The 23th Sunday After Pentecost November 12, 2006
2 Peter 3:3-14
1 Thessalonians 3:7-13
611, 616, 467, 49 [alt: 794]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May the undeserved love of God be multiplied to each of you, as well as the peace which comes from knowing Jesus Christ as your Savior from the eternal darkness and agony of Hell. Amen.
Dear fellow bond-servants of our Savior, Jesus:
A friend and I had to wait in line for gas the other day. Well, not exactly “in line” since it was more or less a mad scramble from four directions to get to an open pump once the previous occupant drove off. Nevertheless, wait we did for an interminable length of time. Perhaps even as long as 180 seconds we waited. At the time we were, quite honestly, more than a bit perturbed because of the inexcusable inconvenience and lack of organization. We were in something of a hurry (actually we weren’t, but we felt like we were) and those lost three minutes were pretty hard to take. We also had some pretty choice thoughts to relate to the biker on the Harley who cut us off and beat us to an open pump, but we decided to hold our tongues. She looked pretty tough.
Sounds pretty silly when we actually put the whole episode into words, doesn’t it? My friend—who also happens to be my wife—and I were visiting pleasantly, and we could have gone right on visiting pleasantly had we not chosen to get worked up over how long it was taking for a pump to open up and how incredibly ridiculous that gas station’s waiting system is.
Patience is fast becoming—or has already become—a casualty to our instant gratification lifestyle. Waiting is fast becoming a forgotten art form. We get so many things so quickly today that we have more or less forgotten how to exercise patience. We now spend so little time waiting that we aren’t much good at it any more.
All of this, of course, works to the Devil’s advantage. Satan loves to see us so busy in this world that we take no thought concerning the end of this world. He fears the prayers of God’s children, so he is a huge advocate of busy for the sake of busy. While it is true that idle hands can be the Devil’s tools, our great spiritual enemy can also use the opposite extreme to his advantage. In other words, it is possible to be too busy for our own spiritual good.
As we approach the end of another church year, we seek to arm ourselves with God’s wisdom in the general area of waiting. We await, of course, the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We will be reminded in our text of three mistakes that Christians regularly make when it comes to waiting. God will also give three rules or bits of advice on how to overcome or avoid these mistakes.
We will consider our text in three separate sections, the first of which is as follows: Know this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.[vv.3-7]
The first mistake we can make while patiently waiting for our Lord’s return is to listen to the doubters around us—and everyone knows how hard it is to ignore them. “Where is this ‘Savior’ who is supposed to be coming? We don’t see Him. In fact, nothing changes. Everything goes on as it always has.”
It is rather unlikely that anyone has ever walked up to you and said something like this in so many words. The ungodly speak such words not with their mouths as much as with their attitude and conduct. What makes matters worse is that in a sense they are right. What they are saying is basically true but only up to a very specific point.
Just as he Lord promised after the Flood, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night have not ceased (cf. Genesis 8:22). Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Everything goes on as it always has with one major difference: there have been millions of Christians since the time of Noah whose names have been added to the Book of Life, among them yours and mine. The fact that things go on as they always have in no way proves that Christ will not return. Rather, it is evidence of His patient mercy.
Many generations have come and gone, and yet still today would any true Christian really be all that surprised if Christ’s return took place sometime during our lifetime? All of the signs are right. Society is thoroughly evil. There are “wars and rumors of wars” (Matthew 24:6), the Roman Papacy has been revealed as the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:8), people are “lovers of themselves” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2, 4).
We need to remind ourselves from time to time that it is the Lord who has promised that this world will end. This is the same Lord who long ago promised to destroy the world with a flood, as our text also reminds us. Based on his trust in that same Lord’s promise, Noah began building the ark. Ten years later the world was scoffing. Fifty years later they were laughing. A hundred years later and they were rolling in the aisles. Everything was going on as it always had, but God had promised and after 120 years no one was laughing anymore—not at God’s promise, not at Noah’s “folly.” All, except for Noah and his family, were dead under the waters of the Great Flood.
