A Christian’s Response to the Future

This Sunday I will be preaching for a pastor of another church while he takes a short vacation. This turned out to be a good opportunity to preach a lengthier message from 2 Peter 3:1-13. The original message was preached in two parts and published as two separate articles. With God’s help, I trust it will be a blessing to this congregation and others who choose to read it in its entirety.

About the time Katie was born, I made the decision to purchase a used Saab 900. Ever since then, I have been loyal to that particular brand and model. But for some reason, my wife had not shared that affection. There was always something she didn’t like about the brand until she had one of her own. About a year ago, we were given a 1993 Saab 9000 with a variety of repairs needed. Suddenly Sharon had a change of mind. She liked her Saab. But alas and alack, there came a day when we acquired a minivan and decided to put up her Saab for sale.

About a week after putting a for sale sign in the car, I received a call from an eager “buyer.” He was calling long distance from Akron and promised to be at my home in two hours. I rushed home to get things ready, but found that he was not as punctual as he had claimed. He arrived four hours later. Then after looking at the car, he made an offer which I chose to accept. But because he was alone, he left to find someone to drive the car back. “I’ll be back in five minutes.” Two hours later, I called his cell phone and he promised to return at 8:00 am the next morning. By 8:30 am I finally gave up on the man and didn’t even bother to call him back.

Some people view the promise of Christ’s return with the same skepticism. They have attended church long enough to read the passages or hear sermons about the Return of Christ. But when they consider the amount of time that has passed, they begin to wonder if Christianity is based on the same kind of broken promises I received from that would be buyer. They have heard other religious people make promises about the future with the same results. As they consider the length of time since our Lord Jesus made his promise, they begin to mock any who still believe it.

I. WHY HAS GOD WAITED SO LONG? (1-9)

After reading 2 Peter 3:1-9, you may be thinking that these doubters had been waiting several hundred years. But this was not the case. They had been waiting a mere thirty years. It is sad to report that their unbelief affected some within the community of faith. So, Peter wrote this portion of his letter to address their questions.

A. Remember the promise (1-4).

Someone has said that few people need to be informed. What they need most is to be reminded. This was true of the believers to whom Peter was writing (see 1:12-15). They knew that the Lord Jesus had promised to return. There is no doubt that Peter had recounted his experiences with the risen Savior and his promise before the ascension. But as these believers faced the ridicule of the mockers, they needed to be reminded of this great promise (Acts 3:19-21). They also needed to remember that the prophets and apostles had prophesied about the mockers as well (Jude 17-19).

These mockers were known for two characteristics. The first characteristic was their preoccupation with lust. Without the Holy Spirit to produce self-control, and without the knowledge of the unsearchable riches of Christ, they sought for fulfillment in carnal pleasure. Paul spoke about such people and his description was not very appealing (2 Tim. 3:1-9).

Every believer has recognized something sobering about the Return of Christ. It puts everything else into perspective. Having the finest clothing, houses, or cars isn’t that important next to the possibility of Christ returning at any moment. But it is not so with the mockers. They laugh at the promise. “Where is the promise?” is another way of saying, “Are you an idiot? Can’t you see that you are waiting for something that will never happen?” As they looked back in history, they saw a generation pass away and there were no signs of Christ’s return getting any closer.

But despite their mocking we must …

B. Recognize their ignorance (5-7).

After the first few readings, I was oblivious to what Peter was saying here. But as I continued to read, the idea hit me. Peter is comparing Christ’s words of promise to the words which produced Creation and the Flood. The mockers are ignorant that God’s words never fail (Isa. 55:11). When he spoke, the earth and the sea were created. He promised Noah that he would send the Flood and it eventually took place. Yes, a hundred years passed before it happened, but it happened none the less. The same one who created the world and caused the Great Flood, is the same one who promised to return for his own. He is also the same one who will one day destroy the physical world with fire.

Mocking doesn’t take very much intellect. It is an easy pastime. But it takes something more to back up what you promise to deliver. God has done that in the past and it is strong evidence that he will do it again. Though the mockers enjoy their merriment now, they will one day know the truth.

C. Respect God’s timing (8-9).

Those of us who are believers are confident that Christ will return some day. But we may wonder what is taking him so long. We are happy that he waited long enough to save us and our family members, but what is keeping him now? Peter answers these questions in verses 8-9.

