Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sermon: 2 Peter 3: 1-10 The Promise of His Coming

The End Is Nigh. Maybe you’ve seen the wee man with the sandwich board proclaiming his message while down in Belfast. He’s sincere, but how is his message received? A fairly common reaction is probably one of mockery - does he really believe that? Why not just get on and enjoy life rather than worrying about something that may never happen.

It’s one thing when it’s the wee man you don’t know seen on the street. But what about when friends or colleagues ask you if you think the same. Do you really believe that Jesus is going to return some day? Do you really think that the world will end in an apocalyptic fashion?

Now perhaps with all the events in New Zealand, Japan, and other places, people are slightly more willing to imagine that the end could be near. But even then, they’re not going to connect it to Jesus returning - just that the world is affected by global warming and nuclear danger and we destroy it by ourselves.

So how do you answer? What do you really believe? What will you say? Thankfully, the apostle Peter can help us out with this very question. Remember that he’s near the end of his life, he’s writing to the churches to help them to hold firm to God’s word when the apostles are no longer on the earth; and he’s giving them the reasons for trusting God’s word.

Do you see the question there in verse 4? ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ Ever since creation, it’s business as usual, they’re saying - it’s as if God just wound up the world like a watch, and then hasn’t been seen or involved since. And as for this Jesus bloke returning, well, we haven’t seen him since he was crucified. He’s not coming back.

Have you ever encountered this kind of scoffing? It might be those outside the church; but it could be those inside as well - false teachers who don’t believe that Jesus is coming, and therefore you can live how you like. Peter helps us to see why they scoff and mock - ‘following their own sinful desires.’ Jesus isn’t coming, there’s no judgement, so you can do what you want.

So how do we respond to such people? Do we give up believing what Peter has said, what Jesus taught? As we’ve seen before, Peter urges us to remember (v2), he’s writing as a reminder (v1) - we already know what has been taught, but he wants us to remember it, to hold firm to it. And there are two things in particular he wants us to remember: the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles. As we consider these in turn, we’ll see that the Lord’s return is sure (not slow) and displays his patience.

So we’ve seen the objections, the scoffing; let’s turn to Peter’s answer, which comes in reverse order. The scoffers have said that things are continuing as they always have, ever since the creation. But they’ve ignored one important event - let’s see what Peter says of it. ‘For they deliberately overlook this fact... that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.’

As we remember the predictions of the holy prophets, as well as pointing forward to the great day of the Lord, they also testify to the flood in Noah’s day. One time before, God intervened in judgement and the world perished (except for the eight who were saved). Things haven’t always been going on as normal. And just as God promised never to destroy the world by flood, so the world is stored up for fire on that day of judgement.

So you see, Noah isn’t just a nice wee story to tell the Sunday School children about a floating zoo - it’s a sign that God takes sin seriously and will act in judgement. To deliberately overlook this is to blind yourself to what God has already done, and what he will do on that great day of the Lord.

The prophets testify to the day - it is sure. As Peter reminds us of what Jesus has said, we’ll see that the day is sure, and displays his patience. Have you ever noticed that time can seem very slow or very fast, depending on what you’re doing? It can go very quickly if you’re on a rollercoaster, enjoying the ride; or very slowly if you’re waiting on a bus or in the dentist’s chair.

Moses declared that ‘a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past.’ (Ps 90:4) - God’s timing is different to the way we view time. So if we’re going to think about when Jesus will return, we need to see it from God’s perspective. Let’s look at verse 9: ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness’. Peter is writing within 40 years of Jesus’ ascension, and already some people think that he’s been gone too long. Is that (as Elijah had laughed at Baal) he’s sleeping? Why is he so slow? Is it like the scene in many households that the husband is sitting waiting, ready to go, waiting on his wife to choose her clothes, do her make up etc, He thinks she’s slow?

Actually, as Peter goes on, the delay isn’t because God is slow; it’s to display God’s patience. ‘The Lord is not slow... but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.’ We must trust that the Lord’s timing is right, and use the delay to reach out, to ensure people hear the good news and repent, in order to escape the coming judgement.

It’s not what we expect is it? Perhaps you, like me, wish that Jesus would come now, or last year, or the minute after you had become a Christian. You’re tired of waiting, living with the miseries of this sinful life (as the funeral service puts it), and impatient to get to heaven. You’re all right and want to go now. But in the Lord’s patience, we are given the opportunity to bring others to share in the joys of repentance and the hope of eternal life. How gracious, then, that the Lord tarries, to give time for others to repent.

Perhaps you’re wondering over that wording - that all should reach repentance. Will every person who ever existed repent before death? In context, Peter himself says no - as near as verse 7 he speaks of the destruction of the ungodly. All may have the opportunity to repent, but not all will.

Maybe as you join us this evening, you realise that you are the scoffer; you can’t believe that Jesus is returning; you haven’t repented of your sins. What a great opportunity this evening to come in repentance. As Paul writes, ‘Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’ (2 Cor 6:2)

Very often you hear people say, it’s too early, I’ve plenty of time, I’ll repent on my death bed. But life is short, life is fragile, illness and death can come on us very suddenly and unexpectedly. And as Peter goes on, while Jesus’ coming is certain, we don’t know when it will be. He echoes Jesus’ words as he says in verse 10: ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.’ You don’t know when he will return - this could be the day; tomorrow might be that day. It’s not marked in your diary, you’re not told when it will be; but it is certain.

And what a surprising day it will be. Look at what Peter says: ‘and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved.’ Sometimes our mics don’t work here in St Elizabeth’s; suddenly there’ll be a loud noise or a bang. Those noises are nothing to the sound of the heavens passing away - with a ROAR! Imagine that you’re in church, and suddenly a helicopter hovers overhead and then the roof is lifted clean off - that would still only be a very small and poor reflection of that day and the roar.

As the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, stars, sky; everything that God made and said was good; as they all burn and dissolve, what a fearful and wonderful day! It’s as if the background scenery is all removed, and the earth is exposed. Face to face with Jesus the judge.

I like to explore old graveyards, reading the inscriptions, finding out about the people buried. One day in Rathmullan, near Tyrella, I came across a strange inscription: ‘This grave never to be opened.’ There may have been good reason for it - perhaps the lady had some infectious disease; maybe it was a condition of her will. But what Peter is saying here is that Jane Archer of Downpatrick’s grave will one day be opened, as the sky melts and burns, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed, and Jane Archer will face Jesus to be delivered or condemned.

Jesus’ return is sure (not slow) and displays his patience. How do we apply our passage? We’ve already thought about the need for repentance, to take the opportunity grace affords now. But what if you’re a Christian?

Do you truly believe the Lord’s promise about his return? It’s been nearly two thousand years now, will we still trust his word? Peter is urging us to trust the Lord’s promise - this world is not all there is; this world will not always exist. So why are you so tied to it? So in love with it?

Are you helping others be ready for the day of the Lord? When someone asks if you really think Jesus is going to return, will you share the promise?

And are you truly thankful for the Lord’s patience towards you? So often we think that application is only go and do - but stop and think, and thank the Lord for his salvation.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 10th April 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment