Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
One of the questions people often ask is this – what is the truth about God? We sometimes ask where we can find the truth and what God will do for us. We don’t always ask these questions out loud, but at some point in our lives, most of us wonder about God. We crave an encounter with the Almighty.
As we take up our search for answers, we learn that it’s easy to go astray. Clever people take advantage of our need for the spiritual by offering teachings that please the ear and line the pockets of those who promote them. We may come into contact with new age movements or with various deviations from the traditional Christian faith. Somebody once told me about a store where you could buy trinkets associated with witchcraft. There are many competing approaches to the supernatural. How do we choose?
Two of this morning’s readings bring us back in touch with the apostle Peter. He was seeker, a pilgrim. The Bible shows him at the beginning of his walk with Jesus, when he seemed to take baby steps and easily stumbled onto an unfruitful path. The New Testament also gives us a glimpse of Peter near the end of his earthly life, where in his two brief letters he reveals a mature, stable faith in the Lord. Christian tradition says that Peter became so devoted to Jesus that he accepted crucifixion himself rather than go back on what he believed. For most of us, Peter is an attractive figure. He knew the world. He experienced ordinary human life. He didn’t appear to have exceptional abilities, like Paul, or an outstandingly different way of life, like John the Baptist. He struggled to find the truth. He helps us to trust the Bible and to come to God’s truth ourselves.
Peter was an eye-witness. He traveled with Jesus through Galilee and Judea. He witnessed Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. He talked with the Risen Lord after the Resurrection. He was present at the Ascension, when Christ rose to sit at the right hand of his Father. If you accept Peter’s testimony, then it’s possible for us to believe that Scripture tells us the truth about God.
Peter was also present at the Transfiguration, which occurred just after Jesus predicted his death and resurrection. By the power of the Heavenly Father, the Savior took on the form he will have when he returns in glory on the Day of Judgment. This was an important moment for Peter. He may have acted at the time with his characteristic impulsiveness, but later he described in his second letter what the Transfiguration meant for him. He found in this incident four things that clarified the truth about God for him.
One insight has to do with God’s power. Peter saw Jesus’ power over nature firsthand and his ability to heal. He saw Jesus’ mastery of himself in very trying situations and also his wisdom. He experienced God’s power over the grave and trusted by faith his power to pardon even the worst of sins. For Peter, God was never distant or uncaring or weak. He saw this himself when Jesus was transformed before his very eyes.
Peter also came to trust that God has a plan. The creation of the world, the birth of Christ, the calling of disciples – all were part of God’s plan. He used Peter to spread the gospel, and so he uses our people today, to make sure the good news of salvation reaches the people around us. God’s plan also includes our Lord’s return. God alone knows when this glorious day will be, but Peter received a foretaste when he stood with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was an eyewitness to a preview of the outcome of God’s plan. Jesus will return in glory and majesty. The dead will rise from their graves. Jesus will draw his faithful people to blessedness in heaven, while the wicked will be cast into the outer darkness. He will establish a righteous heavenly city, where there will be no more grief or crime or mourning. Righteousness and peace will prevail. Standing with our imagination beside Peter, we glimpse the fulfillment of God’s plan ourselves – the glorious future in store for folks who remain faithful to our Lord.
In another part of his letter, Peter laid down guidelines for Christian living while we wait for the Lord’s second coming. He wrote that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We take part in Jesus’ divine nature through his great and precious promises to us. We also escape the corruption of the world that evil desires cause.
Peter goes on to list qualities that God’s people develop – faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, kindness and love. God’s actions two thousand years ago in redeeming us through the death of his Son together with his promises – that he will keep on loving us, that nothing can separate us from him, and that so long as we keep faith with him now he will bring us to him when the trials of this life are ended – all inspire us to seek the holy lives he wants for us.
Peter also discovered that the Scriptures are the source of truth. He wrote that because of the Transfiguration, in which Moses and Elijah stood beside the Lord, the teachings of the Old Testament prophets became more certain for him. The same is true today. Hurting men and women need the truth about what God does for us. Scripture assures us that God sends comfort, hope, and salvation by way of his Word. We learn from the Bible that God heals and restores and builds up. He punishes evil-doers and those who run away from him, while his children receive his blessings day after day into eternity.
And so we’ve come to the fourth of Peter’s insights – the Christian way to think about the Bible. Peter wrote that no prophesy of Scripture ever came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. Prophecy doesn’t begin in the will of man. It starts with God, who sent the Holy Spirit to carry the prophets along to the truth.
We take this passage to heart because it helps to keep us from going too far. Some folks go beyond Scripture and look to God to do things for them that he doesn’t promise in the Bible – a trip around the world, say, or more money than they can count, or life without any bad stretches. When we find that God doesn’t surround them with material splendor and easy days, they may decide to turn away from the Lord in disappointment. We think differently. We trust that the Lord will provide for our physical needs now and strengthen us to endure and cope well as we look ahead to life with him in eternity.
One of the ways the church builds up our lives with God now and our hope for life with him in heaven is to chip away at false ideas. The church steers us away from delusions that obscure the truth about God. Compared with the lax ways of the world around us, the Bible is narrow, but it speaks the truth and it brings life. It enables us by faith to share the experiences of the prophets and evangelists and apostles who bring to us the truth about God.
To conclude, then – one of this morning’s themes is our encounters with God. We each seek our own encounters. We don’t rely on the faith of other people. The way for us to meet God and learn the truth about him is to fix the eyes of our hearts on Jesus. Peter, an eyewitness, draws a road map, so to speak, so that our meetings with God will be based on our knowledge of Christ. Peter points our four things – that God is powerful, that his eternal plan includes us, that we find the truth about him in the Bible, and that we lose the truth if we let private interpretations guide our thinking. As we welcome the Bible’s testimony into our minds and hearts and live with it day by day, we find that faith and understanding grow and we know what Peter meant when he said, full of enthusiasm, “It’s good Lord to be here.” In our Saviour’s name we rejoice and give thanks. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.