Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Christian hope

2 Peter 1:12-21

If I gaze into the crystal ball and tell you that in ten years time you will receive £200million pounds, what would you say? Would you believe me? What would you want me to do to prove that it was true? If you did believe me, would it make any difference to your life now?

Peter, in our reading, wants to remind those of us who listen to him that there is something amazing that is going to happen in the future. Far more amazing than being told you will receive £200m in a few years time. The amazing thing is this: that one day, it may be in our life time, it may well not be - but it will still effect us; one day Jesus Christ - the Son of God - will return to this world in glory and in power.

We don't know what it will be like. It will not be the end of space and time, because they were created by God and are good, but it will be the end of space and time as we know it. It will not be the end of heaven and earth, because they were created by God and are good, but it will be the end of heaven and earth as we know it.

Later on in this letter, and especially in chapter 3, Peter gives us a glimpse of the day when it happens. He writes (3:13), "But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells". It will be a place where things will be right. People will do the right things in the right way at the right time with the right people for the right reason. We will be right with each other, right with ourselves and right with God.

It is not about floating on clouds and playing harps. It won't be like that. I cannot think of anything more boring. Actually I can: an endless church service with endless sermon or endless singing. It won't be like that either! Boredom will be the last thing in this new heaven and earth. It will be a place of of laughter, of play, of work, of creativity and of responsibility, of new adventures; a place of constantly broadening horizons: there will always be more to know and to discover and to learn. There will be things to anticipate and to get excited about. There will be new things that make us nervous. There will be a myriad of new experiences, new adventures, new achievements, new places to go (I have no idea how we will travel) and new sensations. There will be music and football and dancing and rugby and beauty. There will be new people to meet - and each person we meet will be unique and totally free and fascinating and wonderful and they will bring to us something that makes us astonished at how we managed to live without them; and because we have eternity, we do not need to rush away - there will be time to be with people, to do things, to grow the old friendships. And to others, we will be the most amazing and unique and wonderful person that there could be. There will be this sense of intimacy, more profound that any current human experience, that we belong to others and that they belong to us, and that we belong to God and that he belongs to us. And as for the muck that is in us, the sin that wants to make us the centre of things and messes with and uses other people and things to satisfy our own desires; the sin that drags us down in guilt and despair and a sense of worthlessness - it will be gone. There will be no place for evil or mockery or abuse or violence. We will be set free to love and to live, as we were meant to love and to live. And we will grow older, but our bodies will not grow older as they grow older in this world - we will just grow stronger and wiser and bigger and freer. And there will be joy and there will be wonder and there will be praise that bubbles up from our deepest deepest being.

If your idea of heaven is clouds and harps or church services - then could I suggest two books that you could read. The first is called 'The Shack', by William Young; the second is 'The Last Battle', and in particular the last few chapters, by CS Lewis.

And right at the centre of this new heaven and new earth will be a person. This is the vision that we read in Revelation. It will be the person who made it all happen, without whom we would be excluded and who holds everything all together. This person will be like us, just like us - or perhaps it would be more correct to say that we will be like him, just like him. He will be very different from how he was when he lived on earth. 2000 years ago he had a body like us. But in this new heaven and earth, his body will be transfigured: he will be awesome and radiant.


Is it all pie in the sky? Is it all wishful thinking?

That is what many would tell us:
  • It is what Karl Marx said, when he said that 'religion is the opium of the people' - a drug to keep them subservient
  • It is what some of the teachers in the church to which Peter was writing were saying. They were the scoffers about whom Peter writes in ch 3:3-4: "Above 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 ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."

But Peter says there are two reasons why we can be convinced that this is not wishful thinking:

I'll take them in reverse order

1. Because it was what the prophets in the Old Testament spoke about.

They spoke about the day when the Lord would return. They spoke of the coming day when all that is evil would be judged and condemned, and when the Kingdom of God under the rule of the anointed one, would be established: Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:6-9; Ezekiel 47; Daniel 12; Joel 3; Amos 9. The list is endless.

And Peter says, These prophets were not the equivalent of our science fiction writers. They were not crystal ball gazers. The promises they stated were not the product of a wild imagination. They were speaking as God told them to speak:
Peter writes, v20-21 "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

And he talks about this promise being like a small light that shines in the darkness (v19).

In our previous house in London we often had trouble with the pilot light on the boiler. You know what a pilot light is. It is that tiny light that is burning, so that when you turn up the power, the whole thing explodes into life. Our pilot light didn't work, so that when we turned up the power, nothing happened. The whole thing was dead.

Well, says Peter, the words of the prophet are the tiny flame in the boiler. If it is there, if those words have rooted themselves into us, then on the day when Jesus returns, they will flood our body with life.

The message of the prophets, says Peter, is completely reliable.

But the second reason, Peter says, this is not pie in the sky is

2. Because we saw the glory of Jesus (vv16-18)

"For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain."

I could say so much about this - but I'm not!

Peter is writing of the time when Jesus had just told his disciples that some them would not die until they had seen the Kingdom of God come with power.

A few days later Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain and they see Jesus transformed, talking with Moses and Elijah. It was a glimpse of Jesus in his glory. It was a picture of Jesus, Lord of space and time. It was a glimpse of the new heaven and the new earth.

And so Peter emphasizes: We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power - we saw it. And he is clearly talking about the transfiguration as an anticipation of the second coming of Jesus.


Our Christian faith is not just based on words, but on events: events that happened in history. Events that were witnessed by people like Peter.

We can experience the truth of Christianity for ourselves as we walk with Jesus Christ. As we put our trust in him, so we discover that he can be trusted.

We can experience Jesus Christ, but we did not see him or hear him. That is why we are so dependent on the first followers of Jesus, on people like Peter, James and John. That is why they are apostles, in a unique sense. That is why we read the bible - to remind ourselves of what he said and did; to remind ourselves that even though we did not see him or hear him, there was a bunch of people who did. And they wrote it down.

So we have a great hope: a hope based on the prophets in the old testament, and on the words that are written for us in the new testament. It is a hope that is far greater than anything that could be given us in this world or by this world.

1. It means we can face death with a quiet confidence. Many Christians say that they don't like the idea of the process of dying, but they are at peace because they know that they will be with the Lord. Peter knew that he would die in a dreadful way (Jesus had told him that), but he is still able to write: "I know I will soon put aside this tent in which I live"

2. It also means that we can face life with a quiet confidence: that our faith is based on facts; that this world is not all that there is; that there is something much much more real and solid - and that the way to live now is about reminding ourselves that there is a judgement and an amazing future.

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