Preacher: Rev Phil Swain Bible Reading: 2 Peter 3:1-10, 17-18
In our last sermon in our 2 Peter series, Phil is exploring the tricky topic of the second coming of Jesus. When Peter wrote this letter it was about 30 years after Jesus ascended into Heaven and people were starting to wonder … “what happened to Jesus promise to return … is Jesus really coming back again?” Now nearly 2000 years … how do we understand the whole issue of “The Day of the Lord”. Phil will help us to explore what Peter says in his letter and how we can hold this alongside current issues such as environmentalism. This will be both an encouraging yet challenging time of learning as we consider how we get ready for the day of the Lord.
This is the third and last sermon on our journey through 2 Peter. So far Kevin has talked about Peter’s encouragement to grow in our faith and to discern God’s calling in our lives.
Last week Gielie shared some context about the people that Peter was writing this letter two and how they were struggling with transitioning from first generation to second generation Christians. And how in the kids of the original church were not only struggling to work out faith for them but how they also had to content with false teachers and discern what teaching was right and what was wrong.
And yet in both these sermons – despite the challenges we also find that Peter was encouraging the early church to remain connected to God and never loose sight of the blessings that come through our faith in Jesus. How did Gielie describe it last week – we are eyewitness to this majesty.
Today sermon is a bit more of the same … we have a difficult issue that the church was wrestling with that Peter addresses – but at the same time there is also some beautiful encouragement for our faith. The issue was the whole topic of “the day of the Lord”.
The early church had this idea that Jesus was just about to return … like any moment just about to return … and were quite justified in that thinking.
In Acts 1:11 – as Jesus ascended into Heaven, two angels said to the disciples that Jesus will return the same way. This backed up what Jesus repeatedly told them that he would come back.
In John 14 Jesus said he would return and take them to be with him. In Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus said that the Son of Man will come in glory. Paul, John, Peter, Titus, the writer of Hebrews – all mention in their letters about Jesus returning. And … and this is why the early church thought it was immanent … Jesus in Matthew 24:34 when talking about his return says “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”
So the early church are going … Jesus might have gone back into heaven but will return in our generation … in the next 20 years or so.
Gielie mentioned last week, the letter of second Peter was written about 35 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. The generation of those who knew Jesus were all dying out and Jesus had not yet returned! There were some people who were being to doubt that Jesus was actually coming back again. How were they to understand the day of the Lord if the day of the Lord was being delayed?
Peter in our reading quotes Psalm 90:4 which talks about how a day is like a thousand years to God and visa versa … therefore Jesus is not wrong with his promise … and that God is being patient so that more people can respond because God doesn’t want anyone to perish. Ok, I get that … but it is an unsatisfactory answer to their question.
Besides, we are now almost 2000 years later … how do we understand the day of the Lord? Is God still being patient? Are we still thinking that Jesus is returning any time soon?
To help us explore this I am going to explore three different questions – and I pray that this might be helpful for you.
- How do we understand the destruction of the world that Peter talks about in our bible reading?
- What does it mean for us to be ready for the “Day of the Lord”?
How does this sound as an approach?
1. How do we understand the return of Jesus?
For those of us who either grew up or lived through the 80’s, 90’s and noughties … we were taught a very specific answer to this question. (Which was highly influenced by the very popular “Left Behind” books and movies).
This way of understanding the “Day of the Lord” is that there will be a rapture of believers, followed by the end times, the rise of the antichrist, the coming of Jesus in power and glory, the end battle and destruction of the world and a new heaven and new earth. This has come from different Bible verses and an attempt to interpret the apocalyptic passages of Daniel and Revelation. And we had great fun debating if we were pre or post millennial believers and under what age were you automatically raptured etc. This is a legitimate way of understanding the end times, but it is not the only way.
You see, one of the difficulties that the church and Christians have wrestled with when it comes to the return of Jesus is verses such as Matthew 28:30 when Jesus promises to “be with us always, to the very end of the age”.
