A sermon on 2 Peter 3:8-15a
First Baptist church of Lynchburg
December 6, 2020
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
1905 was a year that completely rocked the scientific community. It was then that the great physicist Albert Einstein first presented what has been come to be known as “The Theory of Relativity.” His work and ideas about the nature of matter and energy turned the scientific world on its ear. The theory questioned some of the most firmly held understandings of the nature of energy, matter and a whole host of other components of the universe. It was—and still is—a game changer—even some 115 years later. Einstein’s theory forms the basis of what we call “quantum physics,” which is the study of how the universe works at its most basic and elemental levels. In preparation for today’s sermon, I did a little bit of reading about the Theory of Relativity. But I’ve got to tell you that I am not much closer to grasping what it means or how it works than I was when I began Googling it earlier this week.
One of the applications of the theory that Einstein emphasized was concerning the nature of time. Einstein suggested that the speed of time is not constant. He theorized that an object traveling at a faster speed will experience time at a slower rate. And conversely, an object traveling at a slower speed will experience time at a faster rate…or something like that. I really am not sure, to be quite honest…
Which brings us to Christmas. (You could easily see the connection between Einstein and Christmas, right?!) Every year, it just seems that the Christmas season keeps coming around each year at a faster and faster rate. Don’t you experience it that way too? When I was younger, I would hear my elders talk about how much faster time seemed to fly by as they grew older. Now that I have a few more miles on me myself, I understand more of what they were talking about. Even the coronavirus pandemic that has upended much of our lives has not able to slow down the passage of time. Here we are all already in the second Sunday of Advent. There are still more gifts to buy, decorations to put up, meals to plan, shopping to do, contacts to make with friends and family and it’s all coming at us at a furious pace. We rush around and wonder how we’re going to get it all done in time by Christmas Day.
But then for others, Christmas is dragging on more slowly. When I was a kid and in a hurry to go somewhere or to do something, one of the things that would be said to encourage a quicker response from someone else was to say to them, “Come on! Hurry up—you’re slower than Christmas!” When you are impatiently waiting on someone, time passes slowly, doesn’t it?…
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The idea of Christmas moving slowly brings to mind a Grammy award winning Christmas holiday classic.1 You know the one. It was first sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks back in the 1950’s, but has more recently been performed by other notable singers including Amy Grant and country music artist Kacy Musgraves:
Christmas, Christmas time is here
Time for toys and time for cheer
We’ve been good but we can’t last
Hurry, Christmas, hurry fast
Want a plane that loops the loop
Me—I want a hula hoop
We can hardly stand the wait
Please Christmas don’t be late.
For many –especially children—time passes slowly when it comes to Christmas. For them, Christmas seems like it will take forever to arrive each year…
In the book of Second Peter, the Apostle Peter addresses the concerns of some people in the church who have apparently grown tired of waiting for the Lord’s promised return. Maybe they have come to the place that they doubt if he would return at all. In our text, Peter addresses the nature and the timing of our Lord’s return. And he finishes up by discussing what the believers should be doing in the meantime as they patiently watch and wait.
In chapter 3 verse eight, Peter begins by reminding his readers of what Psalm 90:4 says. It says, “With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Peter lets us know that God’s timetable is not our timetable. God is not beholden to what we think he should do…when we think he should do it…or that he should do what seems right to us.
And then Peter gives the reason for Christ delaying his return. He says that it is due to the Lord’s great love for everyone that he postpones his return in order to give everyone a greater opportunity to repent. The truth is that God does not wish anyone to perish. But instead he desires that everyone come into a right relationship with him. This is the reason for his delay.
And then, echoing some other New Testament teachings about Christ’s return, Peter writes that the Lord will return at an unexpected time. He will come at an unknown hour. He will come as unexpectedly as a thief in the night.
In verse eleven, Peter writes about what Christians should do in the meantime while anticipating Christ’s return. He asks “Since [the world] will be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness…” The Greek word translated as “what sort of” in this
1 The Grammy Awards were Best Comedy Performance, Best Children’s Recording, and Best Engineered Recording (non-classical) in 1958. The song was also the first Christmas song to reach #1 on the Billboard Top 40 that same year.
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verse is the word po-tä-pos’. If you were to look this verse up in different English translations, that phrase “what sort of” would likely be found in some close variation in all of them. While the phrase is technically accurate, it has a not-so-wholesome connotation in English.
