"The Bible's Believability: NOT 'Cleverly Invented Stories'"
February 3, 2008 2Peter 1:12-21
Tents and Testaments
You don't have to be in a hospital to be reminded how transitory life is. This winter with its mild spells seems to have been a bad one for people trying to stay healthy. One person has a nagging cough. Another has a virus they can't seem to shake for 6 weeks. Combine that with icy conditions and people find themselves slipping on the sidewalk, spinning out or going into the ditch with the car. I met the bright yellow tow-truck several times on the road this past week. Just Wednesday, I was driving home from the hospital in Wingham in a strong cross-wind and the worn grooves in the pavement seemed to have filled with a thin sliver of ice - the going was very tentative, you didn't seem to have much grip, it wouldn't have taken much at all to blow you sideways into the path of an oncoming truck.
"Life is fragile - handle with prayer." The Apostle Peter when he wrote his second letter to the church at large was very conscious of the fleetingness of life. Peter was martyred during the reign of Emperor Nero, prior to 68 AD; as persecution intensified and Christians found themselves in prison, they would realize this life comes to an end all too quickly. This intensified the apostle's desire that the survivors in the early church be able to recall the amazing events and teaching associated with Jesus' life. Vv12-15, he wanted them to be "firmly established in the truth", so would "refresh [their] memory" as long as he lived in what he referred to as "the tent of this body". He admits he knows he would 'soon put it aside'. What to leave them with? What would be his legacy, his testament, after the 'tent' of his flesh was no more? He says, "I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things." (2Pe 1:15) "Departure" here is literally 'exodus', as Moses and Elijah in Luke 9(31) spoke with Jesus about His own upcoming departure or 'exodus' (ie death) He'd bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. A departure but also a deliverance from the perils, pain, and temptations of this life.
Peter was keen to ensure that, when he was gone, the believers surviving him would still be able to recall the startling and sensational story about Jesus - the story of their Lord and Saviour. That testimony was more important to him than any other 'last will and testament' he might have made. What about you - what do you want people to remember most when you're gone? For some of us that will happen sooner, for others later, but it comes to all (unless Jesus returns first). Do you want people to remember how big your house was - what a nice car you drove - how many digits your bank account required - what lofty social circles you moved in? None of that's going to matter when you're dead. Peter sought to pass on a different kind of legacy, the truth of the encountering/transforming power of Jesus Christ.
What's 'really real' is not our temporary physical existence, or even the universe itself. God's revelation is what really lasts. Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." (Mt 24:35) In chapter 3 of Peter's letter he reminds readers that it was "by God's word" the heavens existed and the earth was formed; "by the same word" the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, even the elements will be destroyed by fire, and "in keeping with His promise" we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth (2Pe 3:5,7,10, 13).
What an apt expression is his word-picture, "the tent of this body". Have you ever been camping out in a tent when it rained, or the wind came up, or there was a thunderstorm? Just a flimsy flap between you and the elements. Or have you had some other campers gang up, sneak up on your tent, and pull out the stakes all at once so the tent collapsed on top of you? It was probably a great joke at the time (at least among the perpetrators!). But just so fast our earthly lives can come crashing to a halt. It is God's purpose and plan that outlives us - these are encapsuled in His word.
The Reality of the Revelation
The heart of any worldview is what's 'really real'. For Peter, human history (and certainly his own life) revolved around the coming of Jesus Christ. It was especially vivid and relevant for Peter because he was there, he lived it, this was his experience - being encountered by Jesus had altered his life tremendously. He wanted to ensure that, when he was gone, others would have transmitted to them the record or account of just what miraculous events had transpired around the life and death of the Crucified One.
Vv16-18, "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." Eyewitnesses are particularly valuable in giving testimony because they're the ones who were actually present when something happened. In particular here, Peter recalls the time on the Mount of Transfiguration [Mt.17] when Jesus' human encloakment was 'pulled back' as it were, and three of His disciples - including Peter - had the privilege of glimpsing what His heavenly glory truly was: "For he received honour 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.'" God the Father Himself attested to Jesus' uniqueness and authority, the One God sent so we might be saved. God was endorsing Jesus, conveying heavenly authority and weight to Jesus' words and actions. Peter emphasizes, "We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain."
The memory of a lived dramatic event is extremely powerful. Many people remember where they were in 1972 when Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the Canada-Russia hockey series. Now, 36 years later, they can still tell you where they were when that happened; it's embedded in them. Now imagine having lived the life of an apostle, walking and talking with Jesus daily, seeing so many wonders occur right before your eyes; like a whole string of "Paul Henderson" moments over 3 years. These events were powerfully engraved in Peter's memory; they drove Him to keep telling others the Good News as long as He was alive. So the apostles as a group contributed their personal attestation to the early church's message. They couldn't deny what had happened, how they'd seen Jesus risen from the dead - they wouldn't deny it, even though Nero and his agents threatened them with death. The truth of the gospel is underscored by their martyrdom: people do not risk their lives to promote something they KNOW to be a lie. Jesus Himself had foreseen Peter's fate and (v14) 'made [it] clear' to Peter.
So, the real-ness of God's revelation to us (as captured in Scripture) is attested to personally by the apostles. It's also vouched for by the way prophecies came true, even centuries after the prophet that predicted them had died. Vv 19-21, "And we have the word of the prophets made more certain...prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Peter had seen numerous prophecies fulfilled as he journeyed with Jesus.
