With the exception of Hebrews and James, every letter in the NT begins with an opening salutation or blessing. This is not just come old worn out custom or formality, like “Hi, How are ya?” This is not a throwaway line to be rushed past or skipped over on our way to the important stuff. This is not even a kind wish or hope. These blessings are a genuine prayer addresses to God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. These are Spirit-inspired blessings upon the Church of Jesus Christ. They are an expression of warm affection and love flowing out of the hearts of the apostles for the recipients of these letters. Peter really wants this for these Christians. So much so, in fact, that he doesn’t just begin this way but he ends his letter with the same desire.
Tonight’s sermon is a drawing together of two threads of thought, last week’s sermon on the Nicene Creed and this morning’s sermon on the importance of knowing God. The purpose of creeds is to clarify doctrine and the purpose of doctrine is to know God. The word theology means the study of God. Creeds and doctrine are gifts from God. The purpose of doctrine is to pull back the veil to reveal the splendor and majesty of God, to help us know God. The purpose of doctrine is to clear the fog, to help us see wonderful things in God’s Word, things no eye has seen nor ear heard nor heart imagined (I Corinthians 2:9).
People don’t write letters anymore. They are going the way of the pocket calendar, the checkbook and the flip phone. Some of you may have collections of letters written by relatives, a few of you get letters from Holland yet, maybe some of you still have a stash of love letters somewhere you hope the kids never find. Letters are being replaced by e-mails, texts or tweets. Thank God Jesus came in the first century and not the twenty first century. What a privilege we have of reading Peter’s mail, which of course is also God’s mail. As we study this letter we are reading the very words of God, they have full and complete divine authority. Receive this as God’s truth for you. Take it seriously and take it to heart. Having heard these words we will be accountable for what we do with them. This is God’s revelation, God’s truth. You can say you don’t understand it, but you cannot say you don’t believe it or you disagree with it. That you do at the peril of your soul. This was written late in Peter’s life around 67 AD when he was in prison in Rome, just before he was martyred for his faith in Jesus. It has some marks of being a last will and testament. What a debt we owe to apostles who poured out their faith and teaching and their own blood from prisons in Rome. Both Peter and Paul were martyred for their faith under the persecution of Emperor Nero. Peter wrote this out of a pastor’s heart, out of a genuine love for these Christian brothers and sisters. He wrote it to comfort and encourage and to strengthen their faith in difficult and challenging times. Our world is different from theirs in terms of material possessions, advances in inventions, what we are able to do because of changes in transportation, medicine and technology. But from a spiritual point of view, from the perspective of our hearts and souls there is no difference, no change. The superficial aspects of life have changed dramatically but we have the same fears and doubts and problems and struggles with unbelief. Where is God, what is He doing, why doesn’t He answer my prayers, why do things seem to be getting worse, why are there problems in the church? Unbelief can sneak up on us when we are tired or frustrated, when we are grieving or in pain, when things seem to be falling apart. This letter is almost 2000 years old and yet every word of it is just as true and relevant today as it was when it was read in those churches in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. If we will open our hearts to it and ask God to speak to us through it, He will and we will receive food for our souls. If we will saturate our hearts and minds with the power and truth of God’s Word it will change our lives and fill us with grace and peace. This is God’s Word for us today.
This morning we started a sermon series on II Peter. I mentioned Peter made one of the clearest confessions of who Jesus is. Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” II Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. As clear as these statements are in Scripture, they have been attacked and denied even by those inside the church. When that happens it is necessary for the church to guard the good deposit and contend for the truth and correct and discipline those who are in error. Doctrine is progressive and it is worked out in time, through history. As we read through the OT there are doctrines that get more clear. When we get to the NT there is much more light, especially about who the coming Messiah is and what He is like. The early church affirmed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, He was the Savior of mankind, and fully God and fully human, to be worshiped as God. The early church recognized there was mystery in how this could be, but they accepted it. Jewish Christians were used to living with mystery and more accepting of spiritual and supernatural things. John 1 was clear enough and they didn’t need more. John 1:1-2, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. But as the church spread among the Greeks, who were known for their philosophies and debates and questioning and who put spiritual things above material things, they started stirring things up. How could God who is pure spirit become material like man? Starting in about the fourth century there followed about three centuries of intense debate over the person and nature of Jesus, called the Trinitarian Controversy. Is Jesus God? Is there one God or three Gods? Is Jesus eternal or created? The Nicene Creed is born out of great conflict, in opposition to very serious heresy concerning Jesus, heresy that is with us to this day. Creeds are like the moon, they don’t have any light of their own, but they tell us there is light, if they are good, they reflect the light and heat of Scripture. They show us what is in Scripture. They have no authority of their own, only a derived authority as long as they faithfully represent what Scripture teaches. All man made creeds and confessions must submit to the Bible.
In the past two weeks you have heard two sermons from two very different preachers, both proclaiming God’s great love for us, how delights in His people and sings over us. And His love for us is not blind. He knows us completely and His love is absolutely realistic. He already knows the very worst about us and He cannot be blindsided or become disillusioned in any way that would diminish His love for us. For reasons that are almost too much to consider God purposefully wants to love us and be our God and have us as His children, as His friends. So much so He is willing to have His own Son die for us to make it all possible. Von Golder and I both tried to make it clear that the gospel is first and foremost about a loving, forgiving God seeking and pursuing us. How do we react when we discover this love, this forgiveness, this grace and mercy, this incredible and undeserved kindness and generosity? Von used the great Scriptural analogy last week of the slave and the son both working in the father’s field, but they are working for very different reasons. As sons and daughters anything we do in response to God’s love is not out of duty or out of trying to earn God’s love, it is out of love and gratitude, and in the knowledge we have a share in His grace and inheritance. This morning I want to call us to respond to His great love. I want to awaken our souls, to stir us up to love God. To whom so much has been given, much is expected.
We are returning to Esther for one final sermon to address an issue that is lurking under the surface. You may have felt the tension. It has to do with this issue of war, and all the killing in the OT, especially of women and children. Some people like to point a finger at the OT and criticize God for being a God of war, who is mean, harsh, vengeful. Christians and non-Christians shudder and struggle with God’s wrath and judgment in the OT especially when they contrast that with the love and forgiveness of Jesus in the NT. Some go so far as to say the God of the OT is different than the God of the NT. Why does the God of the OT tell His people to fight against their enemies, but in the NT He tells them to love their enemies? Esther eight and nine raise a fundamental moral issue, the ethics of Mordecai’s edict. Was it right for Mordecai to issue a decree permitting the Jews not just to defend themselves but to retaliate against their enemies and their families and households, including women and children? Is there a double standard, what Haman decreed against God’s people was wrong, but the actions of God’s people against their enemies was OK? We are glad that the good guys won, but what about the fact that the good guys turned on the bad guys and then seemed to act like the bad guys? There is a lot of talk these days about the abuse of power. Is Mordecai really any better than Haman when it comes to the use and abuse of power?