Have you ever lost something extremely precious to you, and known the heart wrenching anxiety, regret, emptiness at the thought that it’s gone?
Sometimes, things turn up again. The internet is full of lovely stories of the most amazing finds. Quite a few people, it seems, have lost wedding rings while gardening, only to find them when they pick their carrots some years later. That’s happened unbelievably often. Lots of stories of things being fished out of lakes, too. Or the man who found the wedding ring he lost down the toilet, whilst repairing some local sewage pipes some 72 years later.
Stories like that are wonderful, but they’re not normal. Far more often, when something precious is lost, it’s gone forever, and it feels terrible.
We’re working our way through the letter of 2 Peter, written by the apostle Peter to some Christians about the year 65 AD. And they’re also in danger of losing something precious.
We looked at the first few verses two weeks ago. God has indeed given these Christians something very precious. He’s given them life itself – they’re in a relationship with the God who made them. He’s given them his life-changing power to transform them into better people. And one day, they’ll be like God. Immortal. Incorruptible. Flawless. Perfect.
Those are two amazingly precious things, but there’s a danger they’ll lose them. They haven’t crossed the finish-line yet. Verse 10 says they could still stumble. Whereas Peter wants the ending in verse 11. “You will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.
People give up on the Christian faith for all kinds of reasons, but the danger here was that they fall for the false teachers who are in town. We’ll meet them properly in chapter 2. They’re peddling a fake version of Jesus. He sounds like the real Jesus, indeed he may sound more appealing, but he’s not real He’s fake.
That’s how these Christians could lose what they have. They could exchange the Jesus they’re following for a fake imitation. This is not losing your wedding ring whilst gardening. This is exchanging your gold wedding ring for a shinier one made out of pyrite, fool’s gold. And in so doing, they’d exchange their rich welcome for a spectacular stumble.
If you know and follow the Lord Jesus, you too have something amazingly precious. And yet, even today, people give up the race. Or exchange this for a fake imitation.
And Peter wants to make sure that we don’t.
And in today’s verses he urges us to do two things to protect ourselves from losing what we have.
Remember what the apostles taught
Number 1: Remember what the apostles taught. Remember what the apostles taught.
There’s an urgency to Peter’s to call to remember. The urgency is his own death. He knows he won’t be around much longer.
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.”
Peter knows that he will die soon. We don’t know exactly how he knows. He just says that Jesus has made it clear to him. However he knows, he’s on borrowed time.
That doesn’t bother him. He describes his death as like discarding a tent. His body is like the tent he happens to live in at the moment. At the end of each day, you change your clothes. Half way through your holiday you pack up your camp and go and stay somewhere else. At the end of his life, he’ll leave his tent behind altogether. It almost conjures up pictures of people leaving their popup tents behind after a music festival. His body is not needed any more. He’ll get a new one. It challenges our attitude to death.
His death isn’t a problem for him. But it does leave these Christians vulnerable. While Peter’s around, if the Christians are slightly thrown by the latest teaching, Peter can put things right. But once Peter’s died, who will keep them on the right course?
There’s a danger that the Christian message becomes a long chain of Chinese whispers. The apostles pass it on to the first generation. Who get some small detail muddled, so that the second generation picks it up slightly distorted. They add their own muddle. And so on, until in our own day we’ve ended up with something very different from what Jesus himself taught the first disciples.
Peter’s worked hard to make sure this doesn’t happen. In verse 15, he says he “will make every effort”, a phrase we’ve met before.
So he writes this letter now, while he’s still alive, to make sure they can remember everything he’s taught them once he’s gone.
And maybe he’s alluding to other things as well. Many people think that Mark’s Gospel is basically Peter’s memoires. So maybe he’s including Mark, too.
This is something we all need. They don’t need Peter’s reminder because they’re weak or wobbly. Verse 12 says: “… even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.”
These are strong, knowledgeable, firm, established Christians.
That word “established” has a bit of history, as it happens. We meet it in the story of Peter’s denials. Jesus told his disciples he was going to be arrested and killed. Peter swore that he would be loyal to Jesus forever. He would die with him if necessary. Jesus knew better. Jesus knew that even Peter the rock would deny him three times. But then he tells Peter that once that’s happened, and he’s been restored, he’s to establish, strengthen, his brothers. The same word. And it’s what he’s doing here.
