Scripture Reference: 2 Peter 1:16-21
When God SpeaksDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 28, 1997
Selected highlights from this sermon
What if God had never revealed Himself? We wouldn’t know what happens after death, we wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong, and we wouldn’t know where we came from. But God did make Himself known.
God’s Word, the Bible, is dependable, illuminating, and Spirit-given. Though filled with the writing styles of many human authors, its writing was overseen and provided through the ministry of Holy Spirit. This book has divine origins.
Christianity claims to be a revealed religion. Now that stands in opposition to many other religions that are really naturalistic. There are prophets and gurus who have tried to peer into reality, who have had certain experiences, and they have written up their experiences, and many people have followed them.
In ancient Rome and Greece, Egypt and Babylon, whether you are talking about Buddhism or Hinduism, they all have to do with human beings having insight into reality, or perceived insight, and therefore they wrote oftentimes large volumes about what they have learned.
Now there are some other religions that claim to be revealed. Joseph Smith claims that he had a revelation from an angel. And of course, Muhammad claims to have had a revelation. But when you talk about revelations, what you need to do is to test them. You need to test them for consistency. Do they make sense? Does it hang together? You also have to test them for their truth value. Do they really explain reality? Is there something about the revelation that commends it as to say, “Yes, this is a word from God”?
Now, I want you to know that Christianity is totally unique and different, because it not only says that there was one prophet who spoke for God, but many. There are least 40 different authors of the book that we call the Bible, and they were all talking about the same issues—God, man, sin, redemption—and lo and behold, the Bible is unified on that subject. That alone would indicate that the Bible is a very special book. But it’s also special because in the Bible, in Christianity, it is not just ideas that are communicated. Events become very important. You see, it isn’t just that Jesus Christ taught us how to live. It is that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. Therefore, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and all of those events become absolutely necessary for Christianity, and without them everything that we believe would collapse.
Now, if God has not spoken (Let’s just suppose that there is no word from God outside the universe.), we have to live with some of the consequences. For example, we don’t know what it is that awaits us after we die. That curtain is totally closed. We have no idea whether meaning can be found in this world. Bertrand Russell, the atheist, you remember, counseled us to be brave despite the fact that we would fail and die and be eternally obliterated. He still asked us to be courageous at least. So that’s the position that has to be taken if God has not spoken, because there’s no way that we can penetrate the barrier to the great spirit world. We cannot find God simply by looking at a star, even though we may see that surely the stars were created by some creator. But the stars do not tell us what kind of a creator did the work. He may be powerful, but not necessarily omnipotent. He may be loving, but then again, maybe he isn’t loving. Just look at all of the earthquakes, and the famines and the hurricanes in the world. So, all of these mysteries become and remain as mysteries with no hope that we can penetrate the barriers.
Morality becomes a matter of personal preference. There can be no objective standard, no way by which we can judge whether men and women do right or wrong. But if God has spoken, if God has revealed Himself with the precision of language in sentences and verbs and nouns and pronouns, then suddenly we have the privilege of being able to go behind the barrier, and some of the mysteries can become clear to us. And finally we can find out what God is like, and we can understand our relationship to Him, and we can see whether there is meaning in the world, because it will all somehow now make sense.
Well, as you know, this is the first message in a series of messages on Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible (why I can believe the Bible is God’s Word). Now, we’re not going to get to the reasons yet. That begins in the next message. This is an introductory message to simply whet our appetite and to traverse the terrain for us to see where we are going to be going to help us to understand what some of us mean when we say, “The Bible is the Word of God.” What do you mean by that? What do we mean by words such as inerrant? Inerrant! And is it necessary to really believe that the Bible is without mistakes? Can’t it have at least some little teensy weeny small mistakes? Why is it so important to believe that actually the words were superintended by God? That’s what this message hopes to accomplish to answer some of those questions before we actually get into the reasons why we believe the Bible is the Word of God.
So take your Bibles and turn to 2 Peter 1. You’ll notice that Peter is writing at a time when already the truths of Christianity were being criticized by at least some people. There were always those who said, “You know, you’re making it up.” So I take 2 Peter 1:16-21: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” And Peter says, “We ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed (more sure), to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Now, if you’re in the habit of underlining in your Bibles I want you to underline three words that we have just read. First of all, go there to verse 19 and underline the word sure. You’ll notice is says that we have the prophetic word made more sure. What do we mean when we say, “The Bible is the Word of God?” First of all, we say, “It is a sure word. It is dependable. This is a Word from God.”
