Phillip Casmer

So That You Always Remember…

by Phillip Casmer on February 19th, 2023
2 Peter 1:16–21

I can still remember the last conversation of any length I shared with my dad. Me on the reupholstered blue, plaid couch, him on his favorite chair; a hot, Arizona day in April; hospice meetings had happened; heaven was close. We talked about lots of things but among them all were various things he wanted me to remember, things he’d told me months and years before already – but he was determined to remind me of them – so that my brothers and I could take care of our mom and everything when he was gone. 

Heaven was close for St. Peter too. These words of his 2nd letter, he says, are some of his last. He was writing to his spiritual family: “who [had] received a faith as precious as [Peter’s own].” (1:1) And among his last earthly concerns was that these people lead a “godly life.” And here was Peter’s encouragement: that God’s “divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life”. In fact, that everything we need is summed up in two things: our knowledge of Jesus Christ and of God’s “very great and precious promises.” (1:3-4) 

So, just before our section, Peter says, “[E]ven though you know them and are firmly established in the truth…I will always remind you of these things…[so that] you will always be able to remember…” (1:12-15) That’s the verse just before ours. And it’s a nice connection for us. If there ever was a group that was firmly established in the truth and already knowing these things, it’s you – people who gather regularly around the Word of God. But even though you know it already, Peter writes so that you always remember… exactly what you need to be the Christian people you are.

For that, Peter reminds us of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ! A very familiar account! And he gets right to the nub of the matter when he says, “we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power…” Now Peter says that because his audience would deal with false teachers that claimed otherwise. Later in ch.2, Peter says things like this: “[T]here will be false teachers [who] will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them…these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” (2:1-3)

That happened then and happens still. There are churches that teach that what Peter’s telling is actually the Jesus myth. The Bible is really just a narrative, a story woven in the fancy of human beings and after their designs. Don’t take it for literal – it’s just a nice story about a nice guy who tells you how to live nice. And I’d dismiss that – I don’t think you generally hold that this thing we gather around is just myth and a manual for mankind-ful living… But it’s tempting to live that way, isn’t it? And not just in that way where we adopt some of the terrible ideas of the world – to be cool or appealing or… I mean the real trouble, that aside from outside teachers, our hearts and patterns are enough to treat even Jesus’ Transfiguration as story… 

“Story” makes me think of the flannel-graph. Do you remember that? The flannel board on which the teacher puts the little flannel cutouts to tell the Bible story? This Sunday would have Jesus with Peter, James, and John on a mountain. Then you’d bring in the cloud and maybe a flash-burst flannel behind Jesus, and little Moses and Elijah come in… and so on, the story. You know what you do with the flannel-graph? You put flannel-Jesus and Co. back into the box on the shelf and you leave and you leave him here… 

Do we do that with the stories we know, like Jesus’ Transfiguration? Bypass them for the real story we have to live day by day? To feel like living a godly life needs 12 rules and six tenets and a 4pt action plan, not stories? Feel like these are sort of the Sunday School basics and we’re on to deeper things? I wonder if sometimes we accidentally reach the same place as all the most determined destructive heresies: treating these things as stories that have no real effect on Christian life… 

You know the trouble with that? It’s like the “cleverly devised stories” (v.16) – literally, Peter used the word “myth”. Here’s a good definition – a story which humans formulated to express their own desires without any reference to reality. Isn’t that effectively what can happen among us? We can bypass God’s stories, tell our own, perhaps focusing on our own powers, likely desiring God’s approval… But that’s really our own desires disconnected from reality. In reality, God has said humanity’s way is death, humanity’s natural order is destruction and sin, humanity’s power is weak, humanity’s natural state is enemy to God. Humanity’s only reaction to God himself is what happened on that mountain long ago – to cower in bewildered fear at majesty and such a majestic glory as God has. 

It’s good and right so to do, to be very afraid, unless you hear Peter. He and those other disciples could have told a lot of things, but they were eyewitnesses. They were present for and saw and heard something so much greater than they could ever spin: this… So that you always remember… Peter tells that here at the Transfiguration is the pleasure of God in Christ. 