Peter knows that even confident, strong, mature Christians can let their lord down. He did it himself. He’s writing to Christians who are established. So they need reminding. They’re not immune from having a wobble, from turning away from the real Jesus. So he reminds them.
We mustn’t think that we’re so strong we’d never lose our footing.
And the remedy is to remember. The false teachers were innovators. Offering something new, fresh, relevant for today. My job as a Christian teacher is never to innovate. Your job as a Christian is not to innovate.
Occasionally someone asks he how I do my job at Christmas or Easter. “Doesn’t it get hard to think of something new to say?” I don’t aim to say anything new. Peter takes these Christians back to what they heard at first. If something is fresh and new it’s probably wrong. We need to remember, not innovate.
So there are no Chinese whispers. We’re not learning the message of Jesus 80th hand, or even third hand. We all learn it second hand. Jesus entrusted his message to the 12 apostles. They wrote it down before they died. We can learn directly from those who ate and drank with Jesus in Galilee and Judea. We have access to the real Jesus of history.
So we need to remember if we are to stand firm. We need to soak ourselves in all 27 books of the New Testament. Because we need to remember the real Jesus we follow.
That’s Peter’s first appeal. Remember what the apostles taught.
Be certain Jesus will return
Here’s his second: Be certain Jesus will return. Be certain Jesus will return.
Now it may be that the idea Jesus will come back is new to you.
Jesus taught it clearly. At his first coming, he was born in Bethlehem, and placed in an animal trough. There was nothing remarkable about him to look at. But in Mark chapter 8, he spoke of a day when he would come in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. Jesus is God, and one day he’d come back looking the part, too.
After he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven. He literally left the earth, and disappeared into the sky. As the disciples stood, jaws dropped, two angels appeared, and said this: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” He’ll come back.
As the apostle Paul travelled the Mediterranean preaching, he came to Athens. There he said this, Acts chapter 17, verse 31: God has “set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Jesus will return to this world. He’ll come back to judge every human being. He’ll wake up those who have died, and gather those who are still alive. He’ll return as judge of the living and the dead. When he does so, he will come in power and glory. There will be no mistaking that he’s God himself.
It was a vital part of the preaching of both Peter and Paul. The false teachers accuse Peter of making it up. All this talk of the second coming was one big fairy tale.
Peter will have none of it. Verse 16: “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power.”
No, he says. “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
And then he refers to a story we call the Transfiguration.
Now, let me read this to us. Here’s Mark chapter 9, verses 2 to 10. If you want to follow, it’s page 1012.
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
“Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
“Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
“As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.”
That’s the story Peter refers to here, to prove that talk of Jesus coming back is not one big fairy tale. The question is: How does the Transfiguration prove the apostles can be trusted, and Jesus really will come back?
Well, the way Peter tells the story here, he focuses on two aspects of this event. What they saw. And what they heard.
Start with what they saw. Verse 16. “We were eyewitnesses of his majesty”. They saw God’s unique divine majesty. Peter, James and John clearly saw Jesus transformed into dazzling white, so bright they could not look.
If you ski, I’m told you need goggles because the snow is dazzling. If you weld, I’m told I need a vizor as the bright flashes of light could blind you. They had no eye protection when this happened, but boy did they need it.
Then, verse 17: “… when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory.” That’s Peter’s way of speaking of the cloud that enveloped them. In the Old Testament, a cloud symbolised the presence of God. When they travelled through the desert, God led them in a pillar of cloud. When they built the temple, God moved into his new home, symbolised by a cloud filling the temple, after which no human being was able to enter it.
On the mountain, Jesus was transfigured into brilliant white, and then a cloud enveloped them.
The symbolism is clear. The apostles were being given a little glimpse into the full divine glory of the Lord Jesus. He may look like any other human being, but God gives them a sneak preview into who he really is.
Being a celebrity is a mixed blessing. It’s a pain you can’t even pop out for milk without people recognising you. So you have to wear outfits that disguise you a little, a jacket with a hood, that kind of thing. But occasionally a bit peeps through, and they get recognised. A little glimpse of who this is pokes out.
For most of Jesus’ time on earth, he just looked like any other law-abiding citizen. But for a few brief moments on that mountain, his divine glory shone unimpeded. It was a sight they’d never forget.
But he doesn’t only focus on what they saw that day. Even more significant is what they heard.
