God’s Patience

God’s Patience

This second Sunday in Advent we are reminded of how God gloriously fulfilled his promise, given for the first time in the Garden of Eden when our first parents disobeyed, that one day the offspring of Eve would come and crush the head of the serpent, the first source of evil.[1] But as we read through the Old Testament, we’re made all too aware that the time of the Messiah’s advent; of the Messiah’s coming; of the one whose entire reason for coming would be to deliver his people from all evil and sin, was not only unknown to the recipients of this promise but was long-delayed. During the time of that delay, for thousands of years God continually sent his prophets to his people that they might repent of, turn away from their evil and turn back to him who had not only made them in his image for himself, but had also created from Abraham a nation to live out and exemplify what being holy as God is holy looked like in practice. Yet too often Israel turned away from the One, true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to follow either their own ways or other gods. And we know as well that because of the lack of faithfulness of God’s people, there were times—as the psalmist spoke last week—when God even allowed his people to be overtaken by their enemies. But he never gave up on them. He never stopped being their Good Shepherd; he never stopped being their Almighty King. And yet by the time of the close of the events recorded in the Old Testament, all hope surely seemed to be lost for God stopped sending his prophets; which is to say, God stopped speaking to his people. For a period of 400 years, the time between the end of the events recorded in the Old Testament and the start of the events recorded in the New Testament, God stopped speaking until the time for the fulfillment of Messiah’s advent arrived; that is, until the time for the fulfillment of Christ’s coming in the person of Jesus as a baby in a manger arrived.

Well, though we live, of course, in the time after Christ’s Incarnation, after his initial advent in Bethlehem as that baby in a manger taking on human flesh; and though we live as well after the time of his life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, we are nonetheless also living in a time of advent. For we are also awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises during this second advent as we await Christ’s final return to establish his kingdom once and for all.

And as was the case after God made his initial promise to deliver his people, we don’t know when Christ’s final return will occur. And we, too, long for him to come that he might make right all that is wrong with this world—all of the poverty, and violence, and abuses of power, and cruelty, and neglect of those most in need, and destructive fires, and threat of nuclear war, and racial injustices, and mass shootings, and opioid addictions, and gambling addictions, and alcohol addictions, and suffering and evil of all kinds. Any one of these, and indeed all of these can bring us to our knees to pray for Christ’s return that God’s shalom, his peace, the restoration of life as he intended it to be as we cry out, “God have mercy. Christ have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus, come!”

And as has always been true for God’s people, we who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ are sometimes mocked and dismissed for believing Christ’s teaching that he is the only way God has provided to our heavenly Father;[2] for believing that Scripture is God’s Word and that because it is God’s Word, we are called to conform to its teaching and believe that all that he has promised will come to pass one day, even though again—as was true with his first Advent—no one knows when the day of his second and final Advent will be.

Well in his letter Peter begins this chapter by stating in the opening two verses, “[Beloved],[3] this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.[4]  I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” What wonderful turns of phrases Peter uses here. He wants to “stimulate,” to encourage the interest and activity of these believers “to wholesome thinking,” to thinking that is conducive to and promotes their moral well-being. And what better way to do so then by turning their eyes to the words God had given them, had revealed to them, in his Word—“in the [distant] past by the holy prophets” and in their relatively recent past by “the command given by our Lord and Savior through [the] apostles.” In stating this Peter is acknowledging the key means by which God has chosen to bring his Word, his revelation, his communication to his people: initially God spoke through the prophets throughout the Old Testament period, then Christ Jesus’ words were recorded and passed down by his apostles, those whom he initially sent forth—which is the meaning of “apostle”—to authoritatively teach and proclaim his Word.

And after assuring these believers of the sureness of God’s Word, in verse 3 Peter turns to the questioning—and even cynicism—of “scoffers” coming in the last days who don’t believe God’s Word but choose instead to follow “their own evil desires.” These scoffers, that is, those who speak in a scornfully derisive or mocking way, will come for the last days were already upon them since Christ had inaugurated their arrival. As Peter notes in his first letter to these believers, Christ, the lamb without blemish or defect by whose precious blood they had been purchased “was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”[5] But, again, the scoffers, rather than following God’s desires, would follow “their own evil desires.” And the focus of their scoffing would be Christ’s second Advent, verse 4, as they said, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” In other words, “Prove to us that Christ will return because we see no evidence of it. The world continues as it ever has. So what difference has Christ’s initial coming made? What proof do you have that he will ever return again?” Yet Peter, that devout follower of Christ and his Word points out the amnesia of the scoffers who “deliberately forget”

that long ago by his word God brought the heavens into being;

that he formed the earth out of water and by water (v. 5);

that by these waters the ancient world was destroyed (v. 6);

and that in the future, according to the very same word of God, “the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire” for “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (v. 7).

