Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sermon: 2 Peter 2: 1-22 This Messenger will self-destruct

Does anyone know the TV/movies with this as the opening theme? [Play clip] It is Mission Impossible, the 1966 TV programme, with four films since 1996 starring Tom Cruise. When that distinctive music is playing, the spy listens in to a tape giving him directions for the impossible mission. ‘Your mission, if you choose to accept it is...’

As Peter continues in his letter, it might feel like a mission impossible for his readers. As we’ve seen so far, Peter is urging us to press on to grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus. Having received from God our faith; everything we need for life and godliness; and his precious and very great promises, we’re urged to increase in those qualities which confirm that we’re growing in grace - virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love.

It can be hard enough to try to grow in these qualities (how have you got on over the past 3 weeks?), but today’s passage might make it seem like mission impossible. While affirming that God has given us the scriptures, written by men carried along by the Holy Spirit, pointing us to Jesus, and confirming the promise of his return, Peter now gives us a stark warning. A warning that might discourage us, making it seem much harder for us to grow. It’s the warning of false teachers.

This weekend, the nation is celebrating the Queen’s 90th birthday. At her coronation, the Queen was given a copy of the Bible, with these words ringing in her ears: ‘We present you with this book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively Oracles of God.’ All true, and Peter would affirm it - yet he says that alongside the true prophets, there were false prophets. And because it happened in the Old Testament, it will also happen in the New; in the church. ‘Just as there will be false teachers among you.’ Not maybe, there will.

Look at what they will do - ‘who will secretly bring destructive heresies.’ Now heresy isn’t a word that we tend to hear very often. A heresy is a belief that strays from the truth; something out of line. So if you have true prophets and false prophets, you also have true teachers and false teachers. They might sound good; you might like what they say, but it’s not true, it’s not good, and in fact, it will lead to destruction.

Now you might be thinking - this really is a mission impossible. How do I know if I’m listening to a true teacher or a false teacher? But you’d almost think that Peter knew about the Mission Impossible theme tune. If you remember it, when the spy listened to the tape, the last thing they would hear was this: ‘This message will self-destruct in five seconds.’ There would be a bang, and the tape was gone; no one else would be able to hear the secret mission.

If we can change that phrase slightly, we see what Peter is saying to us. The false teachers are ‘bringing upon themselves swift destruction.’ Or in other words, ‘This messenger will self-destruct.’ The false teacher will self-destruct.

That’s a good reason to be careful, to be wary when you’re listening to someone. Make sure you’re not listening to a false teacher, bringing destruction. So how do you know? Well, in verses 2 & 3, Peter gives us a flavour of their heresies. It’s all about sensuality - all about feelings, particularly in the realm of sexual pleasure; if it feels good, just do it, with whoever and whenever. And it’s motivated by their greed - they’ll say whatever it takes to exploit you, to take advantage of you.

Further down the passage, Peter shows us how to spot a false teacher. And that word ‘spot’ is one to bear in mind. I’m sure you’ve seen the adverts for Clearasil. Look at verse 13. They are blots and blemishes, they are out of place, like a big spot on the forehead when you’re heading out on a hot date.

In a number of short, snappy sentences, Peter shows us what they’re like. Revelling in the daytime. Eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. Enticing unsteady souls. Hearts trained in greed. Accursed, because they have gone astray, wandered from the right path. They’re like Balaam, who we find in Numbers 22-24 - a prophet for hire, he’ll say anything, curse anyone, for a fee - yet he was rebuked when his donkey spoke back to him.

Now maybe you’re wondering what the big deal is. Why can’t we all just get along, and listen to every sort of viewpoint? Why do we have to worry about true and false, right and wrong? Isn’t it narrow and restrictive? Could Don Carson, the theologian be right when he says that the only heresy left today is that there’s such a thing as heresy.

We see the danger in verses 17-22. ‘They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.’ The promise of the false teacher is that you can be free, do what you like, no limits, no boundaries, but they’re actually leading people into greater slavery. It’s like a wasp calling his mates to an abundant supply of jam or sugar, not realising that he’s caught in the trap.

The pictures Peter uses are the dog returning to its own vomit (which we’ll not dwell on, before you eat your Sunday lunch), and the sow, washing herself, becoming clean, then rolling in the muck again. Listen to the false teacher, and having experienced freedom, you’ll actually become entangled in the defilements of the world. The last state worse than the first. No wonder Peter warns us about them. These messengers will self-destruct, and will take you with them, if you follow them.

Is it mission impossible to spot them, and to avoid them? So far we’ve only looked at the warning, but there is some encouragement in this chapter as well. And it all begins in verse 3. ‘Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.’ How can we be sure? Well, remember the scriptures, written by men moved by the Spirit? Peter turns to them to illustrate his point, with four big ifs.

‘For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgement.’ Did God do it? Yes. ‘If he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah... when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly.’ Did God do it? Yes. ‘If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.’ Did God do it? Yes. ‘And if he rescued righteous Lot.’ Did God do it? Yes.

Oftentimes in sport, previous form is a good indicator of future success. And going into Euro 2016, the team with the current longest unbeaten run is, Northern Ireland. I’m hoping they can continue that run tonight against Poland. But think about God’s form in those verses. Every time, he was able to condemn the guilty, and rescue the righteous. That’s the contrast between Noah ‘a herald of righteousness’ and the ungodly who perished. It’s the same contrast between righteous Lot and the sensual wicked of Sodom. All those ‘if’ statements are true, and here’s the point, verse 9: ‘then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgement.’

God has kept the righteous in the past, and he will keep doing it, no matter how many false teachers come their way. And God will bring the false teachers to the judgement - they will indeed self-destruct. Both these truths hold together, and it’s vital that we remember them.

As I was preparing to preach this, I wondered what we are meant to do about this all. Now, you might have noticed that there are no commands; no doing words; no instructions in what Peter says here. There’s a lot about what the false teachers are like; there’s the promise of rescue; but there’s nothing to do in this chapter. Isn’t that strange?

And then it dawned on me. You see, we’re so used to reading chapters as if they’re in separate boxes. In our Bibles there might be big chapter numbers and headings to mark off the new chapter. But those aren’t part of the original. Sometimes, they can be distracting, and sometimes they can hide what the author is saying.

Do you remember the contrast at the start of the chapter? Look at how it begins - ‘But false prophets also arose...’ This follows on from Peter’s instruction about the scriptures. The application for chapter two is one that we’ve already heard, already thought about - but now brought into sharper focus.

Can you remember it from last time? Pay attention to the prophetic word. The authentic message. And as you listen to the true prophetic word, the Scriptures, heed the warning about false teachers. Weigh carefully what teachers say, check if it lines up with the Bible, and don’t listen if it wanders from the path.

Pay attention to the Bible - when you’re in church; when you’re in a Bible study and someone gives a new way of looking at something; when you’re channel hopping and come across the God Channel. Be aware that there will be false teachers. And don’t follow them and their self-destructive ways. The Lord will rescue the godly. His promise is sure. So pay attention, and don’t be led astray.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 12th June 2016.

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