Sunday, June 26, 2016
Sermon: 2 Peter 3: 1-10 The Promise of his Coming
The moment has finally arrived. After weeks of telling his friends all about his new girlfriend, John has arranged for them all to meet up. So his friends are there, and John is there, but there’s no sign of Kate. Half an hour passes, and still no sign of this supposedly wonderful girlfriend. John’s friends start to get a little bit suspicious. Is she really coming? Does she even exist, or has John been spinning a tall tale about a made-up girlfriend? Well, where is she? What’s keeping her?
John waits for her arriving. No matter how much his friends doubt him, and make fun of him, John holds on to her promise, that she would be there.
This is something like what’s going on in our Bible reading today. You have people like John, who are waiting eagerly for someone’s arrival, holding on to their promise. And you have others who don’t believe that the person will come at all. But this is much more important than whether Kate will turn up or not - what we’re thinking about this morning is the return of the Lord Jesus to the earth.
And perhaps you’re like one of John’s friends, quietly sceptical, wondering how we could possibly believe such a thing. Are there really people who believe that Jesus will indeed come again? For a few moments, let’s look at what Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, says about the return of Jesus.
First of all, we see that this is a final reminder. Now sometimes final reminders can arrive in the post. Dear so and so, this is the final reminder of the amount you owe. It’s a call to action, to not ignore the reminder. And Peter opens this chapter like one of those letters. ‘This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved.’
Peter has written to these people he loves once already, and now he’s writing again. Earlier in the letter he says that he knows his time is short, so this is his second and final reminder. But this isn’t a demand for payment. Instead, this is a final reminder to... remember. Verse 2: ‘Remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles.’
Peter wants to make sure that the church will remember what the prophets have predicted about Jesus’ return; and also remember what Jesus has commanded, through the apostles (that is, Peter and the other 11). It’s so urgent, because of scoffers who will scoff.
In the wee story of John and Kate, John’s friends could well have said this: ‘Where is the promise of her coming?’ Where is she? Well, that’s exactly what the scoffers will say, and are saying. ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’ Where is Jesus? If you say he has promised to come, where is he? And to back up their doubts, they continue in verse 4: ‘For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’
They seem to be saying that everything’s going along just fine, that the world keeps going, and will keep going just fine without Jesus. So here’s the objection: Where is Jesus, if he promised to return? Based on every day up to now, he’s not likely to return.
Now Peter tackles the two challenges in reverse order. In verses 5-7, he shows that everything hasn’t just continued from the beginning. He points back to a moment of disruption, when things weren’t business as usual, a moment that these scoffers ‘deliberately overlook’ - they forget about it, they don’t want to remember it, because it challenges their worldview. And what was this moment Peter is thinking of? The flood of Noah’s day. God’s word had formed the earth out of water and through water, and God’s word then brought about the flood: ‘by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.’
So things haven’t always continued on as normal. And God promised with the sign of the rainbow that the world would never again be flooded. But here in verse 7, Peter says that the heavens and earth are stored up for fire, kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly.
Having answered the second objection, Peter then returns to the main question - Where is the promise of his coming? Where is Jesus? Why has he not returned? And to answer, he picks up a verse from Psalm 90:4 ‘For a thousand years in your sight as but as yesterday when it is past.’ And he says, don’t overlook this, don’t forget this - that one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. He’s saying that God’s sense of time is different to ours.
It’s like the story of the man who was asking God some questions. God, he says, what is a million years to you? And God says, A million years is just like a second to me. Then he asks, What is a million pounds to you? And God says, A million pounds is just like a penny to me. So he says, God, could I have a penny, and God says, Sure, now just give me a second...
Now that’s just a joke, but if you think about it, time seems to move at different speeds, depending on whether you’re on a roller coaster or in a dentist’s chair. Or when you say to a child, give me five minutes... to them it can seem like eternity! Peter gives us a final reminder that Jesus’ return us sure, not slow. Verse 9: ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness’. So why the delay? ‘But is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.’
Jesus isn’t slow in coming, as if he’s been delayed. No, he is patient, giving time for repentance, giving people time to turn around from their sins, and to turn to him, to believe the promise of forgiveness, to escape the judgement and destruction on the day he returns.
Jesus hasn’t returned yet, so that you can turn to him. Today, this opportunity of repentance is given to you. You see, you are not here by accident today. Perhaps you’re here to celebrate the birth of a new family member, to witness a baptism, or you’re just being polite as you wait for the party afterwards. You’re here, today, to hear of the promised, sure, return of Jesus, and to have this opportunity to turn to Jesus.
He hasn’t returned yet, so that you could hear and receive him today. For some of us in the church family, he didn’t return last year, or ten years ago, or fifty years ago, or one hundred years ago, so that you could turn to him. You know the old saying - patience is a virtue, possess it if you can, seldom in a woman, and never in a man. Peter says God is patient. He has brought us to this day, and this moment, and gives us this opportunity to repent.
One day, though, it will be too late. You see, the Lord’s return, demonstrating his patience is not slow, but it is sure. One day Jesus will return. ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.’ Sure, but unexpected. Mr burglar doesn’t ring up to say that they’ll call in tonight at 2am. They just appear. And Peter says that Jesus will come like a thief, in a moment, when we’re not expecting him.
Imagine that, right now, as we’re sitting here, a helicopter came overhead and lifted the roof right off the church building. We’d be totally exposed to the elements. Peter says that when Jesus comes, ‘then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.’
Now, this might sound a little bit strange, but one of my hobbies is visiting old graveyards, and reading the headstones. One day I came across an inscription in the graveyard at Rathmullan, near Tyrella Beach in County Down. It said ‘This grave never to be opened.’ There may have been good reason for it - perhaps the lady had some infectious disease; or maybe it was a condition of her will. But what Peter is saying here is that the grave of Jane Archer of Downpatrick 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.
We too, will face that same day. Our works, our lives, will also be exposed. The motives of our hearts. The things we think we’ve gotten away with. The secrets we keep. Would you be happy with that exposure? Your every thought, word and deed written for all to read? Could you stand before the judge?
Peter gives us this final reminder that Jesus’ return is sure (not slow), and displays his patience. Will you believe the promise, that Jesus will return? And given that Jesus will return, will you rejoice in his patience, and repent? In a few moments, I’ll ask some questions to the parents and godparents. Those questions get to the heart of repentance - there’s saying ‘no’: rejecting the devil, renouncing evil, repenting of sin; and there’s saying ‘yes’: turning to Christ, submitting to Christ, coming to Christ.
Tomorrow is guaranteed to none of us. The Lord could return today. So while you have this opportunity, turn to Christ, receive his promise, and wait for his return.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 26th June 2016.