Millennium - 2 Peter 3:8-9
The Millennium does mean something, and it's worth celebrating. Or am the only one who felt that going to bed before midnight wasn't a serious option? How could I tell my grandchildren one day that I saw in the new millennium by having an early night? And none of us here is going to see in another millennium. [Sorry to disappoint you - or maybe it's a relief].
So we've had the Millennium. The question is: What's next? At this time of year all kinds of experts are wheeled out to give their predictions for the coming year, and in this case the new century - the future of the economy, the prospects for the English cricket team, the danger of a major environmental catastrophe, the likelihood of a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, what's coming in high street fashions and pop music. I was going to say that I'm not a prophet and can't tell you the future. But with this book in my hands, the Bible, I am a prophet. It tells us what God says, including what he says about the future. It may not tell us everything we'd like to know, but in it he tells us everything we need to know.
The Bible even speaks about the millennium. It would be hard to find a text more appropriate to the new millennium than this: verse 8.... It doesn't mean that time means nothing to God. It does mean that God isn't like us when it comes to time. In one sense time is less significant to him than to us. He's able to speed through the centuries as if they're minutes. He's the eternal God, while we're limited to seventy or eighty years. But time is also much more significant to God than it is to us. He doesn't only take the telescopic view of time, so that a thousand years are like a day. He also takes the microscopic view, so that a day is like a thousand years. It's a beautiful way of reminding us that God is God and that we're not. We're bound by time and can't do either of those things, because we're not God. He is God and he can do both with great ease.
In his famous Christmas Day radio broadcast of 1939, King George VI quoted from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957):- I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown".
And he replied, "Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God; that shall be better to you than light and safer than a known way".
So I went forth and, finding the hand of God, trod gladly into the night; and he led me towards the hill and the breaking of day in the lone east.
When Peter wrote his letter, he wanted to put his readers' hands into the hand of God. I want to put your hands into the hands of God this morning, for this new year and for the rest of your lives. What will we find in God's hand which will be better than light and safer than a known way? What can we expect from the future? Peter tells us to expect two things. Neither of them is new. But unless we grasp them securely, we shall be left fumbling around in the darkness - when we could be treading gladly into the night, led surely towards the breaking of day.
1. God's promise Verse 9: The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. What promise? The promise of Christ's coming. Peter's been warning his friends that there'll be people around who mock the whole idea of Christ returning. verse 4: They will say, "Where is this coming he promised?" If he's coming, where is he? He's a bit slow isn't he? Maybe he's forgotten, or been held up, or he didn't mean it, or you misunderstood him? This isn't a new problem today - they were saying it all then, only a matter of forty or fifty years after Jesus had come the first time. Radio 4's Today programme conducted a survey just before Christmas. Over 400 head teachers, church leaders, politicians, scientists and newspaper editors completed questionnaires, answering questions about Christian belief: Do you believe God created the world in six days? Do you believe in the literal truth of the virgin birth? Do you believe in the literal truth of the resurrection? - and so on. the question that interested me most was the next one in the list: Will there be a second coming? 44% said Yes - a figure I find surprisingly high. [In the Gallup survey I referred to earlier, of those who called themselves Christians, only 1 in 3 said they believe in the second coming. Mind you, 1 in 7 of those professing Christians said they don't believe in God!] Yet few things can be clearer from the NT than that Jesus has promised to return. He's promised to come back as the undisputed and unrivalled king of the universe, to judge the world and to save his people. It will be a terrible day for those who've lived without him, but a wonderful day for those who are waiting for him.
In World War II, the Americans were forced to surrender the Philippines to the Japanese in May 1942. When he had to leave, General Macarthur vowed to retake the islands. He had thousands of leaflets printed and dropped from aeroplanes. He simply promised, "I will return". And he did, towards the end of 1944, and that country was soon liberated. Our whole world has been leafleted with the promise of Jesus' return. You'll find it throughout the pages of the NT - there are some 300 references. That's about once every 13 verses. Make no mistake about it, he will return.
It's the one promise God has left to keep. Have you ever wondered why the Bible is written as it is? It isn't a dictionary, with articles on all kinds of different subjects, listed from A to Z. Such books are useful. But the Bible is basically a story book. There are lots of little stories in it, but overarching it all there's one big story. it begins with the Creation and it ends with the New Creation that God is bringing. It has to be told that way because the Bible's the story of Promise and Fulfilment. God makes a promise and he keeps that promise. God promises and he fulfils it. All the way through the Bible. That's why we need the OT. If we throw away the OT, we throw away most of God's promises. Abraham is promised a son in his old age... the son is born. God promises Moses that he'll lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt - and we have the Exodus. God promises David that his son will be the one to build the temple - so Solomon is born and builds the most magnificent temple. The prophets warn that the Israelites will be expelled from their land because of their disobedience. Then they promise that a remnant will return from exile. It all happens - exactly as God said it would. And, overarching it all like a rainbow, running through it all like the silver thread in our banknotes, is God's great promise - that he would send his Messiah, his anointed one: the king who will take up his everlasting rule of peace and justice, judging the earth and rescuing his people to live with him for ever.
