Apr 27, 2011 | Comments 1
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gore preached the sermon below at the Erskine College chapel service on March 29, 2011. It seems appropriate to the Editor that this sermon should follow the interview he conducted with Dr. Gore.
II Peter 1:12-21
SCRIPTURE: 12) So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13) I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14) because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15) And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. 16) We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17) For he received honor 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.” 18) We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. 19) And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20) Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21) 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.
We live in a world of oppressive uncertainty. 24-hour News channels constantly bombard us with the latest massacre in the Middle East, the most recent decline in the Dow Jones average, or, more importantly, Charlie Sheen’s newest video meltdown. Politicians offer hope and change, while providing little leadership as our national debt soars and is set soon to surpass our entire Gross Domestic Product. Scholars can’t decide if there is meaning in the books you read or if the reader brings meaning to the text. Philosophers and historians shrink back from the hubris of Enlightenment objectivity and certainty, offering instead chastened forms of provisional or even relative knowledge. In a world where so many things are going wrong and a cacophony of voices solicits our allegiance, where can one go for direction?
Some would say, just rely on your experience. Go with what you know, what you have experienced and stored away in your memory, lessons learned that you can call back and use again at the appropriate time. And this is not altogether a bad answer. Experience often is a good teacher, and our memories carry much vital information that we can call up in a moment’s notice. Indeed, there are some events in life that are so impressive that the memories of those events remain with us forever. Such memories are vivid, in full Technicolor and DOLBY 7.1 surround-sound.
For example, I can remember standing in the delivery room, watching the doctor deliver my firstborn by C- section. Preparation was made, the incision occurred, and our little doctor reached in up to the elbow to extract the baby. As our first-born appeared, the doctor smacked his bottom. He began to breathe and cry all at once. What a moment! What an experience never to forget!
Let me give you another example. I can remember my first experience with rocket artillery in the Republic of Korea, back in 1991. I had been in country for three days and was still strung out over a dozen time zones. I rode to the artillery range with the battalion commander of 6-37 Field Artillery, MLRS. That stands for Multiple Launch Rocket System. We arrived at Taechon on the western shore of Korea, and drove our mechanized vehicles down to the beach in order to fire out into the ocean. I watched the rocket launchers spin around; suddenly, the silence was shattered by the roar of the first rocket engine igniting. Flames shot back over a hundred feet, blistering the sand and sea grass, as the rocket instantly sped out of sight. The noise was deafening! Five seconds later the second rocket took flight, and each blasted away in turn until all six rockets in the “Six Pack” were hurled up into the sky and out into the ocean. In spite of my awful jet-lag, this event burned a groove in my memory. To this day I can remember the launch of those rockets—as though I were standing right there! Powerful experiences do that to you!
Probably no one in this room was alive when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Those who were around, however, say that they remember exactly where they were when they first heard the news. The few of you who are my age or older can remember where you were on November 22nd, 1963 when you first heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. That day I had rushed out of E. K. Powe Elementary School, as usual, for my five-block walk home. Half-way home I remembered I had left my lunchbox. That was a spanking offense. (Spanking is something that, in generations before yours, adult persons would do to non-adult persons to keep non-adult persons from growing up and going to prison. Or so we were told.) Stopping in my tracks, I ran back to my classroom and rushed in, only to see Mrs. Betty Parrish, my third-grade teacher, with her head bowed, weeping quietly. “Mrs. Parrish,” I asked, “what’s wrong.” “They shot the President,” she said. “They killed President Kennedy.” The memories of my teacher, the TV coverage of the assassination and the days that followed, all are imprinted in my memory.
I’ll bet that you have your own memories that are powerful reminders of good or bad experiences in your life. Perhaps the events of September 11, 2001 made such an impression on you. Some of you would have been, what, nine, ten years old? You were probably in school. Do you remember when you first saw the video of the towers collapsing? I remember standing in front of the mirror as I was mindlessly knotting my tie, when my peripheral vision caught a sudden burst of smoke that drew my attention to the TV. I turned just in time to see the aftermath of the first plane crash. Immediately I snatched the remote to turn up the sound to find out what had happened and soon realized that someone had just committed an act of war against the United States.
In our passage, Peter affirms the power of memory and the accuracy of sight, sound, and experience. After talking about the great and precious promises of salvation earlier in the passage, Peter says he will “remind his hearers” of these things, “even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth,” verse 12. He wants to refresh their memory of these truths, verse 13. He is concerned that, after his departure, that is, his death, they will still be able to “remember these things,” verse 15. Then, while encouraging his hearers to “remember,” Peter’s own memory is triggered. As if to confirm afresh the reality of his teachings, Peter reaches back to the Transfiguration of our Lord—and his ever-vivid memory of that experience.
