What is the world coming to? - 2 Peter 3

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 13th July 2003.

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I guess for many people today their view about the future could be summed up in the words of the song from the musical, ‘Paint Your Wagon’. 'Where am I going, I don’t know, where am I heading I ain’t certain, all that I know is I am on my way.’

The fact is ,what we think about our future will affect how we live in the present. You see, if life, the universe and everything is nothing more than the product of impersonal, meaningless forces, such that we come from nowhere and are heading nowhere-then where does that leave us? Well, no one has put it better than the comedian Woody Allen in one of his more reflective moods when he said this: ‘..alienation, loneliness and emptiness verging on madness.. the fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and death. It is absolutely stupefying in its terror and it renders anyone’s accomplishments meaningless. .its not only that he the individual dies, or that man as a whole dies, but that you struggle to do a work of art that will last and then you realise that the universe itself is not going to exist after a period of time.’ And then he adds, ‘Until those issues are resolved in each person-religiously, psychologically or existentially-the social and political issues will never be resolved ,except in a slapdash way.’ And of course, he’s absolutely right. Either life is ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury’ which is the logic of atheism and so hope is a word devoid of all meaning, or what the Bible teaches and millions of people throughout the world have been believing for two millennia is true-that the universe is the work of a glorious, loving Author, whose signature is written in the heavens he has made and the knowledge of whose existence reverberates deep down in our hearts. This Divine Author has declared that we do matter and that the whole history is moving towards one dramatic climax.

And a passage in the Bible which spells that out for us with breathtaking clarity is 2 Peter chapter 3.

You know, in the spectrum of world faiths Christianity gives a unique appreciation of the future; it tells us that the passage of time is purposeful and directed-we are actually heading somewhere. We are on a journey with a specific destination in view. You see, the Christian message isn’t just about having Jesus in your heart while you live, nor even is it a message about going to heaven when you die. It is a message -v 13- about a new heaven and a new earth which in one shattering future event will replace this old, corrupt world of ours.

Now I think that it would be true to say that there is a lot of pessimism around today, coupled with cynicism. Again it was Woody Allen who said , ‘The future isn’t what it used to be’. And that’s right. The breezy optimism of the 19th century which spilled over into much of the 20th century has given way to the uncertain- live for now- pessimism of the 21st century. Well, it was like that in Peter’s day too. Take a look at v 3, ‘In the last days (that is, the period of time between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming) scoffers will come and following their own evil desires will say ‘Where is this coming?’. ‘Things haven’t changed much’ they argue, ‘the world is the same old confused mess it always has been. We still have wars. We still have natural disasters, we still have crime- now spiraling out of control. Why doesn’t God do something if he is going to do anything at all? Perhaps he can’t? Perhaps he won’t, maybe he just doesn’t care?’ And you too may well have sympathy with such sentiments. So we are now in a situation where even leaders within the church have given up all belief that there will be a second coming -such outdated ideas are the stuff of cranks and sandwich -board carriers, they say, not the beliefs of sophisticated people who have just embarked upon a new millennium.

But why is such a belief hard to accept, that eventually the One who made and owns this universe, and who 2000 years ago entered into the slipstream of history as a human being- the God-man Jesus, should one day come back to wind up the whole show and give dignity to our existence by calling us to give an account to him? Well, Peter tells us that the reason is not because we find these things difficult to believe we just don’t want to believe. If we are honest we simply don’t like the idea that we are made by someone and so are accountable to someone- viz.. God. As Peter says, we are being led astray by our own evil desires. It is not that belief in the second coming is intellectually indefensible, rather it is that it is morally uncomfortable and we would rather live as if the judgement day is not going to happen. And you may well be here this morning with such thoughts lurking at the back of your mind. If so then our writer would have you pause and take stock of certain truths you would be ill advised to ignore.

The most fundamental thing such skeptics do ignore, says Peter, is the unanimous testimony of the Bible.

We have to openly admit that many of us today are not as familiar with the teaching of the Bible as we should be. This has recently been borne out in some answers pupils have given to their RE exam questions. Here is a sample: ‘David was a Hebrew King who fought with the Finklesteins. Solomon, one of his sons had 300 wives and 700 porcupines. When Mary heard that she was the mother of Jesus, she sang the Magna Carta. The people who followed the Lord were called the 12 decibels. and the epistles were the wives of the apostles. ’ With such widespread misunderstanding about some basic Bible stories it is not surprising there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the Bible teaches of Jesus’ second coming.

Peter tells us that, in fact , he is not saying anything new. Look at vv 1-2 ‘Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.’ From Genesis to Revelation the Bible makes it absolutely plain that God’s appointed ruler-Jesus -is going to return at a time we will not expect and set up his eternal reign of love. That is the thrust of vv 1-2. Wherever you look in the Bible whether it is the prophets in the OT, the apostles in the New or the teaching of Jesus himself-the testimony remains the same- Christ is coming so you had better be prepared to meet him. In the United States there are T shirts which have printed on the front: ‘Jesus is Coming - Look busy’. It should read, ‘Jesus is coming, be ready’. In the rest of the passage Peter backs up his claim. In v 5 he refers to Genesis 1 and creation, in v6- Genesis 6 and the flood,- v7 innumerable OT prophecies, v8 he quotes psalm 90 , and in v10 Luke’s Gospel and a saying of Jesus-that his return will be like a thief in the night. In v13 he implicitly refers to Isaiah 65 which talks of a new heaven and earth. You see, you can’t pick and choose with the Bible, taking out one bit about God loving us and saying I will have that and leaving out the more unpalatable bits about God judging us. It is a seamless robe, take out one and the rest unravels before your eyes. It is all or nothing.

