Waiting for New Heavens and a New Earth
2 Peter 3:8-15a – Advent 2017: New Covenant Hope
Second Sunday of Advent – December 10, 2017 (am)
Have you ever found yourself getting discouraged and weary at the state of this world, frustrated by politicians who seem unable to recognize what is truly important, shocked at the lengths to which high-profile entertainers, athletes, others will go to gain the spotlight, irritated by the rudeness of seemingly ordinary people, the selfishness, especially when they’re cloaked in the anonymity of their cars, or hidden behind the veil of their smart phones or computer screens? And are you often embarrassed when you see the same sorts of behavior in yourself, like you’re one of them?
Have you ever felt hopeless, like this will never get any better—like we’re just too far gone, as a society, as a people; like we’re marred beyond recovery?
Have you ever felt that hopelessness magnified by the concern that you’re not even sure God can do anything about it—like people’s ears are so deaf, their minds and hearts so closed off to God, or to any higher authority, that it’s hard to imagine even God could get through to them? And even if you bump into a reminder that God has promised final judgment, you really just aren’t sure He’s going to notice, or maybe agree with the offenses and injustices and misbehaviors you’ve seen and endured?
This sort of weariness is just one more of the many reasons why we need to gather here Sunday by Sunday for corporate worship, retelling the gospel story weekly, being reminded not only of our own sin that stands right alongside all that we see in this world, but that in Christ our sins have been forgiven and cleansed. In Him our eyes are lifted above the pitiful state of this world and we’re reminded that we’re citizens of heaven! The discouragement we accumulate by living in this world is just one more of the many reasons why we need regular reminders of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, of the greatness of the glory of God, and of His presence with us moment by moment by His Spirit and His Word! Where we live, and when, and what this does to us, are among the many reasons why we need to participate in living illustrations like communion, and Advent Season. We need to remember who we are. We need to remember why we’re here. And we need to give much, much time to rehearsing what it means that God Himself has intervened in this world in the Person of His embodied Son.
Our Advent passage this morning can seem to have a very severe, almost troubling side to it. But it’s written to press into the very sort of weariness and unbelief I’ve just described, and to lift the people of God out of it, bringing to their minds certain and unshakable reminders of His ultimate purpose and plan for this world. Peter opens this final chapter of his final letter restating the purpose of his writing to his tribulation-torn congregation. He reminds them that scoffers will multiply as we move through the last days between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and His return to earth. He reminds them that these scoffers will doubt the return of Christ, and God’s final judgment, ignoring all the evidence that points in that direction. They’ll even doubt that the world is accountable to God at all: 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished—a direct judgment of God, which was a foretaste of His final judgment. It is these sorts of people, with their repulsive, irrepressible doubt, who work their way into our minds and hearts, sowing and watering and weeding around seeds of doubt and discouragement and weariness that flower and flourish to feed and strengthen our attachment to this world, and to deaden our hearts for heaven. In fact, these people are the world, that we’re repeatedly warned about in Scripture.
Let’s look at this unique text under three headings and be refreshed by it this Second Sunday of Advent.
The Reason for an Apparent Delay – 8-9
Right on the heels of telling his beloved people what scoffers deliberately overlook (5), Peter warns them what not to overlook, namely, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (8). He’s telling them that the Lord doesn’t figure time the same way we do. The delay we see in the enactment of God’s justice need not foster doubt! Peter is paraphrasing Psa.90:4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past…. Since the early church and even prior, some commentators have actually used one or both of these verses as a sort of equation to help calculate the expiration date of the earth—each creation day being 1,000 years, so 6,000 total! (Green 158) But this verse is not intended to help us structure history. In Psa.90, Moses was (contrasting) God’s eternity with the brevity of human life. Here, Peter is (contrasting) God’s eternity with the impatience of human expectations (Bigg in Schreiner 379).
And Peter’s reason for making this point here is so that our impatience with the evil in this world won’t lead us astray into (overlooking) the fact that by means of water and the word, the world was deluged and perished (5-6)—so that we won’t be led astray to believe that God’s judgment will never fall. Rather, Peter is calling us to remember that 9 the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. So, any seeming delay in Christ’s return and judgment is 1) not really a delay at all, but just an entirely different view of time on God’s part. And 2) it is certainly, therefore, not rooted in either indifference or impotence to judge. Rather, it’s an expression of His patience with our sinful lack of repentance. He’s gracious! And if we want to form some sort of equation, it should probably be that God values repentance over efficiency 1000:1! But how like our rebellious human hearts it is to receive God’s gracious patience, and yet still find fault with Him just because we don’t understand what He’s doing. We can be sure: Judgment Day will certainly come!
