************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 3 ************
By: Rev. Robert Godfrey
This sermon was preached on July 19, 2009
Belgic Confession Article 3
2 Peter 1:16-21
"The Written Word of God"
So today we continue our look at the Belgic Confession, moving now to article 3. We've considered what it means to know God and how we know God and we saw that it was through general revelation as well as special revelation. And tonight we're considering what that special revelation is, namely the written word of God. And remember what the Belgic Confession is, beloved, is a summary of what we believe. It's a summary intended to explain our faith in a logical manner, one statement building upon another, never intended to replace Scripture but to compliment it. So that's why we still give the priority to our text today, 2 Peter 1, where we see the same message being presented and indeed we saw that the Belgic Confession references 2 Peter as its source and indeed this confession is also based on Deuteronomy 18 and 2 Timothy 3 for its foundation.
So what we find in this section of the Belgic is that it is dealing with the theme of Holy Scripture and the issues that accompany it. And the main issue, the central issue, is inspiration, what it means that the Holy Word of God is inspired.
Well, first and foremost, we might ask the question ‘what does it mean to have the inspired Word of God?'. And that's really what the Belgic Confession is getting at by talking about receiving the two tables of the law. By God's own hand to even receive words from God is so amazing because it speaks to the nature of this revelation that God saw fit to reveal a Word to us, that He saw fit to condescend and make Himself known in a manner which we could understand. And in 2 Peter we see exactly what that manner is, what that message is, what those words are, that they come from God, that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit, even though they are written by the hands of man. And this is something that needed to be asserted by Peter. It was in great doubt, clearly, if you notice that at the very beginning, the first words that came from Peter in our text were words of refutation. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you this. Peter is setting up a defense and the way the Belgic is set up is it is setting up a defense. These were times where the faith needed to be defended. In the times of the New Testament, in the times when Peter was writing, there was a movement known as the Gnostics. It was a Greek word meaning, you know, knowledge, or secret knowledge. And they were saying that these were foolish stories that these apostles were making up, that there was no truth to them, this was nonsense that was coming out of their mouths. And so Peter needed to make a defense that this was the Word of God. And, similarly, you fast forward when the Belgic Confession was written there needed to be defense for the authority of Scripture, for the inspiration of Scripture because the church has fallen so far away from upholding that the Word alone was the inspired God-breathed truth.
So why do we still need to hear this today? Well beloved, not much has changed. Even today, maybe more than ever, the inspiration of Scripture is doubted and it's not within the walls of the academy, nor is it outside the walls of the church but it is doubted everywhere. It is doubted across the church, across the Christian landscape. The inspiration of Scripture is a fierce debate in our day and age. So as a way of introduction, this is a very important issue to look into, that the Belgic Confession and that 2 Peter deal with, that we look at this evening. This defense was so important because the very Gospel was, and is, at stake. Peter, when he is defending this, says that he was speaking about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, that's the Gospel. And so Peter defends the Gospel. He defends it from attack by defending the truth of Scripture. And in this text we see that he does so in three ways. He does so by showing that Scripture has been seen by the Apostles, by showing that it has been seen by the prophets, and by showing that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. And all these points tie in with what the Belgic Confession says as well.