Josh McDowell in Evidence that Demands a Verdict lists 61 distinct prophecies that came true in Jesus' life alone: born of the seed of woman; born of a virgin; Son of God; seed of Abraham; son of Isaac; son of Jacob; tribe of Judah; family line of Jesse; house of David; born at Bethlehem; presented with gifts; Herod killing the children; Jesus' pre-exisence; being called Lord, Immanuel, shall be a prophet, priest, judge, king; special anointing of the Holy Spirit; His zeal for God; preceded by a messenger (John the Baptist); ministry to begin in Galilee; miracles, parables, to enter the Temple, to enter Jerusalem on a donkey; 'stone of stumbling' to Jews, 'light' to Gentiles;betrayed by a friend; sold for 30 pieces of silver; money to be thrown into God's house, given for potter's field; forsaken by His disciples; accused by false witnesses; silent before accusers; wounded, bruised, smitten, spit upon, mocked, fell under the cross, hands and feet pierced, crucified with thieves, made intercession for His persecutors, rejected by His own people, hated without a cause, friends stood afar off, people shook their heads; stared upon; garments parted and lots cast; suffered thirst; gall and vinegar offered; cry of forsakenness; committed Himself to God; bones not broken; heartbroken; His side pierced; darkness over the land; buried in a rich man's tomb; resurrection; ascension; seated at God's right hand...SUCH DETAIL! Each one of these has some corresponding Old Testament prophecy. 29 of the 61 were fulfilled in just one 24-hour day.
How could people who lived centuries before crucifixion even existed have known the Messiah would die that way? V21, it wasn't from "human initiative", but "those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God." (NLT) He caused to be written what He wanted recorded - using each person's unique style, but in such a way that the original manuscripts conveyed the truth the Lord wanted to get across. God showed these things to the prophets ahead of time, so they could write it down, and His glory be known when He brought it to pass. So Peter says, "we have the word of the prophets made more certain" - stable, firm, trusty. It had come true before his very eyes.
Pay Attention to "the Ring of Truth"
The Bible is believable thanks to the faithfulness and integrity of prophets and apostles such as Peter. They vouched for its truth-content with their very lives. Yet the primary witness to the trustworthiness of Scripture is Jesus Himself. We do not worship a book, but a Person. An argument can be made from even the most basic evidence that critics concede that Jesus rose from the dead (thanks partly to efforts to secure the grave, and inability to produce a body after-the-fact). The resurrection was in a way God's 'stamp of approval' on all Jesus said and did; as Paul writes in Romans 1(4), Jesus "was declared with power to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead." So what was Jesus' own attitude toward Scripture?
During His earthly life Jesus said things like John 10:35, "the Scripture cannot be broken" referring to it as "the word of God"; Matthew 5:18, "I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished;" and praying to the Father in John 17:17, "Your word is truth." Jesus referred to Noah (Mt 24:38) and Jonah (Mt 12:41) as actual historical figures, not myths. If Jesus our Lord, who died for us, has a high view of Scripture, how can we view it as anything less than factual and trustworthy?
As well, other fields increasingly corroborate or back up the trustworthiness of the Bible. Kelly Monroe has served as chaplain to graduate students at Harvard, and is founder of the Veritas Forum. In this short video clip she summarizes how the fields of archeology, physics, chemistry, and microbiology are confirming the view of reality the Bible presents...[VIDEO Jesus - Fact or Fiction? #44]
Some of you may recall Kirk Durston of the New Scholars Society who had a seminar here in Blyth a few years back. He has been working on his PhD at Guelph in the Department of Biophysics. On Friday he emailed contacts reporting that his paper had just been published in a reputable British science journal. [http://www.tbiomed.com/articles/browse.asp]
The title of his paper is Measuring the Functional Sequence Complexity of proteins. Kirk notes, "It's fairly technical, but the main thing to know is that functional complexity is directly related to probability. For example, a protein with an FSC of 400 will have a probability of one chance in ten with 120 zeros after it of occurring." Later he added, "This paper is setting the stage for some advances in evidence for intelligent design and creation." So now even fields like microbiology and information science are pointing to the God of the Bible.
Archeologists have found inscriptions bearing the names of Biblical characters such as David, Pontius Pilate, and Caiaphas. Critics argued Jesus must have been hung on the cross with ropes rather than nailed, until an ossuary (box containing bones of the deceased) was found which still had a 7-inch spike through the unfortunate victim's heel. William Albright, known as one of the great archeologists, states: "There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition." Millar Burrows, archeologist from Yale adds, "The excessive skepticism of many liberal theologians stems not from a careful evaluation of the available data, but from an enormous predisposition against the supernatural...On the whole, however, archeological work has unquestionably strengthened confidence in the reliability of the scriptural record."
The field of textual criticism would stand behind the reliability of the Bible as a document. Josh McDowell notes, "No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation." "There are now more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament...we have more than 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence...In comparison, the Iliad by Homer is second with only 643 manuscripts that still survive."
Besides the experts, there is also the effect Scripture has on you the reader as you engage it. The Bible in many ways is 'self-authenticating', it has that 'ring of truth' to it. If you were a PR firm out to promote some new religious heroes, would you present them with the same degree of transparency as the Bible describes leaders like David and Peter, warts and all? This could be called the 'subjective' argument for Scripture's truth, besides the 'objective' evidence of the experts. Peter advises us to pay attention to the word of the prophets until "the morning star rises in your hearts": Jesus Himself, through the Holy Spirit, addresses us as we read the Bible, showing us our need, and His grace and Lordship.
Let's conclude with another brief clip from Kelly Monroe in which she summarizes 5 ways she finds Scripture has that distinctive 'ring of truth'...[VIDEO Jesus - Fact or Fiction? #60] Let's pray.