And Peter says in verse 16, “We didn’t follow cleverly devised myths that some people might think we’ve done, because we were there when it happened. We were eyewitnesses of His majesty. We were there on the Mount of Transfiguration. We heard the words that God said, thundering from heaven.”
Now, I want you to notice that Peter says, “What we have believed is true.” Now all throughout history there are those who say, “Well, you know these are very fancy fables.” Later on in the series of messages, I hope to comment at least briefly on the so-called Jesus Seminar, where scholars sit around and they say, “Well, I don’t think Jesus said this. Do you think so?” Well then you put a bead in this dish. “You don’t think that He said this?” Then you put a bead in this dish. And if it’s a maybe, then you put a different colored bead in another dish. And that’s known as the Jesus Seminar.
Now, you have to understand what they are doing. We’ll explain in a moment what they are doing. What they are trying to do is to say that Jesus was only a man. The miracles have to be stripped away. All of the sensational statements about His deity have to be put into the dish that says, “No, He didn’t say this.” And all of that is really based on their subjective hunches as to whether or not Jesus said it.
Now, notice what the text says: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths.” By the way, notice this: Peter talks about the transfiguration. He says, “We were with Him there on the holy mountain.” I read that a moment ago. And you know that Peter, James and John were invited to do that.
Now listen, folks. Here was a historical event. They went to the top of that very, very high mountain. That was a physical event. But notice also it was tied to some theological truth. The text says that when they were up there they heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” That was a theological statement.
What point am I trying to make? Simply this! There are many people who say, “Well, you know, the Bible’s theology is inspired. We can trust all of those great truths that the Bible teaches, but it is not accurate in matters of history and science. It’s got mistakes in those areas.”
Well, my dear friend, are you following this, because if that is true, that it has mistakes in science and history, why should we not also think that it has mistakes when it comes to theology? You can’t take the Bible and you cannot separate its history from its theology, because most of the time its theology is history. And as we shall show in some future messages, you must either believe the whole thing or you must doubt the whole thing, but you can’t pick and choose. You can’t pick and choose!
Now the Bible says in Psalm 19: “Thy testimonies are sure.” They are dependable. In a world in which many opinions are being expressed, in a world in which many people are living with their own privatized religion, trying to find out reality, trying to probe behind the barriers, isn’t it wonderful to know that we have a sure word of prophecy? It is a sure word.
I don’t agree with everything that Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, most assuredly, but he did say this: “Truth is tough. It will not break like a bubble at a touch. Nay, you may kick at it all day long like a football, and it will still be round and full in the evening.”
Well, let me tell you something. If the Bible is a sure word, if it is dependable, we should be able to analyze its history. We should be able to even analyze wherever it touches science, like on the creation issue about which there shall be a message, God willing, in this series. We should be able to analyze it from the standpoint of its prophesies. We should be able to look at it in as many different ways as you want to check out a document, and it should always turn out to be reliable, because it is a sure word. It’s a sure word. What do we mean when we say the Bible is God’s Word? We mean that it is dependable, that when the men sat down and they wrote it, they wrote under divine supervision and inspiration and God guarded them from error.
Secondly, underline the word shining. You’ll notice that the text tells us here that the Word of God… Verse 19: “We have the prophetic word made more sure.” Peter says, “Yeah, the fact that we were up in the mountain confirmed the prophecies of the Old Testament.” That’s what he meant. And just like God predicted what Jesus Christ would look like in His coming glory, Peter says, “We were there and we saw it.” But now notice it says: “We have the prophetic word made more sure to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining (There is the second word.) in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” It’s a shining word.