Now there are three wonderful things the Bible tells us about this theme of the end of the world as we know it which should make us sit up and take notice.

First , the Bible tells us something about the relationship between God and history. In v5-6 Peter refers to Noah’s flood. Whether it was a flood which literally covered all the planet or the then known world is still very much debated, but that a catastrophic flood did take place at least around the area of Mesopotamia is to my mind nigh irrefutable. The point being made is this: God acts in history- in salvation and judgement. He is not someone who wound up the world and set it in motion and then retired like some giant cosmic clock maker. The one true God is intimately involved in the world he has made. In fact he meets us daily with blessing, causing the sun to shine on the just and unjust alike, but he also meets us in retributive judgement -as he did in the days of Noah. If we are foolish enough to thumb our noses at our Creator and treat each other and his creation with disdain, do you think for a moment he will idly sit back and let it happen-would you? He will not. God will hand us over to the logical consequences of our practical atheism as two World Wars tragically show and as the moral and social demise of our own society demonstrates all too clearly. Say ‘good-bye' to God and you can say ‘good-bye' to social stability just as surely as night follows day. Remember - history is just that, ‘his-story.’ It’s as much about God rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in to the affairs of human beings as it is us doing all we can to thwart his purposes. If God is working in history then it makes perfect sense that he will guide it to one grand conclusion with one final and climactic scene before the curtain comes down. Will he come again? You can bet you life on it says Peter. What is more all this is achieved by divine command ,for it all concerns God’s Word .' But they (the skeptics) deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.’

You see God creates by his Word, he judges by his Word, he saves by a Word-the word of the Gospel and God will keep his Word-he means what he says and says what he means and so we had better listen.

Secondly, Peter tells us about the Bible’s view of God and time- v8 ‘With the Lord a day is like a thousand years ,and a thousand years are like a day.’ Now just think about it. Time can only be measured in an arena where change takes place. Our bodies grow old, our cars wear out, rivers flow to the sea. But supposing we lived in a world which was changeless. Suppose our eyes could not only move left and right, but backwards and forwards in time, so we could perceive the horizons of history as well as the horizons of our globe? In short, what if we lived in eternity? What would our time look like from that perspective? Well, such a being would see everything within one moment, the end from the beginning. Nothing would take him by surprise, like the mind of an author conceiving a book, all the characters and their histories appear at once, their past ,present and future are seen together in an eternal moment. Why should this not be the case with God and the world? He leaves nothing to chance. He is not thwarted by anything we might do -and say ‘Oh now I didn’t quite see that one coming’. He is God, the eternal one. So whether it is five seconds or five millennia, from the standpoint of his plans its all the same to him.

Does 2,000 years seem a long time to you? It is but a mere blink in the eye of eternity. So don’t be fooled into falsely thinking that because Jesus has not yet returned he never will return. As Peter remarks in v 10, the day will come like a thief in the night. The thief has made his plans, he knows which house he is going to turn over and at what time, and it would not be on for him to send a calling card beforehand .God is not going to send a calling card either ,he expects us to be ready to meet him at anytime.

Which brings us to the third and perhaps most important thing the Bible tells us, and that is about God’s relationship with us- v9 ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’

Back in 1970 I am sure that there were lots of Christians praying that the world would end and that Jesus would return. Personally, I am so glad that God didn’t answer their prayers. Why? Because in 1970 I wasn’t a Christian. I wasn’t ready to meet with my Maker-morally and spiritually I was in deep trouble. Why hasn’t Christ come back? For the simple reason that God wants people to be saved .He so loves them that he is willing, as it were, to put off the judgement so that they might come to him before its too late.

However, let’s not make the mistake of thinking, ‘Fine I will put it off. I will live life up to the full and when I get really old, then I might give religion a go.’ It doesn’t work like that. If you set you heart against God now there is no guarantee you will be able to open your heart to him later, quite the reverse in fact, it gets harder not easier. Judgement deferred is not judgement denied.

But what is the point of all this teaching about the Second coming? Is it to provide material for speculative books which sell in their millions as is happening with the Tim La Hey ‘Left Behind’ series? Or maybe it is a call for us to batten down the hatches and withdraw into our holy huddles because the world is going to get worse and worse and there is nothing we can do about it except wait for the Big End? No. The reason is much more down to earth and practical than that as we see in v 11 ‘Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives’, and v 14 ‘So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him’ and again in v 17. ‘Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’

Who do think wrote these words: ‘ I do not think in the last 40 years I have lived one conscious hour that has not be influences by our Lord’s return.’ Well, it was Anthony Ashly Cooper, better known as Lord Shaftesbury. That man probably did more to improve the welfare of the poor and disadvantaged than any other single person in the 19th century. You see, his view of the future affected his life in the present. he didn’t want to waste his life, he knew one day he would appear before his Saviour and he wanted to hear those words which every Christian wants to hear, ‘Well, done good and faithful servant.’ He knew that what mattered, mattered, for he knew what was to be lasting and what was to be burned up. That new car, those shares in KC, even the university degrees, will not last, they belong to the old order and will be destroyed along with it. What will go on into the new world? What will shield us from the shame of judgement? Character. That’s what. Holy lives designed to live in a holy world. If we are not concerned with personal holiness then that just shows we are not serious about the second coming. But if like Shaftersbury we are gripped with thought and joy and awe that one day Jesus is going to appear in blinding glory, surrounded by angels, and we shall see him seated on his heavenly throne- we will want to be building our lives around that, making every effort, as Peter says to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. And that is something well worth making the effort for. Let is pray.

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