Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
Back in the day, to be a follower meant something almost physical. To follow someone – hear their wisdom, receive their directions, fight their battles – you actually had to follow them around. So you really couldn’t follow many people at the same time. Nowadays, people ask, “Who do you follow?” fully expecting that you won’t share one name but a number – because we can follow voices on Twitter and Instagram, personalities like Pewdiepie on Youtube, or voices you can tune in every day on the radio. Today it’s most often framed in casual conversation, but “Who do you follow?” is after serious stuff. It’s after a guide for the pieces of life: we want to know what the next cool MMOG will be or which gadgets we need to have or what investments to make or how not to fail at love again. Though they may be many, though we may not follow them around the world, still today we’re often looking for voices that will tell us just where to go and exactly what to do.
It’s interesting, in this long season of Epiphany where we’re focusing on the life and work of Jesus we’ve lately been talking a lot about the life and work of those who follow Jesus. That’s exactly the kind of thing where we’d look for a voice to tell us how and what to do. That’s what St. Peter is trying to do in his second letter. He’s reminding believers that we have “everything we need for life and godliness”, in fact, that we can “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world” and make our “calling and election sure” by our efforts toward goodness and knowledge and self-control and more. But St. Peter says that we can do these only if we follow God’s voice.
And to help his audience do that, Peter says in vv.12-13 that he’s going to remind them of things they’re already firmly established in. Now think about that – this is a big temptation for followers of God. When we go online or to the radio to find a voice, usually we expect something interesting and maybe innovative that will give insight we haven’t formerly had about life or music or craft beer or love. We want something that will feel fulfilling to follow because it fills out what we didn’t know we didn’t know. And that can happen too when we think about living as God’s people. Life is always changing. You are always changing. Your relationships are always changing. And it can seem like being reminded of things that don’t change…of things you’re firmly established in…that’s a little flat. We’d like to hear from God the rules, the ways, the nuances that will fill out that little bit we’ve been missing – let us really follow him.
Lately I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy and was recently watching a video about God’s Law in the Old Testament. Did you know that in the Torah (books 1-5 of the Bible) there are 613 commands given to God’s people for their lives? Now some of those are laws and some of them are specific directions but, if you were looking for a place where God gave nuanced how-to’s for godly life, this is it. However, the video I was watching made this interesting observation: the pattern of a good portion of the Torah is this back and forth where God gives his people laws and then they break them and he gives them some more and they disregard them and he gives them some more and they set them aside – a torrid cycle of regulation and rebellion. Which, you might argue, is why you and I feel like we always need something more to know how to better serve God…because we’re always not doing enough and not doing it right.
And so, according to St. Peter, when we follow God’s voice we are primarily listening to what he says about his Son instead. Throughout the first chapter of his letter, Peter’s been pointing to this well-founded thing you as Christians know. Peter started out in v.1 calling his audience people with a precious faith they got through Jesus’ perfection. And in the next verses he’s all about “the knowledge of Jesus our Lord” – because being effective as Christians is really putting your knowledge of Jesus into play. In our section? He’s told them already about the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”, but now about the honor and glory he received when the Father spoke at his transfiguration: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
When you follow God’s voice, what do you hear? That this Jesus is his beloved Son – the only one who actually, fully and completely, deserves God’s love. Peter’s right, you have faith because Jesus is righteous – perfect. Consider it at his transfiguration… He sees his glory again with God (because he is God himself), he discusses with the saints his salvation plan, he puts up with the sinful disciples, and still goes back down the mountain with them to be about that salvation work, to see it to the end. That’s righteousness – no need for some innovative word, some new direction – just affirmation in the same old thing: be perfect, die as payment. Which is why God’s voice said that in Jesus he was “well-pleased”. This is God saying, “Yes – my Son deserves my love like no one ever has – and so he is my chosen one to accomplish my salvation – to be guilt’s payment and death’s end – because no one else can.”
We follow God’s voice which relentlessly points us to this thing we need to be grounded in over and over again. If we want to have a life that God loves, we must know the only one whose life God has ever loved. God’s Son, so beloved, perfectly chosen, is the righteous one who brings forgiveness for our sinful lives and guarantees real life with God by giving us his life instead. He truly is God’s Word to us. Which makes God’s command in the gospel very fitting – about his Son he says, “Listen to him.”
How will we listen to Jesus who is so long gone from being visibly present and physically among us? He speaks in his prophetic Word, as Peter said. Which is also a perpetual place of temptation for us. Do you remember from a couple of years ago, that mega-pastor Rob Bell and his words on Oprah? He said, “The church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense.” He was speaking about homosexuality and marriage, but he may as well have been talking about any other tempting thing. It’s not just loneliness that calls us to find voices and advice that will fill the void – it’s sex and greed and guilt and work and parenting and sin… And they all say that the voice of God – surely it can’t speak in some words written long ago, it must speak in what we feel or in what our culture agrees is true, it must be in the things that make us feel safe or affirmed. Not long after Rob denied the existence of hell in his book Love Wins – but that’s because he’s like the preachers Peter was combatting – the kind who didn’t rely on the Word of God and pointed away from any coming of Jesus again (or even a first time). Those preachers rely on your experience in life and how to make your experience in life good – by laws you’ll follow or things you’ll disregard in God’s Word. Peter and others proclaimed how to be ready for life everlasting which would begin when Jesus returns – by laws fulfilled in Jesus who is the focus of God’s Word.
For you to follow, God voices two important things about his Word. First, the Word of God is good for your attention. Because it tells you about Jesus, it illuminates for you what’s really true about having a full and fulfilling life. Fulfilled living only happens when you are full in God’s sight and that only happens by faith in his Son. The Word of God that tells this truth – it’s like light in the darkness. The Psalmist said long ago, “Your Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” You might say that many of the voices around us are more like sounds in the darkness, whispers to follow – except in the dark you don’t know where those whispers are leading or what’s waiting for you. The light of God’s Word is the one thing you need so that you do not stumble and fall or get lost and die – it shines brightly and illumines the way.
And second, you can trust God’s Word because the prophecies of Scripture are not myths and stories the unintelligent choose to follow or people have made up. They are God’s will put to Word. The Spirit of God carrying men along – inspired to proclaim God’s Word and therefore inspiring like no human word can be. Where you have to spend time vetting the voices that cry out to you in the world about whatever, here you can simply trust – this is God’s own Word. And you can know: “[W]hatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope,” Paul said. Only this Word gives hope for life even through death, even past the end of the world. Only the Holy Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” God’s Word saves, and sanctifies, and sets you up to please him.
There are certainly many voices we can follow, but none are like the voice of God. Praise the Lord for all his blessings, but most of all that he has spoken to us in his Son, the radiance of his glory, the promise of glory for us who believe. He is God’s Word – worthy of our attention. Praise the Lord that he is revealed in a Holy Scripture Word that is his very own, that no human word can match. God bless us by faith in his perfect Son through his Spirit’s powerful Word to always follow his voice. Amen.