Peter uses a very vivid expression in the original Greek. He says, “It is like a light that shines in a very murky place.” “It is in a murky place,” Peter says. And events in life are murky. The situations that people get themselves into are murky. The human heart is murky. And the Scriptures are like a light shining in a dark place. They finally illuminate all of the darkness and the dissipation and the evil and the questions of this world. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
When I was a boy on the farm I used to follow my father at night, and he would have a lantern. And the lantern didn’t give a lot of light. It didn’t illuminate the whole farmyard, but it gave us enough light to find out where the path is. It gave us enough light to make sure that the next step that we took would be a solid one—we were not going to fall off from a rock. And so that’s the way the Word of God is. It doesn’t tell us all of the answers that we would like to know. It doesn’t reveal to us all of the mysteries that God has in His person. We wouldn’t even be able to accept that. That’s something that we’re going to study for all of eternity. But what the Bible does do, and it’s important that it does, is that it guides us in the darkness of this world, and it keeps pointing us to Christ who said, “I am the light of this world. He that follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
Over in Jerusalem under the city is a place where tourists seldom get to. There are what is known as the Quarries of King Solomon. It’s not a very accurate historical designation because those were probably not his quarries, but that’s the name that is given. There are huge caves, caves as large as your house. And some of us were in those caves, and we were with a man who said, “I’m not lost. I’m not lost.” He said, “I’ve been in here 40 times,” but he was lost. And we’re thankful that some of us remembered where it is that we had come in, and where the tunnels were that would eventually get us out because you wouldn’t want to be lost there for too long. But the thing that helped us, of course, is the flashlight. How do you get out of a cave without a flashlight?
And some of you, in your darkness and in the dismal experiences and the sheer emptiness of life, say, “Where is the light?” The Word of God is like a lamp shining in a dark place to which you do well to pay attention. Notice that, folks! Finger on the text! You do well to pay attention to what the Word of God says: “As to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” And when he thinks of the dawning of the day, he thinks of the return of Jesus Christ. And before Jesus Christ comes within our hearts there is the morning star. We usually think of it as Jupiter or Mars or Saturn, the morning star that heralds the coming of the sun. And in the very same way within our hearts there is this desire when you see all these things coming to pass. The Scripture says, “Know that your redemption draws nigh.” And so we look forward. We look to the future—the return of Jesus Christ. And once the sun comes up we don’t need the lamp anymore. We don’t need the lamp.
And when Jesus Christ comes, though the Word of God is forever settled in heaven, the fact is that we will not need those promises of forgiveness. We will not need those promises of guidance. God’s Word is settled forever in the sense that His promises are eternal and sure. But we will not be looking at the Book, because then we will know even as we are known. And God is going to show us Christ, and we’ll not have the need that we do today, the same need for the Scriptures.
And so that’s the Word that we have today. We mean when we say, “The Bible is the inspired Word of God,” that it is a sure word, completely dependable. We also mean that it is a shining word. It sheds light in areas that we could never possibly discover. For example, could you buy the idea of a scientist discovering that God actually exists as the Trinity? Absolutely not! Even if you believed, as a scientist, that God existed, you could never deduce the Trinity. And as I already mentioned, you would not know whether God was loving toward us, or whether He was hateful, because there’s enough in nature to think both. We couldn’t figure it out. The Word of God shines and gives light.
Thirdly, it is a Spirit-given Word. Now, notice this: “But know first of all that no prophecy of the Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” That doesn’t mean, by the way, that we can’t have individual Bible study. Some people have interpreted it that way. What it means is it’s not talking about interpretation as we speak of it. It means the origin of Scripture. It didn’t come to these men privately. It’s not as if they were the ones who were interpreting what was being said, and it was subject to their own error. No, he explains what he means by verse 20. “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God.” Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Now, what we need to do is to look at this verse very, very carefully because it shows us the two authors—the dual authorship of the Bible. You’ll notice that the Bible originated, and we’re talking here about the Old Testament Scriptures. Peter would have had that in mind primarily. But you’ll notice that it did not originate with man. This was not somebody having an experience that he wants to write a book about. It isn’t as if he says, “I’m going to go fasting for 40 days and finally have some experience of enlightenment that I can show others the way.” It’s not that. It is a book. They are writings that originated from God. They originated from God. And holy men of God spoke as they were moved. The Greek word is carried along like a log being carried along by a river. It just moved along by the Holy Spirit.
Well, we need to look at this carefully. Let me talk briefly about the human authorship of the Bible. The Bible is, after all, a human book. It’s a human book. That’s the human side. Some of the Bible was dictated directly. When God said to Moses, “Thou shall have no other gods before Me,” that was not written in the style of Moses. That wasn’t his writing style. Those were the very words of God.
When Jeremiah stood up to speak, and the Lord said to him, “Son of man, hear the word of the Lord. I have set thee as a watchman over the nations,” that was verbatim—the Word of God.
