Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Peter and Essential Truths

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Text: 2 Peter 1:12-21

Wrapping up our discussion of the Apostle Peter, I want to take a look at the last known words recorded by the Apostle. Although the entire document of 2 Peter bears his name, there's good internal evidence to suggest that the document is a composite, compiled after Peter's life, of things that the Apostle was believed to have said, or recorded by others. But, there is believed to be an original Petrine fragment found in the 1st chapter of 2 Peter, verses 12-21. Here, Peter is nearing the end of his life and is reflecting upon some things that he believes to be very important for the followers of Christ to remember.

Luke 9: 28-34
Among many Christian traditions, this text is read on Transfiguration Sunday. The transfiguration is one of those thin places in the life of Christ where we're afforded a glimpse of who he really is. His humanity takes a secondary role and the disciples witness, with greater clarity, the reality of Christ's divinity. In each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), this Transfiguration experience takes place right after Peter's famous confession about who Jesus is. When reading these stories, you get the impression that God is trying to deepen their conviction, not so much for the present moment (because it is clear that they do not fully comprehend all that is going on prior to the the crucifixion/resurrection), but for the years to come when they would reflect upon this event and use it as tool for expanding the Kingdom, as Peter is doing here at the end of his life.

So, after sharing with his readers the fact that he's aware that his life is coming to a close (and I think one's last words are always important), there are two things that this great Apostle wants to remind them of. Two things that he wants to ensure that they never forget. And while they are profound in scope, they are basic and foundational to the faith of these believers as well as to all those who would follow them. Essential truths that remain important, even today, in the 21st century.

The first truth is found in verses 16-18. Peter ensures them that the faith that they are following is based upon concrete, real, authentic reality. I was going to use the word truth, but that is often an ambiguous word. He contrast their faith with the fables and myths that were common within the religious traditions of the Greco/Roman world around them. What he wants them to understand is that his faith was based upon a real experience with God in the person of Jesus, and that he, as a faithful steward, has passed this down to them. What they are staking their lives (especially in light of the persecutory nature of time) upon is very real and genuine.

Obviously, there is a practical tone to what Peter is saying. He's one of the last living eye witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Some have speculated that this is the last authentic written expression from such an eye witness in New Testament. Those who had walked with Jesus, those who had handled and been involved in the life and ministry of Jesus were quickly passing from the scene. And, Peter wants to ensure that his message does not pass away with him. 

He wants them know and recognize that the expression of God through the person of Jesus is authentic. Sure, their understanding of Jesus was an ongoing experience. The post Easter understanding of Jesus, and all that implied, was being constructed, and I would argue, is continuing to be constructed, even today. But, Peter is wanting them to know that all that has developed within the Apostolic tradition, and all that would develop, both doctrinally and otherwise, flows from a reliable source. That the traditions they had received and were participating in were collectively drawn from an established, authentic fountain. The transfiguration of Jesus became the fountainhead of all they would come to know and understand about Jesus. It all began there, and continues, even today. Furthermore, Peter wants them to know that, for their particular expression of faith, Jesus is at the center and focus of all that God is doing in the world. Incidentally, this does not preclude other divine expressions in the world; but, it does, however, put Jesus at the center and forefront of the Christian expression of God in the world.

The last thing that Peter wants them to be aware of, is the primacy of Christian scriptures within their faith. In verse 19, he says “...we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts....” (NRSV) Following Peter's lead here, we need to be reminded that there is something unique and special about our sacred literature. Now, I don't want to propagate an idolatrous biblicism, where the bible erroneously takes the place of God. This is exactly what many forms of fundamentalism and biblical literalism is all about. God is reduced to the mere text on a page and our particular interpretation of what that text means becomes the end all of divine revelation. God is held hostage to the written word and our interpretations of it. This is not what Peter has in mind. 

Peter, here, is indicating the cooperation between the experience of Christ and the written words of our sacred text. This gives us a deeper understanding and greater confidence in what we've believed. That is, our sacred literature is an echo of what we experience in the present tense. God has spoken, is speaking, and will continue to speak through the medium of our sacred literature. This is an invaluable asset in the confirmation of our religious experiences. Being able to draw a direct parallel between the existential quality of our faith, a faith that is living and abides in the present, with the disclosure of God found in the written expressions of our faith, is a tremendous tool. Peter says that the cohesion between the words he heard on the mountain, “this is my beloved Son” and the prophetic utterances found in holy writ, gives them an assurance and confidence that is unmatched.

So, in essence, Peter identifies two things that are irreducible to the community of faith. First, there's an unshakable conviction that God has done something unique through the person Jesus Christ. We resound that conviction in the world today. While God never intended us to draw lines of segregation between ourselves and those of different faiths, we should never be ashamed of or draw away from declaring who Jesus is and what he means to our faith. For us, he is the way, truth, and life! And, we should never forget the importance of our sacred literature. Through it, God has spoken, is speaking, and will continue to speak to us and to our world.


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