“OUR MESSAGE IS MORE THAN MYTH”

Second Peter 1.16

 

EXPOSITION:

1.   Please stand as we read our text for today, Second Peter 1.16:  “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

2.   Have you ever thought that perhaps Christianity is just a religion like all the other religions, or that perhaps Christianity is the invention of primitive minds, or that perhaps Christianity isn’t really what Christians think it is?

3.   If your firmly held convictions are that Christianity is just a religion like all the other religions, or that Christianity is the invention of primitive minds, or that Christianity isn’t really what Christians think it is, then you are obviously not a Christian.  But if such thoughts come your way from time to time and then move on, if you occasionally entertain questions like these, even though you really are a Christian, then you are a perfectly normal human being.

4.   Did you know that even committed Christians entertain such thoughts, ask themselves such questions?  Of course, we do.  I have never known a Christian whose mind did not wander from time to time and think, “I wonder if this stuff is real?”  “What if these things I believe are all myths, fables, inventions?”

5.   Please understand that it is the very nature of human thought that ideas are considered, no matter how wild and irrational they are, and then dismissed.  People are also subject to demonic and Satanic influence from time to time, which guarantees such thoughts.  So, everyone wonders about such things from time to time, even people who really are Christians.

6.   This morning’s text is proof positive that Christians have such thoughts as I have described, which thoughts Peter’s comments are specifically designed to address and answer. 

7.   And please note that I said, “address and answer,” because Biblical Christianity, unlike Islam, unlike Hinduism (whose adherents tend to react violently when questioned and challenged in their home countries), and unlike false religions in general, welcomes scrutiny and honest inquiry.  Christianity can stand up to any honest examination of the facts.

8.   That being true, I would like to make four observations from our text for you to consider before this morning’s sermon:

 

1A.   First, OBSERVE TO WHOM THESE COMMENTS ARE WRITTEN

Second Peter 1.1 reads, “Simon Peter, a servant and an apostle of Jesus Christ, to them that have obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

1B.    My friends, those “that have obtained like precious faith with us” are those who, like Simon Peter, are believers in Jesus Christ.

2B.    So, whatever interest Simon Peter is addressing, whatever concept Simon Peter is dealing with, whatever problem or issue Simon Peter is solving, it is something which Christians deal with.

 

2A.   Next, OBSERVE THE CONTEXT THESE COMMENTS ADDRESS

I direct your attention to the second of the three phrases which comprise our text:  “. . . when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .”

1B.    This phrase refers to the teaching and preaching of Simon Peter and his co-laborers, specifically that portion of their teaching and preaching which focused on “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2B.    Simon Peter taught and preached that the Lord Jesus Christ, come from heaven to suffer and bleed and die an atonement for sins, now risen from the dead and seated at the Father’s right hand on high, would someday come again in power and great glory.

3B.    What Jesus had done could not be denied.  He had died on a cruel Roman cross.  He had been buried in a never-before-used rich man’s tomb.  And He had risen from the dead after three days and three nights, victorious over sin, death, Hell and the grave.

4B.    But what about what Jesus was going to do?  Simon Peter and the others said that He would come again, in a great demonstration of power, in a great display of majesty.

 

3A.   Third, OBSERVE THE CRITICISM THESE COMMENTS ADDRESS

The first part of our text reads, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables.”

1B.    Why do you think Simon Peter would write these words?  “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables.”  He wrote these words because there were some who accused him of doing precisely that, of following cunningly devised fables, which is to say myths.

2B.    But that is not the only reason for Simon Peter’s denial.  In addition to skeptics and Christ-deniers, pagans and infidels, accusing him and those like him of following cunningly devised myths, it also comes into the mind of almost every Christian from time to time, especially when he is a young Christian, that he may have embraced as truths what are actually myths.

3B.    “Maybe Jesus did not really rise from the dead on the third day,” you may from time to time think.  “What if there is no Hell?” you may have mused in your private thoughts.  “How do I know the Bible is true, and not a collection of legends and yarns?” you may have on occasion asked yourself.  It is to such thoughts that pass through the minds of Christians, as well as the accusations of the skeptics, that Simon Peter speaks.  “We have not followed cunningly devised fables.”

