Good morning, church. Go with me to the book of 2 Peter, and we’re going to begin in v.16.
Before we get started, though, I want to brag on some guys this morning. Robert and Jonathan went with me this week to Lake Charles, to help in recovery from hurricanes Laura and Delta. It was a long and exhausting week, but it was good, and I’m very glad we got to go. I learned some things about the both of them this week, and I wanted to share. First, Robert loves disaster relief. Way more than I do. He told me so. Several times. At one point, I left him with a small hatchet in the middle of a giant fallen tree, and when I got back, the tree was basically gone. He told me he wasn’t worried about heavy lifting because he’s already had so many hernias that he can’t physically have any more, a statement which I am intending to fact check. It just doesn’t seem right. I learned that Jonathan loves Christian music; again, way more than I do. He had it playing on him the entire time we were working. I never had to ask where he was. I would just pause and listen. Also, he is very strong, and his housemates call him “the gentle giant.” Here are some pictures from the trip:
Please continue to pray with me for the people of western Louisiana. I know I’m exhausted after four days. I can’t imagine being a part of that disaster for months.
We’ve been in a series through Peter’s letters now for the majority of the year, because Peter is writing to a church that’s scattered and suffering, and, as disaster upon disaster this year has reminded us, this year has been a year of dispersion and hardship for many of us. Peter’s message has been, over and again, no matter what’s happening around you, no matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, there is hope in Christ. Hope for abounding life on the other side of brokenness. Hope founded in his resurrection, and his promise to raise and restore us back to rights if we partake in him. Suffering in this broken world is inevitable, but in Christ restoration is just as sure.
Last week, I introduced the book of 2 Peter. Where Peter writes again to the exiled churches, but this time he’s been sentenced to crucifixion in Rome. This book is what he wants to leave with his church, what he hopes they will remember about his teaching when he’s gone. He writes, you have to kill the sin in your life, because otherwise, children, otherwise your sin will kill you, like gangrene. It won’t heal over time, you have to take an active role. Christ has called us to participate in his very nature and in his work in the world.
This week, Peter, with this last letter of his pastorate, wants to make sure his congregation, his brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t play with Christianity. This faith is not a myth, it’s not just another philosophy or religion among the many. Christ is light to a dark world. I think of a time my son tried to play with my grandfather’s Bible that has his notes in it from fifty years of teaching Sunday school at First Baptist New Orleans. And my other grandfather’s rosary; he was a monk for many years. They are both on a shelf at my office; they were both passed to me when I was ordained after they died. It’s not that I don’t want to share those things with my son—really, I want nothing more to share it with him—it’s that I want him to know and appreciate them for what they are before I die, before I pass them on.
Peter wants his people to see that Christ, his life, his death for your sake, his resurrection, is not another myth, but rather the true story at the foundation of our reality; he wants his people to see that the gospel calls us into a relationship with a living God that allows us to see the world in a new light, and by that light, to see everything else. He wants them to see the gospel as life-giving, sacred, set-apart. For so it is.
Read with me, 2 Peter, chapter 1, starting in v. 16. […] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
The first point from our text today is this: the word of God is more solid than myth or religion. The word of God is more solid than myth or religion.
In Peter’s day, the religious landscape was broad—people today talk about pluralism, all paths leading to God, as though it is a modern realization, people say if Christ had come today, he would have gladly accepted other faiths and traditions; but the religious landscape of Jesus’ and Peter’s time was already pluralistic, even for many of the same reasons. Rome promoted pluralism because it maintained order in the empire and made people easier to rule.
In the ancient religious landscape, there were the old gods, the gods of myth and legend that we make action movies out of today—Zeus, Thor, Mars, and others depending upon your nation of origin—and with the old gods came regional pride, as one region would pit their favorite god against the god of another region almost like we do with our football teams, and with the old gods came wild stories of illicit affairs and great deeds, like celebrity gossip. If a person lived a good enough life, it was said, they could become like the gods, so people would imitate them in everything. And we today ask condescendingly, how could anyone have ever believed these things about the world? But we have today become obsessed with our own mythologies.
And then in Peter’s day, there were the new gods, gods which purportedly weren’t gods at all, religions which were blended with philosophy and science, the pursuits of the cultural elites, the intellectuals in society, things like gnosticism and stoicism, and those who took part in them would look down on those who didn’t understand them, who followed after myths, and they would call everyone not in their camp ignorant, or immature, or brainwashed.
