God's Promise

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So here we are with one significant date just behind us and one rapidly approaching – 25 December and 1 January 2019. Christmas and New Year. And we're in the thick of confused, chaotic and worrying times. So what does the Bible have to say to us at such a time? Well, would you turn please to those verses from 2 Peter 3.8-13.

Live your life in the light of the fact that Jesus has promised to return. That is the burden of what Peter is saying. And it is a highly appropriate message with big dates approaching. 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.

Even the Scrooges among us will have started to go around a few weeks before Christmas saying, "Bah humbug!" as they saw the Christmas decorations going up. Most of us would have been very aware for some time that 25 December was getting near, and started behaving accordingly. So weeks ago we went and chose our Christmas tree, and bought presents. The turkey had to be ordered. The Christmas cards (for us oldies who still do these things) were written and posted. And the closer we got the more urgent became the preparations until it was flat out to the finish line.

The future has a massive impact on the present. The same thing happens when a wedding is approaching. Our student worker at JPC is to be married on 5 January. When a wedding is in prospect, about-to-be 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 all, 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 New Year; 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. 2 Peter 3:5:

"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… "

And we are surrounded by those who scoff about talk of the return of Christ. 2 Peter 3:3:

"… knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with 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 the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from 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 sinful 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.

1. Remember God Has Promised That Jesus Will Return To Bring Judgement and A New Creation

The beginning of chapter 3:

"This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the 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 2 Peter 1:12 he has already set out his stall:

"… I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have."

He gives 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 2 Peter 3.8:

"But do not overlook this one fact, beloved …"

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 2 Peter 3.10:

"But 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."

That is the bones of it, repeated also in verse 12. And the bones are fleshed out in verse 7:

"By the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly."

And then also in verse 13:

"But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells."

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.

When we had an allotment, every year we had a fire in the autumn. Its purpose was to clear the ground. The intention was the total destruction of all weeds. But despite appearances, those fires were essentially constructive. The destruction was for the sake of fruitful, weed-free planting. The coming of God's Kingdom will be like that – but it will be once for all.

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 the new heaven and earth will be wonderful beyond our imagining, filled with the glory and grace of God.

That's point one: remember. Remember God has promised that Jesus will return to bring judgement and a new creation.

2. Understand that God Has Delayed The Fulfilment Of His Promise To Give Everyone The Opportunity of Eternal Life.

2 Peter 3.8:

"… with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

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

"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness ..."

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

"… but [God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

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

"And count the patience of our Lord as 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.

I don't know if you've seen the old David Lean film of Dickens' Great Expectations. It has some memorable images – not least of Miss Haversham. Some think that church is like Miss Haversham: jilted on her wedding day; 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. The bridegroom is not coming. 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 decade is not long to him. 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.

For us, that's why we have so many Carols by Candlelight services. We don't want to have to shut people out when they come – and thousands do come. We don't want to exclude them, so we give them one opportunity after another. We want more and more people to investigate the faith – and turn and put their trust in Jesus. 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 do be involved in the church's evangelistic task. 2019 is another year of opportunity for people to be warned and invited to the coming wedding feast of Jesus and his bride, the church. Let's work with God this coming year to bring them in.

So, point one: Remember the Second Coming. Point two: Understand. Understand that God has delayed the fulfilment of his promise to give everyone the opportunity of eternal life.

3. Look Forward To The Fulfilment of God's Promise

Verse 11:

"Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of the God …"

And on to verse 13:

"But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace."

It's a theme that Peter has already developed wonderfully in 2 Peter 1.19:

"And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp 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 exams. They will not go away if they are forgotten about. They will not disappear if we 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 with us as we look forward to the new world that lies ahead.

As we set our direction and make our plans for this coming year, 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.

Point one: remember the Second Coming. Point two: understand the delay. Point three: look forward. Look forward to the fulfilment of God's promise.

So then, finally and…

4. Live This New Year In The Light Of God's Promise

Verse 11:

"Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of the God …"

And look also at verse 14:

"Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace."

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.

There is always yet another Morecombe and Wise Christmas Special repeat shown at Christmas. Eric Morecambe, you may remember if you are of a certain age, had a massive heart attack. It nearly killed him, but he recovered. However, he knew that it meant another was on the way. 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 exams. When they are on their way, there is much study to be done; much project work; much revision. When exams 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.

This coming year, make heaven-centred new year resolutions. Work at keeping them by focusing on where you are headed. And if you fail, remember God's patience and get going again.

So there are four points for a new year. Remember. Understand. Look forward. And live.

Remember God has promised that Jesus will return to bring judgement and a new creation. Understand that God has delayed the fulfilment of his promise to give everyone the opportunity of eternal life. Look forward to the fulfilment of God's promise. Live this new year in the light of God's promise. If we do those things over the coming months, we'll be on the right track.

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