 

4A.   Finally, OBSERVE THE CREDIBILITY THESE COMMENTS CLAIM

Look at the last phrase of our text:  “but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”

This phrase refers to the fact that Simon Peter and two others were on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the glory of Jesus Christ shined forth.  “But it may be asked how the facts there witnessed demonstrate the point under consideration--that the Lord Jesus will come with power?  To this it may be replied,

(1.)    that these apostles had there on the Mount of Transfiguration such a view of the Savior in His glory as to convince them beyond doubt that He was the Messiah.

(2.)    That there was a direct attestation given to that fact by the Father’s voice from heaven, declaring that He was the beloved Son of God.

(3.)    That that transfiguration was understood to have an important reference to the coming of the Savior in His kingdom and His glory, and was designed to be a representation of the manner in which He would appear at His second coming.  This is referred to distinctly by each one of the three evangelists who have mentioned the transfiguration. Matthew 16.28, ‘There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.’  There is also Mark 9.1,2 and Luke 9.27, 28.  The transfiguration which occurred soon after these words were spoken was designed to show them what He would be in His glory, and to furnish to them a demonstration which they could never forget, that He would yet set up His kingdom in the world.

(4.)    They had in fact such a view of Him as He would be in His kingdom, that they could entertain no doubt on the point; and the fact, as it impressed their own minds, they made known to others.  The evidence as it lay in Peter’s mind was, that that transfiguration was designed to furnish proof to them that the Messiah would certainly appear in glory, and to give them a view of Him as coming to reign which would never fade from their memory.  As that had not yet been accomplished, he maintained that the evidence was clear that it must occur at some future time.  As the transfiguration was with reference to His coming in His kingdom, it was proper for Peter to use it with that reference, or as bearing on that point.”[1]

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   So, the next time a stray thought wanders into your mind that questions the reality of the Christian faith, that wonders whether Jesus is Who He claims to be, that speculates whether this matter of rising from the dead be the invention of fertile minds, remember from where these testimonies about Jesus come.

2.   They are testimonies that come from the men who actually knew Jesus Christ in the flesh, Who saw Him shining in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, Who saw Him resurrected from the dead, and who remained steadfast in the faith for the remainder of their lives.

3.   Remember that those men received no financial reward and sought no status for their testimonies, so it cannot be said that what they did they did for personal gain.  Peter gave up a thriving business and Paul gave up a position of great prominence to be witnesses of these things.

4.   Remember, also, that though they were vigorously opposed, even unto death, there arose not a single challenge to their assertion that Jesus rose from the dead until more than a century after their deaths.  Why not?  Why did no one call them liars for saying they saw the risen Savior?  Because there were simply too many credible witnesses to back up what they said.

5.   “Contrary to critics, there is more evidence for the historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ than for any other event from the ancient world.”[2]

6.   So, this way called Christianity is not the result of cunningly devised fables, or myths.  This is real.  The things that we believe happened really did happen.  And the things that we are told will happen are things that will happen.

7.   Brother Isenberger will now come and lead us, as we stand, before this morning’s sermon.

 

INTRODUCTION:

1.   A significant portion of our church members are college students.  A significant portion of our young people will soon be college students.  The schools our people attend are the 20 major colleges and universities that are within a 45 minute drive from our auditorium. 

2.   Because we want our young people to get a good education, and because we want our young people to penetrate the unreached mission field that are the college campuses that surround us, we send them to the universities nearby for an education and to invite their classmates to church.

3.   But knowing that college campuses are given over to antichristian paganism, and realizing that there are liberal college professors that enjoy attacking Christian values and beliefs, I want to take the opportunity, this morning, to prepare our young people for what they will certainly face.

4.   If you take any religion or philosophy classes, or perhaps you will even find it in English literature and history classes, it is likely that your professor will advance the theory that much of the New Testament’s picture of Jesus and His teachings evolved over time in the social context and theological meanderings of the early church.[3]

5.   Those who are antagonistic to Christianity will likely say that Jesus the man became lost in legend and myth, buried under supernatural claims of such events as the virgin birth, miracles, and the resurrection (which they do not believe really occurred).  Behind these events (they will say) were the patterns of Greek and Roman gods. 

6.   What may surprise you is that besides atheists and skeptics, some New Testament scholars have made such charges.  Rudolf Bultmann is the name of the man who was in the forefront of this view of the New Testament.  He insisted that the religious records must be “demythologized.”

7.   His theory was that Christianity grew from the prescientific worldview of a three-storied universe:  The earth is at the center of this worldview, with God and angels in heaven above, and the underworld beneath.  The material world was thought by the prescientifics to have been acted upon by supernatural forces from above and below, who intervened in human thoughts and actions. 