But then there are other passages of Scripture where God gave man the ideas and allowed him to write these ideas according to his own style. Paul, for example, reasons. He argues, and he tells us about how disappointed he is in a certain situation. He needs to send Timothy a letter. And he says, “You know, be sure to bring my manuscripts and my coat because things are bad here in prison.” And Paul’s own education, his own approach to how the Scriptures would be written, those are his. Those are his.
Would you be shocked if I were to tell you that the Gospel of Mark has some Greek in it is that is so rough that it actually contains, Greek scholars tell us, what could be called grammatical errors? Would you be surprised at that? You say, “Well, if it’s a grammatical error, then the Bible isn’t reliable.” No. Listen! You folks know that it’s possible to make a grammatical error and still be perfectly clear in what you intend to say. In fact, I know some people who do it all the time. I know what they’re saying.
After all, what is a grammatical error anyway? It’s just a deviation from standard usage, you know. There’s nothing absolutely correct about the way in which we use grammar. We just like to use it the way most people should use it. That’s all. And if someone makes an exception, that doesn’t mean that he does not communicate correctly. Now, you’ll notice that that’s the kind of latitude that God sometimes gave His writers.
Now notice that there were those words that were directly dictated. There were those words where a writer was giving his own ideas and was free to use his own style. And then beyond that the Scriptures even have investigation. Some people did research before they did their writing. Luke says in chapter 1, verse 3: “You know, there are many people who have written accounts about Jesus Christ, and I decided to write one in order, having completely investigated all of these events.” That’s the human side of the Bible.
Now, you can understand what happens when you go to university. You students who are studying religion in the different colleges in the Chicago area know exactly what I’m going to say now. Scholars take the Bible and they see this humanness, and therefore they assume that the Bible is purely human. It is just a human book and nothing more. They come to all the miracles. They come to the statements of Jesus Christ, and they find ingenious ways to discount those statements so that they can get on with the business of believing that Jesus was nothing more than a mere man, and the Bible is a mere human book. And that’s why, when you study religion in universities (I’ve done it. I know what I’m talking about.) what you find is the Bible is viewed purely as a human book.
Now, the fact is that there have been those in the past who have sometimes held to a theory of inspiration that says, “All of the Bible was dictated. It has no human elements in it at all. It was all dictated by God word for word.” Well, that’s not right either because, as I’ve already mentioned, you can see the different styles, the different approaches. The fact is, folks, that the Bible is both human and divine. It’s both human and divine. It has dual authorship.
Let me give you an excellent biblical illustration. Christ! Was Christ human or divine? Well, you look at some of the texts. “Jesus, being weary with His journey sat thus on the well,” the Scripture says. Tired! God tired? Yeah! The God-man tired! Yeah!
Jesus said in the Gospel of John. It is recorded: “Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour. Yet for this cause came I unto this hour.” You say, “Wow! This was God?” Now is my soul troubled? Well, the answer is, of course. He was 100% man, but He was also 100% God with also a divine nature. That’s why He could say, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He was both.
People often say, “Well, might it be possible for Jesus to have sinned in His humanity (because he was man)?” I get asked that question quite often. And the answer is no because it was not possible for Him to sin as man without implicating deity. The divine nature would have had to be involved in that. You can’t just separate the two.
Well, people look at the Bible and they say, “You know, the Bible is a human book. Might it have some errors in it just from its humanness?” And the answer is no because although it was written by human beings, it is also inspired, as we shall see in another message—God-breathed. God-breathed!
And it is impossible that the Word of God (the breath of God) would be in error. Do you see that similarity?
In fact, there are many similarities between Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. The Word of God and the Incarnate Word—both are eternal. John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word. (That’s a reference to Christ.) The Word was with God. The Word was God.”
What about the Scripture Psalm 119:89? “Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” Both are conceived of the Holy Spirit. The angel said to Mary, “That which is conceived in you shall be of the Holy Spirit.” What does the text say right here? Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. Both of them have authority. It says in Mark 1:22 regarding Christ: “He spoke as one having authority.”
You look at the Old Testament. Isaiah 1 says, “Hear oh Israel and give ear oh earth, for the Lord has spoken.” You talk about authority, and both of them are human and divine. And we can’t allow the divinity to negate the human, and we cannot allow the human to negate the divine.
Someone said this about the Bible, and it could be also said of Christ. It’s a lovely poem. I don’t know who wrote it but I memorized it many years ago.
