New Year 1999 - Future Shock?

Live your life in the light of the fact that Jesus has promised to return. That is the burden of what Peter is saying in 2 Peter 3.8-13, our passage for this morning. And it is a highly appropriate message for a new year. The future must affect the present. At first sight that is a slightly odd thought. But at second glance you can see that it is something that happens commonly enough. When people know that something of great significance to them is going to take place, it changes the way that they act. Think of those engineers who are building the Underground link to the Millennium Dome. They know that in a year's time the dome will open. They know that its success is dependent upon their work being completed. If it is not, they will have large quantities of egg on their faces. As a result, they are pulling their fingers out in a big way. The future is having a massive impact on the present. The same thing happens when a wedding is approaching. Prospective mother-in-laws enter a prolonged period of frenetic activity, not to say anxiety. It gathers momentum like a speeding snowball as the big day gets inexorably closer. And the lives of the bride and groom become increasingly shaped by this event up ahead. Eventually virtually everything they do is done with an eye on the fact that they will soon be married. The same needs to be true of us, says Peter. Jesus is coming back. The knowledge of that must change the way that we live now. But we need to be clear about the context in which we live. There are many ways in which the world around us seduces us or bullies us into ignoring the most significant event that lies ahead of us: not the opening of the Millennium Dome; not even the commemoration of the entry of Christ into the world; but rather the day when Jesus will return as the victorious King. Peter reminds us that we live in a world of deliberate forgetfulness of what God has said, and of what God has accomplished already through his word. 3:5:

But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed...

And we are surrounded by those who scoff about talk of the return of Christ. 3:3 :

... you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing...

And what makes it so easy for them to get away with their scoffing? It is the fact that there is no sign yet of Jesus returning. Verse 4:

They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised. Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.'"

And so in a sense it does. Year follows year. Jesus does not return. The scoffers were obviously saying that a few short decades after the resurrection. How much more do they say it now. 2000 years later, we still wait. And yet another new year comes round. That will be your experience, warns Peter. And we will live, too, in a context in which people pursue self-centred and Satan inspired goals. These scoffers, verse 3, will come "following their own evil desires". So with no sign of Jesus' return, we live surrounded by people pursuing a godless agenda, scoffing at God's word. That is what we are warned will happen. How accurate a warning it is. In that context, how should we live? Here are four points from what Peter says. First, REMEMBER GOD HAS PROMISED THAT JESUS WILL RETURN TO BRING JUDGEMENT AND A NEW CREATION The beginning of chapter 3:

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Saviour through your apostles.

Peter knows that we need to go over the same ground again and again and he is quite unapologetic about it. So in 1:12 he has already set out his stall:

... I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.

He give his readers the benefit of the doubt as far as Christian maturity is concerned, but still he wants to hammer away at the same old lessons. They, and we, need it. The same theme is there in 3:8:

Do not forget this one thing, dear friends...

Don't be like those who deliberately forget God's word. Instead, deliberately, actively, remember. And what is the word that God has spoken? What is the promise that has been given? Look at 3:10:

... 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 in it will be laid bare.

That is the bones of it, repeated also in v12. And the bones are fleshed out in v7:

By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of ungodly men.

And then also in v13:

... in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

God has promised it, so it will happen. We need no other guarantee than that God said it. That is enough. What is more, he has made us doubly sure by telling us first through his spokesmen the prophets, and then through his Son, Jesus. What has he promised will happen when Jesus returns? First, judgement, pictured as a destructive fire, roaring and melting the world. Then out of the ashes of the old, a new world - God's undisputed Kingdom. We had a fire on our allotment in the autumn. Its purpose was to clear the ground. The intention was the total destruction of all weeds. But despite appearances, that fire was essentially constructive. The destruction was for the sake of fruitful, weed-free planting. The coming of God's Kingdom will be like that. So as we enter a new year, never forget that Jesus is the pivotal figure of all history. Never forget that evil and all its consequences and all its servants will one day be destroyed. Never forget that you and I will one day be called to account. And never forget that, as the song goes, simply but accurately: "Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with God's glory and grace." Secondly, UNDERSTAND THAT GOD HAS DELAYED THE FULFILMENT OF HIS PROMISE TO GIVE EVERYONE THE OPPORTUNITY OF ETERNAL LIFE 3:8 :

... With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

God's perspective on time is not ours. Verse 9:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.

The delay that we experience is not a sign that God is in the process of breaking his promise. Verse 9 again:

He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

He is being patient. Why? The reason is there again in v 15:

Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation...

