What Sets Christianity Apart
Bible, Historical Fact, Study, Obedience, Scripture, Word Of God
I have a theory. As you get older, you amass such an amount of information that it becomes more and more difficult to sort through all the information to find what you are looking for. As a result, there are times when you don’t seem to be quite as quick in recalling a name, an event, or something you used to “know”.
The older we get, the more we know about “forgetting”. This morning as we look at a longer section of Scripture in 1 Peter 1:12-21 Peter takes time to remind these believers of essential truths of the faith that they must not forget. Listen to his words,
12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (2 Peter 1:12-15)
It is a sad reality of life that we often forget what we need to remember and remember what we would like to forget. Think about some great time in your life: a beautiful view, a special day (like your wedding or the birth of a child), or the joys of some celebration. In a short period of time you forget the people involved, the things that were said, and many of the details. Perhaps it is because we say, “This is something I will never forget” but we don’t take the time to really fix the event in our memory.
On the other hand, think of some of the regrets of your life. I vividly recall hurtful things I said, stupid things I did, and painful failures. You may vividly remember the foolish words or the hurt looks. When someone we love dies slowly we can vividly remember the few years of sickness but the many years of vibrant life are tough to recall.
Peter understands human nature. He knows how important it is to rehearse the truths of the faith in our minds. Peter writes that he was going to “make every effort to see that we will be able to remember truth long after he is gone.” This may be a reference to this letter or he may be referring to the Gospel of Mark which almost everyone believes came from information relayed by Peter.
Since the beginning of the letter Peter has reminded us that our relationship with God is due to God’s grace rather than our effort; that we are called to be people who do not merely talk about following Christ but actually work at following Him by developing godly habits in our lives; and has reminded us of the importance of making sure of our faith. This morning Peter reminds us of the things that make Christianity unique.
16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
Christianity is Historically Based
The first thing Peter wants us to remember is that our faith is historically based. It is about real events and a real person. Peter himself is giving a personal testimony about what he saw and heard. He especially highlights what is called the Transfiguration of Christ. It was the time Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a mountain with Him.
While they were there something incredible happened. Jesus was changed (or transfigured) and became radiant like the sun. He talked with two guys who had been dead for hundreds of years: Moses and Elijah! The disciples heard them talking about the upcoming death of Christ. Then from a cloud a voice said, “This is my son, listen to Him.” Peter saw the glory of Christ and he heard the testimony of God!
The Bible is filled with eyewitness testimony. Paul reminds us that the resurrected Christ was seen by over 500 people at one time. He added, “Many of whom are still alive” as his way of saying, “don’t take my word for it, talk to these people . . . check it out!”
Contrast this with most other religions. These religions are “systems of thought” that are often based on the ideas or “visions” of one person
- Islam is based on the prophecy of Mohammad
- Mormonism is anchored to a vision of golden tablets by Joseph Smith
- Christian Science is based on the teaching and philosophy of Mary Baker Eddy
- Scientology springs from on the fiction of L. Ron Hubbard
- There is even a religion called Urantia which is based on a book delivered by aliens!
This is what sets Christianity apart from other religions. Christianity is unique
- Not because of our morality . . . many religions contain some good and wise principles.
- Not because of our experience . . . every religion has adherents that testify that their faith has “enriched” them. Many adherents of other religions say “it works for me”.
- But because it is anchored to verifiable history!
o Jesus really lived and claimed to be the One sent by God
o He actually performed miracles
o He showed power over nature (storms, feedings)
o He raised the dead
o He really did die in the way the Bible declares and He really did claim that He did so on our behalf
o He really rose from the dead
o People actually talked to Him for 40 days after His death
o People saw Him go into Heaven
o People saw and experienced the coming and work of the Holy Spirit
People witnessed all these things and wrote down their testimony (think of the gospels as a deposition). We cannot explain Christianity apart from historical reality. If the events recorded did not happen, we have no faith. If these events did not happen we are left to conclude that the disciples all lied and were martyred for a lie.
