Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. At the beginning of chapter 3 in his second letter, Peter is warning the Christians that there are those who will not believe that Jesus is coming back again. They will say that things just go on and on and on, as they always did. Where is the promise of His coming presence, they will ask?
So people today essentially live that way, whether or not they put it in terms of Jesus’ coming. Where is His promised coming? Things just keep going as they always have. It may get worse or better for a little while, but things stay more or less the same. The more things change, the more they stay the same. But Peter says that people who say such things overlook the fact that God doesn’t simply let things go on forever. The flood is Peter’s prime example. The earth was wiped clean, even though no one but Noah and his family believed it would happen.
So Peter encourages the Christians at that time and the Christians today not to overlook this fact: God’s time and our time do not match up. What we think of as a long time has no bearing on God’s timing. Whether it’s one day or a thousand years, it’s all the same as far as God’s concerned. You think it’s been a long time since Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven? Consider what it must have been like for Israel throughout it’s entire history. The promise is given all the way back in Genesis 3 that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent, and put right what we, in our sin and unbelief, overturned.
And Israel waited at least three times as long as we’ve waited. Imagine Simeon and Anna in the temple waiting, day after day, both with the promise that the Messiah would come to His own temple. Israel waited far longer than we’ve waited. And yet God, in the fullness of time, sent forth His Son, born of a woman. In the fullness of time, not according to how we figure it, but in God’s complete, full, perfect reckoning. In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law.
Do not overlook this one fact, beloved: a thousand years or one day, God is the keeper of His own promise. And He doesn’t delay. He isn’t hesitating. He isn’t unsure. He does what He will at His own time. And that means that what He promised in Genesis 3, what He declared in Galatians 4, will come to its fulfillment and completion as described in 2 Peter 3 and elsewhere. A new creation has been begun; the old is passing away, the new has come. The creation itself is subject to a refining fire and a burning away of everything that doesn’t belong. All things will be shaken and the fire of God’s judgment will remove everything that is dross and not gold; everything that is stubble and not wheat. All the works done in this creation will be exposed for what they are, and only those that are done in Christ or built with His Words will last (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
This is what we are waiting for in hope: the end of the corruption and empty promises of a dying creation, and a renewed heavens and earth, in which righteousness dwells—that is, in which Christ Himself dwells, God with His people and His people with Him. Since we are waiting for that, the sort of people we are is the sort of people whose citizenship is not bound to this sin-filled creation. We belong with our King, who keeps our citizenship with Himself in heaven. And His people are holy and blameless, hastening to take refuge in Him before the judgment becomes apparent (e.g., Genesis 19:22).
In the light of eternity, what matters? In the light of the resurrection and the coming, new heavens and earth, what will you try to keep for that day? In other words, since that day is coming, are the things to which you’re clinging here and now worth it? If you’re holding on to grudges, refusing to reconcile or forgive, repent. Unless you’re going to present those grievances before the Lord, throw them away now. They’re not worth it. God’s delay in coming is for repentance and salvation, not for complacency. How often we become so comfortable in the inertia of our daily lives that we act as if the Lord’s coming is so far off to be irrelevant to what we’re now doing.
In Advent—at least this Advent—Peter brings us up short and puts the coming presence of Jesus front and center. It is true that neither Jesus nor Peter tells us when that day will come. It will come like a thief, on a day and time unknown. But the fact of His coming, the fact that He keeps His promise—that is, or will be, undeniable. And what if we did know? Would that make things better or worse? There is a short Norwegian film where a psychic in a small town is always correct. Everyone believes everything he says will happen. One Tuesday, the psychic tells a farmer that he’s going to die on Thursday. The farmer doesn’t argue, or ask questions. He just goes into his house and begins to prepare. But how he prepares to meet his death is by calling his brother and telling him that he will never get the farm, no matter what the inheritance laws say. The farmer boards up his windows and boards up his doors. He chainsaws a hole in the bottom floor and puts spray foam insulation around it. Then he goes upstairs, plugs up the bathtub and the sink, and turns on the water. As he waits for his death, the water drips down. When Thursday comes, he lies down in the hole with a pot of flowers, and waits to die.
But there is a knocking at his door and his friend says he doesn’t feel well, that he’s seeing all sorts of things, and feeling crazy. The friend falls down dead, and as the farmer goes outside, the psychic arrives. He says, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”
So the farmer, thinking he knew the day of his death, destroyed his house so that his brother wouldn’t get it. Whatever precipitated the grudge, he hated his brother so much that he was willing to destroy his brother’s inheritance. But he only destroyed his own.
We like to think that if we knew the day of our death, or the day of the Lord’s return, we’d focus on the things that matter, and do the things that are important. But it’s just as likely that we would do what we can get away with, pay out our own vengeance, settle the scores. And then, perhaps, we’d settle things with God at the last moment. Maybe this is part of why Jesus doesn’t tell us the day of His coming: because we can’t be trusted.
It is enough to know that He will keep His promise. It is enough to know that He hasn’t come yet for the sake of repentance and salvation, perhaps even ours. The Lord will come in glory and power, but He comes here and now hidden and humble. Confess and be reconciled. Forgive. Brothers and sisters, let us love in action, and not only in words. The Lord will come. But His patience now is for repentance, and it means salvation, even for you, even for me.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/10/17