I’d hate people to think that the things we talk about here on a Sunday are not relevant. That the Bible is not relevant. That Jesus is not relevant.
Of course, that’s far from true. Jesus is very relevant. So the Bible is very relevant. So what we talk about, week by week, is very relevant.
But sometimes things can seem a bit abstract.
This autumn, we’ve been working our way through the letter of 2 Peter. Written by Simon Peter, former fisherman, one of the first disciples, as he’s growing older and knows he will die soon.
He’s writing to some Christians are being destabilised. People have been teaching them things about Jesus that aren’t true. Specifically, they were denying that Jesus will return. Not in obscurity, as a baby, but in power and glory, as judge of us all.
We looked at this in the first half of chapter 3. God created this world, he has judged it, and he’ll do so again. God is eternal, and God is patient.
But then that nagging concern of mine kicks back in. What’s the relevance of all this? What does this teaching on Jesus returning have to do with daily life? How does it affect my life and yours?
Happily, today’s passage answers that question. It was always slightly arbitrary to split chapter 3 in half. We saw last time that Jesus will return. Today, we learn how the rubber hits the road. What does this mean in practice?
Woven through these verses, we find 3 ways that Jesus’ return lands in daily life. Today, the 3 themes we’re going to look at don’t correspond to differing blocks of verses. They’re woven together all the way through.
Number 1, spotless living. Spotless living.
We have to be clear what will actually happen on the day Jesus returns.
It’s a cosmic event, that brings in a new world order, where righteousness is the order of the day.
Note firstly that it’s cosmic. Verse 10: “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” And verse 12: “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”
This sounds like total destruction. Back in verse 11, Peter said the heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire. Now you can hear the roar of the flames. People think “the elements” refer to the stars, what we’d call “outer space”. This is bigger than global warming. This is cosmic.
And yet it’s not actually total destruction. It’s destruction of the old word order.
And yet, not. Yes, it’s cosmic. Yes the old world will be destroyed.
But the emphasis isn’t actually on destruction. It’s on judgement, and renewal.
Look how verse 10 ends: “and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” No hiding. Everything exposed.
Lots of people who have done terrible things (criminals, abusers, haters) are in hiding, or their hiding what they’ve done. Lots of us may have things we want to keep hidden.
On that day, everything will be spread out into the open. Nobody will hide.
But the judgement of all that is bad leaves the floor clear for a new world where everything is good.
Verse 13: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” Language from Isaiah 65. A new world. Not brand new. New in character. Renewed. A world where nothing is wrong or sad.
The earth is currently a mixed place. There’s joy and there’s sadness. There’s good and there’s evil. But when Jesus returns, evil will be judged and removed. Sadness will be gone forever. And there will be a new world, that is only good. Where there’s only joy. And most wonderfully of all, “… where righteousness dwells.” Where everything is exactly as God wants it to be. Where we will be exactly the people God wants us to be.
It will be cosmic. It will change everything forever. For it’s not the destruction of everything, the removal of everything. It’s the exposure of all that is bad. The removal of all that is bad. And a restored, renewed world, where everything is only good. Where we are only good.
Perhaps it helps to think about the church hall. The plan is to build a new one. The old one was tragically destroyed in a fire. Out of the ashes will arise a brand new hall. In some ways, just like the old one. In the same place. A similar sized footprint. With a large main hall in the northern half of the building. A kitchen. An office. A smaller meeting room. Some toilets. But everything that was not good about the old one went in the fire. The heating costs. The thin walls. The flat roof. The galley kitchen.
New. Yet not new. Yet certainly not old.
That’s where it’s heading. That’s where we’re heading. To a world where everything is the way it should be. To a world where every sinful, bad habit will be gone. Every selfish thought will be gone. We’ll be righteous, and we’ll live in a world where righteousness dwells.
So first of all, we ned to look forward to this. And then we need to start to look the part now.
Verse 11: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”. Verse 14: “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”
Holy. Godly. Spotless. Blameless.
If you’re like me, you look forward to lots of things. Your next holiday, for example. I’m sure you’ve got things on your mental calendar, things you’re really looking forward to. We need to make sure that the return of Jesus is on that mental calendar. That we’re just busting for it to come.
