Sunday, 4 December 2005
Advent 2 Peter 3:8-15
Advent: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
It is very easy to dismiss the season of Advent as a flight from reality. In the season of Advent we have two foci: one is Bethlehem, 2000 years ago; and the other is the end of space and time as we know it. And both seem to be unreal.
We talk - at one end - about angels singing in the sky, of a virgin feeding her baby in a cattle trough, and - at the other - of a cataclysmic global barbeque at the end of time, and Jesus returning.
It all seems so very far from everyday life. It all seems so irrelevant.
But 2 Peter 3 is a passage of utter realism
It is the reason why Christians have been on tiptoe for the last 2000 years, waiting for something to happen, waiting for God to intervene, waiting for the God who we know to be so real and to be so significant for our lives to break into this world: to make himself known, to wipe out that which is evil, and to establish his rule of peace and righteousness: where what is right conquers what is evil.
I remember one man in my previous church. He was a police officer and worked for CID. He became a Christian and met with Jesus in a most astonishingly powerful way. And because God was so real to him, so obvious, he really did expect that the event that 2 Peter talks about was going to happen possibly this week, maybe next week, but certainly in the next year or so.
It is these sort of people to whom Peter is writing. They had seen Jesus Christ rise from the dead. If they hadn't seen it themselves, they knew people like Peter who had seen it. And they knew Jesus; they had met with the risen Jesus: they knew his peace and his power. They had the presence of the Holy Spirit in them: they experienced what it was to call and to know God as Father God; they knew what it was like to be forgiven, children of God; they were experiencing that power which God gives us to overcome fear, the things that trap us, the evil that we do; that power which enables us to rejoice in suffering and to persevere.
Of course they expected something dramatic and immediate to happen. Jesus had said, "I will return". Everything else he had said had been true - so this is also going to be true. And so they waited. And they waited.
And by the time that Peter wrote this letter, they had probably been waiting for about 30 - 40 years. And Peter was getting on: he writes in 2 Peter 1:13-14, "I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me".
And Peter wants them to know
1. That Jesus will return:
He writes [2 Peter 3:3], "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." He is saying, "Of course people are going to scoff". "But" he continues, "The day of the Lord will come" (3:10)
2. That Jesus will return when it is right with God the Father, and not when we wish: "with the Lord a day is like a thousand years".
I like the story of the man who was praying: "God," he said, "is it true for you that a million pounds is as one penny". "Yes", said God. "God", said the man, "Give me one penny". "Yes", said God, "in a second".
There is a prayer that is embedded within the Orthodox liturgy: "Holy God, holy and strong, holy and eternal, have mercy on us". When I pray it, I remember that I am praying to the God who is strong enough to do far more than I could ever ask him. But I also remember that I am praying to the God who has a very different schedule to my programme.
And God's schedule is motivated by love. He is not lazy. He has not got more important things to do: v9b, "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance". God knows who he wishes to spend eternity with him: that is why he waited for you to be conceived; that is why he waited for you to turn to him - or maybe that is why he is still waiting - waiting for you to put aside your stubborn pride, intellectual arrogance or willful selfishness and admit that he is God, surrender to him and receive his free gift of forgiveness, acceptance and life.
3. That Jesus will return suddenly, unexpectedly: "But the day of the Lord will come like a thief" (v10).
Actually Peter here is just reminding himself what Jesus said: "But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him." (Luke 12:39f)
A burglar does not drop a visiting card through your letter box and say, "I'll be round to do your house at 2 am tomorrow morning". And Jesus is saying, "I've said that I'm going to come. But I am not going to drop you a card saying when I am coming: you need to be ready"
I watched "What not to wear" on Wednesday. Trinni and Suzanna, or whatever their names are, had redesigned two menopausal women: they had gone into their homes, they had thrown out the old from their wardrobe and brought in the new. They had transformed the external image of these women. It was amazing to see the contrast. And a year later they suddenly, unexpectedly, revisit these women. They turn up at their homes and look at their wardrobes: to see whether the old has crept back in, or to see whether the women were continuing to live their new lives.
You get what I am saying. Jesus has come into our lives. He has thrown out the old. He has given us new lives. We're forgiven, accepted by God, in him we have the power to change, to even overcome destructive life habits, we can have a relationship with God.
But Jesus is going to come back - he will come back when we are not expecting him - and he will open the metaphorical wardrobes of our lives and see whether the old has crept back in. Are we living as new people or as old people?
4. That Jesus will return cataclysmically, and there will be great destruction: "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)
The emphasis of the prophets; the emphasis of Peter here is less on the destruction, and more on the fact that there will be nothing that we can hide ourselves behind. When Jesus returns, whether you have already died, or are still living on earth, God will see us as we are. On that day there will be no more hiding or pretending. Everything and everyone in which we have put our trust will be stripped away from us: we will stand alone and naked before our God.
The story is told of the two undertakers traveling past some very smart houses in a very wealthy part of town. The younger said to the older, "Look at those houses - the people who live there must be very rich". The older replied: "Aye. But when they come to us, they're all the same".
We spend so much of our time and money on building up our comfort zones, our walls, our defence systems, our image: whether it is homes or cars or beautiful things or technology or work or children or clothes or books or insurance schemes. One day, either when we die, or when Jesus returns, it will all be stripped away from us. On that day, it will be a face to face encounter: a one to one with Son of God.
It is worth preparing for. If something has got too strong a hold on you, be willing to let it go. It is going to be stripped away from you anyway. We need to begin to face up to who I am, who I really am, now.
5. That Jesus will return and bring with him a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (v15)
The goal of Jesus return is not destruction. In fact we are told that the creation waits for his coming, so that it might be set free from its bondage to decay. The goal of Jesus' return is a new heaven and a new earth: life as God planned it to be.
I don't know what it will be like: 'eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man or woman conceived what God has prepared for those who love him'. But I do know that it will be a place of righteousness: that because God is there, we will do the right thing for the right reason at the right time for the right motive in the right way - and that it will be right and feel right.
We are not suspended between Bethlehem and the end, like the squirrel in 'Ice Age' in ice: who is waiting for the next big defrost.
We live, in relationship with Jesus now, looking to the future (v14): "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him".
Because your heart will matter then, your heart matters now: make every effort to be found spotless and blameless
Because your relationship with him will matter then, your relationship with him matters now: and note we are not told to be at peace with ourselves, or with our environment, but to be at peace with God. And that involves confession, repentance, receiving the gift of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit and eternal life.
This is not a flight from reality. This is a passage of utter realism. It is about the future, and our hope for the future. But because it is about the future - the future as it will be - it is also about the present. It is about how you and I live here and now: trusting the promises of God; living spotless and blameless lives, and being at peace with him.