Text: 2 Peter 3:8-18
Second Wednesday in Advent
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nearly all our food products have an expiry date on them. The other day, I opened the fridge to grab the cream for my morning coffee. There were several identical containers of cream in our fridge since my wife had bought a bunch on sale. I grabbed the closest one and put it to good use. However, my wife informed me that I was not paying attention to the expiry date. I opened the cream with the later expiry date, while the cream that would expire sooner remained unopened. How often do you check the best-before date? When we see that our food has a best-before date stamped on it, what ought we to do? The fact that the food will spoil if we don’t use it affects our actions. The expiry date reminds us to use our food before it spoils.
St. Peter informs us that our world has an expiry date. He says that “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fervent heat; and the earth and the works that are in it will be burnt up” (2 Pe 3:10). Since our world has a best-before date, Peter asks us a question. “Therefore, since all these things will be destroyed like this, what kind of people ought you to be?” (2 Pe 3:11). This evening, we’ll see what Peter has to say about our responsibilities and how that relates to God’s patience.
I. Our Responsibility
St. Peter tells us that what we believe about what’s going to happen in the future should affect how we live here and now. “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness?” (2 Pe 3:11). Since the universe ends with an encounter with the Almighty and Living God, our lives here matter. We cannot escape from God, so we must take responsibility for our actions. Did you notice that Peter doesn’t give us a list of dos and don’ts? There are many ways in which holiness and godliness can be practiced. What do they mean? What are we talking about?
Peter says that everything we do should be holy. To be holy means that one is whole, unblemished, or unmarred. It’s something consecrated to God and for God’s service. That means that there is purity, integrity, and moral goodness. God is holy, holy, holy. Peter is saying that all we do should reflect the God we have come to know in Jesus Christ. Our lifestyle imitates the God we worship. It is our responsibility to have holy lives. This refers to our daily practice of living in the world according to God’s ways. The way we manage our lives matters to God. Your daily decisions, lifestyle, and actions are to be pure, and morally good. The reading from Matthew gives us a few hints at what this could look like. Feed the hungry and provide a drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. Visit the imprisoned and the sick. Shelter the homeless. (Mt. 25:25-26). We are called to love our neighbour as our self and the Ten Commandments give us a thorough list of what that looks like.
What does Peter mean by godliness? Godliness refers to your religious life and your relationship with God. A godly life is a pious life, a life devoted to Christ. It means cherishing and honoring God in your heart and then performing your religious duties to him with reverence. This includes such things as daily prayer and Bible reading. It also includes hearing and studying God’s Word and faithful and regular reception of the Lord’s Supper. It also would apply to our attitude towards the things of God.
Peter is concerned with a life both of reverence and piety towards God and love for our fellow human beings. That is why he urges us, “Be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish” (2 Pe 3:14). This is not about being perfect in this life. Peter says we should do our best to be pure and blameless. This is our goal, not a condition for getting in. We will always have sins to confess in this life, and our struggle against sin continues until death. But Peter’s point remains the same. Since this world has an expiry date, God’s people should work very hard at conforming to his standards of conduct. The Christian life was never meant to be easy; it demands incredible effort to live in ways contrary to the world around us. But the world around us is heading for destruction. There is no reason to conform your life to the values and ideas of this world. This world is coming to an end. It would be like investing in a company that was about to crash. Instead, we ought to begin living the lifestyle of the promised coming age right now. In light of that, it’s our responsibility to do our best to live in a way that pleases God.
II. God’s Patience
Peter doesn’t call us to a holy and godly lifestyle because punishment is coming. A second coming that only brings wrath would leave us miserable, and it wouldn’t be a good motive for holy living. Yet, Peter does not focus on wrath and destruction. “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pe 3:13). We are waiting for a new creation. That’s God’s promise to us. Christians are not merely waiting for the world to end. Peter does not motivate us with fear. He is not saying, “Get your act together before the curtain falls.” No!
What we’re anticipating is not primarily the punishment of the wicked but a new world for us that’s transformed into a place where righteousness is the order of the day! When the Lord returns, it’s not the end of history. We will have just reached the very beginning of history before sin entered the world. We are promised a world without the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned, the homeless or the sick. This world, distorted by sin, is passing away, and we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling and a new earth for us. The problem is not that we are looking forward too much to the new creation but that we are not looking forward enough to it. We tend to conform our lifestyles to this world just to function. That’s short-sighted since this world has a best-before date. Instead, Peter encourages us to have our eyes fixed on the coming age and to let that age determine our present lifestyle.
Christ gave us this promise of his return at his Ascension in AD 30. Peter is writing this letter several decades after that. However, it’s now centuries later, and many are wondering: What happened to that return we heard about? Why hasn’t it happened yet? How much longer do we have to wait? Did God forget? Did we get all this wrong? No, Peter answers, God has not forgotten his promise. Christ will indeed return. “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).
God is in charge of the timing. He knows what he’s doing. “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pe 3:8). So, from that perspective, it’s only been two days, right? God is giving people time to repent. God is giving us time out of his patience, long suffering, and mercy. God wants all people to repent and believe and live.
And that includes you! Peter connects your sanctification with God’s promise, “Count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Pe 3:15). You have time right now to come to grips with your sinfulness, to mourn your sins, and to come to the end of your rope. And that’s a good thing. For then, God throws you the only lifeline that will work to pull you out of the swirling vortex of your sins. That lifeline is our Lord Jesus Christ. “Be diligent to be found by him at peace” (2 Pe 3:14). How do you have peace with God? By living a holy life? Peter mentions the Apostle Paul. And it’s Paul who wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ro 5:1).
He is the one who will keep you from perishing. For God so loved the world–he so loved you–that he gave his only Son, that you would trust him and thus not perish but instead have everlasting life. That is the real reason for the seeming delay. It’s so that you and I and a whole bunch of other sinners whom God loves would have the time and opportunity to repent, believe, and be saved.
God’s patience is our opportunity. It is our chance to work on the holy, godly lives we ought to be living. It is our chance, too, to spread the gospel in the world. Since we know the New Creation is coming, overflowing with God’s justice, we should be working towards that already, here and now.
This world has a best-before date. That means Christ is coming again and will rescue us from our sins and this evil world bound for destruction. That is our great hope, for which we wait and long. But that fact does not make our lives now unimportant or a matter of indifference. No, God wants us to live holy lives transformed by his holiness. God has rescued us from sin and for righteousness. God has begun that new creation already in us. God has already made us his holy people, set apart to live for him. He sends his Holy Spirit to work through the means of grace to enable us to begin to live holy and righteous lives. To be sure, this calls for daily repentance, dying and rising with Christ each new day. That is why God is incredibly patient toward us. The fact that Christ has not returned is evidence of God’s abundant mercy toward us!
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.