What’s Taking So Long?
Okay, before we get started this morning, I have three questions I want to ask you:
- How many of you would say that patience — being patient — is a challenge for you?
- How many of you have ever been late to something?
- How many of you have heard of the video game called Grand Theft Auto?
Okay, so these are all related to 2 Peter 3, which is the passage we’re looking at this morning. This is the last chapter of 2 Peter, and there’s really just three things I want us to see here, and I’m just going to get right to it.
- First, I want us to see again the overall theme of this letter;
- Second, I want us to see Peter’s argument in this chapter;
- Third, I want us to close with some application that’s right here in the text.
So, if you like outlines, we’re going to go: theme; argument; application.
The Letter’s Overall Theme
We’ll start with the theme, and what I hope to do here is to tie the whole book together for us. I think Peter has made this easy on us. The beginning of Chapter 3 is one of those special places in the Bible where the author tells us you exactly what he’s trying to do. Look at vv. 1–2,
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. [his first letter is what we call First Peter; this second letter is called Second Peter.] In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles…
So Peter says, basically, I am writing to you to remind you. That’s the same thing he says back in Chapter 1, in verses 12 to 15.
verse 12: “I intend to always remind you of these qualities…”
verse 13: “I think it is right … to stir you up by way of reminder…”
verse 15: “I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”
So Peter wants his readers to remember. He says that in Chapter 1 and in Chapter 3 — but we should ask: What is it that he wants us to remember?
Well, in Chapter 1 Peter says he wants to remind us about the kingdom qualities he mentions in 1:5–7. [Remember those kingdom qualities? We talked about those two sermons ago.] Peter says that when we live out these kingdom qualities — faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, and so on — when we live these out we display our connection to the eternal kingdom of Jesus. We are connected to the eternal kingdom of Jesus because of what Jesus has done, and then we show that connection by how we live. So Jesus is coming back, he’s bringing his kingdom, and Peter wants to remind us to live in a way that fits with that kingdom. That’s his reminder in Chapter 1.
And then in Chapter 3, in verse 2, Peter says he wants to remind us about “the predictions of the holy prophets” and “the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” In other words, Peter wants us to remember what the prophets and apostles have said. The prophets, as we saw in Chapter 1, were led to speak by the Holy Spirit; and the apostles, we see here in Chapter 3, have been led to speak by Jesus himself.
And this is a big deal. Peter puts the prophets and the apostles in the same bag, which is good to know, because the Bible includes both. The Bible is composed of what both the prophets and the apostles have said. So when we read the Bible, we read the words of the Spirit speaking through the prophets; and we read the words of Jesus speaking through the apostles. And Peter wants us to remember what they’re saying. Which is, he wants us to remember that Jesus really is coming back, that his eternal kingdom really is coming here. And that’s the overall theme of this letter.
And Peter gets there in Chapter 3, verses 3–4, by describing what the false teachers deny. He calls them scoffers. Look at verse 3, he says,
knowing this first of all — [Peter means here that part of remembering truth is recognizing error] — so knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say — [here’s what they deny] — They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
In other words, Peter wants us to remember that Jesus really is coming back, because, first of all, scoffers will come saying that he’s not.
These scoffers are, I think, the false teachers in Chapter 2. Pastor David Mathis preached that last week. The people described in Chapter 2 are living recklessly and licentiously, doing whatever they want — and they justify their sinful lifestyles by saying that Jesus is not really coming back, and that there’s not going to be a judgment. Basically, they are living wicked and sinful lives because they believe ultimately that there are no moral consequences. They do not believe in a coming judgment.
Back to Grand Theft Auto
Which means, basically, they are acting out Grand Theft Auto in real life. [Okay, so I mentioned the game before. Have you guys heard of the game Grand Theft Auto? Yeah, it’s a bad game.] It’s a video game that has been out for years, and it’s gone through several editions, and it’s always been a bad game, and I mean like sadistic bad. So going back to my freshman year of college — so this is 13 years ago — my roommates had the game and played it a lot and from what I remember about it, you can do some very disturbing things in this video game. You can steal cars, you can murder people, and you can even solicit prostitutes. Now, you don’t have to do these things in the game, but you can. It’s in the game, and there is opportunity to do these things if you choose to. And guess what pretty much every 18-year-old guy I knew did when he played the game? He stole cars, he murdered people, and he solicited prostitutes. Now why? It’s because there were no moral consequences. It was just a video game.
See, in the made-up world of a video game, in Grand Theft Auto, Jesus is not coming back and there will be no judgment — so therefore anyone can get away with whatever they want. Without moral accountability, people tend to do bad things. And James Nelson made this connection for me. [Is James in here? If you want to talk more about moral philosophy, talk to James.] The point is that when there is a world without moral consequences — even in the made-up world of a video game — when there’s a world without moral consequences people will do moral wrong. If people think they will not be punished for doing wrong, they will do more wrong.