8.   He and those who agree with him, which are basically all those who deny the supernatural, are of the opinion that the New Testament needs to be stripped of this mythological structure.  Why so?  They claim that science has made the supernaturalistic worldview obsolete. 

9.   They insist that blind acceptance of the New Testament requires that you sacrifice the intellect to accept a view of the world in religion that we deny in everyday life.  So, to be honest, they say, you must reject the supernatural.

10. Bultmann proclaimed confidently that the resurrection is not an event of past history.  “For an historical fact which involves a resurrection from the dead is utterly inconceivable,” he wrote.  Resuscitation of a corpse is not possible, he maintained.  The objective historicity of the resurrection can not be verified, no matter how many witnesses are cited.  The resurrection is an article of faith.  That in itself disqualifies it as a miraculous proof.  Finally, similar events are known to mythology.

11. Since the resurrection is not an event of objective space-time history, it is an event of what they call subjective history.  It was an event of faith that occurred only in the hearts of the early disciples.  As such, it is not subject to objective historical verification or falsification.  Christ arose from Joseph’s tomb only in the faith of the disciples’ hearts.

12. Bultmann’s argument can be summarized:  1.  Myths are, by nature, more than objective truths; they are transcendent truths of faith.  2.  But what is not objective cannot be part of a verifiable space-time world.  3.  Therefore, miracles (which they claim are really myths) are not part of the objective space-time world.

13. If you have not already guessed, Bultmann and the college professors have only stated in sophisticated words what all unbelievers think:  “I don’t really believe what you believe, but if it works for you . . . fine.”

14. Allow me to respond to what your college professor might say, or is likely to believe, in two ways:

 

1A.   First, EVALUATING THIS CLAIM THAT CENTRAL GOSPEL TRUTHS ARE MYTHS

1B.    Basically, this view that what Christians believe are actually only myths is built on at least two unproven assumptions: 

1C.   First, they claim that miracles are somehow less than historical. 

2C.   Second, they claim that miracles can occur in the world without being of the world, whatever that means.

2B.    When you consider what such antichristian college professors say you will realize that their claims are both dogmatic and unverifiable.

1C.   They have no evidence to backup what they say is true.  And what they claim about errors in the Bible stands contrary to the overwhelming evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament documents and the reliability of the witnesses. 

2C.   As we have seen in our text, Simon Peter claimed that he was not preaching “cunningly devised myths.”  Rather, he and the other apostles were actual eyewitnesses.  The apostle John said much the same at the beginning and end of his Gospel:

John 1.1-3:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

John 21.24:  “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.”

3B.    Let me conclude this first main point by declaring that the New Testament is not the type of literature that is mythology.

1C.   The famous English scholar, C. S. Lewis, himself a writer of fairy tales, commented about Bultman and his view of Christian so-called “myths” by noting that “Dr. Bultmann never wrote a gospel.”

2C.   C. S. Lewis asks, “Has the experience of his learned. . . life really given him any power of seeing into the minds of those long dead [who have written Gospels]?” 

3C.   As a living writer, C. S. Lewis found his critics usually wrong when they attempted to read his mind.  He adds, “the ‘assured results of modern scholarship,’ as to the way in which an old book was written, are ‘assured,’ we may conclude, only because the men who knew the facts are dead and can’t blow the gaff” (Lewis, Christian Reflections, 161-63).

 

2A.   Finally, EVIDENCE THAT THE NEW TESTAMENT IS NOT MYTH

Allow me to rehearse to you a line of reasoning which clearly shows that the Biblical record and what we believe happened in the Gospel accounts are not myths that were written long after the events they recorded, but that the New Testament was written by contemporaries and eyewitnesses of the events.

1B.    First, New Testament books appeared within the lifetime of eyewitnesses and contemporaries. 

1C.   Luke was written by about 60 AD, only twenty-seven years after Jesus’ death, and before Acts in 60-62 AD. 

2C.   First Corinthians was written by 55-56 AD, only twenty-two or twenty-three years after Jesus’ death, when most of the more than 500 witnesses to Jesus Christ’s resurrection were still alive, First Corinthians 15.6-8. 

3C.   Even radical New Testament scholar John A. T. Robinson, not to be confused with A. T. Robertson, the Southern Baptist Greek scholar, dates basic Gospel records between 40 and 60 AD.

