TEOTWAWKI - What does the future really hold? - 2 Peter 3
In July 1994, 21 pieces of comet slammed into Jupiter, causing bruises on the surface almost as big as the earth. One scientist has concluded that every thousand years or so, our planet is visited by an asteroid with the diameter of a football field, travelling at 20, 000 miles per second. It doesnt take the mind of a rocket scientist to imagine out what affect such a heavenly invader would have if it were to land in one of our Oceans. In fact Hollywood has done the job for us with such films as Deep Impact and Armageddon. But we might shield ourselves from such pessimistic prognostications by contemplating the statistics involved - that the likely hood of this happening in our own lifetime is rather remote, or perhaps by pinning our hopes that a real Bruce Willis might be out there to save the world from such wayward interplanetary debris.
But for others of us it is not so much the fear of what lies out in deep space which is of concern, but what we ourselves are busy doing on earth. After all we are the first generation to be raised under the spectre of nuclear war, the menace of universal famine is real as is the shadow of economic chaos - just think of recent events in South East Asia for instance. Arthur C. Clark, the author of 2001 Space Odyssey said No age has shown more interest in the future than ours, which is ironic, since it may not have one.
Many, I would suspect, would side with Arthur C Clark in that statement, that we are co - conspirators in a cosmic suicide pact.
But of course such pessimism has not always held sway. Until quite recently the dominating belief in the west was in the opposite direction that we were moving onwards and upwards in one grand evolutionary design towards Utopia. But two world wars, Auchwitz and Hiroshima have changed all of that. The irony is that we are ending this century pretty much as we began it, with mass killings in the Balkans.
It was the philosopher, Immanuel Kant who raised the fundamental question: What can I hope for? And when you think about it, that is basic to us gaining any sense of meaning or purpose in life. What can I hope for? especially in the light of such pessimism which is all around us.
You see, what we think is true about life and existence in general will invariably affect how we live out our own lives in particular. If the life, the universe and everything is nothing more than the product of blind, meaningless forces, coming from no where and heading nowhere - then where does that leave us? No one has put it better than Woody Allen in one of his more sombre moods: . . 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 anyones 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 says this 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 hes right. Either life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury which is the logic of the belief that we live in a cold impersonal universe and hope is a word vacated of all meaning. Or what the Bible teaches and millions of people throughout the world have been believing for nearly 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 in our hearts . This Divine Author - this Word - has declared that we matter and that the whole history is moving towards a dramatic climax.
So tonight I want us to look at one passage in the Bible which spells that out for us. Its 2 Peter chapter 3. And it is all about TEOTWAWKI - The end of the world as we know it. You see, in the spectrum of world faiths the Bible gives a unique appreciation of the future; the passage of time is meaningful and directed, we are going somewhere. The Christian message isnt just about having Jesus in your heart, nor even just a message about going to heaven when you die. It is a message about a new heaven and a new earth which in one shattering future event will replace this old and corrupt world of ours. So turn with me to 2 Peter 3.
I am sure that you have come across the difference between the optimist and the pessimist? The optimist believes that this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist sadly believes he is right. Well as we have seen , today there is a lot of pessimism about and with it cynicism. Well, it was like that in Peters day too - 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 havent changed much they argue, the world is the same old confused mess its always been. We still have wars - earthquakes, we still have crime - now spiralling out of control. Why doesnt God do something if he is going to do anything at all? Perhaps he cant? Perhaps he wont, he doesnt care? And you too may well have sympathy with such sentiments. And so some, 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, not sophisticated people about to embark upon a new millennium.
But why is such a belief hard to accept? That one day the One who made this universe, who some 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? Tell me: How would you feel, if at the end of three years at university, after all the hard work, the cramming, the university authorities were to turn around to you and say: Well, off you go, there are no exams, no degree either, but we hope you have had a really enjoyable time. ? You would be livid wouldnt you? and quite right too. You see, those exams, that assessment, actually gives value to you and your work. So it is with Gods judgement. If he doesnt judge us, then he is not much of a God and our lives amount to nothing as Woody Allen said. But of course, there may well be those who do sweet next to nothing in their degree course, who do live the life of Riley and would be only too pleased too be let off their finals. So what they do is to set up a student society called the Agnostics Examinations Society. They are a very clever group. They debate and publish papers arguing that the whole notion of finals is a bourgeois construct designed to repress undergraduates , a myth whereby fear is instilled so as to control the reading and thinking habits of students. They ask: which first year has seen their finals? None of them. Oh yes they have met people who claim to have sat finals, but that just shows how powerful and successful the myth has been - how gullible and brainwashed they have become. And when it comes to that book called University Regulations who can trust that? It was written so long ago and is so full of contradictions, after all how can you have part ones of your finals if you are not in your final year? Do you see how it works? Well, we can kid ourselves that all such talk of judgement day is like that. But what we are really doing says Peter , is being led astray by our own evil desires. It is not that belief in the second coming is intellectually indefensible, it is simply that it is morally uncomfortable and we would rather live as if the divine finals were not going to happen.
