Get Ready

Original Date: 
Sunday, March 2, 2014

2 Peter 3:3-14 Forever: Get Ready

Steve Jobs died in October of 2011. At the time of his death he was hailed as someone who had as much influence on how Americans live and use technology as anyone born in the 20th Century. He’ll be remembered as one of our great innovators, right up there with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Shortly after he died, Walter Isaacson released a biography of Jobs based on years of research and over 40 one-on-one interviews. Many of the interviews took place even as Jobs was battling pancreatic cancer, so they are tinged with an awareness that for Jobs, the end was near. At the very end of the book, Isaacson shares this episode:

One sunny afternoon, when he wasn’t feeling well, Jobs sat in the garden behind his house and reflected on death. He talked about his experiences in India almost four decades earlier, his study of Buddhism, and his views on reincarnation and spiritual transcendence. “I’m about fifty-fifty on believing in God,” he said. “For most of my life, I’ve felt that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye.”

He admitted that, as he faced death, he might be overestimating the odds out of a desire to believe in an afterlife. “I like to think that something survives after you die,” he said. “It’s strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I really want to believe something survives, that maybe your consciousness endures.”

He fell silent for a very long time. “But on the other hand, perhaps it’s like an on-off switch,” he said. “Click! And you’re gone.”

Then he paused again and smiled slightly. “Maybe that’s why I never like to put on-off switches on Apple devices.” (Steve Jobs, p. 570-571)

What happens after you die? Is it just like an “on-off” switch? Click. And you’re gone?

Or do you continue to exist? Does a part of you survive even after your body comes to a stop?

For the Bible writers, there’s no question. The apostles who wrote the New Testament believed in life after death because they had seen it. They knew Jesus, who died and then rose again. So they are very clear—and very consistent: we will all survive our own deaths. We are all ever-living, never dying souls. And our eternity will be spent in one of two final destinations: either heaven or hell.

We are in a series called Forever. We’ve been looking at what the Bible has to say about our final destination. We spent a couple of weeks looking at what the Bible says about heaven. We spent a week looking at what the Bible says about hell. And last week we looked a little at what Jesus had to say about timing. We saw that we must always be prepared.

(And by the way, let me put a little plug in: I feel like these are very important messages. Thinking about, and learning about, what the Bible has to say about our eternal destiny is so important. So if you missed any of the messages in this series, you can still get them. At our website: we have a sermon tab. And if you click on it you’ll find an archive for all of our sermons, going back now about two years. On the web, each sermon is available in audio or text format. And, if you want a video copy, you can order a DVD for a small fee over by our information center. If you weren’t aware of those resources, we want to let you know they are available… plus, it helps my ego if people other than my mom click on my sermons once in a while.)

So, anyway, today is the final week in our Forever series, and I want to talk a bit more about the difference it makes. Does Forever make any difference in your life or mine? Does the biblical teaching on eternity shape our conduct, our choices, our attitudes, our lifestyles, our values, our priorities, our actions, our lives?

What difference is this going to make? It’s possible that we could spend five weeks hearing about heaven and hell and find it all very interesting, and then live as though forever wasn’t coming. It’s possible that we could believe in heaven as a theoretical possibility, an abstraction, but live our lives as though it weren’t real. It’s possible that what we’ve studied and learned won’t change us at all.

But I don’t want that to happen. So today, I’m going to urge you to get ready. I want to suggest four points of practical application that will help us do something with what we’ve learned. I want us to be doers of the word, and not just hearers.

So, our text today is found in 2 Peter 3. And I’m going to give you 4 challenges to get ready for forever.

Don’t Scoff
First Get Ready by Thinking Right. We get ready for heaven by thinking about it in the right way. Let’s look at the text. 2 Peter 3, starting with verse 3:

3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation."

This passage, we’re going to find, corresponds pretty closely to what we looked at last week in Matthew 24. Peter is talking here about the same thing Jesus was talking about there: the second coming of Jesus, the end of history, the beginning of eternity.

And the first thing Peter says is that there are going to be people who don’t believe it is coming. He calls them scoffers. A scoffer is someone who laughs at an idea. Someone who mocks it. Peter says they’re going to poke fun of the idea that Jesus is coming again, they’re going to ridicule it. “Jesus hasn’t come back yet,” they’ll say, “so I doubt that he’s coming at all.” The picture I get is of all the kids in the Peanuts cartoon picking on Linus because he’s waiting for the Great Pumpkin.

And the problem, Peter says, is that when people decide the end isn’t coming they follow “their own evil desires.” In other words, once you decide there are no eternal consequences for what you do today, suddenly the brakes that might have applied to your behavior are removed.

You can see this pretty easily by looking at our society. What does our culture celebrate? Who are our heroes? Materialism and hedonism and promiscuity are the basis of our so-called “reality” shows. We call sin good and make heroes out of those who are best known for their sins. And all of this is because, as a society, we really believe this life is all there is. Or, if there is a heaven, then everybody is probably getting in anyway.

