A LONG TIME WAITING
Text: 2 Peter 3:8-14
If a bill arrives in the mail, but it’s not due for two months, when do you pay the bill? You might hold on to your money for six or seven weeks and let it collect a little interest before paying the bill, but you might also just pay it right away while you’re thinking about it. Why? With such a long time between receiving the bill and the due date to pay the bill, you might forget it and end up paying it late.
If you set up an appointment with your doctor for a month from now, will you write it down or just remember it? Even if your memory is good, you’ll probably write a note in your day planner, or jot it down on the kitchen calendar, or enter into Microsoft Outlook. If the appointment you scheduled was for the next day, you’d probably remember it, but with a month to go, you might forget it if you don’t write it down.
If a month or two seems like a long time to wait, try waiting 2,000 years. That’s how long it has been since Jesus came to this world the first time. Jesus said on several occasions that he would return in all his heavenly glory a second time at the end of time. And we’ve been waiting 2,000 years since then! And for all we know, there may be just as many years and even more to come before Christ returns. With such a long time between Jesus’ words and the future fulfillment of those words, is it any surprise that even Christians feel like the Second Advent of Jesus isn’t on their radar?
In the Second Lesson for today’s service, Saint Peter acknowledges that it seems like a long time between Jesus’ First and Second Advent. It’s remarkable for Peter to say that, because the lapse of time for Peter had only been 30 years! But 30 years or 2,000 years doesn’t change Peter’s timeless words: “Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Sometimes Peter’s words have been taken out of context to suggest that God keeps time differently than we do. Some have suggested that this means that the days of creation were really long, extended periods of time. But that would miss Peter’s point completely. Peter simply wants us to understand that God is outside the realm of time. He doesn’t view history along a timeline like we do. For God, 1,000 years and one day occupies the same space. For God, it is creation of the world, the crucifixion of Jesus, and the contemporary world in 2008 A.D. all at the same time. If we are tempted to think that God has taken a long time to fulfill his promise and send Jesus back to this world, we should take a look at time from God’s perspective. Peter says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.”
From God’s perspective, it hasn’t been long at all. But from our perspective, it’s been a long time waiting for Jesus to return. There were at least 4,000 years between the first promise of Jesus’ First Advent and the actual birth of Jesus. Only God knows how long the wait will be for the Second Advent. That’s the problem. No human being knows. It seems like a long time already, and so people don’t think about what to expect or that that Jesus is even returning at all. Peter says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”
We’re in a fairly nice neighborhood here, but over the past several years there have been a couple of burglaries in the neighborhood. There’s one thing you can count on a thief never to do, and that’s announce his arrival. He’s not going to call you on the telephone and announce, “Dear Mr. Smith, just so you know, while you and your wife are out for dinner on Friday night, I’m going to break in your house and rob you.” Thieves don’t announce the time of their arrival, because they want to catch people off guard.
God hasn’t announced his son’s second arrival either, so people are also prone to be caught off guard for that. That’s why Peter said that Jesus’ return will come “like a thief.” People don’t expect an end to time. They don’t anticipate an end to this earthly existence. And because sinful people with sinful hearts and motives forget that there’s a final day of judgment, they can lull themselves into spiritual slumber. You and I are not immune from that problem! You have the same sinful hearts and motives as the unbelieving neighbor next door or the agnostic friend at work. And like the rest of the world, we could watch the time elapse and think to ourselves, “Where is this second coming we’ve heard about? And if God takes this long to keep his Word on this issue, why should I bother to listen to what his Word says on any other issue?” It’s been a long time waiting for Christ’s return, but we need to watch out that the long wait doesn’t chip away at our faith to the point where there is no faith anymore, and we are caught unprepared on the Last Day!
So what should we do? That’s the question Peter poses in our reading: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” It’s been a long time waiting, but that long time shouldn’t distract us from this all-important question: How does a child of God live when we’re waiting for Jesus to bring an end to this sinful world?
