Sermon Commentary for Sunday, December 10, 2023

2 Peter 3:8-15a Commentary

Women who have been pregnant tell me that expectant mom sometimes experience impatience tinged with a kind of restlessness. Especially near the end of their pregnancy, they’re anxious for their baby to be born. Some still-pregnant moms even envy those whose children have already been born.

This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson at least alludes to some of Jesus’ first followers’ reaction to the apparent delay of Jesus’ return. Peter implies that some of the people to whom he originally writes it are becoming impatient with God’s apparent slowness in sending Christ back.

After all, while the apostle’s first readers expected Christ to return immediately, God had already made them wait a whopping thirty years to do so. This apparently provoked a kind of crisis in the faith of some of Jesus’ earliest followers. Some even seemed to wonder if Christ would ever return.

On top of that, their contemporaries seem to be mocking Christians to whom Peter writes because they’ve been waiting so long for Christ to return. Their contemporaries are ridiculing them for being religious fanatics who are waiting for something that will never happen.

If that seems strange to some, preachers might ask how our hearers would react if their best friend quit her job because she believed Christ is coming back tomorrow. Or what might we think of someone who stayed home from church this Sunday simply because he wanted to be with his family when Christ returned at 10:00? Wouldn’t at least some of us view such people as religious zealots?

To counter both ancient and modern (over)reactions to the prospect of Christ’s return, this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s apostle reminds his readers that God doesn’t view time the way we do. “With the Lord,” he reminds God’s adopted children in verse 8, “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

Yet if the passage of a mere thirty years was a problem for Peter’s contemporaries, the 2,000 years that Christ has now waited to return poses a perhaps even bigger problem for some citizens of the 21st century.  After all, some scholars suggest that “a thousand years” was hyperbole for Christians who thought thirty or forty years was a long time to wait. However, the idea of a thousand-year wait for Christ’s second coming is no longer an exaggeration.  Christians have, in fact, now waited two millennia for Christ to return.

As I get nearer and nearer to the date on which I plan to retire, it strikes me that as you move toward the darker edges of life, the idea of eternity becomes far more pressing. When I was a child, I trembled to sing, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.” After all, I wondered what we’d do for forever. However, I must admit that I now sometimes wonder a bit if there will ever be that thousand times thousand years in God’s presence.

Had Christ already returned, those issues would already be swallowed up, by God’s grace, in God’s glorious presence in the new creation. However, a yawning chasm now exists between Christ’s two coming. As a result, we sometimes struggle with questions about Christ’s return.

That’s why Jesus’ friends need to hear Peter remind us that no matter how much time has already passed since Christ left this earth, the Day of the Lord is still coming. We can, he insists, trust God’s promises that Christ will not wait forever to return.  In fact, Peter says he’ll sneak up on us to suddenly transform the creation into the new creation.

But why does God make us wait so long for that to happen? Why does, to paraphrase Peter in verse 4, everything seem to just go on as it has since the beginning of measured time? Why, for example, must people endure doubts about Christ’s return at all?  Why must creation groan as it continues to suffer though apparently endless cyclones and floods, droughts and wildfires? Why does God wait so long to destroy violence in our workplaces, communities and nations?

In verse 9, Peter insists, the Lord “is … patient [makrothymei]* with you, not wanting anyone to perish [aporeisthai], but everyone to come to repentance [metanoian].”  In fact, he adds in verse 15, “our Lord’s patience means salvation [soterian].” The Message paraphrases the apostle as saying, God “is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost” (9) and “Interpret as Master’s patient restraint for what it is: salvation” (15).

There we have it: Christ is waiting to return, says the apostle, because God doesn’t want to find anyone unprepared for that return.  Christ has not yet returned because God wants to give people more time to receive God’s grace with our faith.  Quite simply, Jesus’ friends’ impatience with Jesus’ return is the result of God’s gracious patience.

However, ironically, God’s patience doesn’t always seem to mean salvation. In fact, God’s patience has given some people the opportunity to fall away. Had Christ returned, say, forty years ago, he would have found people who are no longer Christians still in a faithful relationship with him.

Preachers are wise to resist the temptation to try to explain that. However, we might note as long as those we love who don’t yet love the Lord have life, we have hope. God has not yet given up on our living family members who seem to have given up on God. Christ waits to return because God has not yet turned God’s back on our friends, neighbors and co-workers who seem to have turned their backs on God.

So God isn’t slow to keep God’s promise to send Jesus Christ back. Maybe, in fact, God is waiting to send Christ back not just because God longs for people to receive God’s grace with their faith, but also because God isn’t yet done transforming God’s dearly beloved people.

In fact, in verse 11, Peter talks about the kind of people we “ought to be [dei archein].” Christians who wait for Jesus’ return don’t act as though he’ll never return. Nor do we waste time trying to figure out when Christ will return or what exactly will happen when he does. Instead, according to Peter in verse 11, we live “holy [hagiais] and godly [eusebeiais] lives.”

Of course, there are days when Jesus’ friends are tempted to lose patience with God’s patience. When people suffer, when creation groans for a Savior, we too pray, with John, “Come, Lord Jesus.” As Christians wait for God to answer, “yes” to that prayer, however, we “take advantage of” God’s patience. By our words and actions, we spread the good news as far and wide as possible.

On this Second Sunday in Advent some Christians will at least figuratively gather around the Lord’s Table. So this might be a good opportunity for preachers to invite our hearers to take a good look around and ask, “Who’s missing?”  Who do the Lord’s dearly beloved people (and the Lord) long to join us or some other body of Christians around the Lord’s Table?” Then, nourished by God’s Word and communion’s elements, Jesus’ friends can fill all the days and weeks God gives us before Christ’s return with the work of spreading the gospel, and doing things like caring for people who are materially needy and a creation that groans in expectation of that return.

(I’m indebted for some of this commentary’s ideas to the authors of an article, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” in the September, 2004 issue of Reformed Worship).

*I have here and elsewhere added in brackets the Greek words for the English words the NIV translation uses.


In her book, Glittering Vices (Brazos, 2020) Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung tells about her struggle with patience. As she examined her discouragement and spiritual struggle, all she could see, she recounts, was brokenness. Her pain was “acute” and her heart “ached.”

When she shared some of her pain with a wise and beloved friend, that friend gave DeYoung a picture. That friend told her how construction workers had come to her house to replace a broken window.  Because she expected a simple swap of the old new for the for old, she was very disappointed at day’s end to see her walls full of new cracks, her room full of construction debris, and everything coated with dust. Things were not replaced and restored, but only further torn apart.

Days later the workers returned, put up new drywall, and painted. When they left, the room looked better than it ever had. ‘You see, I had to wait for them to finish,’ DeYoung’s friend said.” Konyndyk DeYoung then concludes, “In the darkness of my distress over what was broken, I had forgotten to wait in hope for God to make all things new.”


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