God’s timing is much different than our own. We tend to complain when things take too long. Take for instance a visit to a Taco Bell near Wickliffe. It took over ten minutes to get our order of food. That should be a crime! But contrast that with the service provided by the Taco Bell in Madison, Ohio. These people know how to provide quick service. As I was completing my order, I asked that my #6 Chalupa meal include a soft taco instead of a crunchy one. The cashier turned to the worker making our meal and found that it had already been made! This is the kind of service we expect from everyone nowadays. But it is not necessarily God’s way of doing things.

Peter reminded his readers that God doesn’t view time in the same way that humans do. One day with God is as a thousand years. And a thousand years with him is as one day. This is beyond our comprehension. But if we thought through time with God’s perspective, we would realize that it hasn’t been that long since Christ ascended into heaven.

What to people, including scoffers, may seem like a long time is to the Lord very short. The present Church Age has lasted, in God’s eyes, not quite two days!

Bible Knowledge Commentary

But there is a much more understandable reason for the Lord to wait so long. God is not “slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (ESV). He should not be viewed as a forgetful person who will eventually get around to it when he feels like it. God has a real plan for putting things off for almost two thousand years. He is waiting for us! In other words, there are still some of the elect left who need to be saved and he will not allow any to be lost.

Think back to the three parables told by our Lord in Luke 15. While others were talking about the time he was spending with sinners, our Lord was on a mission. He sought for the lost as did the shepherd who was missing one of his flock (15:1-7), the woman missing one of her coins (15:8-10), and the father who had lost his prodigal son (15:11-24). These parables are wonderful pictures of the love our Lord has for his own.

Now you know why God has waited so long. He has put off his Son’s return for what might be considered “a few days” for the sake of his elect. As you think about God’s longsuffering toward us, how can you be a part of God’s wonderful plan? Could it be that God is waiting for you to speak to that final person who needs to be saved? We do not know how long God will wait, but let us rejoice in his loving patience toward us and then be faithful in proclaiming the gospel to as many as possible.

II. HOW THEN SHOULD WE LIVE? (10-13)

As Christians, we have an advantage which other people do not have. We know what the future holds. In 2 Peter 3:10-13 we learn that the end of the earth will be quite dramatic. Peter reveals that the Day of the Lord will come unexpectedly and everything will be destroyed. The heavens will be destroyed with a great noise and the elements will be burned up. No earthly possession will escape. A Bible study of the Day of the Lord would prove quite interesting, but that is not Peter’s main focus here. Instead, he is attempting to make his readers think. If all of the things around me are one day going to be destroyed, how then should I live? In other words, how should a Christian respond to the future?

A. Our conduct should be different (11).

The return of Christ has always been a sobering message for believers. As we think about the possibility of him returning tonight, we are reminded that our thoughts, actions, and speech need to be pleasing to him. We realize that and want to be found faithful. But Peter does not use the return of Christ as the motivating factor here. Instead, he speaks of the destruction of all that is physical. With that in mind, how should we act?

1. First, we are to be known for holy conduct.

Holiness is what sets God apart from sinful humanity. He is perfect in all his attributes without any failings at all. As sinful human beings we wonder how we could ever attain such a status. Is it possible to become completely perfect as God is? Yes and no. God does nto expect us to be completely sinless; but we are commanded to be holy. In other words, we are commanded to live in such a way that others see that we are like our heavenly Father. Commentator D. Edmond Hiebert says, that “separation from evil and dedication unto God must mark [our] daily conduct” (Second Peter and Jude 162-163). This is a true statement. We are to exemplify the difference God has made in our lives and that will separate our conduct from that of the world.

2. Second, we are to be known for our godliness.

Godliness is a word that we often misunderstand. If you take it as face value, you would think that it means God like. “Everything that God is, I must be.” You know that this is impossible, so it must mean something else. Godliness means “a life of piety, respect, and reverence” (Rienecker & Rogers 782). You know people who have been characterized by godliness. Just being around them caused you to want to seek the Lord. Their conversations are filled with thoughts about God and what he is doing in their lives. They have such a high regard for the Lord that all of their life reflects it. This is godliness.

You might ask yourself if your conduct is any different than the rest of the world. Do your thoughts, speech, and actions reflect God’s holiness and a respect for who he is? If not, you might consider making some changes because God expects our conduct to represent him well.

