“I guess you just have to have seen it to believe it.” We use phrases like that when someone expresses skepticism at our description of something incredible. In many cases today, technology has provided a fix for skepticism – it’s called the internet. Someone doesn’t want to believe or accept my story – fine, I’ll just pull out my phone, summon the omniscient power of Google and prove that I’m telling the truth with a news story, some pictures, or maybe even a video. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could use that technique when it comes to convincing people who are skeptical about the bodily resurrection of our Lord? Wouldn’t it be nice, when you’re talking to a doubting or cynical friend or family member, to be able to pull out your smartphone and show them a video of what happened at Joseph’s tomb early Easter Sunday morning? If such first-hand footage existed, do you think God’s house would be just as full today as it was a week ago? If the world could just see what happened on Easter do you think that atheism and other religions would disappear because the video proves them false? After all, didn’t seeing lead to believing for Thomas?
There are several problems with that line of thinking. First, we all know that you can’t believe everything you see. Second, what would we see on such a video? Some soldiers, an angel, some women, Peter and John – but not Jesus, because Jesus hid his resurrection from sight. Third, remember that many of the people who did witness Jesus’ miracles first hand refused to believe that he was the Son of God – which tells us a lot about the power of Satan and the nature of unbelief. We don’t need to hold our breaths for some secret footage of Jesus’ resurrection to surface, Peter says, because we have something better, something firmer, something far more trustworthy. We have the Word of God which is based on eyewitness testimony, is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and deserves our serious attention.
It’s no secret that many people doubt or flat out don’t believe that the Bible is true. That’s not a new phenomenon. Satan sowed the seeds of doubt already in the Garden of Eden with his leading question to Eve: did God really say? (Genesis 3:1) Just like death and taxes, unbelief is inevitable in this world. Many think the reason is that Scripture is just too unclear or unreliable to be trusted. Peter attacks that sentiment head-on: 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. Speaking on behalf of every NT writer, Peter defends its reliability by establishing two important points. First, he nails down the central focus of Scripture. It’s not a handbook for living in this world, it’s not a guide to happiness or prosperity. The Bible is first and foremost the revelation of God’s plan to save sinners through the power and coming of Jesus Christ. Second, he rebuts the allegation that this book is just a bunch of made-up stories and myths. He and the other apostles were eyewitnesses of the power and majesty of Jesus. They really ate the food Jesus miraculously provided for 5000 people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Peter walked on that same sea and could vividly recall the fear and shame of sinking underneath the waves, to be saved only by Jesus’ strong arm. They talked with and ate with the risen Lord in that locked room on Easter evening. The Bible is not a book of fiction. It is a book of historical fact.
The poison Satan has sown today is that many people kind of like the idea of Jesus, but they don’t care for the parts of the Bible that seem to disagree with the so-called evidence of modern science or their own “enlightened” ideas of morality. They like to believe that they’re going to heaven (if there is a heaven), but they treat Scripture like a buffet line: they take the parts they like and leave the things they don’t. For many, this means cutting out the miracles. Peter denies anyone the right to edit Scripture to please themselves. In referring to the Transfiguration, he’s saying that readers don’t get to decide what’s true, eyewitness authors do: 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.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
Peter witnessed Jesus’ divine glory with his own eyes. He saw Jesus clothed in heavenly radiance from head to toe. He heard the voices of Moses and Elijah as they talked with Jesus about the final days of his mission of salvation. His mouth hung open as the heavens opened and God the Father announced his approval of Jesus and his work. And Peter wasn’t alone. James and John were with him. The Sons of Thunder certainly wouldn’t have let Peter spread this story if it wasn’t true. The same is true of the miracle that serves as the foundation of our faith: the bodily resurrection of our Lord. This is not a myth or a fairytale spun by clever disciples. Hundreds of people witnessed the Risen Lord. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15 that Jesus appeared to no fewer than six different groups or individuals after he returned to life and escaped his stony prison. The most amazing part is that Jesus appeared to people who were skeptical, who didn’t believe the reports of the women and Peter and John. The disciples weren’t gullible fools who would believe anything to make themselves feel better. They were skeptics. But Jesus overcame their skepticism. Despite what other religions teach, in spite of what the critics of the Bible say, Peter testifies that the Bible, including every single miracle, is the eyewitness account of true, undeniable, historical facts – reading and believing this truth is better than seeing it.