I recall a man talking about his retirement and how his wife had adopted a new plan for getting jobs done around the home. No longer could he use the excuse that he hadn't got time. She'd drawn up a sheet with two columns. On the left was the heading Jobs, and underneath a list of what had to be done. The right hand column was headed Date Completed and the paper underneath that heading was threateningly blank.
The Bible is like a sheet of paper ruled up with two columns. On the left is the column headed Promise, with a long list of promises underneath. On the right is the heading Fulfilment, and there's along list there too, detailing how and when God kept each promise. There's only one blank space - opposite the promise "Jesus will return". Do we have any reason to doubt that God will keep that promise too? He's kept all the others. Why shouldn't he keep this one as well? It's the big one, the one all the others have been anticipating and working towards.
Do you have a good reason for not believing that promise, or for giving up believing it? There's plenty of evidence in this book that God is a promise-keeping God. He's far more trustworthy than your bank manager, or your boss, or your spouse, or your parents, or I am. Peter wants his readers to keep believing that promise. God wants us to keep believing that promise. In particular, we're to understand that The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient. That's the second thing we'll find if we put our hands into the hand of God:
2. God's patience 2000 years sounds like a long time to hang on, waiting for a promise to be kept. None of us has ever had to wait that long for a promise. [Some of our younger friends who've gone over to the hall would struggle to wait for two hours. It seems to them like an eternity]. But, we mustn't forget, a thousand years are like a day to the God who has made the promise. Have you ever waited two days for a promise to be kept? It's not so hard is it?
It's not hard to wait that long. And it's not hard to keep your promise if it's only for a period of two days. That's how we need to think about it. We must stop thinking that God's like us, and start thinking about things his way.
We tend to think that because God hasn't done it yet he's never going to do it. And that's because either he isn't powerful enough to be able to do it or he isn't loving enough to want to do it. But that's to think the way we think. God's waiting, but not because he can't do it and not because he doesn't care about us, but because he's patient. Not slow, but patient. Not yet doesn't mean never.
Parents and children know about this kind of patience - at least they ought to. Little Jack has his younger sister's head wedged in the wardrobe door.
Dad realises this situation must not be allowed to continue, so he addresses his son: "Jack, if you don't let go of Sally now, I'm going to lay my hand on your behind in such a way that you'll wish you had. I'll count to 5... 1... 2... 3... 4... 1/2... 3/4... 7/8..." Why's he taking so long? is what you're thinking. It's certainly what Sally's thinking, with her head trapped in the door. What she needs to remember is that she's benefited from that same patience herself in the past, and she'll need to depend on it again in the future. But Jack would be very foolish to think that there was an endless supply of fractions and that 5 would never be reached - not if his father's anything like my father. Not yet is not the same as never.
God's patience is shown from one end of the Bible to the other. By the end of the third chapter of the first book of the Bible, the first people God had made have done enough to merit destruction. But God allows them to carry on living, so they have the chance to turn back to him. Later, he perseveres with his people Israel for centuries, when they ignore him, insult him, abuse him and take him for granted. And today, he still endures the rebellion of our world. Why? Because he's patient.
And God's patience is very good news for us. As Peter puts it: He is patient with you. It's not just that he's patient with others. He's patient with us too - with me and with you. I'd like to do a bit of research. Would you to put your hand up if you've become a Christian in the last ten years, that's since 1990 - aren't you glad that Christ didn't return before then? What about 1960? Would you put your hand up if you'd have been saved if Christ had returned before 1960? Aren't you glad God's been so patient? I am. It's very good news. We mustn't think that God's plan has failed because there's been a delay. [There's been no delay, because God never told us when he'd keep his promise, only that he'd keep it]. In any case, it's exactly the opposite: the success of God's plan depends on there being a period of waiting. His plan is to save as many people as possible - and the longer he waits, the more people will be saved.
We tend to think about the pain it causes us that we have to wait for God to keep his promise. Have you given any thought to what it costs God to wait? Do you think he likes watching us make a mess of our lives? Does he take pleasure in seeing us wreck the planet? Does he enjoy being shut out of our lives? We'd have brought the judgement long ago, because we just couldn't bear it any longer. But God bears the pain of waiting, just as he bore the pain of giving his Son up to die for us, so that we can repent and so be saved. He's a very patient God.
Can I ask you whose hand you'll be holding when you leave here today? Will you put it into the hand of God or will you put it somewhere else? Either we trust God or we trust someone or something else - even if that someone turns out to be ourselves. God holds out his hand to us. He waits patiently for us to take it. But the hand won't be held out for ever. One day, God will keep his promise and Christ will return. It will then be too late to put your hand into God's hand, to turn back to him and be saved.
But today is still a great day to do that. If you've got to the point where you know it's time you put your hand into the hand of God at last, then I'd like to give you a booklet which tells you what to do, as well as going over the essentials of the Christian message. Just ask me for one at the back as you leave.
Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.