Deep strike thy roots, oh heavenly vine
Into our earthly sod,
most human, yet most divine,
the flower of man and God.
When you open your Bible, this book is the flower of man and God. It is a Spirit-directed Word, a Spirit-revealed Word. Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. That’s what you have in your hands—a book from God.
Now God is in the writing business, and many people don’t read what He writes. Isn’t that awful? God has become an author, and even though we have translations in English more than we can possibly count or enumerate, many people do not read God’s letter. Can you imagine the insult? Imagine the insult! You know, it’s one thing for me to write a book and to discover that no one in my family has read it. That happens all the time. My kids brag about the fact that they’ve “never read any of Dad’s books.” I can take it. I can take it.
God writes a book. God moves upon authors that they might write accurately His will for man, and the Bible remains closed. How do you think God feels? He writes a love letter and people don’t read it.
A couple of conclusions! First of all, the Bible obviously is a book of answers. It is not a book of questions. Isn’t it nice to know that? You know of a lot of books that raise a lot of questions. The Bible is a book of answers. Do you want to know how you can be at peace with God? Do you want to know how you can have a relationship with Him? Do you want to know where you are going to spend eternity and what kind of eternity there really is? Do you want to know whether or not God really loves the world? Do you want to know whether the world is controlled by God or the devil, or both, or how they interact? All of that is in this book. It can be found nowhere else. Nowhere else!
Secondly, the Bible speaks to us today. Some of you say, “Oh, I wish that my way were blessed. I wish that my paths were honored by the Lord.” Well, what does it say in Psalm 1? “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth fruit in his season. His leaf also shall not wither. Whatsoever he does shall prosper.” Now there’s a promise for you if your delight is in the law of the Lord.
The Scripture says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” Imagine that statement for inspiration of Scriptures, because, you see, inspiration means that God so superintended the human authors without destroying their individuality, they recorded accurately that which He would have them write, and so much so that Christ could say, “We should live by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” And He’s quoting the book of Deuteronomy.
You say, “Well, I have no appetite for the Book. None! I don’t see its relevance.” I just listened to a preacher recently say, “My people aren’t interested in the Bible. They don’t care what the Bible has to say, and that’s why you shouldn’t preach the Bible.” He said, “You have to preach what they are interested in.” Well, that may be true, but he has not persuaded me to change what I’m going to preach because this is the Word of God.
If you don’t have an appetite, do you know why? My mother used to always tell me, you know, “Don’t eat before a meal. Don’t eat all those sweets because they’ll spoil your appetite.” Here are people who are hung up on their computers and their television sets, and this great idea and that great idea, and therefore all of the appetite for things that are pure and good and lovely and wholesome is squelched.
I hope that during this series of messages that one of the things that God would do is to enliven our appetite for the Book so that we can’t really go through a day without it and that the more we are in it, and the more we learn it, the more it grows on us until we say, “Oh God, I can’t live apart from the Word.”
Some of you may not be interested in the Bible for another reason. You have not yet been born of the Spirit. The same Spirit that inscripturated the Word of God, that moved the authors, that carried them along is the same Word and the same Spirit by which we are born again. It says in the book of James: “Of His own will He begat us through the Word of Truth.” And Peter talks about being born again of the Spirit, the Word of God and the Spirit of God coming together to do a miracle of God in the hearts of those who are open, who are being wooed by His love. And so that is His Word to you today.
I can’t look you in the eye and tell you that you have to be born again. By what authority? But I can because these are not the words of a man. This is not what I’ve made up. This is not what Christians have made up. This is the Word of God. And if you are disposed to worship the God of the Word would you bow with me now in prayer?
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Your faithfulness. Thank You for Your love, and thank You, Father, greatly for the fact that You have not left us without a witness. We ask You, Lord, to give us a love for this book. We pray that Moody Church might be known as the church of the Book. We pray for those who may not know Christ as Savior today that they would come to saving faith, that they would believe in Him, even where they are seated, to say, “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I need Your forgiveness, and I need Your salvation. I need to be born again of the Word.” Grant that to them today, Father.
And now before I close this prayer, what is it that you need to say to the Lord today? You just talk to Him.
Father, do not let us go until You have blessed us. Do not let us go until You have done in our hearts all that You would desire. Continue to work this afternoon and this evening and all next week what You’ve begun today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.