If Jesus is already with us, then what does it mean for Jesus to return. If we can already talk with Jesus and feel Jesus’ presence with us … then is the return of Jesus more about the establishment of God’s kingdom than the physical presence of Jesus?
This idea has opened the door to some other ways of understanding the return of Jesus. Maybe the day of the Lord is the time when the world sees and realises that the way of Jesus is a way that leads to life and blessings? Maybe the day of the Lord is when “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. And maybe the day of the Lord doesn’t come through Jesus coming in power and forcing people to live his way but when we, Jesus’ followers, get our act together and help the world see and embrace the way of Jesus as a way that brings life and healing and hope. Can you see what this idea is saying?
Or is the day of the Lord a bit of both ideas? Let’s turn our attention to the second tricky question:
2. How do we understand the destruction of the world that Peter talks about in our bible reading?
Our Bible reading today was not an easy one. Verse 10 in particular: 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 done in it will be laid bare.
And in case we missed it – Peter also affirms this idea of the complete destruction of all of creation in verse 7, 11 and 12.
So how do we understand this? In the “left behind” scenario, the world gets totally destroyed in the final battle when Jesus comes in glory.
Or we can look at this scientifically and say that it has been proven that due to the expanding of our sun that at some point in the future we will be consumed by heat and totally destroyed.
Or I have read some articles that Peter is prophetically referring to climate change and that due to human’s impact that the earth will continue to heat up and we will all be destroyed … or how does verse 11 put it … everything will be destroyed in the heat.
But there is a problem with this way of thinking. I – and a lot of other theologians and scholars – struggle with this idea that if the world is going to be totally destroyed then what is the point of caring for it now? Why be good stewards of creation or being environmentally caring for creation if it is God’s plan to destroy it all anyway? If God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth – then lets plunder this old earth for all its worth … after all, we would be helping to achieve God’s plan, wouldn’t we?
No – I don’t believe that this is God’s plan. I suit more comfortably in the Old Testament or Judaism understanding of this. They also had the idea that there would be a new heaven and a new earth … but it would not come about through the destruction of the old earth and God creating a brand-new earth to replace it – but rather the new earth was a renewing of the old earth. God was renewing all of creation and inviting us to help in that renewing process.
Do you see what this idea is saying? Yes, the world is on a path to destruction. Peter is right in verse 13 that we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth but this is a result of God helping us to turn from this path of destruction and work towards a renewing of the earth we have. We are already living in the new heaven and new earth, we as God’s stewards have to work with God in renewing it. And that is why this idea would affirm that the environmental caring for creation is so important … because it is part of God’s renewal plan.
How are we going … let’s get to our last tricky question:
3. What does it mean for us to be ready for the “Day of the Lord”?
Peter in verse 10 says that the day of the Lord will come like a thief … and in verse 17 that we should “be on our guard” or to “be ready”. Gielie last week said that we need to be alert and of sober mind. In the light of all that we have been wrestling with so far in this sermon … how do we be ready for the day of the Lord? One might answer … it depends how we answered the first two questions … and that would be a fair point.
I guess I don’t want us to live in fear about the day of the Lord. I spent my teenage years fearing that the rapture was just about to happen and that wasn’t helpful.
But Peter does encourage us to be ready by reflecting on the words of encouragement given by Jesus and the prophets (v2), by living godly lives or in a way that honours God (v11), to be at peace with God or to be settled in our relationship with God (v14) and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (v18).
I’d also add that being ready for the Day of the Lord is about participating with God in the renewing of all creation like me mentioned earlier. It is standing against the things that are bringing destruction to the world or to people’s lives. It is about being a vessel in which God can bring heaven to earth.
That is a pretty comprehensive list of how to be ready – however we understand the day of the Lord to be. And that is probably a great spot to finish this sermon.
So we say Amen to that.