On 25th August, 1835 the New York Sun carried big news. From South Africa an English astronomer John Herschel had discovered life on the moon. According to findings published in the Edinburgh Journal of Science, Herschel used a huge telescope to see a moonscape showing beaches, rivers, plants, abandoned temples, and animals. Most incredible were a species he called the "man-bat"—furry, flying men and women, each about a metre high. The story went viral, 19th century style, across the US and Europe. News that it was a hoax eventually spread, though not as quickly as the lie itself. That is a slightly amusing story about what we'd call today fake news.
The book of 2 Peter was written to deal with fake news. Fake news with far more serious consequences.
The apostle Peter was concerned with fake news doing the rounds in the early church. In churches in Greece and Turkey some false teachers were spreading the news that Christ would not return. That there would be no judgment. Unsurprisingly this was affecting how people were living. Because what we think about tomorrow affects how we live today. Believers live in the light of Christ's return, which is the message Peter is underlining to his readers. So Peter writes to the churches to "remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth." (2 Pet 1:12). Peter introduces himself as an apostle and servant of Christ, which means he comes bearing Christ's message. In effect he's saying, "Listen up!" So let's pray that we would hear Jesus' message loud and clear tonight….
In the first 4 verses we're going to see three truths believers need to hold onto in a world of fake news. Firstly, Believers have a precious faith (1-2). Come with me to verses 1-2:
"Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours."
Faith is trusting in Jesus. Why is this faith so precious? Look who it is from. Believers put their faith in Jesus, yet Peter says faith is a gift received from God. Why else is it precious? The faith Peter's readers had was the as the apostles. Peter's saying to a bunch of gentile believers that their faith was the same as his: 'To those who…have received a faith as precious as ours.' The youngest gentile believer had the same faith as an apostle who met the resurrected Christ! Whether you're the apostle Peter, a first century elder receiving this letter or a believer in Gateshead today, we all receive the same message and offer. Through God's righteousness, that is his perfect character, all people no matter their age, sex, race, bank account or experience come to God through faith in Christ. That is true equality. That means anyone can come to Christ through faith.
Why else is faith precious? In verse two Peter says through knowing Jesus we find great blessing:
"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."
The knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord is not merely head knowledge. Here knowledge has a sense of 'personal knowledge.' In the way knowing a close friend goes beyond knowing things about them to knowing them personally. Peter uses the word almost with the meaning of being converted. So when we come to know Jesus as our personal Lord and saviour we receive grace and peace in abundance. Grace is undeserved kindness. Peace means an end to conflict with God. Where once there was conflict, now there is perfect peace. God is not mean, he is generous. He doesn't give us a bit of grace. He doesn't gives us just enough peace. No it comes in abundance. Earlier this year I discovered the Lindt chocolate shop. In the shop they've got an abundance of Lindt chocolates. Literally barrels of the stuff! From milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and all the flavours in between. And if you had thousands of pounds you could buy it all. Well Christ has provided at great cost an abundance of grace and peace. And if you're trusting in Christ it's all yours!
We need remember that Peter is writing to churches where the apostolic faith was coming under attack, where folks were tempted to live as if Jesus wasn't coming back. The false teachers were saying forget Jesus and his promises, what we can offer in this life is better! Peter reminds his original readers and us today, what you have in Christ is far more precious than anything the world can offer!
On top of precious faith, Peter says Believers have Christ's divine power (3). Come with me to verse 3:
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."
Believers have Christ's power to live a godly life. That is good news because if we're honest we've all at various stages considered: can I really keep going living for Jesus in the world that is pulling in the other direction? To that question Peter says, "Yes! Christ power is more than sufficient to live a godly life. The words 'has given' carry the sense of a gift given by a great king. How is this royal gift of power received? Peter says it comes 'through our knowledge of' Jesus.
What does that mean? It means that all who know Jesus as Lord and Saviour have been given power to live a godly life. Godliness is open to all believers. To be godly you don't need Jesus plus some incredible religious experience. You don't need Jesus plus a Phd in ancient Greek. All you need is Jesus. You see it is knowing Jesus personally as Lord and Saviour is the means by which God equips us for a godly life. What is it that Peter wants the believers to know about Jesus here? Firstly, Peter reminds the believers that Jesus called them. That is he takes the initiative to save us. The believer's calling comes on the basis of Christ's 'glory and goodness.' Goodness here means a manifestation of divine power. Where is that power made clear? In the saving work of Christ: his death and resurrection. So secondly Peter wants to remind believers that not only did Christ call them, but he has done everything necessary to save them through Christ's saving work. But how does that help when we're up against it?
When we're tempted to give up on a godly life what lies are we tempted to swallow? Maybe we doubt we can keep going. Peter says Christ called you, he moved you by his Spirit to repentance and faith. He will not give up on you now. Maybe we're tempted to doubt God really loves when we mess up. Peter says in Christ we grace and peace in abundance. When we doubt we have the strength to obey God in a world that is in rebellion Peter says you have Christ's precious promises.