If someone gets the bright idea that our life between now and the return of Christ isn’t important, John the Baptist put a big stop on that idea in today’s Gospel. Remember John’s message? “John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).
John prepared the crowds by preaching repentance. Peter does the same thing in today’s reading. In fact, Peter draws the line that connects the long time waiting for Christ’s return, and the repentance that God wants to see in our hearts. “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
The word “repentance” means to have a change of mind. When you understand what repentance means and how repentance is connected to God’s patience, it puts a whole new spin on the concept.
I don’t know too many people who like to say that they’re sorry. To admit you were wrong is perceived as a sign of weakness. Somehow, we’d rather walk around stubbornly and point a blaming finger in every other direction except at ourselves. And so when we hear God call us to repentance, we sinfully assume it’s some sort of spiritual power play. This is God’s way-or maybe the church’s way-of controlling people and being the “boss.”
But what does repentance mean? It means a change of mind. It doesn’t mean I lost and someone else won. It means a change of mind. It means that I recognize that my sinful stubbornness had put me on the path to hell, but Jesus’ righteousness has placed me on the path to heaven. It means that I recognize and acknowledge my sinful rebellion against God, and that I rejoice in the payment for sin that Christ made for all at the cross.
That is why God is patient. That’s why it seems like it’s been a long time waiting for Christ to return. Jesus has no desire to catch as many people as possible in sin so he can say “Gotcha!” and send us all to hell in an instant. He is patient. He gives the world time to repent. He gives you and me a time of grace to find his Son, Jesus Christ, in the pages of Scripture, to learn how his Son defeated our sin on Good Friday, and to see Jesus how proved his victory on Easter Sunday. He gives us time to learn how his Son’s resurrection from the dead has secured for us a brand new and improved life after this life. Peter says, “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
It may seem like a long time coming for Jesus’ return, but now we know why that’s so. God’s patience is our opportunity for repentance. His Word and Spirit bring us to that change of mind. And that change of mind doesn’t only receive the promise of heaven; it also gives us incentive to live like we’re heading for heaven. Peter says to you, “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” And later he adds, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”
Think of it this way. You receive an invitation to a special dinner. Some of the most important people in the community and in your life are going to be there. So how do you prepare? You get your clothes back from the dry-cleaners before the day of the dinner. Maybe the ladies get their nails done; maybe the men get their shoes polished. You get dressed up, and then you do your best to stay clean, right? Even before you get to the big event, you’re acting like you’re at the big event. You know you won’t be denied entrance if you spill coffee on your clothes before you get there, but to be careless wouldn’t make sense, either.
That’s one way you and I prepare for the Second Advent of Jesus. Jesus’ blood and righteousness have covered and erased all our sinful stains from our spiritual clothing. We are spotless and blameless as far as God is concerned, because Christ has declared us to be so. So as we patiently wait for Jesus to return, why not do everything we can to keep ourselves clean? It’s not that if we fall into sin “x” number of times that we will be denied entrance to heaven, unless that sin is the sin of unbelief. But why go there? Why listen to our sinful nature when Jesus has battled and defeated our sin? Why stain our hearts when Jesus’ blood has cleansed our hearts? That’s the way to look at God’s call to repentance. He’s not bullying us or taking the fun out of life. He’s calling us to live like people who are heading to the holy feast of heaven!
Each of one you knows what your personal struggles are. I don’t have to list a bunch of sins and hope that I throw out one that hits you. You know what you struggle against, and you know that there’s a part of you that would rather give in to the struggle than fight and follow God’s Word. But today you have heard God’s call to repentance once again. And that call to repent is not a call to weakness. It’s a call to a change of mind. It’s a call to a change of mind that prays, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s a call to a change of mind that receives the forgiveness of sins and the promise of heaven that will become reality at Christ’s return. God has brought you to that change of mind. God has promised you that, in Jesus Christ, you have a perfectly joyous feast waiting for you. Let’s dress ourselves for the occasion up with godly living now, knowing that we’ll enjoy God’s perfect paradise then. Amen.