down in the four gospels are not myths or legends. The apostles saw it.
We didn’t make it up, we saw it.
Second, we didn’t interpret it, God explained it. We didn’t interpret it, God explained it.
You see, how did they know what to learn about Jesus from the transfiguration? The answer is that God told them. They didn’t have to work the meaning out for themselves.
Verse 17: “For he received honour 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.”
Peter is saying that the transfiguration shows that Jesus will come again in power to judge the world. Surely that’s just his take on things? How does that make him a reliable guide for us on the mountain?
And the answer is that it’s not just his take on things. God spoke and they heard God’s voice. God said “This is my Son whom I love; with him I am well pleased”. The voice alluded to Psalm 2, which speaks of the way the Messiah would ultimately rule all the nations of this world.
In other words, the transfiguration tells us that Jesus does have the authority to carry off the second coming. According to God.
We didn’t interpret it, God explained it.
Third, we didn’t want you to forget it, we wrote it down. We didn’t want you to forget it, we wrote it down
Verse 13: “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”
Peter knows he hasn’t gone long left – he will die soon. Therefore Peter wants to make sure that his readers will not have any trouble remembering his teaching when he’s gone – he writes this letter.
Handling someone’s estate is a lot easier if they have written a will. One of the things that a properly written will does is make the deceased’s wishes unambiguously clear. Once they’ve died, you can no longer ask exactly which brother they meant, or how to pay the school fees of a grandchild who has left school. So people leave a will – they write down precisely what to do after their death. There is no other way we can ask them what they want us to do.
One day Peter won’t be here any more, and then people need a way to ask him what he saw of Jesus, and what he heard. So he writes it down.
We didn’t want you to forget it, we wrote it down.
So let’s put it together. The apostles didn’t make up the stories they wrote, they saw the events for themselves. They didn’t make up the meaning of those events – God told them how to interpret them. They didn’t leave the passing on of their message to a chance game of Chinese Whispers – they wrote it down.
All of which means that the apostles, the twelve disciples later joined by Paul and a couple of others, are indeed a reliable guide up the mountain. If we let them guide us, we’ll steer a safe path all the way to the top, avoiding the dangerous byways.
That’s our first heading: Remember what the apostles saw and heard.
2. Pay attention to what the prophets wrote from God.
Our second is this: Pay attention to what the prophets wrote from God. Pay attention to what the prophets wrote from God.
Again, I think it is helpful to see what Peter is saying in three stages.
The first thing Peter says about the prophets is that they show us the way through a dark world. That comes in verse 19: 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.
Peter uses images of light and dark quite a bit in this letter. The dark is where the people who don’t want God to be God are. We are in danger of being blind. Sinful angels are waiting for the day of judgement in dark dungeons, and blackest darkness is reserved for the false teachers. Actually, he’s doing nothing other than picking up Old Testament imagery. The world is a dark place. The world does not want to know God.
But the prophets, by which I think he means the whole Old Testament, are like a light shining. Another Old Testament picture. Psalm 119 verse 105 says, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path.”
This world does not want to know God. The world is a dark place. But in that dark place there is a light that will show us God’s way through. That light is the Old Testament.
The prophets show us the way through a dark world.
Second, their job is not yet done. Their job is not yet done. We need to pay attention to them until, verse 19, “the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” That is Old Testament speak for the return of Jesus when we will all be able to see what God is like.
But until that happens, we still need the prophets. It’s still dark, so we still need the torch God has given us. I could have brought a torch in here this morning. I’ve got a decent one. But if I tried to shine it onto the back wall, you wouldn’t see a thing. That’s because it’s daylight. A torch makes a really impressive difference on a dark night. But in the light of day, it’s pathetic. But in terms of being in an environment where God is wherever you look, we’re not in daylight. The torchlight of the Old Testament prophets isn’t pathetic. We can’t do without it.
Their job is not yet done.
Third, they wrote exactly what God wanted. They wrote exactly what God wanted.
Verse 20: Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 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.
The prophets wrote what the prophets wanted to write. But that isn’t where the story began. That is not where what they wrote originated. We are told that the Holy Spirit made sure that, as they wrote what they wanted to write, they also wrote what God wanted them to write.
Those are the three things Peter tells us about the Old Testament. It shows us the way through a dark world. Its job is not yet done. And the writers wrote exactly what God wanted.
Which has two big implications for us. It means we can trust the Old Testament. It’s not an early document that is a bit coarse and unrefined, such that we can throw it in the bin now we have the New Testament. Not a bit. Every word of it is what God wanted written.
But not only can we trust it, we can’t do without it. The world is still a dark place. Jesus may have lived, died, risen and ascended since the Old Testament was penned, but the world is still dark. So we still need our torch.
We can trust it and we need it. Or, as Peter says, in verse 19: You will do well to pay attention to it.
So, as we said at the start, we need a guide. Where will we find a guide we can trust, who will lead us safely through life to reach the summit and who will show us when a path is the wrong path?
And the answer is that God himself is our guide. And he does it through the Bible – Old and New Testaments alike. Both halves of our Bible record God’s actions in history. Both halves of our Bible record God’s take on those events – how they are to be understood, and what difference they make to our day to day lives. And both halves of the Bible have been written down so that we can have God’s view of God’s events passed onto us faithfully.
In short, it isn’t only Peter who wanted to leave us a written reminder. It isn’t only Peter who wants us to reach the summit. God himself wants us to reach the summit. God himself wants to protect us from false teachers who would lead us onto dangerous paths. So God himself has written his thoughts down, through people like Peter writing their thoughts down, so that he can guide us all the way.
This is why the Bible is at the heart of our preaching at St Johns. It’s why we always aim to unfold what the Bible has to say, rather than just tell you what we would like to say.
One book I looked at had a very helpful way of summing these verses up. Every generation of Christians is the second generation.
Some Christians today wish they were first generation Christians. Able to meet and learn about Jesus quite apart from those apostles and prophets who wrote our Bible. Other Christians today think they are 65th generation Christians, knowing so much more today than those early, primitive Christians. But instead, we are second generation Christians. If we would keep on track, we must pay attention to what the prophets and apostles wrote down for us. Because they are the ones God appointed to make sure we are able to remember what authentic Christianity looks like, in a day and age when there are more deviant forms than ever before.