Peter seems to anticipate the criticism of those who would not accept his testimony. He denies that he is teaching a cleverly invented story, or a myth. And he uses two words that are very strong. He denies that he is engaged in sophism, teaching just for effect. And he denies that his story is just a myth, or a fable. Instead, he affirms that he was an eyewitness of the majesty of Jesus Christ. He was there. He experienced this event, called the Transfiguration, which is detailed for us in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9.
The particulars of this event are both simple and yet profound. Our Lord took Peter, James, and John with him into a high mountain. There, two witnesses signifying the Old Testament (law and the prophets, Moses and Elijah), appeared in glorious splendor. There, for a time, the veil of servanthood, the humanity in which Jesus had been clothed, was pulled back. “His face changed and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning,” Luke 9:29. My colleague, Dr. Eves, says this is the moment when Clark Kent pulls open his shirt and you see the big “S” on the Superman suit.
On that mountain, with his divine glory displayed for a time, Jesus discussed his death, literally his “exodus,” with these two Old Testament witnesses. When the disciples fully awakened, they beheld the Son of God in his glory. Peter, overcome by the event, began to babble about putting up tents, and—we are told in Luke’s gospel—he did not know what he was saying. Suddenly a cloud appeared. The image of cloud or smoke is often used in the Old Testament to signify the presence of God. Think of the pillar of smoke that led Israel through the wilderness by day or the cloud of smoke that appeared in the Mosaic tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, or at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. Even as Peter babbled, a voice from within the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, whom I have chosen. With him I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
Say, don’t you think you would remember experiencing such an event! Indeed you would! If you came face to face with Moses and Elijah, you better believe you would remember—and you would remember in exacting detail! It is not every day that you see the Son of God in power and glory. It is not often that the presence of God descends upon you as a cloud and the voice of God speaks audibly in your hearing. I don’t know about you, but this has not happened to me recently! And if there were any lessons to be learned from that experience, you would be a long time forgetting them!
And so Peter says, we were eyewitnesses of his majesty! We heard the voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the mountain! Mountain memories stay with you. Years ago I took a three-week trip to Germany, courtesy of my Uncle Sam. While in Germany, I journeyed deep into southern Bavaria to Berchtesgaden. There, high on the top of an alpine peak, I visited the historic Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagle’s Nest, as it was called by the Allies during World War II.
This was Adolph Hitler’s famous mountain retreat, accessible only by a narrow road carved into the side of a rocky peak, winding high and overlooking a dangerous abyss. I remember, vividly, the mirrored bronze elevator that took us 407 feet up the heart of the mountain, from the parking lot to the top of the peak. In my mind, I can still see the marble fireplace in the Octagon Room, a birthday gift from Benito Mussolini to Hitler, and the pine-paneled room off to the back that was Eva Braun’s sitting room.
These memories are important to me because of who had once been there, the Fuhrer and his political cronies, the men who led the Nazi legions to put nearly all of Europe under their jackbooted heels. Yet my experience of this mountain top, where nothing remains but the concrete, wood, and steel reminder of these murdering thugs, pales in comparison to the experience of Peter, James, and John. They were there on the mountain with the transfigured Christ; they were in the presence of the Lord of Glory! Surely such an impressive event validates experience as a reliable guide.
And yet Peter says something quite remarkable. After giving testimony to his eyewitness account of the Transfiguration, after establishing that his witness is true and not merely a good story, he points to an even more certain witness. He says, “We have the word of the prophets made more certain and you will do well to pay attention to it, as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,” II Peter 1:19.
What an odd thing to say, we have the word of the prophets “made more certain.” What can be more certain than what you see? Isn’t it true that seeing is believing? Well, not so fast! Have you ever seen someone perform a magic trick? All the evidence is there before you— and yet we all marvel when the magician pulls the rabbit from his hat! We know that parallel railroad tracks always remain parallel, yet as we watch those tracks stretch out into the distance we see them apparently converge! How many of you have seen Criss Angel, MindFreak, levitating or walking on water? We all know that what we “see” did not really happen. Our eyes, our experience tell us one thing, yet reason and logic give us an entirely different explanation.
Now I am not here this morning to make you into skeptics or cynics! I believe that God has created us in such a way that we can trust our senses. Our ability to see and hear and taste and smell are all adapted to God’s creation, so that the sensory data we receive is generally and normally reliable. Our experiences and memories of our experiences are normally trustworthy. Peter is not trying to undermine our confidence in our senses. Instead, he is trying to maximize our confidence in God’s Word. We have a word of the prophets “made more certain.” More certain, even, than what we see with our eyes!
And this is a word that you would do well to heed! Pay attention to it! The word is a light that shines “in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart.” Here Peter echoes the words of Isaiah chapter eight. There the prophet warns against those who would seek to find the will of God through means other than the Word of the Lord. “Do not turn to the occult, to witchcraft, to séances with the dead,” he says. Instead, turn to the “law and the testimony.” Then, noting the true mark of a prophet, Isaiah says, “if they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” That is, if the prophets do not speak in agreement with the Word of God, they do not have the one source of light that can overcome the darkness.