Having corrected from a Scriptural understanding the false understanding of the scoffers, Peter admonishes in verse 8—and if you have a sense of déjà vu it’s because I referenced this passage a few weeks ago[6]—“But do not forget this one thing, [beloved]:[7] With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”[8] Peter’s point is that simply because God’s timing doesn’t always coincide with our own, it doesn’t mean he isn’t going to do what he has said he would do. So we should be patient and wait upon him. Even if people scoff; even if they suggest that nothing has changed since Christ’s coming; even if they mockingly ask where Christ is, believers needn’t despair nor wonder the same. We need instead to trust in God, and in his Word, and in his timing.

More importantly, we need to remember the reason why God is, humanly speaking “slow in keeping his promise,” or from God’s perspective, why he is patient. As Peter explains in verse 9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Isn’t this extraordinary? While those who don’t know Christ scoff at those who do by asking where Christ is and why he hasn’t come as he promised, that very same Christ delays his coming in the hope that perhaps even these scoffers might come to a saving faith and knowledge of him. For the Lord doesn’t desire anyone to perish but desires that all might repent—that all might turn from their selfish ways to the Selfless Christ—that all through Christ might come to know, love, and follow our loving and heavenly Father by the indwelling of his Holy Spirit.

For the reality is that Christ will indeed come and when he does he will judge the earth, verse 10. “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 done in it will be laid bare.” There will be consequences to a lack of belief in Scripture. And as we’ve noted before, the day of the Lord’s coming, of Christ’s return, is likened to the coming of a thief in that no one knows when a thief will come so we shouldn’t delay in committing our lives to and living for Christ. For if we wait to do so until after he comes, it will be too late for judgment and destruction will have begun. All things will be laid bare, the heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed by fire.

Therefore, Peter asks in verse 11, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?” In other words, since Scripture is true; since God’s Word is true; since what God has communicated by his prophets is true; since what God has communicated by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is true; since what God has communicated by his apostles—including Peter himself—is true, what difference should this make in the way in which we live our lives? And rather than leave these believers hanging, Peter answers his own question about the kind of people they ought to be at the end of verse 11 into 12. Namely, “You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.”[9] We who have been made in the image of God were made to image him by how live—in a holy and godly manner. For we’ve been purchased by Christ’s blood that we might live for him. Having been purchased by him, we’ve been set aside to live for his purposes; we’ve been called to live as he did not succumbing to temptation and evil but doing good to and caring for others; loving him with all our being and each other as ourselves; embracing him and seeking to produce the fruit of his Holy Spirit by showing love and displaying joy—and peace—demonstrating forbearance or patience towards others even as we’re told in our passage God is patient—and living lives filled with kindness—and goodness—and faithfulness—and gentleness—and self-control.[10] Scoffers or no scoffers, this is how we are called to live because God is real; because Christ is his Messiah; and because Scripture, his Word, is true.

Then at the end of verse 12 Peter returns to the reality of Christ’s final coming and how “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.” Peter here is speaking Scripturally and soberly in reminding these believers not only that God’s Word is true, but that God will be true to his Word and bring to fulfillment all that he has promised, all that he has said he will bring to fruition. There ever have been, are, and will be consequences to ignoring God’s words now preserved for us in the Old and New Testaments and brought alive for and applied to us by Christ’s Holy Spirit whom he’s left us. So it behooves us to pay heed to his words.

And Peter again reminds these believers of the final end God has promised, in verse 13: “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” This is a truth that anchors and encourages us. One day, when God’s plan of redemption is complete, there will no longer be evil—or suffering—or pain—or corruption—or hatred, but only righteousness for we, at long last, will be made as he is. One day all things will be restored to how God originally intended and we will experience his shalom, we’ll experience his peace to a degree we can’t even imagine this side of heaven.

