2 Peter 1:16–21 (NRSV)
Eyewitnesses of Christ’s Glory
(Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35)
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 had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
For the past few weeks we have been looking at the discussion that Paul had with the church in Corinth. This church which was situated in a city around the size of our own, which was filled with all the pleasures of the flesh that one could imagine. It was a city and a culture that was dedicated to trade, tourism, athletics, and lust. Paul praised the people of Corinth about their increase in knowledge, and that their testimony and influence was widening. But Paul also criticized them because they were letting the personalities of men distract them from the central message of the Gospel. That message is that God so loved the world, that he gave his only son not to condemn the world but to save it and give it eternal and fulfilling life. That life comes through belief in the Son, but those who choose not to believe condemn themselves.
So, the church in Corinth was being distracted from this central message, because they were beginning to branch off from it to follow the teachings of men who they find speak to their personal preferences. It is not wrong to find a worship style that speaks to your personal preference, but they were using their preference to judge those around them. They picked their personality and they began to develop a community around them, and then began to look down on others that disagreed with their positions, which brought disunity into the church. They spoke of these leaders in awe, I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas (Peter) and we are the people of Chloe. Each of these groups focused on a perspective of the truth instead of the truth behind the perspective.
This phenomenon was not something that was only witnessed in the church of Corinth, it was something occurring throughout the early church. We see hints throughout scripture and today we see the same discussion through the eyes of Peter.
Paul stated that he did not speak to the people of Corinth with words of wisdom but used words of demonstration. This means that if he spoke of a concept of discipleship, he backed it up by personally living by those words amid the people. Peter also faced similar struggles as he neared the end of his life. A question comes to mind when I consider this. Paul and Peter both speak of distractions of the Gospel, within the first generation of the Church. Why was this happening?
If we are to hold to the traditional timeline we would assume that Jesus was born around the first year of the current era known to us as AD, Jesus was believed to have lived to be thirty-three years of age which would have placed the closing of the Gospel narrative at around the year thirty-three. Archeological and they historical record show that the city of Jerusalem was razed around the year seventy AD, with the destruction of the Jewish temple. So, for approximately forty years the apostles of Christ lead the church. If these men were approximately the same age of Jesus, this would make most of the apostles around seventy years old. They were in the twilight of their lives if they were still living at the time of Jerusalem’s fall.
Why does this matter? It helps us put the writings into context for one thing. Many scholars would lead us to believe that the writings of the New Testament were written nearly one hundred years after Jerusalem’s fall, but I would question this because scripture does not mention the destruction of the temple which would have been important since Jesus told them that not one stone would remain standing of the temple of God. So, I would venture to say that all the new Testament, if written by apostles would have been written prior to this, meaning that all the New Testament would have been written within forty years of the life, death, resurrection, and assentation of Jesus.
But the men and women who had first-hand knowledge of Jesus, were getting older. Even today many of our people do not live many years beyond the age of seventy. And Jesus said that all things would be fulfilled within this generation who were quickly approaching their Golden years. The apostles were aging and Jesus had not yet returned. People began to question this, and as the questions were raised they began to wonder if maybe they had the wrong idea. Maybe there return of Jesus was not going to be a reality, maybe there would not be a judgment of the living and the dead, maybe the apostles were just spreading stories and lies.
The church was being filled with doubt, and these doubters were using the wisdom that they had from various sources to teach a different gospel, the gospel of denial. They denied the return of Christ because it had not happened and if the return of Christ is in question then what should they do? They began to compromise their beliefs to integrate back into the world from which they were living in exile. Peter tells them that he like Paul did not speak with worldly wisdom, but simply spoke of his experience. We did not cleverly devise myths, he says, but we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord.
Peter knew the power of Jesus. He was one of the original disciples of Jesus. He was chosen by Jesus to follow him. While Jesus walked along the shore of the sea he come to the boats in which Peter was working and personally asked Peter to follow. Peter dropped the nets, jumped out of the boat and for three years spent nearly every waking hour with Jesus. He watched Jesus heal lepers and the blind. He saw Jesus cast out demons who were afflicting their countrymen. Peter ate the miraculous bread and fish that Jesus passed out on a day where 5,000 people gathered to hear him teach. And he with the others ate from the twelve baskets of leftovers from that gathering. Peter witnessed these things and he shared those stories with those around him.