And that’s what is happening in 2 Peter. That’s what the scoffers are doing. They have projected an alternative reality upon the real world. They were believing and saying that Jesus is not coming back, that he’s not going to judge them for their sins, and therefore, they are going to live however they want.
But Peter says, “Oh, but he is coming back.” And this again gets at the overall theme o the letter. Jesus is coming back to this world to establish his eternal kingdom, and when he does, he will judge sin and save his people.
And I want you just to hear how consistent this is in the book. Let me just read to you quickly some of the references to the Second Coming of Jesus in 2 Peter . . . .
In 1:11 Peter refers to “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
In 1:16 he refers to the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1:19 he refers to the Second Coming as “the day” that dawns
2:9 he refers to “the day of judgment”
3:7 he refers again to “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
3:10 He says “the day of the Lord will come like a thief”
3:12 he says we are “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.”
3:13 he says “according to God’s promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
3:18 in the last verse of the book he says, “To him — [to Jesus] — be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” Which is the end of history when Jesus comes back.
So that’s the theme in this book. Jesus is coming back to establish his eternal kingdom, and when he does, he will put everything right. He will judge sin, and he will save his people. That’s what the false teachers are saying will not happen. And that’s what Peter is saying will happen.
And that takes us to the second part here, which is Peter’s argument.
Peter’s Argument for the Second Coming
And to see Peter’s argument for the coming of Jesus, we need to look again at what the scoffers, or the false teachers, are saying. This is verse 4,
They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”
In other words, they’re saying: Jesus is not coming back because the world has always been as it is. Nothing has changed. It’s the same old, same old.
But then Peter replies and says in verse 6 that this actually is not the case. The world has not always been as it is — ever heard of Noah and the flood? That’s what Peter says in verse 7. It is the second time Peter has referred to the flood in this letter because the flood is the unparalleled example of God’s certain judgment. Peter is saying, in effect — here’s my paraphrase of verse 7:
the world has not always been like this because a long time ago (in Genesis 6) God almost wiped out the entire thing, and the false teachers are deliberately overlooking this fact. A long time ago God sent a flood to judge the world, and one day soon he is going to judge it again, but this time it won’t be with water. This time it will be with fire on “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (v. 7).
So the flood, Genesis 6, was a long time ago — the flood was a long time ago when Peter wrote this letter, and it’s an even longer time ago for us now. And that’s one of the reasons the false teachers overlooked it. It was way back then, too far back. It was too many years ago. But Peter has an answer for that. And his answer, I think, is his central argument here and it has a lot of implications connected to it. Look what he says in verse 8.
But do not overlook this one fact — [the false teachers overlooked the fact of the flood because it happened so long ago, so Peter says] — don’t you overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
So the flood, I guess, wasn’t that long ago. What, it’s been like 4 or 5 days?
Back to Being Late
With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. Or, in other words, God does not work in our timing because he has his own. And that, I think, is one of the most important lessons we could ever learn in life.
God has his own timing. That’s Peter’s point. I don’t think we’re supposed to literally convert the 1,000 years per each day. The message here is just that God has his own timing and it’s not ours. And this is really important, because until we understand that God has his own timing we will tend toward accusing him of not doing what he says, until eventually, we will misunderstand his motives toward us.
Did you get that? Let me try to say it again:
God has his own timing, and until we understand that God has his own timing we will accuse him of not doing what he says — because he doesn’t do it when we want him to — and we’ll keep on accusing him of that until, eventually, we will misunderstand his motives toward us.
That’s basically what Peter says in verse 9.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” — in other words, you have an idea of what is slow because you’re working in your timing, but God doesn’t work in your timing. God has his own timing, and according to God’s timing, verse 9, he is patient toward you.
See, in our timing, God gets blamed for not doing what he says because he doesn’t do it when we want him to. But in God’s timing, he’s being patient. Which means, God is never late. Sometimes we can be late to things. We can run behind. We can be deterred. But that never happens for God. He is always on time — his time, not ours. And Peter says he is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
Application in Verses 14 and 15
And that gets right into application. Because God’s timing is not our own (which is Peter’s argument), that leads to two categories of application I want us to close with. And both of these are referred to in verses 11–13, and then Peter summarizes them in verses 14 and 15. So let’s look at verses 14 and 15.
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these — [since you’re waiting for a new heavens and new earth] — be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation …
Okay, so there’s the two pieces of application here. Peter says them as commands. He tells us to “be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish.” Then he says at the front of verse 15: “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation.”
So we could say it like this, the application from Peter is:
- Labor to live a holy life.
- See the grace of Jesus in his patience.
So we’re going to close with these. Let’s look at the first one.
1. Labor to live a holy life.
This is in line with what Peter has already been saying in this letter, but now he gives us more details why. The false teachers were saying that Jesus is not coming back, and they used that to justify the sinful way they lived. But Peter does just the opposite for Christians. He says Jesus is coming back, and therefore, we should live holy and godly lives. Live in a way that fits with his coming kingdom. And he describes some of what that looks like in Chapter 1.