In English, when we ask “What kind of person would do a thing like that?” it is almost always has a negative connotation. For example, we might hear about someone stealing money from a Salvation Army red kettle this season. When we hear about it, we might exclaim, “What kind of person would do such a thing?” Or we may read in the newspaper of someone who has been accused of animal cruelty, starving the animals in their care or mistreating them in some other way. And we might become indignant and ask, “What kind of person would do that to a defenseless dog or cat?”
But in New Testament Greek, po-tä-pos’ does not have that negative connotation. It is a much more positive word. For example, it is the word used in Matthew 8:27. In that passage, after Jesus had calmed the wind and the waves, Matthew records, “The disciples were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” Another example of po-tä-pos’ can be found in 1 John 3:1. There it is written, “Behold, what kind of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
So Peter poses the question to his readers—and us—“How are we to live in the meantime as we await Christ’s return? What kind of lives should we live?” Peter answers his own question at the end of verse 11 when he writes that we are to lead lives of holiness and godliness.
What do those words mean: “holiness” and “godliness”? In some recent sermons, we have considered together what the word “holiness” means. We have recognized how the word “holiness” has gotten a bad rap in our day and age. Holiness does not mean looking down one’s nose at someone else thinking that you are somehow better than they are. It does not mean to be spiritually proud or arrogant. No one wants to be called a “holy Joe” or be described as “holier than thou.”
To be holy, at its most basic, means to be separate. It means to be different. It means to reject the world’s standards of what is okay and acceptable behavior so that one can embrace and live the kind of life that God desires of us. It involves striving against the evil and sin that is forever trying to control us so that we may give ourselves more fully to God. That’s what holiness is.
The second characteristic that Peter mentions is “godliness.” Godliness in essence means to act like God acts. And how does God act? It means to show love and to be compassionate. It means to do good deeds and to act righteously toward others. In order to live a godly life, it means to connect with God regularly through prayer and worship. Those are godly actions which help to bring us into a right relationship with him.
In a nutshell, holiness and godliness really what describe the Christian faith is at its best. The Apostle James describes it like this in James 1:27. There he writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself from
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being polluted by the world.” That is both holiness and godliness. Both Peter and James are simply echoing what Jesus taught. When asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) Holiness and godliness…
Peter counsels us to live lives of holiness and godliness as we wait for the Lord to appear once again. But as you all know, it takes patience to wait. And waiting for Christ’s return isn’t easy because the waiting lasts…well…it lasts our entire lives. But this time of waiting is not simply a time to twiddle our thumbs as if we have nothing to do. It is waiting with a purpose—because we have work to do. We are to be about the business of living holy and godly lives as we wait expectantly for the Lord to return.
I have a confession to make. Back when I was student in high school and then later on in college, I was not always a great student. Part of the reason that I was not always a good student back then is that I hated “busy work.” If I felt like an assignment was something that I already knew…or if it were some drill that I had to continue to do over and over again on a skill that I had already mastered…or I could not see the point or value in a particular assignment, then it was really difficult for me to generate much enthusiasm for it. Sometimes it was just a struggle to complete it at all. When I had to, I did what was required because I wanted to pass. I did it solely out of a sense of obligation. I did not find much joy or satisfaction or value in work that appeared to me to be “busy work”…
Looking back on those years nowadays with the benefit of hindsight, I realize that what sometimes seemed to me to just be busywork had more value in it than I suspected at the time. If I could go back to some of those classes and experiences and do them over again, I would probably approach much of what I considered to be “busywork” then with a new appreciation for what the instructor was trying to instill in me. I would have a better understanding of why I was being required to do the work I was being assigned. I would see more of the value in it…and consequently I would be more conscientious in my studies than I was…
Striving to live lives of holiness and godliness is not spiritual busy work. It is not mindless work and activity. It is work with a purpose. Work that helps us move toward a more just and purposeful future. It is about the business of cooperating with God’s indwelling Holy Spirit so that we may be changed from the inside out into more of who God wants us to be. This is what keeps us busy in the meantime. The Apostle Paul pointed up this spiritual truth as he wrote in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer yourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to tell and to approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
So what about you during this Season of Advent? As we wait for the coming of the Christ at Bethlehem…and also as we prepare once more for his Second Advent, how will you welcome the Christ
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this season? Take some time to examine yourself and consider the words of the Apostle Peter, as he commends us to lead lives of holiness and godliness so that we may be found at peace, without spot or blemish…regarding the patience of the Lord as our Salvation.
Marana tha!2 Even so, Lord Jesus, come! (1 Corinthians 16:22)
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.
2 An Aramaic word that appears only here in the New Testament. It means “Come, O Lord!”