And then we work to get ready. Holy. Godly. Spotless. Blameless.
Actually, before we get to how we live, there’s something even more important to do to be read. Verse 14: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”
Our biggest need on the day of judgement is to be at peace with God. To be on his side, not opposed to him. To be forgiven. Reconciled. Part of his family.
This is something God does for us, not something we achieve by being good. Remember how this letter began. God’s “divine power has given us everything we need”. Nobody gets into heaven by pulling their socks up. Jesus died and rose again, to give you what you could never achieve yourself.
Make sure you reach that last day as a Christian, someone who knows and loves Jesus. Having done that, make every effort to grow in godliness.
Spread the Good News
The second way the second coming impacts daily life: Spread the good news. Spread the good news.
Look again at verse 12: “as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” Not just look forward. Accelerate.
The logic here is not hard to see. If you’re looking forward to something. If you’re busting a gut, straining, waiting for it to arrive. Then you’d love anything that makes it happen quicker.
If you can’t wait for the end of term, you’d love it to come a week earlier. If you’re looking forward to your holiday, you’d love to bring it forwards a few weeks. If you’re looking forward to opening your Christmas presents, you’d love to be told you can have them on 15th this year.
And if you’re looking forward to Jesus’ return, you’d love to be told that he’s now coming a bit sooner. Here’s the prayer with which the New Testament ends: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” The sooner, the better.
But you may well wonder how you can do this. How can little you, and little me, make any difference to the date of Jesus’ return?
At one level, you’re right to ask. It is nothing to do with us. But Peter seems to assume we can. He says we can “speed its coming” But how?
Think back to last time. We asked the question: What’s the delay? Why the hold-up?
Can anyone remember the answer?
It was in verse 9: “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.”
The day when Jesus is returned is the day when the door is closed. When our destinies are sealed. Every day Jesus delays his return is another day for people to turn to him to become Christians. Every day Jesus delays his return means maybe thousands of people will then be ready to meet him, will spend eternity in heaven rather than eternity in hell.
So Jesus is patient. He delays. But not forever. Verse 10. But the day of the Lord will come.
You get the same idea at the start of verse 15: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation”.
Now, let’s return to the thing that was puzzling us. How can we make any difference to the date Jesus returns? How can we speed it up?
Well: If the reason for the delay is that Jesus wants more people to become Christians, if more people become Christians, the day can come sooner.
Actual railways run to a timetable. Even if the train’s empty, it goes. Model railways run on demand. If there aren’t many people on board yet, it’ll sit there for another 5 or 10 minutes before chugging around the lake with you and your children on board.
So if you don’t want to wait, drum up some custom. Invite passers-by to take a ride. Bring your whole extended family and fill up half the train just yourselves. It’ll leave more quickly.
If you don’t want to wait for long for Jesus to return, drum up some custom. The good news that Jesus came to this earth to bring lost people home, to place us into God’s family, to restore us to heaven, to forgive us all we’ve done wrong, is the most wonderful news imaginable. And by spreading that good news, you’re getting more people on board, and removing the reason for further delay.
The fact that Jesus returns makes spreading the good news the most urgent task we have.
There are so many things we can do that serve and help other people. We can visit neighbours who may be lonely, or invite them round at Christmas. We can give gifts. We can contribute to the food bank. We can use less plastic, emit less carbon dioxide, to make the environment better for the next generation.
All are good things to do. Jesus and the Old Testament both tell us to love our neighbours.
But when we think how we can love our neighbours, the most loving thing we can do is to tell them about Jesus. Or to bring them to a Christmas service where they’ll get to hear about Jesus.
The problem is that other needs are more visible, more obvious. If someone’s sick, or hungry, or lonely, you can see it. If someone doesn’t know Jesus, it’s not obvious that this is a major problem.
When Jesus returns, if you don’t know Jesus, being well-fed, healthy, and having lots of friends won’t help you one bit. Because the day Jesus returns will be a terrible day for you. The Jesus you’ve rejected will finally reject you. It’s the beginning of an eternity, suffering the consequences for the ways you’ve pushed God out of your lives.
