Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"Be DIligent & Grow" Sermon: II Peter 3:14-18

“Be Diligent & Grow”
[II Peter 3:14-18]
August 10, 2008 Second Reformed Church

These are dangerous days; the Christians of the first century were living in dangerous days. Do we know why? Well, in the first century, the Roman army was hunting down Christians and killing them. And in our circumstance, we’re living in an area where there is a significant amount of violence. And while such things are dangerous, and God has given us brains to do what we can to keep ourselves out of harm’s way, Peter explains that these are not the greatest dangers facing us. The greatest dangers facing us, which he addresses in his second letter, is thinking you’re a Christian when you’re not and coming under the teaching of false teachers.

Peter began his letter urging the exiles to make their calling and election sure. Peter urged them to make sure that they believed that there is only One Salvation and that is by Jesus Christ Alone. We cannot do anything to earn our salvation; it is completely the Gift of God. If we do not believe that Salvation is all of Jesus and nothing of us, we are not Christians. If we believe that our works, our offerings, our volunteering, our showing up to worship, the worship of Mary and the saints and the sacraments, etc., add anything to our salvation, we have not understood – we have not believed in Jesus, Who Alone, by Himself, grants salvation.

Peter said it was the most important thing to be sure of, and I tell you this morning, if you are unsure of everything else in all of creation, be sure about this. Know whether you truly believe that Jesus – Alone – is your salvation. If you truly believe that, you are one of the elect, you are one of the chosen of God, and you cannot be lost – you are Jesus’ forever.

Then Peter warns the exiles and us that there are false teachers – there are people who purposefully deny what God has said. Peter described them as “the ignorant and unstable [who] twist [God’s Word] to their own destruction” (II Peter 3:16b, ESV). And that’s why we can never say that we have been to worship enough, we have prayed enough, we have read the Bible enough. In this life, we are continuing to grow in our faith and understanding – but we do not possess the fullness of faith, nor complete knowledge – so we can be mislead, so we need to keep going back, keep hearing the Word of God read and preached and taught and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in prayer.

The false teachers, Peter tells us, “are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions” (II Peter 2:13b, ESV). We all make mistakes in interpreting and understanding God’s Word. But the false teachers purposely distort God’s Word and they love doing it – they love to see people believing lies and not following after God and His Truth.

So, Peter tells us to return to the Bible. Again and again, until Jesus returns. Trust the Bible, God’s Word. It contains eyewitness testimony – and there is no contradiction in anything that is written in it. And that’s because this is not a human book – yes, human beings wrote the words down, in time, in their own styles and languages, but God inspired them to write it – in other words, He made sure that everything they wrote down was accurate. Look at the prophecies that have been fulfilled accurately. See that not a single prophecy has turned out to be false. Trust that Jesus is returning as Judge, and then there will be the restoration. Keep reading it, keep looking things up, keep checking it against what our teachers and ministers tell us to see if they are speaking the truth.

Then, in this morning’s Scripture, Peter writes, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these” – go back up a verse – “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:13, ESV) – since we have believed in Jesus Alone for our salvation, since we believe He is returning as Judge, since we believe He will purify us and the entire creation and cast sin and death and all those who follow the devil into the lake of fire, since we are confident in the hope of new heavens and a new earth and a new Jerusalem, come down out of heaven from God – Peter tells us: strive, as our pew Bible has it, or, be diligent, and grow.

Peter says, in response to our salvation and that great hope which we are awaiting, we ought to strive – be diligent – to do three things:

First, we are to strive to be without spot or blemish. Unlike the false teachers, who are, themselves blots and blemishes, we are to do everything we can to keep ourselves pure and clean for when Jesus, the Bridegroom returns.

And we wonder how to do that, since every sin we commit – and we continue to commit sin – is filth upon us. And the answer is found is trusting our salvation to Jesus Alone. If our works had any bearing on our salvation, we would be lost, but since Jesus’ Works are credited to us and the Holy Spirit now lives in us and works through us, we can believe, as Paul wrote, “[Jesus will] present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27, ESV). What good news is that? We are to strive to be spotless – that is our response to Jesus’ Salvation – but in the end, part of the gift of that Salvation is that Jesus will fully cleanse us before He receives us as His bride.

Second, we are to be diligent in counting “the patience of our Lord as salvation.” What does that mean? Remember last week, we considered that God’s Time is not our time and that one of the reasons that God seems to be slow in returning is to allow time for every person who will believe in Him for Salvation to come to belief in Him. God is not slow; He is patient, and when the last person believes who will come to belief, He will return. The date is set, and the Father knows it well.