These men shared their eyewitness testimony and we are left with a simple question: do we believe their testimony or don’t we?
Peter is not finished. He writes,
19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
It is Verified by Prophetic Tradition
The incredible thing about the coming of Christ is that it was predicted in the Old Testament hundreds of years before the events took place. Every Christmas we recount prophetic passages that pointed to the birth of Christ. There are prophecies that foretell the death of Christ as a sacrifice for sin. There are prophecies that point to the day of Pentecost (Joel 2). As you read through some of the Old Testament books (Like Daniel and Ezekiel) you are confronted with the fact that history did and continues to follow a pattern described by these books.
Peter was writing to people who were making fun of the proclamation that Jesus was going to return to the earth in power and claim rule over His Kingdom. Even after just a few decades people were wondering if it was all a hoax. Peter gave a simple response: Remember who Jesus was and what He did. Remember how Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled in with uncanny accuracy in the past. Then, having remembered these things, trust what you know to be true.
I had a friend write me not long ago. She had experienced a loss and asked a very honest question: “How do I know that there really is a Heaven?” It’s an important question. How DO we know that we have not merely created something in our heads to make our grief and sorrow easier to bear? Karl Marx said Christianity was the opiate of the masses. In other words it was like a drug that exists just to make us feel better.
I confessed to this friend that on occasion I have some of the same questions. I told her that I always answer these questions the same way: I return to the empty tomb and look at the various explanations for what happened. I am reminded that the most rationale answer is that Jesus really did rise from the dead. The evidence is compelling! This reminds me that my faith is anchored to real history. I remind myself that these events were foretold by the prophets and Jesus Himself. Once I remember these things I can quickly conclude: since this man rose from the dead, instructed his followers fully, and then ascended before their very eyes . . . then I have good and solid reasons to believe what He tells me about life beyond the grave!
Peter has one more declaration,
20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Christianity is Anchored to the Bible, God’s Revelation
These verses are difficult to translate because the meaning is not quite clear. In the NIV and some other we are told that “no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation”. In the New American Standard Bible (and King James and ESV) the translation is like this:
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, (NASB)
There are two ways to interpret what Peter is saying. One interpretation seems to say people cannot and must not interpret the Bible anyway they want. There is a one plain and right understanding of the text and we must not distort that plain sense with our “private interpretations.”
This is a good solid principle. Bible study is not about reading the Bible and saying “This is what the text means to me.” There is only one true understanding of the text even though there may be many different applications of that truth to our lives. The true truth does not change with public opinion. When reading the Bible we do not create or “adapt” the truth; we try to submit to the truth.
As good of a principle as this is, I think the other interpretation (in the NIV and others) is the right understanding of the text. Based on the context it seems Peter is referring to the authorship of the Bible. In other words, Peter is saying, “You need to understand that we didn’t just dream up this stuff. The people who wrote the Scriptures were being led by the Holy Spirit.” In other words: This is God’s Word.
Peter says the authors of Scripture were “carried along by the Spirit”. The picture is that of a sailboat that is driven by the wind. The Holy Spirit led the authors to write what they did.
Paul says the same thing in 2 Timothy 3:16,
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The idea is not that God dictated the Bible. What is being taught is that the Holy Spirit worked through the individual personalities, styles, and vocabularies of these men and led them to write the true, eternal, and unchanging, truth of God.
There are a lot of authors who can write wonderful books. They tell captivating stories, give vibrant accounts of historical happenings, and even argue ideas in compelling ways. Peter wants us to understand that the value of the Bible is not in the writing style or the compelling nature of what is written. The issue is one of authority. The Bible is the Word of God! This means it carries a unique authority. Practically, that means,
- What the Bible says is true.
- The salvation the Bible proclaims is real.
- The behavior the Bible prescribes is right and best.
- The future events the Bible declares are certain.
