Charles Swindoll, tells the story of a young man and his father who farmed a little piece of land.
Several times a year they would load up the old ox-drawn cart with vegetables and go into the nearest city to sell their produce. Except for their name and the patch of ground, father and son had little in common. The older gentleman believed in taking it easy. The young man was usually in a hurry…the go-getter type.
One morning, bright and early, they hitched up the ox to the loaded cart and started on the long journey. The son figured that if they walked faster, kept going all day and night, they’d make the market by early the next morning. So he kept prodding the ox with a stick, urging the beast to get a move on.
“Take it easy, son,” said the old man, “you’ll last longer.” “But if we get to market ahead of the others, we’ll have a better chance of getting good prices,” argued the son.
The Dad quietly pulled his hat down over his eyes and fell asleep on the seat. Itchy and irritated, the young man kept goading the ox to walk faster. His stubborn pace refused to change.
Four hours and four miles down the road, they came to a little house. The father woke up, smiled, and said, “Here’s your uncles’ place. Let’s stop in an say hello.” “But we’ve lost an hour already,” complained the frustrated son.
“Then a few more minutes won’t matter. My brother and I live so close, yet we see each other so seldom,” the father answered slowly.
The boy fidgeted and fumed while the two old men laughed and talked away almost an hour. On the move again, the man took his turn leading the ox… Twilight found them in what looked like a huge, colorful garden. The old man breathed in the aroma, listened to the bubbling brook, and pulled the ox to a halt. “Let’s sleep here,” he sighed.
“This is the last trip I’m taking with you,” snapped the son. “You’re more interested in watching sunsets and smelling flowers than in making money!” “Why, that’s the nicest thing you’ve said in a long time,” smiled the dad. A couple of minutes later he was snoring as his boy glared back at the stars. The night dragged by slowly; the son was restless. Before sunrise the young man hurriedly shook his father awake. They hitched up and went on. About a mile down the road they happened upon another farmer- a total stranger- trying to pull his cart out of a ditch. “Let’s give him a hand,” whispered the old man. “And lose more time?” the boy exploded.
“Relax, son…you might be in a ditch sometime yourself. We need to help others in need- don’t forget that.” The boy looked away in anger.
It was almost eight o’clock that morning by the time the other cart was back on the road. Suddenly, a great flash split the sky. What sounded like thunder followed. Beyond the hills, the sky grew dark. “Looks like a big rain in the city” said the old man. “If we had hurried, we’d be almost sold out by now,” grumbled his son.
“Take it easy…you’ll last longer. And you’ll enjoy life so much more,” counseled the kind old gentleman. It was late afternoon by the time they got to the hill overlooking the city. They stopped and stared down at it for a long, long time. Neither of them said a word. Finally, the young man put his hand on his father’s shoulder and said, “I see what you mean, Dad.” They turned their cart around and began to roll slowly away from what had once been the city of Hiroshima.[i]
Too often on earth we frantically race about serving a long list of life’s demands. Things that we need as well as goals, ambitions, and even self-serving passions that fuel our lives. Too often we are like the son, hurrying towards the end. Generally it takes a crisis to arrest our attention. It often takes a significant experience in order for us to reorder our priorities. What are we racing towards? What is this frantic activity taken us to? What’s the end result? I’m not talking about retirement, but what follows. There are three big questions regarding life. You intuitively know what they are.
1. Where did we come from?
2. What is our purpose while here?
3. Where are we going?
The question I want to focus on today is, where are we headed? Where is our world going? What is God really doing? There are so many cries of warning today, from so many different quarters: from the economy to the ecology. After a while we can turn a deaf ear. We feel that everything will somehow remain the same. Yet a perusal of history would warn against that kind of ostrich, “bury your head in the sand” mentality.
In the apostle Peter’s final letter, we discover he was concerned about the welfare of the people he was leaving to face some very real challenges. In the last chapter of 2 Peter, he states his purpose in writing the letter. He is addressing our thinking. He was concerned that the reader, would be stimulated to wholesome thinking, which he knew would produce wholesome living.
