July fourth is the anniversary of the United States’ Declaration of Independence, and we Americans are pretty good about remembering the date. But as Christians, there are other anniversaries to remember that could inform us, encourage us, and maybe even help us in living our own Christian lives. Here’s one for this month.
He “fell flat to the ground, making his prayers to Almighty God. Then rising he went to the stake, and there suffered … joyfully and constantly.” That’s how John Foxe describes the death by burning that John Bradford endured 450 years ago this very month. Bradford was a preacher of the Protestant Gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. But he had continued to believe the Gospel even when the Queen, Mary Tudor, forbad it. So she had him burned.
Of course, John Bradford isn’t the only one who was ever burned for believing and preaching the truth. This month is also the 590th anniversary of John Hus being burned alive in Bohemia for believing the same Gospel. You have to be pretty certain of the truth to die for it.
Peter knew this, and he wrote to some early Christians about the need to be certain of the truth. In chapter 2 of his second letter, Peter warned of the rise of false prophets among them. But he had prepared them for this first by teaching them about the truth that he had given them,—the truth that had been given to them by the prophets and ultimately by God. And he told them what they should do about it. To prepare them for the counterfeit teachings, he made sure they knew the truth.
Peter had, of course, preached the Gospel to them. And if ever there were a messenger qualified to bring the Gospel, he was it. In 1:1, we find that he is “a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ.” Those two titles sum it up. They represent both his relationship to Christ—he is Christ’s servant—and something of the particular service Christ called him to—that of an apostle, a ground-breaking herald of the Gospel as one who had witnessed the earthly ministry of Jesus, and, most importantly, Christ’s resurrection.
Peter was also a faithful reminder. In 1:13–15 we see that Peter wanted to remind them of his witness to them. It’s no insult to anyone to remind them. Those Christians needed it then, and we need it now. Peter was the one who had made known to them “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:16). He had been their evangelist and teacher. And in all of this he was faithful. He didn’t devise any clever tales himself, he said; he simply passed on what he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. If you want to be certain of the truth, consider your source of information.
Of course, Peter also points out that many other reliable messengers pointed them to the truth about Christ. Various prophets of the Old Testament had borne witness to Christ. The unity of their message transcended their differences. Jeremiah was different than Amos, as was Luke from Mark. So Peter was different than Paul, yet their messages were part of a coherent whole, orchestrated by the Divine Author, God Himself. It was His Spirit who carried them along, who bore them, who made sure that they wrote what He wanted conveyed as certainly as if (to use a famous, much maligned and much misunderstood image) God had typed it out Himself on a typewriter. This image of God “typing” His Word using the prophets and apostles has to do with the end result, not with the actual process. And the end result was truth that these young Christians—and we today—can be certain of. That’s what the last three verses of chapter 1 are all about. If you want to know the truth, study and trust the Bible as God’s Word and as an infallible guide.
Of course, ultimately, all truth is God’s truth. And Peter makes that clear in chapter 1. Their faith was a gift from God. Peter said in verse 3 that God’s “divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” If we’re truly Christians, that’s God’s gift. Peter taught these young Christians that God had called them, and that meant He had chosen them. Peter said God had given them His promises: “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises” (1:4). Preachers and prophets are ultimately God’s gifts. If you want to be certain of the truth, you must realize that even such certainty is God’s gift, and you should pray for it.
If we want to be certain of the truth, we should work to remember the things Peter communicated here. Perhaps memorize this first chapter of 2 Peter. Certainly meditate on it and pray over it. Especially study 2 Peter 1:4–11 to find the way that “the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.”
I want such an entrance, just as John Bradford and so many others have had. And if I want to be sure of it, there’s no better way than to heed Peter’s words here in this first chapter. Having such certainty about this truth is the only way to die well, and it’s the best way to live.