This is the same word that Peter affirms—the word that is a light shining in a dark place. Indeed, the time will come when the Lord Jesus, the Light of the World, the Bright and Morning Star, will return and all will be clear and bright. But until the fullness of that revelation, we have the Word of the prophets, the Scriptures, made more certain, a comparative expression that indicates the relative greatness, the weightiness of the Word as compared even with the certainty of one’s own eyewitness testimony. The reason for the weightiness of the prophetic word should not be overlooked. The prophetic Word does not find its origin in the prophet’s own thoughts. This Word does not flow from the prophet’s profound reflections and theoretical ponderings. No, this Word never had its origin in the will of man, but in the will of God! The prophets spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit!
Now this moving of the Spirit is not some vague, ill-defined emotional stirring. The word here used for “moved” is a very powerful word. This same word is used several times in the Septuagint, always in the context of a tempestuous, overpowering wind. In Luke’s recounting of Paul’s journey to Rome, we find the record of a ferocious storm, a storm so powerful the sailors lost control of the ship. In Acts 27:15, we read that “the ship was . . . driven along” by the wind. Essentially the same word here that Peter used! The ship was under the complete domination of hurricane-force winds, driven along at the behest and under the direction of a greater force!
But, that, my young brothers and sisters, is how the Scripture itself describes the prophetic Word. Men of God spoke as they were borne along, carried, directed, empowered by the Holy Spirit! This is a wonderful thought, for the end product, as Paul writes to Timothy, is God-breathed! Men of God were borne along by the Spirit, and what they wrote and said was what God said! There is a marvelous concursus here, a working together of human will and divine will. But the emphasis of Scripture is on the divine product, for in II Tim. 3:16, all of Scripture is called God-breathed. Because God breathes out the Word, even as he breathed out life into Adam, it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. This more certain Word is God’s own Word, true in all that it affirms, trustworthy, able to make us all workmen who do not need to be ashamed.
It is the Word that foretells the coming of the Messiah in the Old Testament, and in the New gives us the Good News, recounting the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. There is much we can learn about God by looking at his creation or by looking within our hearts to recognize God’s image. But it is only in the Word of God that we find the story of redemption, how Jesus Christ, the God-man offered himself the perfect sacrifice for our sins that we might be redeemed. Our experiences are valuable. Our memories are treasures. But only the Word of God is the more certain guide, the teacher that never leads us astray.
Young people, these are dark days for the Church in the West. By all accounts, we are entering into a new age of darkness. Old age Paganism is on the rise along with New Age mysticism. The vagaries of “spirituality” are replacing the faith once delivered unto the saints. Biblical literacy is on the decline and belief in absolute truth is questioned now among evangelicals. Recent surveys indicate alarming numbers of evangelicals believe the Bible to be God’s Word but aren’t sure that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. In recent years, several nationally known evangelical seminaries have experienced controversies over their commitment to the authority of God’s Word. Everywhere, it seems, the Bible is under attack.
Yet, I retain full confidence in God and His Word. And so should you. As in Peter’s day, the Word of God is able to push back the darkness; as in Martin Luther’s day, after darkness comes the light! Even in a world that is intent on turning out the lights, the Word of God will shine forth! Even if those who ought to embrace the absolute trustworthiness of God’s Word shrink back and falter, through other means, God’s Word will yet break forth and the darkness cannot overcome it!
Now, in light of our text, what should you do? Perhaps you think, I am only a student—what can I do? First, remember there are no “mere students,” for you are not just a sophomore or a junior; you are the next generation’s leaders-in-the-making. From your number will come the elders, teachers, lay-leaders, preachers, Churchmen and Churchwomen who are needed to rediscover the power of the Christian faith, to mend what my self-centered generation has broken.
Second, rely on God’s Word as your infallible source of truth for faith and practice, as your doctrinal guide, as your instructor in the ways of life. And, in a day of doctrinal decline, defend it. In an age of biblical illiteracy, study it. A high view of Scripture will do you no good if you do not know what it says. Learn what the Scripture has to say about itself and let God be true and every man a liar. Ruminate over the Word of God. Ponder it and meditate on its teachings. In a world of confused morality, obey it. Obey the Word!
Finally, when all around you are looking for hope, for direction, for something to grab hold of, remember this: you have a Word more certain than the testimony of any human witness, more reliable than any experience, more true than any memory. It is God’s light that shines in a dark place; it is the lamp unto your feet and the light unto your pathways! Young people, remember what Peter said, “We have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it.”
PRAYER: Heavenly Father, help us to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only. But first help us to hear your Word, and to believe. Sanctify us through your Word; your Word is truth. We pray this through Christ our Lord, Amen.
Preached at Erskine College Chapel, 29 March 2011
R. J. Gore Jr., D.Min., Ph.D.
Professor of Systematic Theology, Erskine Theological Seminary
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