But I don’t just want to throw stones at society. I want us to look at ourselves. I want us to think about how we live. Most of us, I’m assuming, would agree with the Biblical picture of heaven and hell. Few of us would scoff at the idea that Jesus is coming again. But how much does that influence the choices we make from day to day?

Let me put it like this, and let me get a little personal here: there are probably some of us in this room who are secretly looking at pornography on our computers. And nobody knows about it. Our spouses don’t know about it. And so, we feel like we are getting away with it. Theoretically, we believe Jesus is coming again. We believe what we do now will have echoes in eternity. But practically, it’s as though we are scoffing at the notion.

Or, another example, you teen-agers in the room. You might be engaged in some things your Mom and Dad wouldn’t want you to be doing. Maybe you’re going to drinking parties. Maybe something else. And because Mom and Dad don’t know about it, you feel like you’re getting away with it. But you forget that God knows. You forget that forever is coming.

The scoffers have bought into the lie that because God hasn’t intervened in history yet, He never will. But Peter explodes that lie in a couple of ways. Verse 5:

5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water.

God never intervenes in history? Well what about creation? What do you call that? None of us would even be here, none of us would be drawing breath, if God hadn’t intervened. Or, again, verse 6:

6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.

What about Noah? There were scoffers then. Plenty of people who laughed at crazy old Noah and his silly boat. But what happened to them? Verse 7:

7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

The day of judgment is coming. Nobody is getting away with anything.

So how do we explain that it hasn’t happened yet? Verse 8:

8But 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.

I talked about this a little last week, and I could have referenced this verse: the Bible’s definition of “soon” is different than yours or mine. God who is eternal is over and above time. He isn’t constrained by time. Nor does he measure the passing of time the way we do. We live 70-80 years here on earth. He is eternal. So His idea of “soon” is so much different than ours. And thank God for that. Because, verse 9:

9The 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.

One of the reasons, Biblically speaking, that God has not shut down history yet is because He wants more people to come to repentance. He isn’t slow; He is patient. He isn’t delaying the final day because He doesn’t care, but because He is giving time for more people to come to Him. Every day that God delays is an expression of His grace. He is a merciful God. And He wants more people to turn to Him. Verse 10:

10But 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.

Here’s another reference to the passage we looked at last week. Peter is paraphrasing Jesus. The end will come like a thief. No press release. No advance warning. No calling ahead to make an appointment.

And the end will include judgment. This doesn’t contradict the idea that heaven will come to earth. But it does tell us that this earth will be cleansed first. That everything sinful and wicked will be laid bare and burned with fire, so that the earth can be renewed and restored to what it’s supposed to be. Verse 12 says essentially the same thing:

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.

So, here’s the first challenge for getting ready for forever. Get ready by thinking right. Get ready by having the right idea about heaven and hell and God’s judgment. Don’t scoff. Don’t presume that because it hasn’t happened that it won’t. Don’t live believing in heaven but acting like it isn’t coming. Remember that God is patient. Don’t lose sight of that.

Holy and Godly
So, second: Get Ready by being Holy. We get ready for heaven by beginning to live as though we were already there. Verse 11:

11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives

This is about the new heavens and the new earth. We’ll see that explicitly in a moment, when we look at verse 13. And the point Peter is making is that this new heaven and new earth will be a place of righteousness and purity.

That’s what he means when he says everything will be destroyed and he talks about fire laying everything bare. It’s like the process metalworkers go through when they are extracting silver or gold from rock. The hotter things get, the more everything that isn’t pure is burned away.

And that’s what heaven is going to be like. Everything sinful and wicked and of no use to the Kingdom will be destroyed, all that will be left is that which honors Jesus.

So, if that’s what heaven is going to be like, how should we live now? As though we are on the way. We need to purify ourselves. We need to be holy. Not to be worthy of heaven. Not to earn it. But to begin looking like our home. Our true home is holy, and so we should be holy.

This is hard for us to fully grasp. We fully believe that salvation is only and always by grace. We know that if we had to earn our way to heaven, we’d be doomed. None of us would ever make it. So we reject any notion of salvation by works. That’s a performance treadmill none of us can walk on.

But, salvation by grace is not a free pass to live however we want. That’s what the scoffers were doing back in verse 3. It’s not like we can just say: “Thanks God for the salvation, now I’ll live how ever I want. Thanks for Heaven, God, now I’m going to live like Hell!” Can you image something more insulting to God?

Verse 14:

14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

“Make every effort.” None of us will be spotless and blameless in this life. The stuff of earth still clings too closely. But it shouldn’t be for a lack of wanting.

We should never be comfortable with our sin. And as we become aware of it we should be quick to confess it and repent of it. We’ll take none of our sin to heaven, and so we should begin living now as though we were already there.

Hasten the Day
Third: Get Ready by sharing Jesus. We get ready for heaven by being purposeful about sharing the good news of salvation with those who do not know it. Let’s go back to verse 11 and add in the first part of verse 12:

11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

Now, I should tell you that the last couple of weeks, my small group has been helping me with the sermon as we’ve studied the passage I was going to preach on a week in advance. So, if you think the sermons have been somewhat improved in the last couple of weeks, that is owing entirely to their input. And, of course, if you think the sermons have been a little subpar… that is entirely my doing.