Our perspective is short term; we break our promises; we are impatient. But not God. God wants heaven to be fully populated. The day will come when the door will close, but that will not be until all hope of further repentance is over. The David Lean film of Dickens' Great Expectations was on again over Christmas. Some think that church is like Miss Haversham: jilted; years later still sitting amidst the rotting accoutrements of her never-to-take-place wedding; the once white now grey dress falling to bits on her ageing body; still pathetically hoping, when the stark, hopeless truth has been so self-evident for so long to anyone in their right mind. That is the scoffers' image of the church. Jilted by Jesus. But no. God's perspective on time is so very different. In my capacity as a minister I have had to wait at the church door for the bride for 30 minutes. Neither I, nor, more to the point, the bridegroom, ever doubted that she would arrive. God's timescale is more like that. A millennium is not long to him. Jesus will be here soon. But just as those 30 minutes at the church door allowed latecomers to the wedding to scamper in ahead of the bride, so Jesus is waiting so that no-one will be shut out unnecessarily. We are being faced with this over our Carols by Candlelight services. Do we shut people out who want to come? The crowds wanting to be there grow and grow. Do we exclude them? We don't want to. So we keep giving more opportunities. That is why God has delayed the fulfilment of his promise: to give more opportunities for people to turn back to him and enter eternal life. So don't be deceived or depressed by the scoffers. And be involved in the church's evangelistic task. 1999 is another year of opportunity for people to be warned and invited to the coming wedding feast of Jesus and his bride, the church. Work with God this year to bring them in. Thirdly, LOOK FORWARD TO THE FULFILMENT OF GOD'S PROMISE Verse 11:

You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming...

And on to v 13:

... in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless...

It's a theme that Peter has already developed wonderfully in 1:19 :

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Joyfully anticipating the coming of Christ is both something that we ought to be doing and something that we will be doing when we know God's promise. This kind of looking forward is not a mere awareness that the horizon is there in the distance. It is more like sailing out at sea when your destination has become visible between the sea and the sky. You head for that point on the horizon. You set your course by it. So in the same way, heaven is our destination. We will be going home. In one sense this is rather like the anticipation of GCSE's. They will not go away if they are forgotten about. They will not disappear if you pretend they are not going to happen. They need to be planned for and worked towards. They need to take priority over other things. Parents worry when their children are not anticipating their exams as they should. Peter is worried lest we do not anticipate the coming judgement as we should. At the same time, our reaction should be something like a child's anticipation of Christmas. As the doors are opened one by one on the advent calendar, the coming Christmas day becomes the dominant fact of their lives. So it should be as we look forward to the new world that lies ahead. As we set our direction and make our plans, let's begin by looking at the horizon. Let's keep that destination in view. And let's allow the good news of Christ's coming return to permeate our lives with joy. So, fourthly, and finally, LIVE THIS NEW YEAR IN THE LIGHT OF GOD'S PROMISE 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 as you look forward to the day of God ...

And look also at v14:

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Do you see that Peter is not talking about how we should live in order to be saved. He is talking about how we should live because we have been saved. We should live holy lives. Holiness is a matter firstly of belonging to God. We are his possession. The kind of people we are and the way that we behave should befit those who have been bought at a price by Jesus. Then holiness is also a matter of being different from the world. That is an uncomfortable challenge. We need to think things through. We need to be clear about how we intend to be distinctive before the issue arises and catches us off guard and unprepared. We are to live holy lives and also godly lives. In other words it is to be God who is at the centre of our thinking. Not our families. Not our careers. Not our material security. Not ourselves. These all have their rightful place in our thinking. But their rightful place is not at the centre. That place should be reserved for God. I don't know if you saw the profile of Eric Morecambe before Christmas. Eric Morecambe, you may remember, had a massive heart attack. It nearly killed him, but he recovered. However, he knew that it presaged another. The future was constantly in his mind. He anticipated his death. He thanked his wife for all that she had meant to him over many years, because he felt that if he left it, it may be too late. His future changed the way that he lived. Or think again of GCSE's. When they are on their way, there is much study to be done; much project work; much revision. If GCSE's are on your horizon, then you can look forward to a long rest, but now is not the time for it. The real rest comes, not before the exams, but after. Or take another example. Before Christmas, we knew that we would be going down to stay with my parents. We began to get ready well in advance. We sent presents on ahead so they knew they were not forgotten. We phoned. We planned. We packed. In other words, we prepared for what we knew was going to happen. So this year, make heaven-centred new year resolutions. Work at keeping them by focusing on where you are headed, not just as you plan, but as you put your plans into action. And if you fail, remember God's patience and get going again.

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