Peter reminds the people of the church that these are not mythical creations, but he along with others witnessed these things. They followed Jesus, walked along the paths that Jesus walked, ate the food that Jesus ate, they sat around in the evening around campfires discussing scripture and life while they laughed with their Rabbi. But peter was getting old, and Jesus had not yet returned. Everyone was hoping for the restored Kingdom of Israel. They believed that Jesus was the personification of the hope. Then he was crucified. Their hearts fell and they hid themselves in a room fearing for their lives. Then a group of women came and told them that the tomb they had laid the corpse was empty. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see for sure, and returned to that room baffled. Then Jesus met with them. For forty days Jesus interacted with the Disciples and then he took them outside and told them that he would be going to prepare a place for them. During this time, Peter lost hope. He returned to his old lifestyle taking up the nets once more. But Jesus called him and the others out, telling them to wait again. Then something happened that could not be fully explained a wind rushed about them, and fire rested on their heads and they spoke with power and authority, they left the upper room singing and praising God, the world perceived them as lunatics and Peter began to preach. The church began to grow. People began to believe and they thought that they would see the return of Christ and the restoration of the kingdom within their lifetime.
But they were aging. Questions were being raised and someone needed to provide answers, because the hope that they had was suddenly beginning to feel like falsehood. What they thought to be true was not happening like they thought it would. They placed their hopes on a perception and not on truth. The truth is that Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom of God was here, it was all around them because the influence of God resides in the hearts of mankind not on tracts of land. The Kingdom of God is lifestyle dedicated to praising God, prayer, and service to mankind. They hoped for a physical kingdom and now the apostles were dying and they were still waiting for their king.
I want us to consider this for a moment. Everything that these early Christians thought they knew was being turned upside down. They had hope, but that hope was not becoming reality. What they thought they believed was beginning to look like lies. An era was coming to an end and they did not know what to think. Peter encourages, by telling them that they did not make up myths, but they told them what they had heard and saw. If God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead, simply trust him. If your perception differs from your faith, maybe your faith is misplaced and check it. If you think this is all a myth, maybe you are not seeking the world around you through the eyes of the Spirit of God.
We too are facing a significant change in our culture. For most of my adult life I have heard constant reports of how the population of our nation is withdrawing from church. We constantly hear reports of how the young adults are no longer going to church and we are asking questions about why. We attempt to hold back the exodus of the younger generation with flashy programs, and good music, with powerful preaching yet they still go. Why? Like those people at the close of the apostolic age the world is not exactly what we thought is should be. So, we begin to battle, we begin to retreat, we begin to draw lines and quarrel amongst ourselves. But have we lost track of the true gospel? The fact that the kingdom of God is all around us, and if we would slow down and just follow Jesus we would begin to see that of God in the people we encounter and encourage that spark of light through the sharing of our own story.
We are at a crossroad in history. I cannot say for sure what the future will hold. Will we see the return of our Lord within our generation, maybe or maybe not, I do not know nor should I. What I do know is that we are called. We were drawn to God by his very Spirit and we were blessed with gifts to expand the influence of God through Christ. We know what we have seen and what we have heard. We know our experiences just as Peter knew his own. Peter had the benefit of walking the earth with our Lord, he had the privilege to hear the voice of the Father on the mountain telling him that Jesus was His son and that he should listen to him. We do not have that benefit, but what do we have? Something even more powerful, we have God within us directing our paths. Listen to it. We have struggles where our faith carried us through to the other side. Share it. We have testimonies of God helping us and protecting us. Proclaim it. We have our stories, and we have our journey. No matter what happens around us hold to that, take on the lifestyle of Christ and reflect the light of Christ to all who we meet. Loving the unlovely, encouraging the discouraged, helping the hurting. Calling them to follow as we follow, to hope as we hope, to trust as we trust. We are friends and serve a resurrected king and God, do we truly believe? Do we believe that if God can raise Christ then he can cast out all fear and can expand his influence in our community through us? The church began with a bunch of scared men huddled together in a room, and it expanded when they allowed the Sprit to direct them. Let us trust like them as we leave here and serve those around us.