So, when we are wondering how much longer it will be, when others are taunting us for believing Jesus will return, even though it is two thousand years later, let us remember what Jesus said, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7, ESV). When someone asks, “Do you really believe that Jesus is going to return after all these years?”, we can answer, “Yes, He is patiently waiting for the last person who will come to belief in Him, and then He will return – perhaps that person is you ”

And let us just quickly note, that Peter says that Paul says these same things in his letters. And notice at the end of verse seventeen, Peter calls Paul’s letters “Scripture.” Paul’s letters, from the beginning, while Paul was still alive, were recognized by the Church to be the Word of God, Scripture with the same authority as the Old Testament. There are false teachers who will tell you that Paul’s letters were not considered Scripture until the fourth century – that’s a lie – here’s the proof.

And that leads us to the third point to be diligent about – that is, we are to be diligent in rooting out “the error of lawless people.” We are not to tolerate what is seen to be false teaching in the Church. Jesus told us how to approach persons who sin – and purposely teaching false doctrine is a sin – and if they ultimately will not repent, if they will not submit to the teaching of the whole Church – they are to be excommunicated and banished from the Church until such time as they truly repent.

The twenty-first century Church does a very poor job of rooting out the false teachers. This is part of Church discipline. It is not fun or enjoyable, but it is necessary. We cannot allow teachers – pastors – to continue to purposely teach things contrary to what the Church has always believed. If we do continue to allow them free reign, people will become confused and go far astray from the Only Way to Salvation.

Understand, Peter is talking about those doctrines which are necessary for salvation, not just any disagreement. We can disagree as brothers and sisters in Christ about whether or not musical instruments should be used in worship. We can disagree about whether or not infants should be baptized. We can disagree about whether or not hymns should be sung in worship. And so forth. There are matters that different persons of faith and different churches will have different understandings of – we are sinners and we do not know everything, so we make mistakes and misunderstand.

However, there are things we cannot disagree about if we are to call ourselves Christians: We cannot disagree about whether or not Jesus is completely human and at the same time completely God. We cannot disagree about whether or not Jesus is the Only Way to Salvation. We cannot disagree about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. And so forth.

Persons who teach these type of things in the Church must be stopped, and if they will not change their belief, they must be removed. For the sake of the Gospel and those who have come to hear it preached and taught.

Then Peter says that we are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Well, how do we do that?

Let us understand, first of all, what Paul wrote, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. You are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building” (I Corinthians 3:6-9, ESV). And D. M. Lloyd-Jones commented on verse eighteen in today’s text, saying, “I cannot make myself grow but I can observe certain conditions which promote growth, and which are essential to it” (Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, 235).

In other words, you and I cannot make ourselves grow – that’s God’s Work. What we can do, both for ourselves and each other, is to maximize those conditions which we know promote growth. A plant need sunshine, water, nutrients – so we make sure that it gets those things if we want it to live and grow. The same is true for us: we can maximize those conditions which we know are necessary for growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What are these conditions? Lloyd-Jones is quite thorough on this, so I will borrow his categories (cf. Pp. 235-239):

If we desire to grow in grace and knowledge – to maximize the conditions through which God may cause us to grow, we ought to:

Read our Bibles. This is the most important. We cannot grow if we are not reading our Bibles. Yes, there are difficult sections – even Peter admits that – but that is no excuse for putting God’s Word down and not picking it up again.

We ought to receive the sacrament of baptism – once – and the Lord’s Supper frequently.

We ought to meditate. When Lloyd-Jones says this, he is not thinking of the hippies and Eastern religions. What he means is we ought to have a time to reflect – on the Word of God – and on life more generally. We ought to have a time to think through and think over what God has said, what we have understood, what we didn’t understand and need to seek out a brother or sister to get help in understanding. We need time to be quiet and think.

We ought also read good Christians books – all kinds of good Christian books – theology, fiction, literature, etc. Reading what others have written helps us to better understand and appreciate all of God’s Creation and all of God’s Actions. If you don’t know what a good Christian book is, tell me what type of thing you would like to read, and I will recommend something or find out what might be good for you. Pick up good books.

Then, we ought to avoid those things which are harmful to our growth. And these things will be different for each of us – we need to know ourselves and what keeps us from God and the growth He may cause in us. Lloyd-Jones tells that he decided he needed to stop reading the newspaper. What hinders your communion with God? What keeps you from spending time with Him?