Then, of course, there was the religion of national pride, where people throughout the empire would worship the emperor and call him the son of God, the savior of the people, and the pride of the empire. People lived their lives for the glory of Rome. When the emperor would enter a city, he would send heralds in front of him declaring the gospel of his advent. People would put up statues of the emperor and say prayers asking him to help them out of their current circumstances. A lack of patriotism could mean ostracism from society or even crucifixion. To succeed in this political environment, you would say things like, “We have no king but caesar.”
This is the society into which Peter is writing. This is also the society in which we live today. We still worship all of these gods, and still, in the midst of myth and philosophy, Christ is real and true. Don’t play around with Christianity, mixing and comparing it with other faiths and philosophies. Christ is a light in a dark world. Christ is real. Are you ever shocked both, and at the same time, how much changes in the world and how little people change?
I am concerned that, as a society, even as a church, we have become more satisfied with myth and religion than we are satisfied in Christ and his kingdom. We have begun to center our lives around online mythologies, worlds of our own creation, or of someone else’s clever creation, which we use to shape our own views of the world. The beliefs and opinions of celebrities and celebrity pastors, influencers we call them, have become the cornerstone of these online worlds, like the stories of the ancient gods. Their affairs become our obsessions, and we think, if I live life well enough perhaps one day I could be one of the gods of this world.
And only in these online environments, only in these unreal, mythical places, are we eager to take part in the building of the kingdom of heaven. We spend our days cultivating community online, but we struggle to maintain basic conversation and friendship in the real world. We are content to work for a mythological justice online. One where we can retweet pointed one-liners in five minutes and have the world lift us up as champions of justice. Meanwhile, in the real world, we haven’t left our bedrooms, let alone gone into our communities to find those who are oppressed and hurting and stand beside them. Let me know when you tweet about how you’ve lived in a community for years working day in and day out to teach their children, or stock their shelves, or pave their roads, heal their sick, and preach truth to the dying. I will like that tweet. I don’t have an account, but I will send you a card in the mail telling you how much I liked it.
We tithe our money to social media causes because they popped up on our newsfeed, we sing songs because the celebrities have promoted them. We hold beliefs as sacred orthodoxy because the pantheon of our celebrities and celebrity pastors has decided they are true, and anyone who disagrees with these beliefs is excommunicated out of the world we have built for ourselves. It’s mythology. We are actively engaged in world building, and the more time we spend building the mythology, the more thoroughly we are absent from the real world.
We also, still today, have large groups of people seeking gods which purportedly aren’t gods at all, religions which have mingled with philosophy or science. I saw a yard sign on Elysian Fields Avenue last week saying, “During Coronavirus, I believe in science, not God.” As though God and science are opposed. Many people worship gods of cultural and intellectual elitism, just as they did in Peter’s day. They assume the world is always progressing in knowledge, that every generation knows more than the generation before it, which is convenient for them, because that makes them them most knowledgable and wisest people ever to live.
People also still worship the emperor today. We use our pulpits to endorse political candidates, our worship services to celebrate their great deeds, and our influence to sway the vote one way or another. Instead of admitting that each candidate is sinful, we excuse and venerate the one we’ve chosen, we demonize the opposition. Most tragically, we place our hope for our future in political figures rather than placing our hope in Christ to restore our society and save us from our sin.
But Peter, with his final letter to his loved ones before he dies, tries to tell them, don’t get carried away with clever myths, with impressive philosophies. Don’t spend your life dreaming about who you might become, or trying to know everything they’ve told you you just don’t understand. Don’t look to this emperor or the next to restore the world to peace and wholeness. Myths, philosophies, political power—it doesn’t matter in the end. Why? Because all of these things aren’t even solid, they’re not substantial enough to hold the weight of your trust in them, much less can they save you from whatever situation you’re in. They are like grass, here today, gone tomorrow, powerful today, fallen tomorrow. Hope in anything other than Jesus Christ will fail you and leave you hopeless in the end.
So hope in Christ. Christ, who was able to save and use even me to build his kingdom. Christ, who was not a cleverly devised myth, but came to earth to live an entire lifetime in a community, in a family, among a people, real, fully human, fully divine, the word miraculously made flesh. Christ, who received authority not from the number of likes he had, but from God himself declaring, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Christ, whose coming was reported, not by messengers going ahead of him into a city, but for thousands of years by prophets and kings who knew someone greater than them would come.
