TRUTH IN A SEA OF OPINIONS
2 Peter 1:16-21
July 24, 2016 — Kevin Rees - audio file posted at kevinrees.sermon.net
We don’t create or shape our own personal “truth,” the living Truth creates and shapes us.
Today is Back-to-School Sunday. (Sorry, kids! Congratulations, parents!) The remarkably short summer of West Tennessee is already over—long before the summer tomatoes have finished ripening in the garden. So this week as you are collecting your home-room assignments, your loose-leaf paper and pencils, your dress-code-appropriate collared shirts, and your next ten months of academic momentum I want you also to pay attention to what you will need spiritually for this school year.
This half-week squeeze the last few drops of summer out as best you can—the last milkshake at the Dairy Queen, the last swim at Okeena pool, grab the tackle box one last time. But while you are transitioning from a largely unstructured season to a highly structured one, I encourage you to grapple with a spiritual foundation upon which all the other elements of life and school and relationships stand. Maybe you have grappled with it already; please do so again—grapple with truth.
But let’s not make the same mistake as Pontius Pilate in John 18:36 who asked, “What is truth?” as though it were a subject in philosophy class, when the Truth Incarnate was standing right there in front on him. Truth is a Person: Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Where is Truth found? Who has the final authority on Truth? How can truth make a better foundation for the life you are building than all the other lesser foundations out there—such as popular opinion, such as external image, such as personal experience, such as subjective preference, such as a shifting ethic that buckles and rolls with every situation and every person? Why is Truth a better foundation than all the other options? That is what today is about.
Therefore please, go to class. Learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions without a calculator. Memorize your world and state capitals. Convert grams to moles and figure out and figure how long it will take Sally to fill a 500 liter tub with water at 4.2 liters per minute. Dive into your Charles Dickens fiction and Edgar Allen Poe poetry. But underneath and in between and overarching all those important data points from all those very necessary fields of study is Truth. What you decide about Truth is primary to anything else you might do with information.
You might object: Sunday has nothing to do with Monday through Friday; Jesus has nothing to do with Geometry or Spanish 2 or British Lit. But I’m saying precisely that he does; but at a foundational level that goes much deeper than the facts. You are building your worldview during these years. Your worldview is where you prioritize and analyze and interpret and activate ideas in your life. I am making a case for worldview built on the Truth of God and the God of Truth. Truth is not an add-on; it is the mainframe. Truth is not an appendix; it is the thesis statement. Truth is not for Sundays only; it is for always.
Standing upon the slam-dunk passage in 2 Peter 1:16-21, I want to highlight why Truth is unlike human opinion and why it is better than personal experience as the foundation for life and godliness. Truth is revealed by God, inspired by God, illumined by God; objective, enduring, and reliable.
I. TRUTH IS UNLIKE OPINION (vs. 16)
The Apostle Peter was eyeing the end of his earthly existence with an amazingly level head (vv. 10-15). His eternal destiny had been settled decades before when he conclusively decided he needed nowhere else to go but to Christ by faith, for Christ alone had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). His physical destiny was outlined by Jesus some 35 years previously, of incarceration and martyrdom (John 21:18-19). Soon after Peter wrote this letter, the famously insane Caesar Nero took Peter’s life (and Paul’s, too; in 67 or 68 A.D.). Therefore, in his last epistle he set down some important principles he wanted to emphasize before death.
My paraphrase of Peter’s dying wish: I am dying soon, any day now, but I want you who remain to be ready to carry on the mission and the ministry of the gospel without me. Therefore, know this: receive and respect the Bible as God’s own word and God’s best way to transmit the gospel from one generation to the next. This is why God moved me and Paul and the others throughout redemptive history to record God’s Truth on paper—so that it is objective, open to all, and timeless. Every generation will have equal access to the mind and heart of God through the Scriptures. I want you to know how trustworthy it is!
“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 were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (vs. 16). Without needing to elaborate, for he and his readers would have had ample opportunity from the number of traveling philosophers ringing the Mediterranean world, of “cleverly devised myths.” From Jupiter and Venus to Plato and Socrates, with many layers in between, the ancient world was a polytheistic bazaar.
Peter grabbed hold of the foundation; the source of these philosophies in the phrase, “cleverly devised myths.” While he will take his entire second chapter to talk about these false teachers, he condensed their ilk into one Greek word, “sophizo”—to make wise—which is the heart of our original sin—to make oneself wise [autonomously from a relationship God] (Genesis 3:6). The false teachers themselves have drummed up stories to support and give credence to their agenda but it is just the regurgitation of our original sin. I have an idea I already want to believe, therefore I selectively search for evidence to support and “prove” it even if I have to write the narrative myself. This ironically is what skeptics have accused the apostles of doing for millennia, when actually—with actual eyes on the scene—it was the sophists who first pushed their agenda backwards into their myth-building.
The most important part of verse 16 was not so much the exposure of false teachers’ fallible propaganda, but the beginning of Peter’s argument that the Scriptures are in a completely different category than the pluralistic philosophies of his day. If it originates in humans, then it is opinion. Opinion is an unsuitable building material.
In the West, we have elevated opinion—which everyone is entitled to have and express—to the lofty status previously reserved for religious creed. And we have simultaneously devalued truth—which everyone has equal access to in the Scriptures—to the same status as opinion, if not lower. The result is that there are 7 billion opinions and no one is “allowed” to call the other 6,999,999,999 opinions lame.
We used to think collectively —the church says, therefore we are. Then we morphed into more individualized worldview—I think, therefore I am. Only recently we phase-shifted again from rationalism to emotionalism—I feel, therefore I am. Today, in the post-postmodern soup we swim—I am who I am—and no one can tell me or convince otherwise. Today the individual is god; he or she believes himself or herself to have the final authority in his/her life. So … how is that going? Are we any better off?
It goes against the modern [re]definition of “tolerance” to say so, but all opinions are not equal. Many, if not most, are lame, a handful are dangerous, several are demonic, and few are openly predatorial. But only the Truth sets people free. Truth is unlike opinion. It does not shift. Truth is absolute, yet personal!
Peter was an eyewitness to this one and only, buried and resurrected, soon-to-be-returning Jesus Christ. He was witness to Truth incarnate. He is not peddling an opinion, but signing an affidavit with his blood!
II. TRUTH IS BETTER THAN EXPERIENCE (vv. 17-18)
The current worldview of most people in the Western world elevates self and personal opinion while lowering the God of Truth and the Truth of God. No surprise there! One might ponder that a moment and then ask: so then how does modern man form his opinion; on what does he base it? This is a question of orthodoxy—how does he decide what he believes is sound; firm? In a word: experience.
The cosmopolitan human isn’t such a flake as to assume that any passing thought is a “keeper.” But when experience supports the opinion, then credence follows. How can I illustrate this? Okay, here’s one: this week a country singer (I don’t know the artist) sang, “It feels so right, it can’t be wrong.” That’s a worldview folks—and a very common one inside and outside the country music universe. “It feels so right, it can’t be wrong.” Now, I’m just making a passing illustration—and I’m not about to boycott country music—but he was preaching a sermon. Right and wrong is determined by his personal feeling. His experience of euphoria supported and justified his opinion, solidifying it as both normal and firm and, therefore, “right” … no matter what others say. The opposite could be asserted as well—if it doesn’t feel good, then it can’t be right; it must be wrong. Anyone who didn’t have that specific, euphoric feeling—the flawed logic continues—can’t evaluate or condemn the importance he built upon that feeling. This is the post-modern credo.
Experience is the new orthodoxy. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. But such is simply untrue. I don’t have to experience the rush of injecting heroine before I can denounce it as evil, stupid, and wrong. The sensation, I am told, is euphoric. If experience justifies opinion, then how can I—on the outside of the experience—dare to suggest a different system for deciding the rightness and wrongness of an activity? Today that sort of “meddling” earns me (unfairly) title of bigot. The experience is the new basis for today’s orthodoxy.
That may sound oddly reasonable, until you realize that those euphoric feelings are liars. They promise life but deliver death. They promise freedom but enslave millions; some people get hooked on the very first hit. Only the Truth sets people free; not experience. Experience is so often a liar that I cannot trust it to guide or drive my orthodoxy. I need something outside of myself to measure, decide, qualify, and quantify what is “right” and what is “wrong.” I need an objective source of Truth. I need a Savior.
Peter, who had arguably the best, highest, noblest experience on the planet did the most amazing thing with that experience. Referring to the glorification of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah who gave deference to Jesus as their infinite superior while God the Father spoke audibly to Jesus (Mark 9:7), Peter laid his experience down at the foot of the Jesus.
“For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.’ We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain” (vv. 17-18).
My paraphrase (once again): Here is my experience, Lord. You interpret it for me. I submit it to you and your truth. I do not have the wisdom or enough freedom from my own deceitful heart to be to make any sense or draw any lasting conclusions from what I just experienced. Slam dunk, Peter!
III. TRUTH IS THE “MORE SURE” WORD (vv. 19-21)
If you haven’t already noticed it, Peter is making a less-sure to more-sure argument for the Scriptures as the best, most accessible, most durable source of Truth and orthodoxy in the universe.
He was an eyewitness to the “power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 16), which is amazing. Peter was also an ear-witness, so to speak, when he “heard this very voice borne from heaven” testify about Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (vs. 18). Neither of those experiences are lightweight; both set Peter apart from virtually every other human who has ever lived. But Peter says there is something better!
It is shocking, staggering, and stupendous to read Peter’s next words. “[But] we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (vv. 19-21).
The “prophetic word” in verse 19 is clearly defined as “Scripture” in verse 20. A quick page-turn over to 2 Peter 3:15-16 shows that Peter considered what he had written, and what Paul had written, as two cursory examples, were fully and truly “Scripture”—indicating that they knew what was going on through their pen as they recorded the “apostle’s doctrine” in ink. So, here is the conclusion. Unlike opinion, and better than experience, Scripture is “the more sure word” [New American Standard]. The Scriptures are flat-out better than even the best experience in history!
Why better? Because from start to finish—from inspiration, to illumination, to interpretation—it is God’s work. It is objective—meaning outside of ourselves—and stands as the final authority in life and godliness. It is durable—meaning it will last forever—and is not subject to the whims and trends of humanity. It is reliable—meaning it is completely trustworthy. It is accessible—there are no secrets, no passwords, no prerequisites required. It is understandable; it says plainly what God means it to say whether you are a Greek scholar or an illiterate Bedouin. It has no equal. Peter will not stick around for many more days, nor any of the apostles for many more years. But that is okay, because they faithfully recorded their doctrine and their eyewitness (and earwitness!) testimony down in the New Testament. In the Scriptures we have full access to the Truth of God and the God of Truth.
So the world clamors for personal experience to justify its own personal opinions, which produces neither freedom nor life but only slavery and death. Students, parents, teachers, citizens—don’t go to the schools to find your worldview. Go to the Scriptures to find God’s worldview. But don’t stop there; carry God’s worldview with you back into the schools, into the halls, into the faculty breakrooms, and into the football stadium on Friday nights. I guarantee you that a worldview built on Truth is not on your classroom list of school supplies, but it is essential that you have it. Otherwise, you will drift along with the current.
“While the nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The LORD of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:6-7).