Believers have Christ's precious promises (4). How will these precious promises help us? Let's look at verse 4:
"Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."
Through his glory and goodness, that is Christ's saving work, we have precious promises. Peter tells us the two results of trusting in these precious gospel promises. Firstly we see that believers "may participate in the divine nature." Peter is not saying if we believe in the gospel we become God, rather we become more like him in character. More than that we become adopted children of God. John Calvin says, "it is the purpose of the gospel to make us sooner or later like God." He's right to say that nothing more outstanding can be imagined.
When it's Monday morning Peter's promise can seem a distant reality. We get up, we want to snap at the kids for slowing us down. At work we might feel envious of a colleague's success despite our work. Where is Christ's power to be godly in those moments? Peter is saying the power is in the gospel. In the moment of struggle we're to remember Christ's glorious saving work on our behalf. Your have been called, you have peace with God and he God will bring his work to completion when you presented perfect in heaven.
Because they're God's promises they will not fail. We'll see next week that a godly life requires work, but we can take heart. Calvin says our attainment may not match our desire, but when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. It is in everyday believers living for Jesus in a world in rebellion that we see God's power.
In the believer who repents of his grumpiness, and slowly but surely he is able to show grace because he has received the divine grace of future glory. In the believer who repents of their envy, and slowly but surely finds her contentment in gospel glory, rather than fading glory of the world. It may look ordinary, but there is the Spirit at work. And it's work that will be completed when Jesus returns one day. Remember what we think about tomorrow effects how we live today. Peter says godliness is guaranteed. Start living in the light of heaven. Do you see who through the gospel the Holy Spirit gives us power to live godly lives?
Peter effectively says there is a choice: either we become more like the judge, or we become more like the judged. The second effect of God's promises is that we escape the corruption of the world and the coming judgment on it. When Peter talks about the corruption he's not talking about our bodies, he's talking about sin.
The corruption Peter says is caused by evil desires, desires that cause us to break the moral boundaries God sets. The world then is a society in rebellion against God. Later on 2:20 Peter says the false teachers promise "freedom, while they are slaves to depravity."
I take it that these teachers are saying Jesus is not coming to judge, therefore you may indulge your evil desires: eat, drink and be merry to your hearts content. That is often how the world pictures freedom, yet Peter says actually it is slavery. It's something that must be escaped from because these desires end up driving us.
For example Peter says in 2:14 these false teachers are experts in greed. When the desire for money drives us we are not happy until we have what we want. We'll be willing to step on others to get what we want. Do you see how such desires enslave us? If you're not a believer tonight Peter asks you to reconsider whether you know real freedom?
He says there is only one way out of such slavery. The only way to escape the judgment that God will bring on rebels is through knowing Jesus, his divine power and precious promises. What does it look like for us to escape corruption through knowing Christ?
Christ calls us. His Spirit opens our eyes to our sin and brings us to repentance. He brings us to trust in the glory and goodness of his saving work: we have grace and peace with God now. Jesus starts a work of making us more like the divine. Those gospel promises will one day be completely fulfilled when Christ returns as Lord and Saviour.
Peter says on that day, in 3:13, we will be made perfect, we will be conformed to the likeness of Christ:
"But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness."
Believers will be perfectly righteous. Believers will know eternal life. We will participate in the divine nature! Nothing can get in the way of God's promises to those who've put their faith in Christ. Our escape from corruption is both now and not yet. We have grace and peace now. The Holy Spirit is changing us now, but we look forward to the full expression of that when Christ brings us into the home of righteousness.
Think of an engaged couple who live in the light of their marriage: where they live, where they work, how they plan to decorate their new home. The Christian's future is even more secure! How much more should we live in the light of our guaranteed future home?
So Peter calls believers to live out their relationship with Christ today, obeying him as Saviour and Lord, knowing that much, much more remains in store! As Bible Teacher Dick Lucas says, we don't need to pretend to be perfect which would make his promises pointless. We don't say we needn't be perfect and make his promises cheap. Instead we can say God is at work in me today. And one day God will make me perfect!
These words from 2 Peter made an impact on a young John Wesley. He wrote these words in his diary for the 4th June 1730:
"All these days I can scarce remember to have opened New Testament, but upon some great and precious promise. And I saw, more than ever, that the gospel is in truth but one great promise, from the beginning to the end."
He understood that the full scale of Jesus' power will be seen in the future when he keeps his promise. Peter says to us remember that through Christ you have a precious faith that brings His grace and peace. You have Christ's divine power to live a godly life today. You have Christ's promises to bring you home. Let his power sustain you; let his promises thrill you until he returns or calls you home.