Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sermon: 2 Peter 2: 12-21 Total Recall

Last words can sometimes tell us a lot about a person. Captain Oates, on his ill-fated Antarctic exploration, full of duty to the last, is reported to have said. ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ The comedian Spike Milligan’s last words were ‘I told you I was ill.’

Last words stick in the memory - whether we’ve been able to spend time with a loved one, and we know that moment is coming, and we get one last conversation; or even if a loved one has been taken suddenly, we remember the last thing they said as they left the house that morning.

In our reading today, we have some of the apostle Peter’s last words. In verse 14, he knows that ‘the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.’ So what will Peter focus on? What does he want to say to the people who received his letter?

Oftentimes, last words are about remembering - maybe remembering the good times we had together, or remembering the love that we shared. And Peter is all about remembering - look at verses 12-15. It’s all about remembering. Look at the words he uses: remind you; reminder; recall. Three sentences and three remember type words. So what is he reminding us of?

Verse 12: ‘Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.’ Now if you’re asking ‘what qualities’ then it might show us how much we need these reminders! Last week, in the first 11 verses, Peter shows us what it looks like to grow in godliness - based in what we have received (faith, everything we need and promises), we’re to add on virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love.

So how did you get on this week with them? Did you find any opportunities to be patient rather than rage? Did you learn anything new about God this week as you read your Bible? Were there moments of triumph in self-control when before you would have indulged?

Even though we know them and we’re established in the truth, it’s so easy to forget. Other things take over our focus, and we begin to drift again. That’s why we need the reminder!

It’s maybe not the weather for it, but imagine a big pot of stew. If it’s left alone, it’ll settle, and start to stick to the bottom of the pot. It needs to be stirred up. This is what Peter is dedicating his last words to - while he’s in the body to stir you up by way of reminder, and after his departure, so that we may be able to recall these things.

So don’t forget about these qualities. Don’t think, yeah, we learnt about those last week. now onto something else. Remember them. Keep thinking about. Keep pursuing them. Could you put them on a sticky note on your bedside table? Or by your mirror?

Now why is Peter so insistent on remembering these qualities? Why is he focusing on us growing in grace and knowledge? What’s the point? He has already seen the glory of the King. He knows what is just ahead of us. He has experienced a glimpse of the eternal kingdom to which we’re journeying.

Verse 16: ‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.’ Maybe some people thought that the whole story about Jesus was just a story, just a myth, all made up. And especially the bit that still lies in the future. You see, that word ‘coming’ isn’t about Jesus’ first coming, his birth at Bethlehem. It’s a technical word (Parousia), which always means his second coming, his return in glory.

But Peter says, it’s not made up. It’s not a clever story, it will happen, because we have already seen his majesty. In our first reading we heard of the transfiguration, and here Peter looks back on that day, telling us what he saw, as an eyewitness. The honour and glory as Jesus’ clothing became dazzling white. But Peter also tells us what he heard - the voice borne to him saying ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’

Peter says that ‘we ourselves heard it’ - Peter and James and John. Having seen Jesus in all his glory once, Peter knows that Jesus will return in all his glory for all to see.

I wonder if you’ve ever found yourself thinking - is it all just made up? Is it all a waste of time to follow Jesus, who we’ve never seen? Could the Da Vinci Code and all the other conspiracy theorists be right? Listen to Peter’s eyewitness testimony. He was there. He saw Jesus, and writes it down so that we can be sure, so that we have a glimpse of the one who will return.

But that’s not always easy. It was all right for Peter, he got to see Jesus like that. We just have to take his word for it. Is that all we have to go on? Thankfully not. You see, as Peter goes on, he says that we have something more sure. Something that we can rely on. Something that will help us as we look forward to the return of the Lord Jesus. And what is it? ‘The prophetic word.’ (19)

Peter points us to the Old Testament scriptures, the words of the prophets. And you might think... oh. I’ve been trying to read the Old Testament and it’s such a struggle. I try, and I don’t understand it. I don’t know what it’s all about. And this is something more sure?

Peter gives us a picture. The prophetic word is like ‘a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’ Again, there’s the forward focus. The day is coming, the glory of Christ is dawning, but until then, we have a lamp, a light. The lamp of the scriptures points us to the dawning of day, the morning star, the coming of Christ.

In over 300 scriptures, the birth, life, death, resurrection and return of Jesus are foretold in great detail. We see how Jesus fulfils the details, so that the lamp is like the sunlight before the day comes.

Now how was that possible? Did someone follow Jesus around and then write the Old Testament to make it look like he was fulfilling it? Of course not! These scriptures were written at least five hundred years before Jesus was born. And the two camps in the EU referendum can’t decide what life will be like in a month’s time if we vote in or out...

Look at verse 21. ‘For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ The scriptures are God given, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to point to Jesus, and by that, to encourage us to grow in godliness.

Now why does Peter tell us all this about the prophetic word? What does he want us to do with it? ‘Pay attention.’ Listen up! Are we walking by the light we have in the darkness while we wait for the day to dawn? Or are we stumbling about in the darkness, not using the light God has given us?

If we are reading it, how do we do that? It’s great that we’ve been reading through the Bible this year - but do we just scan it to be able to put a tick beside that day’s bit? Are we turning pages for the sake of the achievement? Or are we paying attention, listening carefully to what’s being said?

Peter wants to encourage us to read it, to pay attention to it, not out of guilt or duty - this is something I have to do. But rather, realising that this is God speaking, God giving light for the path. Not, ‘I have to do this’ but ‘I get to do this!’ I get to spend time with God, hearing him speak to me, showing me how to grow in godliness as I wait for the return of his Son.

What a change that could bring, as we sit down to read. Asking God to speak to us. Thinking about what we read, and what God is saying to us through it.

Peter’s last words stir us up to remember his reminder of these qualities of growth in godliness. To help us we have his eye and ear witness word - the glory of Christ is coming, it will all be worth it. And the prophetic word shines the way for us while we wait.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 29th May 2016.

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