Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 6, 2020
2 Peter 3:8-15a Commentary
We usually think of a “last will and testament” as a dry legal document by which a now-dead person divvies up his or her possessions. Yet we periodically see or hear about a last will and testament that’s really a kind of testament that communicates the deceased person’s final thoughts.
Sometimes its words scold family members for past sins. At other times wills express unfulfilled desires for reconciliation. Sometimes those words even remember the dead person’s past, as well as express his or her hopes for the future.
Those who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson might ask our hearers what they would write if they were writing their last communication to those whom they love. Peter, after all, seemed to think about this as he pondered his second epistle.
This letter is a kind of last will and testament for the apostle. After all, 2 Peter 1:15 at least implies that he sees his own life as ending soon. He senses that he may not get another chance to speak to his friends. So the apostle makes every last word of this epistle count. In those last words, he wants to make sure he talks about Jesus’ failure to return even as Christians, including the apostles, are dying.
God’s adopted children aren’t surprised that Peter spends much time in his letter talking about “the last things,” about the end of time. It’s good for the apostle’s modern adopted siblings in the faith, as well as Peter’s original readers, to reflect on those last things. After all, even if Christ doesn’t return for all of us in our lifetime, he will, in a real sense, return for each one of us when we die.
The Holy Spirit can strengthen and prepare God’s adopted children for that return by pointing us forward, through Peter and others’ words, to the new earth and heaven. That new creation is the place of our ultimate hope beyond physical death.
2 Peter 3, however, is also an excellent passage to study during the season of Advent. The apostle, after all, originally wrote it to people who were very concerned about the fact that Jesus hadn’t returned after thirty years or so.
So the apostle reminds his readers that our time isn’t God’s time. “With the Lord,” he writes in verse 8, “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” So Jesus, as we sometimes assume, isn’t slow in keeping his promise to return very soon. He’s merely showing his patience that he designs to lead people to receive God’s grace with their faith.
However, if the passage of time concerned people in Peter’s day, it may be even more worrisome for both those who proclaim and hear 2 Peter 3. Peter was probably exaggerating when he compared a thousand of our days to one of God’s. However, thinking in terms of thousands isn’t an exaggeration for modern Christians. After all, Christ has already waited thousands of years to come back.
Much time has elapsed between Christ’s lifetime and this year’s celebration of Advent. So God’s beloved people too probably need to hear that no matter how much time has passed, Christ’s return is still coming.
So how can we keep waiting for Christ’s return? Perhaps we begin by remembering that Christ is already present with us, by his Spirit. He has, in a real sense, already returned by coming to us through the Holy Spirit.
Christians have already waited a very long time for Christ to return. We may still have to wait a long time. However, he is already with us in a very real, warm and loving way. So in a real sense, Christ’s return will simply fulfill what we already enjoy, by God’s amazing grace.
That’s why Peter can write that though we look forward to a glorious future, we now try to live holy, blameless and, thus, glorious lives that are at peace with God. Christians don’t need to obsess about what will happen when God dramatically renews all things at Christ’s return.
Jesus’ followers have enough to focus on right now as we live in God’s salvation in Christ’s presence. Verse 9 suggests that Christ waits to return because he doesn’t want anyone to perish. No matter how we understand that, it’s at least an invitation to make good use of his “delay” to bring the gospel of what verse 15 calls “salvation” to as many people as we can. So both those who proclaim and who hear 2 Peter 3 support the work of missionaries, church planters and other kingdom workers.
After all, while we live between the distant past of Christ’s first coming and the indeterminate future of his second, our time is full, not empty. Jesus’ followers aren’t just floating between Bethlehem and Armageddon with nothing to do. No, we make full use of this time by living what verse 11 calls “holy and godly lives.”
But of all the ways to live holy and godly lives, perhaps relatively few Christians think of caring for God’s creation. Yet Peter may be trying to tell us something about that by talking about the original creation before transitioning from that to talk about the new creation.
The angels’ message about “Peace on earth” means many things to different people. However, I suspect most of us don’t think about peace for the earth when we consider it. Yet in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson the Spirit bends Peter’s thoughts back to the Word of God that created all things from nothing and will someday also remake all things.
Verse 10 may point to God’s destruction of everything that we know at Christ’s return. But it’s clear that when the fire goes out and the smoke clears, God’s adopted sons and daughters won’t be left with some ethereal clouds, but a new earth and heaven. That new creation will be what verse 13 calls “the home of righteousness,” or as Eugene Peterson vividly translates it, a place “landscaped with righteousness.”
Since that’s the home to which both those who proclaim and those hear this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson are looking forward, holy and godly living includes celebrating and caring for God’s creation right now. So Christians make good use of our wait for Christ to return by enjoying things like plants and peaks, rivers and rainstorms. We also make good use of our time by lovingly care for the air and water, plants and animals, all of God’s creation.
Advent’s the time when we like to think of unusual things like angels dancing in the night sky, stars blazing in the east and a baby being born in a barn. We even celebrate it by sometimes turning our parks, stores and neighborhoods into fantastic shrines to Christmas.
Those things, however, are strictly temporary. The angels and the baby Christ return to God’s eternal presence. The bright lights and green trees also come down, boxed for another year. In Advent, however, Jesus’ followers try to concentrate on the things that will last. We think of the Word of God who created and continues to hold all things. God’s dearly beloved people think of the One who lives in our hearts every day but will soon return to make all things new.
Jesus’ adopted siblings live holy and godly lives in the light of those lasting realities. After all, Christ’s first coming in Bethlehem signaled nothing less than the renewal of all things, including the renewal of all things in our lives right now.
Some day, as Peter tells us, Christ’s return will affect every last part of his creation. For now our lives are a kind of “sneak preview” of that as each part of them is marked by his presence in them, by his Holy Spirit. Even now we’re a “home of righteousness” that points people to the complete home of righteousness in the new earth and heaven.
Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman’s Willy Loman is arguably one of the stage’s most tragic in the last seventy years. He’s an almost incurable optimist who, as it turns out has little about which to be optimistic. Yet his son Happy says of Willy: “Dad is never so happy as when he’s looking forward to something!”
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