The day of the Lord will come

2 Peter 3:3-14

4 May 2008

Woodley Baptist Church

Evening service


When I was a lad, not that long ago, we really expected that the world might end in nuclear armageddon. It's kind of hard to believe now, but I remember leaflets that were distributed to every house explaining how to build a fall-out shelter in the cupboard under the stairs, and what kind of provisions to store there. There would be a just a four-minute warning, and then the missiles would strike. And God help anyone who survived the initial attack.

That's all history now, although conceivably we could face it again. But the end-of-the-world has never really gone out of fashion. In the seventies and beyond, if it wasn't going to be nuclear war that did for us then it was going to be a second ice-age. Or a killer virus might wipe out mankind. Or we would all die of skin cancer due the collapse of the ozone layer. Or the earth would be struck by a killer asteroid. And now, of course, global warming is the latest apocalyptic threat.

Of course, some of these fears are very real and justified. But the picture Peter paints here of the end of the world is completely different from any of the standard apocalypse scenarios.

Peter tells us that the end of the world is God's initiative. It will not happen in some terrible accident, and it will not be brought about by our own actions, but a time called "the day of the Lord" will come when God himself wraps up creation.

Peter tells us, verse 7, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fireref. On that day, verse 10, 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.ref. Verse 11, Everything will be destroyed in this wayref. That day, verse 12, will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.ref

This is how our world will end. The day of the Lord is coming.

There's so much to say about this passage, but in our time together this evening what I want to do is look at four possible responses to this teaching about the day of the Lord. Two of them are right responses, and two of them are wrong responses. I'm going to start with a wrong response.

Don't be a scoffer

The first wrong response is to be a scoffer. Don't be a scoffer: the day of the Lord is coming.

Peter warns about the scoffers in verse 3, First of all or "above all" you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.ref

Where is this 'coming' he promised?, they say, Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.ref.

And you can see their point, can't you? Every day the sun rises, every day people are born, people die and we go about our business, and there is not a sign, not one hint, of Jesus coming again. And what was true then only a few decades after Jesus' death is 50 times as true now. The sun has risen and set 721 thousand times since Jesus died — surely only a lunatic could doubt that it will rise again tomorrow.

Nonetheless, Peter insists, it makes perfect logical sense to continue to believe that the day of the Lord will come.

First, in verse 5, he reminds us that God was powerful enough to create the heavens and earth simply by speaking his word, so he is clearly powerful enough to destroy the heavens and earth by the same word.

And, second, in verse 6, he reminds us that God has all but done it before. In the time of Noah he unleashed the floods and wiped out everyone on the planet bar the eight people in the ark. He's promised not to destroy the world by flood ever again. The rainbow is the sign of that promise, and I saw a spectacular one last week. But, whenever we see a rainbow, we should also remember that the day of the Lord will come, and this time he will destroy the world not by water, but by fire.

No, what Peter puts his finger on is the fact that the scoffers' objections are not based on logic, but on lust. They want to deny that the day of the Lord will come not because it is incredible, but because it is incriminating.

In verse 3 Peter describes these scoffers as following their own evil desiresref. They have deliberately forgotten these things, verse 5, to suit their own agenda. What they are seeking to deny is not the Lord's coming, but his judgement. They do not want to be judged.

But Peter is clear: the day of the Lord will be the day of judgement.

God's judgement — God's acting upon his wrath for sin and sinners — is always the first of his characteristics to be denied by false teachers. As we look around the church worldwide today there are many influential leaders who seek to deny the Bible's plain teaching about the judgement of God in many subtle and persuasive ways. But ultimately, Peter says, they are merely scoffers. Don't listen to them; don't be like them. Trust the word of God: the day of the Lord will come. God is angry about sin and evil, and he is coming to judge the ungodly.

Do get right with God before it's too late

So, if being a scoffer is the first wrong response to the coming of the day of the Lord, then what are the right responses?

The first right response is from verses 8-10, and here it is: get right with God before it's too late.

But 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. 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.ref

The only thing holding back the day of the Lord and the destruction of this world is God's mercy. The rising of the sun each day is God's mercy, another chance for those who don't know him to come to him. He is patient with us.

This world is no less wicked than the world of Noah's day which God destroyed utterly for its wickedness. The holiness of God ought to burn up everything we see in an instant.

So, when you look out of the window in the morning and see that another day has dawned over Woodley, don't draw the wrong conclusion. Don't think "Yep, everything is going on just as it always has. Jesus is never coming back." . You should be thinking "Thank you Lord for your mercy — another day, another chance for sinners to come to you!"

But Peter reminds us that the postponement of the day of the Lord is only temporary. Verse 10, But the day of the Lord will come... like a thief.ref

If you don't know God, if you are not sure that you number among the godly rather than the ungodly, if you are not confident to stand before his judgement on the day of the Lord, then don't delay.