What he does in Chapter 3 is stress again the connection between the way we live now and what will happen in the future. Verse 10 says that the “day of the Lord” — that is the return of Jesus — “will come like a thief.” Jesus himself said the same thing. It means that we won’t be expecting his return when it happens. We don’t know when it will be, but when it happens, when Jesus comes back, the world as we know it will end. It will be cataclysmic. All that is sinful and broken will be burned up. And Peter says: Hey, because we know this is going to happen, it affects how we live now.
You know the phrase, “The end justifies the means”? Yeah, it’s not true. The end, the result of something, does not justify the way you get there. The end does not justify the means, instead the end should determine the means — especially when we know how things will end. When we know how this is all going to play out, that should affect the way we live now. To say it simply, because we know that Jesus is going to bring judgment on evil and sin, we don’t want to be living in evil and sin, but we want to live holy and godly. That is Peter’s point here.
And he uses the word, “be diligent” to live this way. Which means we should labor or endeavor or exert energy to be found without spot or blemish (verse 14).
Now, wait a second. We need to be clear here: when Peter says that we should, essentially, work hard to live holy, he does not mean that it’s our hard work and holy living that saves us. This gets back to Chapter 1. Our character does not, will not, cannot, earn us God’s acceptance. We are loved and accepted by God because of his grace in Jesus — because Jesus died for us and was raised from the dead for us by grace. The way we live does not earn that grace, but it does display whether we have experienced that grace. The best metaphor for this, I think, is the one that Jesus himself used. It’s about a tree and its fruit.
Take an apple tree for example. An apple tree produces apples. And think about how that works: the apples don’t make the tree an apple tree; the tree produces apples because it is an apple tree, and the apples are one of the ways we can see it’s an apple tree.
It works that way with those who have experienced the grace of Jesus, and are part of his eternal kingdom. How we live does not get us where we’re headed, but it can help show where we’re headed. And Peter is saying, Hey, show that.
Be diligent to show that. Which means it’s not so easy. Living your life here and making conscious decisions that are shaped by the new world to come is not easy. It takes effort and intentionality. It doesn’t just happen. It means we need to organize our lives a certain way, and we need to surround ourselves with others who are moving in that same direction. This is why community is so important. Holiness, becoming more like Jesus, takes time and energy, and that’s important to know, especially if we’ve been trying to do this thing on cruise control. Be diligent, Peter says.
And now, the last point of application.
2. See the grace of Jesus in his patience.
That’s the first part of verse 15. Peter says “count” or “consider” the patience of our Lord as salvation. In other words, Peter says to understand that the delay in Jesus fulfilling his promise to come back is not because he’s slack; it’s because he’s gracious.
This is first related to faith in general, and then, I think, it’s connected to so many other things.
First, when it comes to faith, Peter says in verse 9 that Jesus is “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Which means, Jesus is waiting to come back because he is giving more time to those who have not yet put their faith in him.
And see, that should probably change the way we think about this. To start with, nobody deserves to be saved in the first place. Jesus doesn’t have to save anybody. He chose to save us by grace.
And then, he could have just done it like this, with one question. He could have just said: “All right, everybody listen up, are you in or are you out?” And we get once chance right there, that’s it.
He could have done it that way, but he didn’t do it that way. For those of you who have believed in Jesus, question for you: How many of you — the very first time you ever heard about Jesus — how many of you believed in him?
Do we know how patient he is? Do we have any idea how patient he is?
Jesus is waiting to come back because he is going to save you first, and he hasn’t done it yet, so he’s not here. And if this applies to you right now, if you’ve not yet put your faith in Jesus, I want to encourage you to believe in him. His patience is full of grace for you.
Count the Lord’s patience as salvation.
It’s because he is gracious. And I think this impacts so many different areas in life. If we understand that the patience of Jesus is full of grace, that will change the way we do things.
This is kind of related back to God’s timing. We need to know that when Jesus doesn’t do what we want him to when we want him to, it’s not because he’s against us, it’s because he’s actually for us. He’s not being slack, he’s being patient. He’s not being harsh, he’s being gracious.
And this really matters at the level of how we imagine him. It matters how we see him. His patience is full of grace. Which means that whatever it is you are waiting for — whatever promises he’s made that you can’t feel — he’s not looking at you with his arms crossed; he’s not frantically checking his watch; he’s not annoyed by how you are handling things. See, patience may be a challenge for us, but not for Jesus.
Jesus is patient, and his patience is full of grace.
And this Table shows us that.
This Table is a meal that you cannot be late to. Here’s what I mean: the bread here and the wine represent the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. It represents Jesus dying for you to save you. It represents the grace of Jesus extended to you. And you were invited to this meal several times before you came. This meal was extended to you over and over and over again until one day you said yes — and when you did you weren’t late. You came when he called you. His patience is full of grace.