That fact alone should make the Bible worthy of our serious and careful attention and study. But Peter goes on: we have the word of the prophets made more certain. If eyewitness testimony doesn’t do it for you, Peter says, then go back to the Old Testament. Search the words of Moses and the Prophets and you will find that every major event contained in the Gospels was foretold hundreds of years before it took place. Anyone can verify that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem, would preach in Galilee, would be betrayed for precisely 30 pieces of silver, and would be hung on a cursed tree. The New Testament is the result of eyewitness testimony, and this testimony in every case agrees perfectly with God’s Old Testament prophecies.
Because of this, Peter says, we will do well to pay attention to [Scripture], as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Isn’t it surprising that Peter says ‘we’ here? Peter was there on the Mt. of Transfiguration. His eyes probed the dim corners of the empty tomb for signs of Jesus’ body. And he was in that room when Jesus appeared to dispel Thomas’ unbelief. But he says that we would do well to pay attention to Scripture. Why did Peter need God’s written Word when he had witnessed the miracles with his own eyes?
Because the age he lived in was no less evil than ours is. The lie of the Jewish leaders, that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body during the night was still being spread far and wide. (Matthew 28:15) Peter lived among people who fancied themselves too intelligent to believe a tale about a crucified and risen Savior. Peter was a pastor to Christians who, although they accepted the Gospel of Jesus, were beginning to grow impatient for his return. And Peter and his congregation were confronted by false teachers who taught that Jesus wasn’t really alive, but only alive in the hearts of believers and other similar myths. Sound familiar? That shouldn’t surprise us. In this same letter, Peter warned that there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. (2 Peter 2:1, 3)
Do you ever feel like you’re one of only a few who believes that Jesus actually suffered, died, and rose to win you forgiveness of sins? Does the skepticism and criticism of today’s ‘experts’ ever start to undermine the foundation of your faith? Maybe it’s more practical than that, maybe the sins you have committed in the week since Easter have made you question whether a risen Savior has had any impact on your heart and life. Does your faith ever seem less like a blazing fire and more like a dim or dying flame?
Keeping the flame of faith brightly burning, giving us the strength to overcome sin and Satan, and holding firm to the hope that Jesus will return and it could be at any moment, is exactly why God gave us his written Word. He knows that the world has a way of dragging us down and crushing our joy. He knows how Satan works to smother our faith. He knows how important it is to keep feeding our faith and building our hope. God does that through his Word. But we have to be in it, carefully reading it, daily paying attention to it so that its light may brighten our lives. The world today is just as dark as it was in Peter’s day – he calls it “filthy darkness” – but the Bible is God’s million watt halogen flashlight to lead us through the darkness until that glorious day when Jesus, the morning star, returns to light the world with his presence. The Bible is factual, historical, eyewitness testimony, it is God’s light in a dark world – use it, let it strengthen your faith and increase your anticipation for our Lord’s return.
Peter wraps up his defense of Holy Scripture with a powerful closing statement. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. This is the doctrine of verbal inspiration. Not only is the Bible based on eyewitness testimony, not only does every OT prophecy finds its fulfillment in the New, but God himself – in the person of the Holy Spirit – guided the authors of Scripture to write what they did. The picture here is nautical – the Holy Spirit moved the authors like wind moves a sailboat. Because of that you can be sure that every word – from Genesis to Revelation – came from God himself.
That’s important, especially today when truth seems to be such an unsettled, subjective, constantly changing thing. As Christians, we can be sure that our doctrine, our practice, and our lives now and eternally are not based on polling data or majority opinion or simply what “feels right” – but on God’s own truth which never has and never will change. So today, whether we are talking about abortion or absolution, church or child-raising, evolution or evangelism – when we are guided by Scripture we are being led by the holy, unchanging will of God himself.
Would people be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth died and rose again if we could show them video evidence? I doubt it. Even those who did witness Jesus’ empty tomb didn’t believe it immediately. More than that, Peter, an eyewitness and apostle, didn’t tell anyone to blindly trust his word. He tells us to hold to the written Word of God, and that when we do that we have something better than seeing, because the Bible is based on eyewitness testimony, it is inspired by God himself, and it deserves our serious attention. Today and everyday trust this reliable word for it continues to tell you the glorious, incredible truth of Easter: Christ is Risen and your sins are forgiven! Blessed are [you] who have not seen and yet have believed. (John 20:28) Amen.