That’s surprising, to be honest. Given they’ve just witnessed Jesus in all his divine splendour, you’d expect them to be all excited about that. But the way Peter tells it, he puts the emphasis on what they heard.
“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.”
There are two allusions here to Psalm 2, which we read together earlier. I’m told these allusions are even clearer if you look in the original languages. You may find it helpful to have Psalm 2 open in front of you. Page 543.
The first allusion is the words they heard. Peter says that the voice spoke to Jesus, with these words: “This is my Son, whom I love”. Psalm 2, verse 7: “You are my son”.
The second allusion is where Peter says that they were with him on the sacred mountain, literally “holy mountain”. Where does he mean?
You might think the site of the transfiguration had become famous, and had become a holy site. But there was no traditional site for this for several hundred years. It can’t be that.
You might think it was Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the 10 commandments. On that occasion, God came down on the mountain in a cloud as well. And while God was there, it was a holy site. Nobody but Moses was allowed up, or they’d die. But as soon as Moses came down and God left, it was never referred to as a holy mountain. It was God’s presence that made it holy.
There is only one mountain that is called “holy” in the Old Testament and that is Mount Zion, the temple mount in Jerusalem. And it comes in this Psalm, right here. The Lord God says: “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain”.
Peter’s not saying that the transfiguration happened on Mount Zion. Clearly it didn’t. The transfiguration was rural, whereas Mount Zion was in the middle of Jerusalem with Herod the Great’s Temple on top. No. Peter’s connecting the transfiguration with Psalm 2.
He’s saying that the transfiguration was the moment when Psalm 2 took place.
Psalm 2 has a cast of 3.
First up, we meet the nations of this world. They plot to overthrow God’s rule. They don’t want God to be in charge.
Second, we meet God, who is in charge. He laughs. Their rebellion is a joke.
It’s a joke because of character number 3, God’s anointed king .He’s installed him on Zion, the holy mountain.
Here are the words of installation, verse 7: “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
The first half of that verse was what Peter, James and John heard. The second half says that God has given this king the nations of the world as his inheritance. So they’d be fools to fight him, verse 10, because he will reign. Verse 9, the day will come when all rebellion will be squashed, once and for all.
Now come back to 2 Peter chapter 1, and you see why the voice they heard was so significant. They heard Psalm 2 come true. They heard God install his anointed king on Zion. Which is why they’re not making it up when they say that Jesus will return as judge. They were actually present when God installed him into that role.
It’s like being in Westminster Abbey for the coronation of our Queen. There’s a very private moment, not photographed in 1937, not televised in 1953, when the Archbishop anoints the queen with oil. And then he says these words: “Be thy head anointed with holy oil: as kings, priests, and prophets were anointed. And as Solomon was anointed king by Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, so be you anointed, blessed and consecrated Queen over the Peoples, whom the Lord thy God hath given thee to rule and govern.”
You could tell people afterwards that you were there. You saw the Queen in her royal robes. And you heard those words spoken. She really is the Queen.
Now, nobody questions whether Elizabeth II is actually queen. But people do disbelieve that God has installed Jesus as king of this world. And more to the point, they do disbelieve that he’ll come again to be judge us all.
They saw Jesus transfigured into dazzling whiteness, a glimpse of who he is. They heard God the Father install him as the king of this world who will one day come and squash all rebellion forever. When they taught that Jesus would come back to this world as judge, in all his divine splendour, it wasn’t some fairy tale they’d cooked up. It was based on their eyewitness testimony. It was based on what they saw and heard.
Be certain Jesus will return.
We can be sure. Life won’t go on forever as it is now. One day, every routine will be permanently interrupted. Jesus will return, and we will be judged. There’s no doubt about it. What they saw and heard proves it beyond doubt. Wonderfully, what Jesus did when he came the first time has prepared us fully. If you’re a Christian, if you know and love Jesus, that day is nothing for you to fear. Instead, it’s a day to look forward to.
Be certain Jesus will return.
What God has given us in the Lord Jesus is immensely precious. All we need for a godly life. Very great and precious promises that one day we’ll be like God, flawless, immortal, incorruptible, perfect.
This is too precious to lose. The Christians Peter wrote to were in danger of losing these precious things. Alternative versions of Christianity were doing the rounds that were worthless fakes.
So he urges them, and he urges us: Don’t lose out. Remember what the apostles taught. And be certain Jesus will return.