But if you do know Jesus, that’s a day when all your other problems are solved in an instant. When Jesus returns, nobody who knows and trusts him in this life will be sick, or lonely, or hungry. Never again.
If Jesus is really going to come back in the way he said he would, the most urgent and important task for us is to spread the good news. Make sure you, personally, have accepted his kindness, made your peace with him. Then tell everyone you know how they can have the same thing.
Spread the good news.
Study the Scriptures
We’re asking how Jesus’ return lands for us in daily life? 1. Spotless living. 2. Spread the good news. And 3. Study the Scriptures. Study the Scriptures.
You may remember that the second half of chapter 1 was on this theme. Peter wanted us to pay attention to the testimony of Jesus’ apostles, what we call the New Testament. And he wanted us to pay attention to the Old Testament, as to a lamp in a dark place. Well he’s back on that theme again.
Peter is not the only person to write about these things. Verse 15: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters.”
Paul writes exactly the same thing. In all his letters. We have Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. All those letters are consistent with each other. Paul did not write with his own wisdom, but with wisdom given him by God. They tell us what God thinks, not just what Paul thought.
And here’s the most amazing thing. Perhaps we don’t notice this next bit because we’re not first century Jews. Look how Peter goes on: “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
There are Paul’s letters. And there are “the other Scriptures”. That’s the word a first century Jew would use for what we call the Old Testament. The 39 books that make up the word of God for them. But here, they’re the “other Scriptures”. Which means Peter is putting Paul’s letters alongside the Old Testament. Paul’s letters have an equal status, inspired Scripture, the written word of God.
That is absolutely extraordinary. Any Jew knew that the Old Testament was the written word of God. But even by this point, the mid 60s AD, Peter is placing what we call the books of the New Testament alongside them. Equally, the written word of God.
The trouble is, the Bible is misused and misunderstood. “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
The false teachers are reading Paul’s letters. They say Jesus won’t return. So we can live how we please.
But don’t be fooled. The problem is not with Paul’s letters. They distort the other Scriptures too. The problem is with them. They are ignorant and unstable. Ignorant, untaught, unteachable. So wrapped up in what they think that they won’t let God shape their thinking. And unstable. Not rooted in God’s word, but prone to wobble with the prevailing culture.
And so these folk take Paul’s letters. They read them. They teach from them. But they’re contortionists. They make Paul’s letters say something other than the clear meaning that is on the surface. They make them say something other than what Paul meant, when he wrote them.
The word for “distort” is literally to twist. It’s a word used for torturing someone on a rack. It’s the word used for twisting something out of shape.
It’s also the word for making a rope. If you go to the Historic Dockyard at Chatham, you can visit their ropery. You can make your own rope, by old fashioned methods. Huge long strands of fibre, a quarter of a mile long, are stretched out between two spindles. At one end, one of your turns one way; at the other end, someone else turns the other way. And so you twist it together.
That’s what these false teachers are doing with the Bible. They’re twisting it until it’s completely out of shape, until it says something that was never what the original authors were wanting to say.
If you want to be biblical in your beliefs, it’s not enough to be able to quote Bible verses to support your view. You need to be handling the Bible responsibly. Let it speak. Don’t twist it out of shape, make it say things it plainly doesn’t.
And for that we need to study. It’s all in there, from Genesis to Revelation. Paul’s letters, and the other Scriptures.
So don’t be ignorant and unstable. Study the Scriptures.
People may teach false things about Jesus on many topics.
But the topic that was particularly under attack in Peter’s day was the return of Jesus.
People were saying that the universe is a closed system. That it will go on forever as it always has done.
Peter wants us to hold to the teaching of Jesus, to the teaching of the Old Testament, to the teaching of Paul: Jesus will return. He’ll return to judge the living and the dead.
The question is: Are you ready for that day?
First and foremost, that means making sure you are at peace with him. That you’ve received, personally, the peace with God that Jesus purchased when he died and rose again.
And then, having made sure you are at peace, being ready for Jesus to return means spotless living, spread the good news, study the Scriptures.