So Peter again exhorts his brothers and sisters in Christ in verse 14, “So then, beloved,[11] since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” Since they “are looking forward to this” is simply another way of stating since they have believed God’s prophets; since they have believed God’s Messiah, Christ Jesus; since they have believed Christ’s apostles, then they ought to live in a way that is in keeping with their belief. They ought to live in a way that is in keeping with their profession of faith. Namely, to be holy as God is holy; to be spotless; to be blameless. And what is interesting is that these two words, “spotless” and “blameless” are the very words Peter used in the first chapter of his first letter in referring to Christ, the lamb of God.[12] Therefore Peter is reminding these believers again of how we are called to be like Christ Jesus, living faithfully before our Father in heaven that his kingdom might come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

And about those scoffers who mock by suggesting that nothing has changed since the time of creation and asking where Christ might be. Again, the best way of dealing with them is to remember the reason for Christ delaying his return, verse 15: “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation”—the very point made also by Paul, another of God’s apostles, “with the wisdom that God gave him.”

Brothers and sisters, as we were reminded during the lighting of the second Advent candle, this morning “we remember how the prophets of Israel kept alive the vision of the coming Messiah, or Christ. Their vision was fulfilled when Jesus came, and God said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’” And we who live after the time of Christ’s initial advent have much to be grateful for since by Christ’s grace we’re able to live for him by faith by his Spirit whom he’s left us, by his Word by which he continues to feed us, and by the love he pours upon us by his Spirit and by each of us here, his family.

But we also know that to belong to God in Christ doesn’t mean that we’re spared the effects of the Fall—at least not this side of heaven. For we struggle with living as he called us to live; and we are faced with temptations and evil; and we worry about money; and we battle physical and spiritual and emotional ills; and we are saddened at the suffering we see in our lives and in the lives of those we love and in the lives of those we don’t even know. And so we can often be left wondering, where is Christ? When will he come? When will he return to bring his peace on earth and his good will to all women and men on earth?

But when we’re feeling impatient, let us remember the reason for Christ’s delay. It isn’t because his words weren’t true; it isn’t because he’s forgotten his promise; it isn’t because he’s stopped caring for us. No, let’s remember what Peter is stating here:

Christ has delayed because he, unlike us, is patient;

Christ has delayed because he doesn’t want anyone to perish;

Christ has delayed because he desires everyone to come to repentance.

So let us do what we can, however meager it may seem, to hasten his coming to bring to bear his heavenly kingdom upon this earthly one we inhabit:

Let us pray to—talk with him daily about all matters big and small as we seek his perspective on our lives;

Let us do whatever kindnesses we’re able—provide a meal for someone, or a cup of water; visit those who are sick or are in prison—provide clothes for those in need, a place of refuge for those without a home—to ease the suffering another may be going through;

Let us seek to live lives that are holy and godly. For as we, God’s temple, live according to his teaching in the way we love and care for others, others may take notice and desire to come to know him;

Let us pray that God in Christ might cause our hearts to conform to his heart that we might share his love and burden for those who don’t yet know him;

Let us even rejoice at God’s seeming slowness in keeping his promises for his slowness is really an expression of his patience—of his desire for salvation for all to return to the One in whose image they have been made;

Let us remember that since the time of the Fall of our first parents, this world has ever been in need of Christ’s light—and that as that light came once into the world, full of grace and truth, he will surely come again when he returns to destroy all evil and darkness and bring his peace to one and all.

Let us pray.







[1] The proto-evangelion, the first proclamation of the Gospel, is found in God’s words of judgment to the serpent in Genesis 3:15: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.

[2] John 14:6: Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

[3] NIV has “dear friends” but Greek is ἀγαπητοί.

[4] NIV translation of 2 Peter 3:1: Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. Greek is τὴν εἰλικρινῆ διάνοιαν and is translated as sincere mind (RS, ESV, ASV) and pure mind (Mounce Reverse-Interlinear).

[5] I Peter 1:20.

[6] November 19, 2017 sermon on Matthew 25:14–30, Investing in the Kingdom.

[7] NIV has “dear friends” but Greek is ἀγαπητοί.

[8] This thought is originally found in Ps 90:4: A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

[9] Another possible (but less likely) translation: “as you wait eagerly for the day of God to come.” προσδοκῶντας καὶ σπεύδοντας τὴν παρουσίαν τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμέρας

[10] Galatians 5:22–23.

[11] Again, NIV uses dear friends for ἀγαπητοί.

[12] ἀμώμου καὶ ἀσπίλου—used of Christ, the lamb, but translated by the NIV as “a lamb without blemish or defect” in I Peter 1:19. ἄσπιλοι καὶ ἀμώμητοι—used here of believers in II Peter 3:14.

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