We have such doubters and ridiculers today. They too, in the words of our text, are “reserved for the fire, until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” [v.7]
Waiting Rule #1: Don’t listen to the doubters while you’re waiting for your Lord's return. God keeps his promises.
Our text continues: But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. [vv.8-10]
The second mistake we can make while waiting—the second danger to face us—is the danger of forming a picture or impression of God in our own image—a picture in which God possesses our limitations and shortcomings. The very fact that we might want to know why God is waiting so long to return in judgment gives evidence to our problem. “Foolish man,” our text implies, “Don’t you know that God is not restricted or governed by the time which He Himself has created?” To Him “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” [v.8] God is not slow, He is patient. He wants as many as possible to come to faith and to join him in heaven.
What is more, God is not obligated to come when we think the time is right, nor when we expect it. Our text repeats what we read time and again in Scripture, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief.” [v.10] That Day will come when we do not expect it. When His time is right.
We tend to make our God too small in countless different ways. We forget that God does not possess the same limitations that shackle us. It is very difficult for us to even begin to grasp the true image of a perfect and holy God, a being without limitations, deficiencies, or faults of any kind. Such a being does not grow impatient. He acts when the time is right and He alone can know that right time. Such a being does not lose sight of His goals. He accomplishes them all. Such a being is not wracked by doubts or uncertainties, nor does He ever lack any information or suffer from indecision. He always knows the right thing to do and He always does that right thing. We can then know with complete certainty that God’s time is always best. He is absolutely in complete control and He most certainly knows what He is doing.
Waiting Rule #2: As you wait, let God be God, and trust that He knows what is best for all of us, especially the time of His Son's return for the final Judgment.
Our third and final lesson while waiting for the Lord’s glorious return is revealed in the last verses of the text: Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. [vv.11-14]
Now this is startling news. It is sobering to note that the Lord and Judgment Day could be waiting for me, and that I might very well have the power to make it come sooner. As we said before, Christ will not come again until the last of the elect comes to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. Is Judgment Day, is God Almighty, waiting for you? There are, tragically, many today who only think that they are ready for Christ’s return. They are not. They have only a false, external Christianity. They may well go through all the motions, say all the right things, do all the superficially good deeds; but they still lack that one thing needful. They lack true saving faith and trust in Jesus for their full salvation. Such souls are not dedicated to Christ but to themselves. When Judgment Day does come their utter horror and their bitter disappointment will be beyond comprehension.
But that is not you. Thanks and praise be to God that you do believe in Christ Jesus, you are ready for His return. You do believe that Jesus paid the full debt of your sins when he died on Calvary. But still God could be waiting for you to act. Think of it! God could be waiting for you. The third danger facing Christians who wait is that we will simply waste these days and years we have been given.
Waiting Rule #3: Work while you wait, until the last sinner is brought to saving faith.
Living the kind of life our Savior wants us to live and witnessing as to “the reason for the hope that is in us” (1 Peter 3:15). can actually “hasten the coming” [v.12] of our Lord Jesus. You may recall how we said at the very beginning that all the elect must come to faith before Christ will return. What if that very last person is the guy you work with, or the lady you know at school, or the friend that you like so much and have been meaning to talk to about sin and grace? Some day, somewhere, it is going to happen. The Lord has chosen us—frail, sinful human beings—to spread His saving Gospel. One day, in some part of this dying world of ours, the Good News will be brought to a lost sinner. The message that Jesus died for his sins and that he has salvation through Jesus will lift the last human heart from death to life. That, then, will be the end. The Lord will come and this world of ours will be “rolled up like a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4). “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” [v.14] The very life that you lead, together with your words of witness, may result in that final soul being added to the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Waiting is indeed becoming a forgotten art. God’s Word reminds us to ignore the doubters, to let God be God, and to work while we wait. Next time you find yourself wondering about the Lord’s return and impatiently contemplating what He could possibly be waiting for, think on these things and then get busy. He might just be waiting for you to bring the words of Life to the last of the elect. Amen.
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