The next condition, he calls exercise. That is, we ought to live out what we believe. If we say we believe something, our lives ought to reflect and not contradict that belief

Then, we ought to take time to rest. Rest is part of the holy cycle that God has put into the day, week, month, etc. We are constructed such that we need time to rest and recuperate – to heal, to mend, to become strong again. If we go and go and go and never take time to rest – and that doesn’t just mean sleep, though sleep is included – we will burn out. If we never rest, we will become sick and eventually become useless to anyone. It is a great temptation in the ministry to be at your beck and call – and to work – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week – and it’s easy to do. But it is not good for you or me. I need to take time to heal and prepare for the next day, and so do you. We must allow each other to get an appropriate amount of rest that we might be as effective for God as possible.

Lastly, we ought to be disciplined. We ought to have routines. We ought to read the Bible daily, not just “now and then.” We ought to attend worship at least weekly. We ought to rest daily, and set aside at least one day to spend in the presence of God, etc. If we are disciplined enough to keep ourselves in all these conditions that promote faith, God may well be pleased to grow us and teach us of Himself.

So, let us understand from our brother, Peter, that these are glorious days: God has completed the whole Work of Salvation, and He is now working through we who believe. We respond to Him by doing good works. And we are waiting – longing – for Jesus’ Return and the restoration of all things, as we work diligently and seek to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus. And “to him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the witness of Peter. We thank You for Your Work of Salvation, and we ask that if any here have not believed, that You would be pleased to call them to salvation. We ask that we who are Christians would be diligent in hope and holiness and in rooting out error, and we ask that we would also maximize the conditions for growth, and we ask that You would be pleased to give us growth. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

"Don't Waste Your Life"

Today, D.V., will be the final session of the Rev. Dr. John Piper series, "Don't Waste Your Life." Join us at 3:30 PM to consider what it means to live a God-glorifying and joyful life. Watch this blog for our next offering -- or, better yet, join us for worship, Sunday, at 10:30 AM. And, remember, we have Bible Study, Sunday mornings at 9 AM.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"Do Not Overlook This Fact" Sermon: II Peter 3:8-13

“Do Not Overlook This Fact”
[II Peter 3:8-13]
August 3, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Are you hurt this morning? Is trouble on the horizon? Are you unsure of how to make it? Do you wonder where God is? Why God’s Promises haven’t come to pass for you?

Peter was addressing Christians who were in exile – on the run. Some of them would be killed – others tortured. Peter, himself, was going to be crucified. Still, he wrote his second letter telling them to be strong in the Lord, to do the good works that He calls us to do, to remember that Jesus will return in His Resurrected Body as Judge. And this morning we heard him tell them – and us – “do not overlook this fact.”

Last week, we saw that the false teachers and non-Christians deliberately overlooked the fact of the Power of God’s Word. They knew that God’s Word called the earth into existence out of the water and then destroyed the earth in the water and then restored the earth for Noah and his family and the animals that he saved. They knew that the Promise of God is to come and judge the world and everyone in it with fire – to damn the wicked and purify the believers. And after this there will be a restoration – the meek shall inherit the earth – a perfect, eternal earth.

Still, there are times when Christians – maybe even you – have wondered: “Well, it has been over two thousand years. Maybe what we have believed is not true. Maybe we have misunderstood.” But Peter tells us “no,” we have not misunderstood – we have forgotten something – we are a people who forget, a people who need to be reminded over and over and over, and by the grace of God, we will be reminded until the day of His Return – “do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Peter quoted from Moses’ prayer, which we find as Psalm 90, “For a thousand years in your sight, is but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4, ESV).

What are Peter and Moses saying? They are saying that time is a creation of God. So, God exists both outside of time, and He works His Will in time, the greatest of which was His Incarnation as Jesus. God understands that there are sixty seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour and twenty-four hours in a day, and so forth. But God is also beyond and outside of time, existing in eternity past and future. You and I have never existed in a plane of existence without time, so we cannot really understand what that means. But perhaps we can understand what God said to Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, ESV).

There is an aspect of mystery in God’s Plan. Our minds are not always able to understand why God works in the ways He does, why He doesn’t intervene at times, why one thing happens and not another. But we are creatures and He is the Creator. It is not our place to question God, only to understand what He has said and to trust Him. Paul wrote, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will the thing molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me this way?’” (Romans 9:19-20, ESV).

Will Jesus return as He promised? Will He come as Judge? Yes. And we can confidently say “yes” over two thousand years later as long as we don’t overlook this fact: God is God, and He is not constrained by time, like we are. God will carry out His Plan, and it cannot and will not be hampered by the number of generations that pass away or by our understanding of God’s Timing.

It’s not unlike the mystery of the Lord’s Supper that is before us. We confess that Jesus is spiritually present with us in the bread and the cup. We confess that He communes with us and gives us His Grace to strengthen us to be the Christians He has called us to be. We receive that teaching and these elements on faith. We cannot see Jesus’ Spiritual Presence. We cannot see Him give us Grace. We understand what we can, and then we trust in what God has said.