Christ is the only real, substantial, solid thing I’ve known in life. His is the only real world you’re able to live in. His is the only opinion that can actually encourage you in the way you desire. His is the only community in which you will be truly known, and despite everything you’ve done, you’ll be truly loved. His is the only knowledge that will make you holy. He is the only king who will love you and bring restoration to your city, nation, and world. Something real is here to replace the flimsy, unreal things you’re chasing. Don’t be satisfied with anything less than the ruinous, restorative reality of knowing Christ.
Today is the day to turn away from unreal things, stop your wanderings through the various beliefs the world has to offer, and root yourself in the community of the church, find family here, find healing here, and find something real.
Because, as Peter writes, in Christ, we see God, and by him, we see everything else. He is like the dawn to a world that has resigned itself to darkness. In Christ, we see God, and by him we see everything else. That’s my last point for today.
In v.19 Peter writes that the prophetic words revealing Christ as the son and image of God are like “a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” This world is a dark place, even though it does everything it can to convince us that it is all the light we’ve ever needed in our lives. Coming to know Christ is like seeing the sun dawn in your life after knowing only darkness before, which, as so often happens in this stage of my life, reminds me of a children’s story: C.S. Lewis’s, The Silver Chair, which AJ and I have been reading.
In the books, an evil queen has kidnapped a young boy and taken him to live with her underground, in darkness. She bewitches him, and everyone else, to forget everything about the world above them, but they still long for the overworld, and when the witch tries to convince them it isn’t real, one of them says, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and [God] himself—then all I can say is…the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game if you’re right. But four babies making up a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.”
I’m here, telling you that the world Christ has made is more real than the world you or anyone else could create, that knowledge of him is worth more than knowledge of anything else, and that his rule and reign matters more than any election. But why should you believe me? If all you’ve known is darkness, it would be hard to even imagine a world bathed in sunlight. But I think you should want Christianity to be true, even if you don’t believe it.
I know some of you are already distracted by myth and philosophy, you’re assuring yourself that this is my truth and you have yours, and you have no reason to change your mind. But don’t you want to change? Isn’t there a part of you that wants Christianity to be everything it’s cracked up to be? I’ve been without Christ in my life, and I’m telling you, that’s a dark place. I can’t answer all of your questions or excuses in one sermon, but I can tell you that even if the world I’m telling you about is made-up, my made-up world licks your real world hollow.
The experience of knowing Christ is not just gaining some new piece of information to add to what you already believe, it’s like experiencing sunlight for the first time. You don’t just see God, you’re able to see in the scriptures, in the Bible, a picture of the world as it was without sin, and a picture of the world as it will be when it’s restored; you can find in the scriptures, and in the Christian life, a picture of yourself if you were everything you were created to be, a picture of yourself healed and made whole.
If you search and find those desires in your heart, for a world and your own self to be made whole, I have good news: the world we see in Scripture, the story we see, of a world broken by sin being made whole again by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ—that is the real world. Not the world as we see it now, broken by sin and at each others throats. The real world is the one you’re able to see when the sun dawns in your heart and you come to know the richness of life in Christ. Christ is the image of the real and living God. In Christ we see God, and by him we see everything else.
Peter, as he faces his own death, writes to suffering people, not to get distracted by myths or religions or leaders, because in the end, when you are coming to the end of your own time here, you’ll want to know you’ve done something solid and real with your life, something that matters, something you can leave behind you.
My invitation to you today is one to come into the overworld, to believe again in the sun and trees and things, in a world that is brighter and more alive than you’ve managed to convince yourself it is. A world in which you can experience joy again, and have family, and belonging, and do good in the world, have dignity and hope for tomorrow to be better than today. Hope that when you face the end of this life you’ll be able to look back and be proud of what you’ve left. Hope that you’ll be raised again into the world you always hoped you would see. Don’t convince yourselves these things aren’t real—there is hope in Christ for whatever your struggle is.
If you search your heart and find longing for a world made whole, longing for yourself freed from sin and healed, longing for peace and justice reigning around you, hear the good news, that all of your desires find their yes in Christ.
Pray with me.