The Certainty of a Coming Judgment Day – 10
In fact, Peter’s whole aim in today’s text is to urge his readers not to go the way of the scoffers (4). So, he reminds them that 10 … the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Jesus will return! And He’ll do so at a time we’d least expect. The day of the Lord is a well-attested OT description that speaks of God’s final and decisive intervention into world history for the salvation of His people and the judgment of those who reject Him.
It comes like a thief. Thieves take things we value at times when we’re unable to secure them—either we’re asleep or away, but we can’t keep them safe. 43 … Know this, Jesus said, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Mat.24:43-44). So, Jesus used this image (Luk.12:39-40; Rev.3:3). Paul used it (1Th. 5:2). Now Peter is using it. When Jesus returns, we need to be ready! The whole cosmos will come under judgment: 10 … and then the heavens will pass away with a roar—like that of a mighty fire—and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. God will see all that is done on the earth, and He’ll judge it, meticulously. We need never doubt this fact! The flood (5-6) and every other disaster in human history (cf. Luk.13:4-5) all point to it—even the accidental disasters. Jesus Himself clarified this point. When He was told of some Galileans who’d been brutally treated by Herod, He said: 2 … Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you: but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (Luk.13:2-5). So, what does this mean for us?
The Charge for Those On the Way – 11-15a
Peter tells us specifically what it means. And he tells us precisely how we should respond. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! The beginning of v.11 and the end of v.12 make the same point: reference to the coming judgment surrounds and sets the context for his probing question: what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness? How should we live since we know our world is going to dissolve in flames? What sort of people ought we to be when, 13 … according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells? How should we live, knowing we’re destined not for judgment and destruction, but for eternal life with Christ in a holy and godly and righteous world?
Peter again gives us the answer. 14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation…. In 1Pe.1:18-19 we read that (we) were ransomed… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. Then in 2Pe.2:13 we see that (the false teachers) are blots and blemishes at their feasts—same words. Now here we’re told to cling (diligently) to the cleansing blood of Christ and not the (deceptive) words and ways of (the false teachers)—to live now as though they we’re in Christ and will live forever with Him. Live as though God is actually telling us the truth—that His patience is merciful, not mindless! And it’s aimed at our salvation, not our suffering.
So, what does this have to do with Advent? It teaches us to (wait) for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, for His second coming, His return. It reminds us what we’re actually waiting for, and it teaches us what waiting well looks like. It reminds us of things we can forget about, or even think God is forgetting about, if that were possible. It’s reassuring us about things that aren’t pleasant to think about, but we really need to remember.
We live in a world where the Son of God has already appeared in the flesh, born as a baby in Bethlehem, raised in a peasant household in Nazareth, initiated into public ministry at His baptism by John in the Jordan River and the testimony from heaven of God the Father. His preaching ministry was authenticated by miracles and fulfilled prophecy. His sacrificial death was deemed acceptable to God by His resurrection from the dead, and His entire ministry on earth was affirmed by His ascension back to the Father, at which time He promised to return.
But even with all these historically observable happenings, we can still slip into doubt about God’s power to affect the course and quality of life in this world! We can grow weary to the point of discouragement with the behavior of our politicians and judges. We can forget that a day of reckoning awaits, and that all is well-in-hand, regardless of the level of darkness we observe. And worst of all, we can forget that we not only know what’s expected of us in these last days on earth—being reminded right here—but also that we have the unlimited grace of God available to us in Christ to live out these expectations—to enjoy the in-breaking of His Kingdom even right here and now!
We also have many additional reminders from God’s Word, and the ministry of His Spirit, and the fellowship of His people, to help us stay on course. And we have the ritual of remembrance that we are about to celebrate this morning, the Lord’s Table—the physical, tangible, tastable bread and juice, that remind us that Jesus was real life flesh and blood, and will return in just the same physically resurrected form. His body was as real as the substance and solidity of these wafers. His blood was as real as the scent and stickiness of this juice. And as we crunch this cracker and sip this juice together, we’re reminded that it’s all real, from His arrival at Bethlehem to His return to the Mt. of Olives (Zec.14:4) to His reign over all the earth forever and ever in righteousness (13) and peace (14).
Does this refresh your weary heart today? Does is press you to be found by him without spot or blemish and at peace?