Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sermon: 2 Peter 3: 1-18 What Sort of People?

All over the country, men and women are following a strict regime. Rising at unearthly hours, they hop in a boat and cover miles upon miles as they row; they spend hours in the pool; they practice their technique over and over again. They carefully watch their diet; they don’t overindulge. It sounds terrible, if you like the warmth and comfort of your bed; if you prefer to eat lots of chocolate and sweets; and would rather watch others play sport than get involved.

But stop one of those men or women (if you can!), and ask them why they’re putting themselves through this, and you’ll see their eyes mist over. They’ll travel in their mind’s eye to a day about 450 days away, when they stand on a podium, and the National Anthem is played, and a gold medal is hung on their neck. To win that gold in London 2012, they live every day between now and then in preparation for it. They will order their life now to reflect the glory of that day.

The apostle Peter is urging us to live in the same way, as he finishes his second letter, but don’t worry, he’s not calling us to get our trainers on and get running for the Olympics (thankfully!). Rather, he’s calling us to live in the light of the day of the Lord, the day of God, as he puts it in verse 12. Last week, you might remember, we were considering the return of the Lord Jesus - while some people may mock and scoff, we can trust God’s promise, we can be certain that Jesus will return - and with it the heavens will pass away, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up.

But given that’s going to happen, it leaves us with a big question to ask: ‘Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be?’ If this is what’s going to happen to the earth and sky, then how should we live? Will it change how we do things, and what we do? As we’ll see, Peter calls us to live in the light of eternity, in other words, doing now what we’ll be doing then.

Let’s look first at what we’ll be doing then. We’ve already looked at verse 10, at what will happen to the heavens and the heavenly bodies, and Peter virtually repeats himself in verse 12. Given that we’re told that all this is going to happen, then you might be tempted to think that it doesn’t matter what you do, think or say. If everything is going to be burned up, then what difference would it make to how I treat Mrs Jones up the street or whether I change?

But the day of the Lord isn’t the end of the world - do you see how Peter continues? ‘But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.’ After the day of the Lord, these new heavens and new earth will be formed, and we will live with God forever - if we’re trusting in him and his promise.

Sometimes as I visit people, and particularly when discussing funerals with the bereaved, we get to talking about what heaven will be like. Sometimes peoples’ notions can seem very unheavenly - a place where you go fishing all the time, or whatever (that would be horrible!), but what does Peter tell us? Heaven, the new heavens and the new earth is ‘in which righteousness dwells.’ It’s a place where there is perfect righteousness, people in perfect relationship with God and each other, where there is no sin, no sorrow, and we can perfectly please the Lord.

This is what we’re aiming for - taking our place in the new heavens and the new earth, rather than being on the podium receiving a gold medal. After all, one day those gold medal winners will be too old to take part, someone else will break their record, win their medals, and take their place. The new heavens and the new earth are permanent, they can’t be taken away from you when you arrive there! But if that is where we are aiming for, if this is how we will be, then how should we be living now? To ask again, ‘what sort of people ought you to be?’

In verse 11, we see the big picture of what it will look like. Peter talks of lives of holiness and godliness - being separated, set apart for God, and reflecting God’s goodness in our life, becoming more like God. It might be obvious to some, but remember that we can’t live lives of holiness and godliness by ourselves - Peter isn’t calling us to just do it ourselves, try harder to be better. Remember that he’s writing to Christians, to those who have that faith of equal standing with the apostles (1:1) - holiness and godliness will only come after we’ve been justified/saved, not before.

So if holiness and godliness is the big picture, Peter gives us some of the particular details of what that will look like. Look with me at verse 14. Here we see the doing now what we’ll be doing then perhaps most clearly: ‘Therefore beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.’ It’s the contrast with the false teachers we met in chapter 2 - ‘blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you...’ (2:13). If we’re going to spend eternity living where righteousness dwells, then we need to be living that way (as best we can) now.

Imagine you decided to move to France. You would spend lots of time learning the language, learning the culture, so that when you move, you’ll be able to settle in and live in the new place. We’re on our way to a new place as well. Are you speaking the language of heaven? Are you living according to its culture and practices? Are you at peace with God and your brothers and sisters?

One of the ways to help prepare for moving to a new culture is to have a guidebook. If you are planning to move to France, Amazon have 91 different books that could help - ‘Living and Working in France: A Survival Handbook’; ‘The French Property Buyer’s Handbook’; ‘Moving to France with your Children’; or ‘Retiring in France’ to name but a few. As we prepare for our new home, Peter says that we have a guidebook as well - the Scriptures.

These verses are really significant as we seek to understand the Scriptures. ‘And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also write to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.’

Isn’t it reassuring to see that Peter thought that some parts of Paul’s letters were hard to understand? Yet nevertheless, Peter regards Paul’s letters as Scripture, on a par with the other writings (which we’ve already seen in 1:21) of the Old Testament. They may be hard to understand sometimes, but keep working at them, keep studying them, as they help us prepare for the day of the Lord and heaven.

You see, false teachers are a constant danger, ignorant and unstable people are going to twist the scriptures. But you know they’re going to do it, Peter warns us of this, so that his final two verses are a great summary of how to use the Scriptures as we live now in light of eternity:

‘You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.’

Don’t follow the errors of the false teachers, the lawless people - if will make you lose your stability, and prevent you from increasing in those qualities from chapter 1. Instead, grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus - through holding to his promises, trusting his word, and learning it so that it changes how you live and prepares you for the new heavens and the new earth.

Perhaps you realise that you’re not ready to live where righteousness dwells - it would seem like hell to you. Before trying to change how you live, you first need to be changed yourself - the invitation is open tonight, to come, and trust God’s promise that when you have faith in Jesus, you will live with him in the new heavens and the new earth.

But maybe you are a Christian, and yet the thought of heaven doesn’t fill you with joy. Are your affections tied up with this earth? Are you only concerned with this life, its pleasures and worries? It’s all going to pass away - so set your minds on the new earth, not this old one. Take some time to consider where your heart really is; where your treasure is.

And ask, am I becoming more ready for heaven as each year passes? Am I growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, or am I wasting my remaining time on earth? How terrible if those Olympic athletes give their whole lives chasing a gold medal, and put us, who are assured of heaven, to shame with our miserly and weak efforts to be ready for the day.

The athlete seeks glory for himself or herself through swimming, or running, or cycling, or shooting - all eyes are on the person standing in the gold medal position. Our motivation to live now in the light of eternity isn’t for our own pride, our own glory. Rather, as Peter’s final words in the Bible declare, it’s all for Jesus - ‘To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.’

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 17th April 2011.

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