This story is shiny. It’s majesty. Jesus Christ’s coming in power was with all the honor and glory of God. Jesus is God himself, then speaking with long-dead, heavenly-living prophets who had prophesied about him… The Transfiguration revealed it. But Peter gets down to its value. God the Father spoke from his Majestic Glory saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 

Isn’t it notable that that’s what Peter tells you? It’s because that’s your story. This is the mission Jesus came to accomplish. Where he would make his way to his cross and die and make payment for the sin of our human story. When he rises to life again at Easter, it’s to say that his divine power was so strong even death couldn’t hold him, that his perfect life was so good that God’s punishment for sins was fully paid and there was still holiness left… That his goodness and his glory is your story. Peter’s writing this so that, as you know and remember the Transfiguration, you’ve got everything you need to live as God’s people… God is pleased with his Son – and, in the work of his Son, he’s pleased with you.

And so you go to work. Of course, you my friends, do not always have mountain-top experiences – certainly you’ve never had any like happened on that mountain. In fact, our experience is rather often murky – down here below the clouds, in the fog, in the muck. You might say, “It’s down here that I have to live that godly life…I don’t have what Peter did.” Well, listen closely…  Peter who saw all that with his own eyes tells you who have never seen anything like that that you have everything you need to live a godly life. It’s the prophecy of God in his Word.

Peter calls that Word, (v.19) “completely reliable.” Listen to how promising it is: God’s prophecy (v.20) “never had its origin in the human will.” It’s not unreliable like the ever-changing mores of our world, or “science” that is testable in one age and then unquestionable in the next, nor even the opinions or fortitude of pastors… The things we believe, know, and need to remember didn’t start here – they started in God’s holy will – majestic, glorious, and gracious. And prophets [like Peter, Moses, Elijah] (v.21) “though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Through their talents, God told the story he knew you needed in order to be his people. He told you how his pleasure was earned and is received. He wrote it down word for word and you have it – every, single detail. A Word like nothing else in this world – completely reliable, his message in Christ of your salvation – what it is, how it was won, what you do now… 

That divine Word contains a lot of stuff. In truth, there’s a lot you can work at in the godly life in this world. Peter says there’s one thing you need to do. (v.19) “You do well if you pay attention to [God’s Word] as you would to a light shining in a murky place.” You know what that is? You ever seen those urban spelunking shows? Where they explore the deep tunnels of cities and abandoned buildings and terrible, dark, level 17 basements? Can you imagine if you were in one of those wet, dank, slimy, scary places? The flashlight you had in hand – you would hang on to that for dear life. It would have your full attention and grip. Without it is darkness, lostness, danger, and fear…

Life isn’t a mountain-top experience. God doesn’t promise you miracle-moments. Daily experience can be a murky slog through dark places. Temptations trip us up. Sin’s muck is everywhere. It can be hard to see where to go – what’s right for us or our children or our community; what’s coming; how we ought to behave. Peter bids us hold on to what we know. To these stories God gives, to the letters his apostles wrote, to the prophecies he put down. To light that lamp at our dinner tables with our kids; to sit our families here around this Word; to give it our attention – checking our spiritual batteries, upgrading our gear as we teach it to our children, delve into it ourselves… God’s Word is the light we need. It shows the way of salvation, shares God’s love for us, and doesn’t change. Why does he give this Word? Peter says – so that you remember it.

So far, this short time into 2023, we’re up to 4 funerals. End of life is a good reminder, our end will come – or the end will come. Either way, as people of faith with St. Peter, we long to see the Morning Star, Jesus Christ, dawn – his light showing us real life. Until then, it’s this life – for us, godly life. But we’re ready. God’s shown his pleasure in our Savior’s Transfiguration and presented his work in his reliable Word. Though we’ve heard them a thousand times, God presents them again and so will we, so that we always remember everything we need to live for him.

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