Still, God does tell us some things, and God does give us one reason why He does not come back as quickly as one might expect: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” What does this verse say? It has been brutalized by some to make it say that God does not want any human being to perish and that He has delayed His Return in the hopes that every human being will repent – that is not what this says.

What does Peter say? “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,” – “you” who? Who is the “you” in this sentence? It’s the people Peter is writing to. Who is he writing to? “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:1b, ESV). The Lord is patient towards all those who receive faith and salvation through the righteousness of Jesus Christ – Christians. “Not wishing that any should perish,” – “any” who? “Any of “you” – that is all those who receive faith and salvation through the righteousness of Jesus Christ – those who will become Christians. “But that all should come to repentance” – “all” of who? “All” of “any” of “you” – that is all those who receive faith and salvation through the righteousness of Jesus Christ – those who will become Christians.

Peter tells us that one reason that God seems to have delayed His Return is that He is patient and waiting for all those who will believe in Him to come to belief. Jesus said, “[The Jews] will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24, ESV). And Paul wrote, “Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand a mystery, brothers; a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob; and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins’” (Romans 11:25-27, ESV).

Peter gives us one reason why Jesus has not yet returned: He is waiting for all those who will receive His salvation to receive Him, and then He will return. He knows those who are His – He is not waiting forever. He is patient, and He is waiting for the final one to come to belief in Him, and then He will return.

And when He returns, He will come like a thief – unexpected. “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.” The wording is such that we should understand the return and fiery judgment like this: if you have ever pulled down the blinds and let go, and it flew back up, everything rolling back up on itself – that is what the word “roar” indicates here in the Greek – Jesus will come suddenly and the fire will descend and the judgment will occur – as fast as you can say “roar.”

But, remember what we said last week – this should not make us fear. Christians should not fear the Return of Christ and the judgement of fire:

When Jesus returns, with all the mighty angels, bringing judgment and fire, Jesus will throw death, Hell, and the devil into the lake of fire, the wicked will suffer eternally, but the chosen of God will pass through the fire, they will be purified, changed, perfected, the dross will be removed from our gold, as will that of the heavens and the earth. Paul wrote, “[The glory will revealed to us.] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19-23, ESV).

And John wrote, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God’” (Revelation 21:1-3, ESV).

If we know and do not suppress the Word of God, then our future is obvious to us: Jesus will return in His Resurrected Body, with fire, and He will call the fire down on the heavens and the earth to punish the wicked and purify His people. And then there will be a restoration – the earth and the heavens, and all the creation, and we who are God’s will be purified and perfected. And, according to the Word of God, we will inherit the earth. It will be like the Garden of Eden, only better, because, after the judgment, we will be unable to sin.

Peter ends this morning’s reading by saying that, if these things are true, “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God”? And here are two curious things: in the first phrase, Peter says that if we understand the judgement of fire is coming, we ought to live lives of – and it’s plural in the Greek – very bad grammar, but he’s making a point – we ought to live lives of “holinesses” and “godlinesses.” Peter is telling us that holiness and godliness are not one time things – we cannot do one thing and achieve holiness and godliness – it is a process, it the changing of our whole lives into lives like that of Jesus. It is achieving holiness in every aspect of life and godliness in every aspect of life, which, of course, we won’t fully do until He returns.

But he says something else curious – if we pursue “holinesses” and “godlinesses,” we wait and hasten the coming of Jesus. Now, we can understand, from that thing we ought not to forget – that one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day – that we are to wait patiently for God to fulfill His Plan and return when the time is right, but how can it be said that we hasten the day? What Peter means is that as we become more like Jesus, we come closer to the reality that we shall live in after the judgment when the new heavens and the new earth appear. Which is exactly what Peter says:

“Because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Since that is our great hope, let us not overlook the fact that we only exist in time, whereas God exist both in and outside of time. He is not slow, but is bringing everything to pass just as He planned. And He is being patient, waiting until the last person who is to come to belief in Jesus professes faith, then He will return.

Until then, let us trust in the promises of our God. Let us look forward to the restoration of all things. And knowing that Jesus is returning as Judge with fire, let us work hard on our “holinesses” and “godlinesses,” as we become more like Jesus, and look forward to that day when we are perfected, received into His Full Kingdom, and sin and death are no more.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we tend to forget that You are not constrained by time like we are. Help us to remember that You are the Creator, and time is one of Your creations. We thank You that You did not immediately return to earth, but patiently wait for all those You have called to salvation to receive Your Son. And now we ask that we would remember what is coming, both in judgment and restoration, and become like Your Son, by the Work of God the Holy Spirit in us. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.