November 30, 2018 The Lord’s End-Times Timing, Promise and Hope – 2 Peter 3

Cross

(Peter writes: )This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

 But 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. 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 reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then 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.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, 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, 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.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3 (ESV)

Eschatology (the study of end times) is not a major focus for Lutherans as a general rule.  Yet at the end of the church year we look with hope to what Jesus has promised us beyond this life.  He will return again.  He will remake the heavens and the earth.  There will be a day when the earthly kingdom is no more and we will live fully and completely in God’s heavenly kingdom.  The paradox of living in “now but not yet” will end.  Until that day we live in that promise that Jesus will return and establish that “not yet” kingdom.

This chapter is a bit frightening. Peter tells us that when Jesus returns the universe as we know it is going to be destroyed by fire and remade.  Nothing of this “now” world is going to be left. Then Peter tells us that in order to be part of the new creation, we need to be holy.  On the surface Peter’s warning sounds like an admonition for us to “straighten up and fly right.” However, if we are honest with ourselves we know that we are definitely not holy. We are definitely not capable, by our own strength or reason, to “straighten up and fly right” by our own power.

Peter is not telling us to put on the window dressing and go into full blown holier-than-thou Pharisee mode. He redirects us outside of ourselves, to count the patience of our Lord as salvation. True holiness and sanctification are to be found in Christ alone.  Rather than despair about how wicked and terrible we are, we only need to confess our sins to Jesus, cling to the Cross and know that He has already won our forgiveness and salvation.

Christians have always faced ridicule and persecution for believing in Christ. The Man of Sorrows isn’t all that popular among those who worship the gods of power or money or self.  One doesn’t have to look very far to find the scoffers and critics of Christian faith that Peter warns us about.  In the greater culture, believers are presented as being intolerant of others, or ignorant and uneducated because we stand for Christ and believe in the One True God.  We are scorned because we believe that truth is not a matter of opinion.

In some places Christians are put in jail or even killed for the sake of Jesus. The opponents of Jesus (Satan the adversary, our own sinful selves, and those who have not been transformed by the Gospel) fight hard to convince us to surrender to the enchantments of the world.  We are all tempted by the invitation to hedonism, to serve the god of self rather than to take up the Cross of Christ.  We sin constantly, every day.  Even so, the Good News is we belong to Christ.  We can’t make ourselves good or earn our way in.  We are only justified through the grace of God, by faith in Christ.  Through the water and the Word in our baptism, and through the hearing of the Gospel, He has named us, claimed us, and is coming back for us no matter what misery or what valleys of shadow we walk through in this world.  He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, and delivers us from sin, death and evil.

We do not know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return, but He is coming back. It might be tomorrow or thousands of years from now. We might face Him at any time at the hour of our death.  Even so, our faith- which is a gift from God- is counted to us as righteousness. We can look forward to Jesus’ return and the remaking of the world with hope and confidence.  We know the world is getting crazier and scarier as time goes on, but we are not alone.  Our hope is in Jesus.

November 13, 2018- Jesus at the End of All Things- Matthew 24:1-14, Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.

“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:1-14 (ESV)

Christians have speculated on the events surrounding Jesus’ return ever since His ascension almost 2,000 years ago. Most scholars agree that Jesus made a clear reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD here in verses 1 and 2.

There are thousands, perhaps millions of people over the course of history who have tried to guess the date of end of time. The study of the end times is called eschatology. Almost all religions have some version of eschatology- because humans are curious and want to know when the end of the world is going to take place. People set dates and concoct all kinds of doom and gloom scenarios. We see the documentaries on the Science Channel or Discovery Channel on Nostradamus, or on what astronomers have to say about the life and death of the universe. However, from a Christian perspective we have no way to know the day or the hour of Jesus’ return and the end of the world as we know it. Most of what Jesus has to say about the end of days is found in Matthew 24-25.

Unlike many other Christian sects, Lutherans generally don’t spend much time with speculative eschatology. We focus on what Jesus specifically tells us in the Bible about His return. We do know that the times and world around us are not improving, and contrary to common wisdom the world has been becoming more and more soaked in sin and its effects since the Fall. While creation was made very good, it awaits the final restoration and redemption (Romans 8:18-25.) Like it or not, as it is now, this world and everything in it is temporary and subject to the effects of entropy, decay and death. We live in the now, but not yet.

The important thing to remember is that even though we go through hardship and suffering in this life and Jesus warns us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, is that Jesus is with us through all the trials and temptations and He will see us through them, clear up until and beyond the great day of His return. We don’t know if it will be tomorrow or five thousand years from now. All we do know is that Jesus has told us to be ready for that day.

We who have faith in Jesus have been given an assignment of sorts that goes along with our vocations (vocation meaning the roles in life in which we find ourselves, i.e. employees, spouses, parents, children, etc.) As we go through our lives and anticipate Jesus’ return He gives us the Great Commission:

(Jesus said) “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

In JRR Tolkien’s beautiful trilogy The Lord of the Rings, he tells a story of a quest to return the One Ring (that was evil) to be destroyed in the mountain in which it was forged. For those familiar with the story, Frodo had a faithful companion, Sam, who was with him from the beginning of the quest until the moment in which the One Ring was returned to the fire in Mount Doom. Just before the end of that quest Frodo says to Sam, “I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.” – JRR Tolkien from The Return of the King.

While JRR Tolkien was a Christian and he makes many good references to redemptive themes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we have even more hope than the people of Middle Earth in Tolkien’s fiction that Jesus will be with us at the end of all things.

May we have joy and be glad that Jesus is with us, now and at the end of all things- because in Him there is no end.