There is only one way to be right with God and find confidence for that day, and that is what Peter calls repentance. We need to take all our ungodliness, all the ways in which we reject God's authority in our lives, and turn from them. Repentance is saying "Sorry God: I am wrong and you are right. From now on I want to live my life for your glory. Please be my Lord." I did exactly that 22 years ago, and I've not regretted it for an instant. It's all we need to do. We don't need to be good people to become godly: that will come later. We simply need to repent, to turn from self-rule in our lives to God-rule.

If you will do this, then you will have confidence when the day of the Lord comes. All your ungodliness was borne by Jesus: that's why he died on the cross. When the day of the Lord comes, he will find no ungodliness in you and no reason to destroy you. There will be no fear: you will simply delight in his glory and his love and his awesomeness.

If I may be permitted a quote from Dr Who last night, "Never do tomorrow what you can do today, because you don't know how long you've got" .

That's right, isn't it? That's what Peter is saying: the day of the Lord will come like a thief.ref Jesus said, Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.ref

If you know you need to get right with God, then do it this evening. Don't put it off any longer: you may not have any longer. The day of the Lord will come.

Do look forward to the day of God and speed its coming

So, getting right with God before it's too late is right response number one. Right response number two is from verses 11-13: look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

According to Peter, for the Christian, the believer, the day of the Lord is not an event to be feared, but an event to be looked forward to. A day to welcome.

What could possibly be good about a day that will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.ref?

Well, Peter tells us that it will not only be about destruction, but about new creation as well: verse 13, in keeping with God's promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.ref

On that day, although the old creation will be swept away, there will be a new creation in which God and his people will live together. It will be the the home of righteousnessref.

The home of righteousness: there will be nothing wrong in the new heavens and the new earth. Revelation chapter 21 describes it like this, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything new!ref

Which of us does not long to live in the home of righteousness? Whenever I hear or read the news my heart just cries out, "Lord have mercy; spare the world from all this evil and suffering!" Isn't that your cry as well?

One day that prayer will be answered. Every pain, every sickness, every loss, every evil, every abuse will be behind us. All the things that mark our lives so deeply now will not even be memories. All we shall know is the limitless wonder and joy and delight in knowing the infinite God of love for ever and ever and ever. Don't you long for that?

C.S.Lewis writes so beautifully at the end of the Narnia Chronicles when we learn that the children have been killed in a train crash,

The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning... But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

If we are Christians, then we are already part of that new creation. The day of the Lord will come, and on that day we will be going home. Don't you long for that? Look forward to the day of God and speed its coming!

Don't be a practical scoffer

The day of the Lord will come. How should we respond? One, don't be a scoffer. Two, get right with God before it's too late. Three, look forward to that day and speed its coming.

The final response to this truth I want to look at is again a negative response, a wrong response. And it is this: "don't be a practical scoffer" .

Let me explain. Not many of us in the church, I think, would blatantly deny the truth of Jesus' return. We are not like the scoffers of verse 3. We believe and say that Jesus will come again.

However, many of us, while not denying the truth of the day of the Lord with our minds and lips, still deny its truth in our hearts and lives.

In short, we don't live as if Jesus is coming again. We don't agree with the scoffers, but our lives are no different from the scoffers'. We are practical scoffers.

Peter is clear that the coming of the day of the Lord must change the way we live.

If we believed that civilisation would end in nuclear holocaust, it would change the way we live our lives. We would stock up provisions; make a nuclear bunker under the stairs and all that.

Likewise, if we believe that global warming will do for the planet, then it changes the way we live our lives. We fit low-energy light-bulbs. We turn down our heating. We walk instead of driving. We take fewer flights, and so on and so forth.

If we believe that the day of the Lord will come, then that should affect our lives as well. When David Cameron was filmed cycling to work with a car following behind carrying his briefcase, you could see how seriously he took global warming. It made a mockery of his green credentials. So it is with us when we talk about the day of the Lord, but it doesn't affect the way we live our lives. We mock the promise of God. We are practical scoffers.

Peter asks in verse 11, Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?ref And he answers, You ought to live holy and godly lives.

If we are putting more effort into reducing our carbon footprints than into living holy and godly lives then something is wrong. In verse 14 he says, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with himref. Make every effort to be right with God now, then the day of his coming will not be a trauma or a shock, but simply meeting an old friend.

So, in the week ahead, how are we going to avoid being practical scoffers and live as people who take seriously the coming day of the Lord?

In Peter's first letter he describes Christians as strangersref in this world. Our real home is in the world to come; we should never be too comfortable in this world. If you find yourself at home in this world, watch out! You may be a practical scoffer.

Jesus says, Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.ref

By investing now in our future lives in the new creation, we are proclaiming a powerful message that we really believe that the day of the Lord will come. That we are strangers in this world. That there will be a day when we are united with what we treasure.

What in the week ahead can you do to show people that you truly believe that this world is only temporary, and that the world to come is what you really treasure?

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. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.ref