I It is Seen by the Apostles
First, and foremost, Peter is saying that it has been seen by the Apostles. He is testifying that they have seen this. That truly they have seen these things with their own eyes. And it's very interesting always that the Apostles tend to speak corporately. Very often when these eye witness accounts come out, very often the we is used, which is always an encouraging thing to see because very often in other religions and other sacred writings there's one leader, there's one man, there's one account, there's one testimony, there's one guru. But in Christianity there are many eye witnesses, there are many that the Lord used to proclaim his truth. And Peter speaks not just for himself but for the other apostles who were him and first and foremost, Peter wants to make it clear what he has seen, that he has been an eyewitness to the majesty of Christ. And what he particularly has in mind here, what he particularly wants to put in the minds of those listeners who he has is that wonderful event that he witnessed, the transfiguration of our Lord , that powerful event that we were reminded about in the series in Revelation, this glorious picture of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, glorified in a way that we can't imagine and that we will only know on that day of glory when he comes again. And Peter speaks as an eye witness who saw it. He defends the truth of God's word because he has seen it. He has seen it and he has written it. And that's pretty obvious because I'm reading out of 2 Peter. So we find that the apostles, they gave their eye witness accounts and they wrote it down. They were authors, they were witnesses. They were men who saw the life, the teaching, the death, the resurrection, the ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and they committed it to Scripture. We are given the life of Christ in four different accounts. The ministry of the apostles, many different letters to the churches, the prophetic book of revelation, and these were written by the hands of men. And we hear different voices and each one of these authors we have different characteristics, different characters, different personalities. It's not like a stenographer when a dictator just writing down the same bits of words, but different viewpoints from Peter and Paul and John. And each gospel has its different nuances and yet we're told in the Belgic Confession, we're told that these things are not delivered by the will of men but they came from the will of God. What an amazing thing. And Peter makes that very clear, and the Belgic Confession makes that very clear that it was seen first through the apostles.
II It is Seen by the Prophets
And secondly, Peter makes it clear its been seen through the prophets. Peter says its more certain that its been seen through the prophets. We have the word of the prophets made more certain and you will do well do pay attention to it he says in verse 19. His recipients of the letter would have trusted the prophets more, that's the reason he says in this letter that its more certain, because those who received this epistle would have trusted the letters, the words of the prophets, where they may have doubted the words of the apostles at this time. So they would have trusted the word of the prophets. So he's building upon that foundation, saying you had the word of the prophets, trust on them, and trust on us as well. Because the prophets followed the same model, they, the apostles rather, they followed the same model as the prophets. For the prophets too, were eye witnesses to the majesty of the Lord. They too saw the majesty of our God. Think of Moses, how he saw the glory of God atop the mountain, how he hid in the cleft of the rock and how his face shone with God's glory as he was given the tablets that we were told that God himself wrote the law upon. The prophets such as Isaiah saw a vision, was willing to be sent forward, who said here I am Lord, send me. And so many prophets had vision after vision who saw the glories of God and were not only eye witnesses but wrote down what the Lord told them to. Not only did they serve as mouthpieces, dictating what God told them to say, but they wrote down their accounts. The prophets recorded their narratives to writing. Here Peter paints a picture that is so amazing, so important for us to grasp. The continuity of scripture and the continuity of inspiration, that what the apostles testified, that the apostles testified to the gospel that they saw the prophets testified to the gospel that they foresaw. Peter gives these wonderful words that in this inspired witness, in this inspired writing, that there is light for the world of darkness, that we 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. That is what the Word of God is beloved. It is a light in a dark place. It is a light for each and every one of us. And it is a light that Peter was defending to those who were assailing Christians, to those who were assailing believers, and saying don't believe these apostles, don't believe this word, it is not true. Peter was saying it is light because it is not merely the writings of me, nor of Mark, nor of John, nor of Paul, but it is the word of God, because it comes from the Holy Spirit.
III It is Inspired by the Holy Spirit
And this is where the article of the Belgic Confession comes more into play, where we see that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We see God's words were given on the tablet, a picture of direct revelation that comes from God but so much more we're told in the Belgic Confession about how the Lord worked through these men, worked through these prophets and these apostles to give his divine revelation across all of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The holy spirit works, we are told, through his servants. God has given us his word. God's word is inspired. That's why we can say that the word of God is truly the word of God and at the same time the word of man. We don't need to be afraid of that beloved.
You know, I really struggled with that for a time, even when I first began at seminary, when I first got up to preach a sermon I would say, you know, Paul says, and I kind of paused for a moment, and can I say Paul says or do I need to say God says. Is that Paul or God? I wasn't sure exactly what I should say here, if either one's right. And we can say Paul says, we can say God says. Because they are the words of God's servant Paul, that he has written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That's what we believe. That's what the Belgic tells us. That God worked through his servants. Their own personalities, their own voices come out but it is not their own ideas, but it is the ideas, the ideas of God, the will of God put down. And therefore, in their writings God's word is preserved. And it is preserved still today. By having God's Holy Word written down we trust that He has preserved His word for his people, beloved. And that is an amazing comfort and hope for us, because here we are in the year 2009 and here I stand with a Bible in front of you and there you sit listening to me. And you sit trusting that the words I'm proclaiming from 2 Peter are true. And that is a wonderful thing to behold. That is a wondrous thing to behold. What a wonderful God we have that he would preserve his Word for us. That he would not let it fail or fall away. And the world will try to convince you that it has, that it never was.