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.[ii]
What in particular did Peter have in mind? What words did Peter want them to recall? Peter was concerned about false teaching. He was concerned that those believers would buy into some lie and lead them away from the truth. One issue and challenge by some of the false teachers and skeptics was regarding the fact that Christ had not yet returned. In the first century the church lived with an incredible expectation of Christ’s return. Two thousand years later, Jesus hasn’t arrived yet. Many question! Some have challenged the premise of His return. Yet others have called ours ‘the terminal generation.’ There is no question in most people’s minds that we are racing towards new frontiers. The Scriptures propose that we are racing towards a new world order. One where God will reign supreme in every heart, where judgment for sin will transpire. Where every injustice will be addressed. Where there will be a new heavens and a new earth. We are on the brink of Christ’s return. We are drawing closer to that day. There are only two responses to the truth of His return.
THE FIRST RESPONSE TO CHRIST’S RETURN IS DOUBT AND SKEPTICISM
In our secular humanistic society, we act as if everything centers on man. Christ is ignored for the most part, and reviled at worst. What is now laughed at and scorned will prove unsettling when Jesus returns to hold each person accountable for their lives. The words spoken by prophets and apostles warn of this first response.
First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.
They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.[iii]
These scoffers are described as challenging the premise of divine intervention in our world, and the second coming of the Lord. They are also known as people who follow their own evil desires. The problem is that scoffers deliberately forget the facts. It is to this skepticism that Peter speaks and brings forth four powerful arguments against those who mock and scoff in doubt of Christ’s return.
1. The first one is taken from history, or the creation of the world and God’s intervention.
But they 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 the ungodly.[iv]
What did they forget? “By God’s word the heavens existed.” Many people have tossed the concept of creation and embraced the idea that our world somehow came into existence apart from God. The arrogance of modern man. It has only been the past 160 years of human history that western civilization has turned away from a God-centered viewpoint of creation to a “scientific, materialistic” approach toward man’s origin. This is how we have tried to answer the first big question. Where have we come from? By rejecting God’s revelation, we have embraced a theory that has had the effect of dehumanizing humanity. Is it any wonder that we have embraced such death-producing elements as euthanasia and abortion? Where we speak of the quality of life rather than the sanctity of life? We have championed people’s worth being tied to what they do rather than to who they are; made in the image of God. We have come descended unto a broad road leading us to destruction. We have lost the value and dignity of life itself as a gift from God. These profound moral underpinnings affect our thinking, and ultimately our actions. They were conveniently forgetting that, just like in the days of Noah, God judged humanity. God will come to judge the ungodly again.
2. Peter’s second argument comes from Scripture.
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8).” Here Peter is quoting Palm 90 regarding our perspective on time.
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep people away in the sleep of death- they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.[v]
“Whereas Psalm 90 contrasts the eternity of God with the brevity of human life, 2 Peter contrasts the eternity of God with the impatience of human speculations.”[vi]
A. E. Barnett writes: “Faith orients man to eternity, whereas scoffers remain children of time.”[vii] We are so impatient. We want everything to happen yesterday. God’s timing is unlike ours. It is interesting that Peter on the day of Pentecost, 2,000 years ago, quoted the prophet Joel who was describing what God was going to do in the last days. Peter stated this to his generation that they were in the last days. Here we are 2,000 years later living in the last days. What is he saying? God’s timetable is different than ours. It doesn’t mean what He says will not occur.