2B.    Second, given that significant parts of the Gospels and other crucial New Testament books were written before 70 AD, there is no time or way for a legend to develop while the eyewitnesses were still alive to refute the story. 

1C.   A legend takes time and/or remoteness to develop, neither of which were available.  Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White calls the mythological view of the New Testament “unbelievable.” 

2C.   Others have noted that the writings of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legends develop.  Two generations is too short a period for legendary tendencies to wipe out historical fact. 

3C.   Julius Muller (1805-1898) challenged scholars of his day to produce even one example where in one generation a myth developed where the most prominent elements are myths.  None have been found.

3B.    Third, New Testament stories do not show signs of being mythological. 

1C.   C. S. Lewis comments that the Biblical accounts are straightforward, unembellished records, written in artless, historical fashion by narrow, unattractive Jews who were blind to the mythical wealth of the pagan world around them. 

2C.   “All I am in private life is a literary critic and historian, that’s my job,” said Lewis.  “And I’m prepared to say on that basis if anyone thinks the Gospels are either legends or novels, then that person is simply showing his incompetence as a literary critic.  I’ve read a great many novels and I know a fair amount about the legends that grew up among early people, and I know perfectly well the Gospels are not that kind of stuff” (Christian Reflections, 209).

3C.   I would suggest that you who are high school students headed for college, and you who are already in college, make note of what C. S. Lewis wrote, and use it against those local college professors who think they are smarter than this famous English man of letters.

4B.    Fourth, persons, places, and events surrounding the Gospel stories are historical. 

1C.   Luke goes to great pains to note that it was in the days of “Caesar Augustus” (Luke 2:1) that Jesus was born and at later baptized in “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, Annas and Caiaphas being high priests” (Luke 3:1-2).

2C.   Such details are crucial, since no such detail is ever found in myths, but are found only in historical events which really happened in space and time.

5B.    Finally, (and this is profoundly important) no Greek or Roman myth spoke of the literal incarnation of a monotheistic God into human form (cf. John 1:1-3, 14) by way of a literal virgin birth (Matt. 1:18-25), followed by his death and physical resurrection. 

1C.   The Greeks believed in reincarnation into a different mortal body.  New Testament Christians, on the other hand, believed in resurrection into the same physical body made immortal (cf. Luke 24:37). 

2C.   As well, the Greeks were polytheists, believing in many gods, not monotheists as New Testament Christians were, believing in only one true and living God.

3C.   Stories of Greek gods becoming human via miraculous events like a virgin birth were not prior to but after the time of Christ, according to Edwin M. Yamauchi, a reputable scholar I referred to in the book I co-authored.[4]

4C.   Surprising as it may be, if there is any influence of one on the other it is the influence of the historical events of the New Testament on the mythology of the Greeks, not the reverse.

 

CONCLUSION:

1.   So, what are we to conclude about the charges that college professors will level at you, that unbelievers will throw at you?

2.   The New Testament records show no signs of mythological development.  That’s a conclusion drawn by the renowned scholar, C. S. Lewis.  So, if anyone says that what you believe is a myth, respond to them by demanding that they show you real evidence to back up their charges.  The burden of proof is theirs, not yours.

3.   Point out that, contrary to Greek and Roman myths, or myths related to any other religion, the miracle events recorded in the New Testament are surrounded by historical references to real people, places, and times.

4.   As well, remember that the New Testament documents and witnesses are too early, too numerous, and too accurate to be charged with writing myths.  Only an unjustified antisupernatural bias could arrive at any conclusion to the contrary.

5.   Jesus, the eternal Son of the living God was born of a virgin in a little town called Bethlehem.  When He grew to adulthood, the God/Man suffered and bled and died on a cruel Roman cross to atone for our sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.  After three days and nights He rose up in His now glorified body because it was not possible for death to hold Him.  At the appointed time He ascended into heaven to sit at His Father’s right hand, where He will sit until He returns to earth in power and great glory.

6.   The unsaved can pretend that these are myths, but they are not.  They can fancy that these historical events do not bear directly upon them, but they do.  And they can pretend that they will not someday stand accountable for how they have responded to these events, but they will.


[1] Adapted from Albert Barnes, Albert Barnes’ NT Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

[2] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999), page 531.

[3] Comments adapted from the article Mythology and the New Testament, Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1999), page 517-519.

[4] R. L. Hymers, Jr. and John S. Waldrip, Demons In The Smoke of the World Trade Center, (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 2002), page 141.

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