B. Our goals should be different (12).

One of my favorite illustrated gospel tracts is the multipanel cartoon, Then What?. In this particular tract, two friends meet on a public bus and catch up on what has happened since they last saw each other. During the conversation, the Christian asks his friend what his goals are. Each time he answers, the Christian follows up with the question, “then what?” By the end of the tract, the other man becomes frustrated with the repeated question, but eventually begins to wonder. “After I get all the things I want, I’m going to die. Then what?”

The truth is that most Christians live the same way. We enjoy the pleasures of life and all the possessions we can get. We love the temporal more than we do the eternal. But our lives ought to be a lot different. We ought to have different goals than those who have not yet been regenerated. Notice what Peter says.

The heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat.

All that we have right now will one day be destroyed. While we should be good stewards of what the Lord has given us, we need to remember that one day those things will be destroyed. So, what should our goals be? The goal pointed out by Peter is the coming day of the Lord. We should be looking forward to it and hastening its coming.

Our eyes need to be focused on the goal of God’s kingdom. As Christ taught his disciples in the Lord’s Prayer, we should be praying for his kingdom to come (Matt. 6:10). But under the inspiration of the Spirit, Peter seems to take that a step further. Not only are we to have a desire for the kingdom to come, but our actions should be hastening its coming.

The participle used here can mean, “hurry, hasten, be zealous, or strive for” (BAGD 762). But even with that definition, you could take Peter’s words two different ways. The first way is to see this as a strong desire for the coming of the Day of the Lord. The translators of the King James Version seem to take it this way. One’s desire for the kingdom will be evidenced in a life that is constantly becoming more like a subject of the coming kingdom. “But the more usual meaning … is ‘to urge (or) hasten on, to accelerate’ ” (Hiebert 163). If taken this way, Peter is saying that Christians can hasten the coming of the Day of the Lord. How is this possible?

This is one of those statements in Scripture that causes you to scratch your head. How can my actions cause the kingdom to arrive any earlier? Perhaps a good parallel to this is prayer. God is sovereign over everything. His goals will be accomplished regardless of any opposition to them. And yet, God commands us to pray. We are to present our petitions before him and pray earnestly for them to be answered. Do our prayers influence God? Yes, somehow our prayers are incorporated into the divine plan of God. That is baffling, but is still true.

Another example is our part in evangelism. As we think about the need for God to work, we may wonder why we even need to tell people the gospel. No person can be saved unless God draws him to himself and God gives him the faith to believe. However, God incorporates the ministry of evangelism into that process. Yes, he is ultimately in charge of salvation, but without us presenting the gospel to people, who would be saved? (Rom. 10:14)

Perhaps we can look at this passage in the same way. We do not feel that our work is essential to the coming of the kingdom, but Peter says as much. Somehow, God incorporates our holy conduct and diligent activity into the timing of the Day of the Lord. So, let us do what we can to hasten its coming. Instead of living for self, let us live in such a way that we are not a hinderance to God’s plan for the future.

C. Our desire should be different (13).

Earlier in the epistle, Peter has described the sinful lifestyles of the false teachers. In contrast to their temporal and immoral desires, Christians should have their eyes fixed on the coming kingdom of their Lord. Peter describes it as “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Prophetic books describe the coming kingdom as something much better than what we now have. The millennial kingdom will be a wonderful time for believers to enjoy life under the sovereign and righteous rule of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then after the final battle, and the Great White Throne Judgment, all evil will be done away with. The apostle John describes in vivid detail what the new heavens and earth will be like in Revelation 21:1-8.

Once evil has been removed for good, eternity will be a perfect place of righteousness which we can enjoy. Does that sound good? Does it bring rejoicing to your heart that this life is not all there is? Those days of eternal righteousness ought to be the desire of our hearts. It all brings more meaning to the words of Jesus, when he said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Conclusion:

As you read these words, I have no doubt in my mind, that God’s Holy Spirit has been working. As you consider the temporal nature of all that we possess, how foolish it would be for any of us to live for the here and now. It would be much better to live with eternity in mind. Sadly, we need these kind of reminders quite often because the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life often get a grip on our affections. With that in mind, let us renew our dedication to the Lord and his purposes for the short time that we have left in this life.


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