3. The third argument comes from the very nature of God.
God’s promises, though delayed, have more to do with His concern for humanity than His inability to keep His promises.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.[viii]
The reason Christ has not come yet is that God is leaving the door of safety open for others to respond. Repentance means that there must be a change of mind leading to a change of activity. To repent means we come into agreement with God. Apart from repentance we are left to experience the consequences of our behavior. Earlier in human history, humanity was judged and destroyed by the flood. Yet, even in this judgment God showed grace by sparing Noah, who was a God fearer. During those 100 years in which Noah built the ark, he endured the taunts and ridicule of his generation. But then there came that fateful day when the rains started, and God closed the door to the ark. The tragedy was that most people in that hour had forgotten the ‘eccentric’ Noah as a means of escape. This is foreshadowing of what is occurring today. God is rescuing people into the church through the person and sacrificial work of Jesus Christ. This happens when we come to Jesus by faith and receive his gracious offer of forgiveness achieved through his death on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins.
Michael Green relates the plain meaning of the verse is that,
although he [God] has made provision for all to be accepted, some will exercise their God-given free will to exclude God. And this he cannot prevent unless he is to take away the very freedom of choice that marks us out as men. Some will indeed perish (v.7), but this is not because God wills it.[ix]
C. S. Lewis elaborates why people choose poorly.
Man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe, not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will.[x]
Peter is pointing out that it is the patience of God that keeps the judgment of God from being executed as quickly as sin deserves. Though we need to understand that God will execute justice in His time. Often we misunderstand God’s delays, as being either a lack of power or willingness on his part to judge. That is what the ancient enemies of Israel thought when God allowed Israel to be taken into captivity. The God of the Israel was powerless to defend them against their gods. However Nahum rebukes that idea in writing about the coming judgment of the capital of Assyria, the city of Nineveh.
The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet.[xi]
Let me summarize some insightful teaching by the great puritan Theologian, Stephen Charnock regarding the nature of God’s patience.
God’s power moderates His anger. He controls Himself. However the unrepentant will not be acquitted or absolved from their guilt. God chooses however, to show mercy to those who repent. Therefore God’s patience is shown to the wicked in that He doesn’t destroy them immediately hoping that they will flee from their sins into His arms of mercy.
God’s slowness to anger is a greater argument for His power. He could destroy the world because of sin, but rather chooses to control Himself and give us an opportunity to embrace His mercy.[xii]
Ultimately, there will come a day of judgment, just like in the days of Noah.
4. The fourth argument comes from the promise of Christ.
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare (2 Peter 3:10).”
Jesus had said that about his coming. It would come suddenly and seemingly without warning.
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.
So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.[xiii]
Even Jesus in his humanity didn’t know the hour of his return. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father (Mark. 13:32).”
How are we to respond? In Mark 13 there are a number of things Jesus says concerning our response.
“…watch out no one deceives you…”
“…do not be alarmed…”
“…you must be on your guard…”
“…do not worry beforehand…”
We are to be alert but not alarmed, we must be guarded and realize that there are some that will try and deceive us, but we are not to worry. Peter has warned the believers, that scoffers will come and purposely forget some important things. God has judged the world by water, He will judge the world by fire. In verse seven we read “that the heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men [people].” Ungodly means “to be unlike God, not to be Godlike”. We can’t be spared by missiles and human ingenuity.
THE SECOND RESPONSE TO CHRIST COMING IS TO BE MEET BY FAITH AND OBEDIENCE
If we believe that Jesus Christ is coming again and it will be at an unexpected moment, how does it affect us? Here we find an answer to the second big question of life. “What am I living for?” The answer to a believer is simply, ‘for the glory of God.’ Our time here is brief in relationship to eternity. Our purpose is then to honor God, by fulfilling His will for our lives.
But let me ask you, the third big question. How are you preparing for eternity? How are you preparing for Christ’s return?
Peter now uses this powerful, motivating truth to encourage us towards four biblical responses.
1. Live a holy and godly life.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives… (2 Peter 3:11).”
Everything that is seen will be consumed by fire according to the Scriptures. Your dearest possession will one day be destroyed. What are you working for? What are you living for? A comfortable retirement, advancements in the marketplace, prestige, fame, fortune…all of these things are going to perish. Whatever our goal is in life shapes us. We can easily become seduced by this world.
Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it,’ while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.[xiv]
Here Peter is challenging us to live a holy and godly life. A life set apart for God’s purpose. A life being transformed into His image. That’s the only thing that will last. What you are striving for, shapes who you become! The greatest gift that we can give those we leave behind is the gift of a godly, holy life.
In an unstable and perishable universe the one stable and imperishable factor is human personality. It is with this that God is primarily concerned. A man’s character is the only thing he can take out of this life with him.[xv]
Do you really know what it boils down to? Putting God first! Not second, third, last and in some cases not at all. Putting Him first, seeking Him first. C. S. Lewis, in explaining seeking God’s kingdom first and then the other things will be added to us, says is this way: “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”[xvi] Are we seeking God first in our lives?
2. We ought to look forward to Christ’s return. What are you looking forward to?
…as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.[xvii]
How many are looking for a day, when things will finally work out? When what is true and right will prevail? The day when sickness and death are finally destroyed? There will come a new world order where there will be no more sickness, problems, struggles, greed, hatred, jealousy, nor envy (cf. Revelation 21:1-8). This will be where a place where kindness, love, concern and care prevail. That day is coming. This is the new world order that God promises us [In my book Revelation Revealed you discover in more detail what the Scriptures teach regarding what is about to happen]. So how should we live now?
3. We need to make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with God.
“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and a peace with him (2 Peter 3:14).” In the context of this biblical passage, what Peter is trying to convey is that a proper understanding of God’s message will affect how people live.
The look of hope must produce the life of holiness…It was the link between belief and behavior that the false teachers had broken. Their hopes were earthbound; their lives were immoral.[xviii]
Just as the false teachers were described as “blots and blemishes… in chapter 2:13, so here Peter challenges us to live above reproach. Our choices makes a profound difference. As believers we have to stop blaming circumstances and others for the choices we make. A victim mentality will never lead to freedom. We need to take responsibility. We must confess our sins. Jesus Christ is not only faithful, but able to forgive and to cleanse.
4. Finally, we ought to be on guard against false teaching.
False teaching can undermine the foundations upon which our confidence in Christ is gained.
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 [one translation states from “unprincipled men.”]. And fall from your secure position.[xix]
Peter has warned against people wrestling scriptures, particularly some of the things that Paul wrote, to excuse themselves from godly living. Grace is no excuse for sin. A true understanding of God’s grace will teach us to say ‘No!’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14).
This passage not only raised but also answered three big questions. Where did we come from? How are you going to respond to that? What’s our purpose here? To promote self or glorify God? That is what shapes our lives. Finally, where are we headed? Jesus is coming!!!
What will be your response? Doubt and careless living, or faith and godly living?
These are all determined by our response to Christ. Will we accept Jesus and his sacrifice for us or reject him? The only reason why God isn’t dealing with our sin immediately is because of his patience with us, not wanting us to perish but to enter into His new world order.
[i] Charles Swindoll, “Come Before Winter and Share My Hope”, 215-217.
[ii] 2 Peter 3:1-2, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] 2 Peter 3:3-4.
[iv] 2 Peter 3:5-7.
[v] Psalm 90:4-6.
[vi] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Revised Edition, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 146.
[vii] A. E. Barnett (Interpreter’s Bible). as quoted by Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Revised Edition, 147.
[viii] 2 Peter 3:9.
[ix] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Revised Edition, 148.
[x] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 69.
[xi] Nahum 1:3.
[xii] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and the Attributes of God, Vol. 2, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Books, 1996), 472-482.
[xiii] Matthew 24:42-44.
[xiv] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape letters, 132.
[xv] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Revised Edition, 152.
[xvi] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 280.
[xvii] 2 Peter 3:12-13.
[xviii] Michael Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude, Revised Edition, 155-56.
[xix] 2 Peter 3:17.