Text: 2 Peter 1:20-2:3
Event: Pentecost 2A
Date: June 22, 2014
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church
2 Peter 1:20–2:3 (NIV84)
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.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.
Hold Steadfast to God’s Word
1. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to save you
2. Anything else threatens to destroy you
There are certain things you just need to keep track of closely. When I travel by air, I’ve got my ID on me at all times. I’m continually terrified I’m going to lose it and be stranded, despite the fact that the other days of the year it sits in my wallet safe and sound and I don’t give it a passing thought. But that’s because, under normal circumstances, I don’t need it. When I’m trying to get through security at the airport, though, it’s of the utmost importance.
We might, at times, treat God’s Word in the same way. When we’re in a religious discussion with a friend, we cling to it to make sure we know what is right (maybe simply so we can “win” the argument). Perhaps when someone’s health is failing or needs other encouragement, we lean on it continually as the sole lasting source of comfort that we have. But then, perhaps the rest of the time it’s something we’re aware of, we know, even believe, but perhaps we don’t think much about it. Maybe it’s not on the forefront of our minds. Maybe it’s left a bit in the shadows.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus warned that false prophets are going to come. In our Second Lesson, Peter warns us of the same thing. People are going to come to threaten our faith; people are going to come to attempt to destroy our confidence, and they’re going to come at times when we do not expect them. We need to be ready; we need to hold steadfast to God’s Word. It’s such an important tool because it is the Holy Spirit’s work to save you and we know that anything else threatens only destruction.
The Apostle Peter’s second letter was written to be a final encouragement to the Christians he was leaving behind. It would not be long before Peter’s life would come to an end, very likely done by the Roman emperor Nero. Peter doesn’t have much time left to do his work as an apostle, so his goal is to prepare the people who depend on him for a time without him. He wants to leave them with the tools to fend for and tend to their faith even without the apostolic guidance that the young church had enjoyed for the past 30 or so years.
Peter’s words in our lesson this morning layout both the tools we will use and the battle we will fight during this life. Peter stresses the importance of God’s Word and, most notably, its origin. 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. That passage may sound familiar; it was likely a passage you memorized in Catechism class or focused on in a Bible Information Class. Peter lays out the concept of verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. Mankind didn’t come up with the Bible; human authors wrote what God himself directed them to write. That was true of the prophets in the Old Testament like Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and it remains true with the apostles like Peter, John, and Paul. It’s the assurance that every word of the Bible is faultless and from God.
Peter is about to go to his death. There were undoubtedly still rumors circulating that this Christ-centered sect was still just believing a lie. This Jesus who was crucified, they would say, never rose from the dead. The Pharisees had started the rumor that Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body and lied to influence the people. Peter is about to show that such a claim is absolutely false. You don’t die for a lie; you don’t give up your life to protect something you know is not true. That lie, if it had been one, would only have been advantageous to those propagating it while they were alive. If they were dead, the lie would do them no good. So they certainly wouldn’t allow their lives to be taken to protect a lie that wouldn’t benefit them anymore.
But the words they had proclaimed about Jesus were not lies. In fact, Peter says, not only was it true, but it was truth purified by God. People get things wrong. Eyewitnesses mix up details and make mistakes all the time. It’s rarely malicious or an attempt to subvert justice; it just happens. The same could be said for those writing down the Bible. Perhaps they tried their best, but certainly errors and problems were introduced into what they wrote down.
That would be true were it not for the Holy Spirit’s work in the forming of those Scriptures. He literally carried the authors of the Bible along. At times, he dictated what they should write; at other times he reminded them of everything Jesus had said and done so they could write it down clearly and accurately. In the end, the testimony from the Bible, the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament fulfillments, are reliable because they are both from God.
We can be so thankful that God gave it to us too, because who could’ve ever dreamed up such a thing? Who would have been able to imagine forgiveness from God that doesn’t depend on anything we do? Who would have come up with anything like the message of God’s grace—that though we sin against him over and over again, he takes it all and deals with it himself. There is not forgiveness from God because we are worthy; there is forgiveness from God because God’s love overrides our misdeeds. You won’t find a message like that in any other religion in the world save for biblical Christianity, because biblical Christianity is the one religion whose authors were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Because this message is so very different, is so illogical, that means it’s going to have its detractors and opponents. There will be people that try to warp and change the message to make it more appealing to the masses and fit in with the reason we’re all equipped with. How many churches out there can’t let God’s grace be all there is and instead add some human component to salvation, be it making a decision to believe in Jesus as Savior or even doing some small work to pay off bits of sin. Both are destructive false teachings that, left unchecked, can completely undermine the whole message.
Peter warns about people changing and warping God’s Word. He says, “They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.” Did you notice the repetition of that awful word, destruction? All false teaching, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant is destructive. We may think that this point or that point between churches is splitting theological hairs. But God says, “No!” It’s important because people’s souls are on the line. If people really believe that they need to do something to add to or entirely accomplish paying off their sins that can destroy their faith in their Savior. Any compromise on any component of God’s Spirit-given Word brings with it the danger of destroying faith.
But we know that our church teaches correctly, right? We know that we’ve been taught the pure Word of God. We know we’re not in danger, right? What did Peter say? But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. What did Jesus say? “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” False prophets and false teachers aren’t just “out there.” Where does false teaching start? Right here. It can start in this pulpit. It can start in our classrooms. It can start among the people we love and respect the most in the whole world.
But our dedication to God’s Word needs to be stronger than our dedication to people. Our dedication to God’s Word means that we can look beyond the fluffy, sheep-like exterior of a false teacher and call a spade a spade. Our dedication to God’s Word means looking beyond a message that we want to hear to the message that we need to hear, as we saw in our First Lesson this morning. My responsibility as the pastor of this congregation to keep us on the straight-and-narrow, to ensure that God’s Word is taught accurately. Your responsibility as members of this congregation is to keep me on track and rebuke me when I go astray. We have a partnership that helps each other hold steadfast to God’s Word.
In order to do that work, we need to know what God’s Word says. In order to do that work, we need to be filled with love. Supporting the true teaching of God’s Word shows our concern for our own souls, the souls of our fellow Christians in our congregation, as well the souls of those who might be going astray. Peter is clear that the false teacher is not protected from the destruction that his false teaching brings, “Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” Proclaiming and clinging to God’s pure Word is a mission of love and mercy. We speak the truth in love to those we love and to those we don’t know because we want them all to join us in the great heavenly banquet with our Savior forever.
And so, my brothers and sisters, hold steadfast to God’s Word, that glorious power to save that the Holy Spirit has given you. Cherish every word, every letter, that tell you of your and my tragic position in our sin—powerless and doomed—and yet, from it all, God saves us by Jesus taking our place. We have no fear; we have no destruction waiting because God has saved us. He’s saved the world, too. Let’s show how much we love our Savior by sharing the amazing gift he’s given to us. God, help us take that strong Word to the world! Amen.