So, let me review what Peter is saying. Christianity is different from other religions because,
- It is anchored to eyewitness testimony of actual history
- It’s truthfulness has been verified by fulfilled prophecy
- The Bible is not well-crafted fiction, but the very Word of God
Peter is challenging us to be confident and sure of our beliefs. Other faiths are based on philosophy or a system of thought; Christianity is anchored to history. Other faiths are built on insights discovered by others; Christianity is based on truth revealed by God.
Let’s draw some simple principles to take away. First, since the Bible is the Word of God, we should read it reverently and attentively. We should read the Bible differently than we do other books. We are used to reading academic books to learn facts and arguments. We read other books to be entertained, informed, or inspired. But we read the Bible as an authoritative guide for life and eternity. The Bible explains to us the meaning of life! We listen carefully because God is speaking to us!
If you were in the hospital with some unknown illness you would listen to the Doctor differently than the way you listen to visitors and even family members. You listen intently because the Doctor is giving you information that directly impacts your life! You ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. You may even write down pertinent information so you didn’t forget it. That is the kind of intensity we need to bring to reading the Bible.
When we open the Bible we should also open our hearts and our minds to its instruction. As we listen intently, God will teach us about ourselves and about His love for us. The Bible will address our faulty or “stinking” thinking and help us develop perspective and wisdom. It will help us see when we are headed down a wrong path and point us in the right direction. It will help us to recognize and know God so that we can learn to trust Him and follow Him. His Word will give us strength for hard times and guidance for confusing times. It will show us how to get the most out of life and will even introduce us to the glories of Heaven. So let me suggest some things.
- Read the Bible every day. Since this is the Word of God, it is more valuable to us than food and drink. Approach the Bible as essential “nourishment”.
- Read systematically so you can see the big picture. This means you should start at the beginning of a book of the Bible and read through that whole book. Hopefully you will read the Bible from cover to cover several times in your life.
- Read with a pen or pencil. Underline key principles. Write down the guidance you gain. Jot down notes in the margin. Write down questions you may have (so you can look for answers later).
- Read prayerfully. Before you begin to read ask God to speak to you. Read ready to hear and obey.
- Beware of TV specials and teachers that “explain away” the clear teaching of the Bible. There are many who begin with a belief that the Bible is not the Word of God. They dismiss anything supernatural before they even begin their study. Such people will hurt your faith rather than enrich it.
Second, since our faith is anchored in History, we should not be intimidated by novel theories of men. Lloyd-Jones gives us a fitting challenge from our text,
Christian people, let us not be afraid of the supposed scientific attack upon the Gospel. Science can never remove facts; it can never alter events which have taken place in history. Let us not apologize for the faith. Let us not reduce the faith. Let us make the full miraculous claim. Let us not offer a restricted Jesus with noble ideas and exalted teaching. Let us make the full New Testament claim for Him and fasten our everything upon the apostolic witness and testimony, upon the evidence of the men who were with Him on the mount and who heard the voice from heaven say, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, p. 91)
Ridicule, threats, and intimidation cannot change what is real. History (even that outside of the Bible) confirms that there was a real man named Jesus who lived in Israel. He taught with a rare wisdom and died a cruel death. Even secular histories report that the followers of Jesus claimed he rose from the dead.
Christianity is not just one religion among many. Christianity is unique. It is simple. It is understandable. It is historical. The Bible is not a book filled with errors but has been verified by every new archaeological discovery.
People may not like what the Bible teaches. They may not embrace the facts of history but how someone responds to the Bible and the facts of the Christian faith does not change those facts or the authority of God’s Word. The truths of the faith stand whether the general public or even the legal system submit to that authority!
Understand the genuineness, uniqueness, and stability of the Christian faith. For if you remember these things, you not be unsettled by the critics. You will not be fooled by the false teachers. You will rest in the truth. And someday when we stand before the King, we will be grateful that we made it a point to remember.