Now, the first and most fundamental thing such sceptics ignore, says Peter, is the unanimous testimony of the Bible. Now we have to acknowledge 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. When the three wise guys from the east arrived, they found Jesus in a manager. The people who followed the Lord were called the 12 decibels. The epistles were the wives of the apostles. One of the opossums was St Matthew who was by profession a taximan. Now, with such widespread misunderstanding about some basic Bible stories it is not surprising there is a lot of misunderstanding about what the Bible teaches about Jesus second coming.
First of all, Peter tells us that he is not saying anything new. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible makes it absolutely plain that Gods 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 vv1 - 2. Wherever you look in the Bible: the prophets in the OT, the apostles in the New or the teaching of Jesus himself, the testimony remains the same, Jesus is coming so you had better be ready to meet him. And 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 Lukes Gospel and a saying of Jesus - that his return will be like a thief in the night. And in v13 he implicitly refers to Is 65 with the mention of a new heaven and earth. You cant pick and choose with the Bible, taking out one bit about God loving us and saying I will have that and leaving the more unpalatable bits about God judging us to one side. It is a seamless robe, take out one and the rest unravels before your eyes. It is all or nothing.
And 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 Noahs 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 around the area of Mesopotamia is to my mind nigh irrefutable. The point is God does act in history. He is not someone who set the whole show in motion and the retired - a cosmic clock maker. This God is passionately concerned about the world he has made and our place within it. Yes he meets us daily with blessing, causing the sun to shine on the just and unjust alike, but he will also meet us in judicial discipline - as he did then. You see, 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 goodbye to God and you can say goodbye to social stability. History, as someone said is just that his - story. Its 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. And 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.
Then Peter tells us about the Bibles 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 can take 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? 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 together. So 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 Oops I didnt 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. So does 2, 000 years seem a long time to you? It is but a mere blink in the eye of eternity as far as God is concerned. So dont be fooled into falsely thinking that because Jesus has not yet returned he will never 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 . Well, 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 Gods 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.
I bet that back in 1970 there were loads of Christians praying that the world would end and that Jesus would return. Now let me tell you that I am so glad that God didnt answer their prayers in the affirmative. Why? Well, because in 1970 I wasnt a Christian. I wasnt ready to meet with my Maker - morally and spiritually I was in trouble and I would have been consigned to oblivion in my sin. Why hasnt Christ come back? For the simple reason that God wants you to be saved and your friends to be saved and your families to be saved. He so loves you and them he is willing as it were to put off the judgement so that they might come to him before its too late.
But lets 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, about 40, then I might give religion a go. It doesnt 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.
How do I know that God passionately loves you and doesnt want you to perish which is a dead cert otherwise - you know you have done wrong things and have been on the wrong side of God, your conscience tells you that - and such guilt is real? How do I know? Because some 2000 years ago the God of history came into history as a baby. The God of eternity became contracted into a tiny speck of human stardust entering time itself, to grow, to change - to die. The God who is so passionately committed to us became one of us, going to a lonely cross, and taking upon himself the judgement which is rightly yours and mine. As Peter says in his first letter, Christ died for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. Thats why he died. So all the filth of our hearts, all the hatred and pride which is tearing this world apart was in one moment in time poured upon the eternal One, absorbing to himself the divine anger upon it all. So he the judge was judged in your place and mine . He took the punishment which was yours and mine. And then was raised from the dead, he now reigns in the glory of heaven, and he is going to come back to claim the world and his people for his own.
So let me ask you. Are you ready? Do you long for that meaning and direction in your life, getting put back in touch with the one who made you and who loves you and who is so patient with you? Well, you can you know. And the way you do it is to come one - to - one in your heart to the risen Lord Jesus in prayer.
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