Today there is so much antagonism against scripture, there is so much scholarship that would discredit the word of God. There are so few seminaries in the world today, seminaries where pastors are trained, who will say everything in the word of God is true. They come up with false theories and hypothesis of why documents are no longer trustworthy. And it spreads like a disease through the church, through Christianity. And we become far too willing to question whether or not all of scripture is God-breathed as God promised to Moses it would be in Deuteronomy 18, whether or not all of God's word is useful for teaching as we are told in 2 Timothy 3.
We hear the critics, we hear the controversies, we hear the news reports, we read articles in the newspapers, we are tempted to doubt. We're tempted to doubt for a number of reasons. We don't want to seem stupid. If scholarship discredits something, if the learned and the knowledgeable are discrediting something we don't want to seem like the fools. We don't want to offend, we want to be able to walk on eggshells with other people. There's some offensive things in scripture. Like sin and judgement, and so much of the church is willing to just discredit some of the unpleasant things in scripture that go against what culture has to say today, what's popular. We do indeed live in a consumer culture where people like to pick and choose what they want to believe.
And I've indeed had many frustrating conversations where somebody has begged to differ with a point of view that I've had or a theological discussion and I've said well what about that chapter or verse in the Bible and I just don't agree with that, and they proclaim to be a Christian and I think to myself, that, you can't say that! That's not a valid argument, that's not a comeback. But that's the culture we live in, where now the Bible is something where you can pick and choose as you will. And a lot of that beloved is because the heart of the matter is that the all too often, catch all phrase that can be used in this issue of inspiration of scripture, whether or not its completely inspired, the catch-all phrase of Christianity today gets employed, it's not a salvation issue. And certainly there are things in Christianity beloved that are not salvation issues. Certainly there are things where we differ, that can be overlooked but I would counsel you against these words when it comes to the inspiration of scripture. I would counsel you to be wise whenever you employ these words. I would urge you to think carefully when you use these words, and I would plead you not to use them quickly when someone questions the inspiration and the authority of scripture because the moment you question the inspiration of scripture is the moment you leave the door open to question the very gospel. We either believe that scripture is inspired or we don't. There is no middle ground in any way, shape or form. It's all or nothing when it comes to inspiration beloved. And I remember one story that I heard, one analogy that I love and I may have shared before, but I think it's one of the most wonderful images when it comes to this issue is in Numbers 22, a story you may remember, if you've heard it, it sticks out in the memory because it's one of the most odd stories in scripture I think. It's when Balaam is riding his donkey and he's beating his donkey and his donkey turns around and talks to him and says, why are you beating me? And that seems really odd because we don't really have talking animals in scripture. You know if somebody was to come up to you on the street and say you're one of those Christians right, do you believe in talking donkeys? You might be tempted to shuffle your feet and look down at the ground and kind of say, well, you know, I don't necessarily, I guess, have to believe in Balaam's donkey talking, that's a little silly. I mean maybe it's fun for kids movies but maybe not for scripture. It can seem a little embarrassing or foolish but the moment you concede that Balaam's donkey didn't talk is the moment you concede that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead. Because what's more foolish than that? That the son of God would send his only begotten son as an atonement for sin, to die for the sins of the world. What's more foolish than that? So I would counsel you beloved, in this day and age, when the question of the inspiration of scripture is a hot button issue to not take it lightly and to not say, well it's not a salvation issue, because it rapidly can become one.
If you read the words of the Belgic Confession and we see the beauty of what it means, that God has given us his word, we do receive it as the word of God, that is why we call it holy and divine scripture. We do receive it, as Peter tells us, as a light shining to us in a dark place. Until that day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. We wait for that day, beloved, when the son of God shall come again. And until that day we have his word to keep us, to comfort us, and to guide us.
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