And I mention it now because when we looked at that first part of verse 12 we had a little disagreement. I thought it meant that we should be “eagerly looking forward” to the day of the Lord. That we speed it’s coming, in a sense, by anticipating it. The rest of the small group thought it had more to do with telling people about Jesus. That there is a sense in which we can “hasten” the Lord’s return by bringing the good news to more people. So I promised to look it up.

And, as it turns out, they were closer to being right than I was.

What I learned is that this idea of speeding the day of the Lord’s coming actually picks up on language used in Isaiah 60:22. Rabbinic thinking associated this concept with the repentance of Israel. That is, the more Israel repented, or the more Israelites who repented, the sooner the Lord would come. In context in 2 Peter then, that concept of repentance reminds us of what was said in verse 9 about the Lord being patient with us and wanting everyone to come to repentance.

So, it would appear that we can speed the day of the Lord’s coming in two ways: one is by repenting ourselves (that is, being holy) and the other is by sharing the good news of Jesus so that others can trust in Him as well.

This concept is taught elsewhere in scripture, most clearly in Matthew 24:14 where Jesus says:

14And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

One of our motivations for missions should be God’s desire that every tribe, tongue, and ethnic group has a gospel witness. Not that God has ceded the calendar to us—He is still sovereign in His determination of when the end will be—but clearly one of the things He desires to happen is for the good news of Jesus to be made available to as many people as possible. And His means for delivering that good news is through people like you and me.

So, we need to get ready for Heaven by sharing Jesus. That means in the way we live, the example we set, the conversations we have with close friends and new acquaintances, we should be talking about Jesus. It also means that we should be passionate about global missions and supportive of efforts—like those of Words of Hope in Indonesia—to proclaim the gospel in the heart language of every person on earth.

We need to get ready for Heaven by sharing Jesus. We know the truth and we have responsibility to share it. We have the antidote for something much worse than H1N1 or the Bird Flu. Everyone on this planet has the disease of sin, and there is only one cure, and we know what the cure is.

We need to get busy sharing the gospel with others.

Looking Forward
Then, fourth: Get Ready by Longing for Forever. We get ready for heaven by setting our minds on things above. Verse 13:

13But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

This is actually the third time in four verses that Peter uses the phrase “looking forward.” The original Greek word is a word that means expectation. It describes the attitude of someone who is eagerly anticipating something. And Peter’s point is that that is how we should be feeling about heaven.

And, of course, that’s been the main point of this whole series: We need to think more about heaven. We need to set our minds on things above. We need to be driven by the expectation of something better to come.

Jonathan Edwards, the great American preacher of the first Great Awakening wrote: “It becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven… to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness?”

We all have certain days that we anticipate with great expectation. If you are a teen-ager, maybe it’s the day of your high school graduation, or the day of your marriage. You tell yourself that when that day comes, things are really going to change. Life is really going to begin. Or if you’re a little older, maybe you are looking forward to the day you have your first child or the day you get a promotion. Or maybe you’re anticipating that perfect vacation or the day of your retirement. Sometimes we pin a lot of our hopes and outsized expectations to what will happen on such and such a day.

But, if everything earthly and temporal is going to burn in the fire anyway, why do we spend so much time looking forward to things that will dissolve? Wouldn’t it be better to pin our hopes to the day that will usher in eternity? Wouldn’t it be better to long for that which will last?

We need to look forward to heaven. We need to train ourselves to be Heavenly-minded. What would that look like for you? What can you do that will help you to think more about heaven? Let me refer you, again, to the books that we set out in the library. Several have been checked out, but several good ones are still there. Or, perhaps your small group can spend some time talking about heaven. Maybe get one of Randy Alcorn’s books and use it as a guide.

Alcorn suggests asking yourself these questions:

Do I daily reflect on my own mortality?

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. And the traditional reminder, as the ashes are being applied, is: “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.” Or, again:

Do I daily realize there are only two destinations–Heaven or Hell–and that I and every person I know will go to one or the other?

Just because we can’t see it, eternity is real. The point of this series is that we must live in the light of eternity. Or, again:

Do I daily remind myself that this world is not my home and that everything in it will burn, leaving behind only what’s eternal?

Your home, your car, your computer, your 401k…it’s all going to melt like wax. Only what we have done to love God and love others is going to remain. Or, again:

Do I daily recognize that my choices and actions have a direct influence on the world to come?

We do not act in a vacuum. This life is intimately connected to the next. Make it your ambition to live in this world so as to maximize your happiness in the next. Or, again:

Do I daily realize that my life is being examined by God, the Audience of One, and that the only appraisal of my life that will ultimately matter is his?

Nobody gets away with anything. Just because nobody here knows you are doing something that doesn’t mean it is unseen. Or, again:

Do I daily reflect on the fact that my ultimate home will be the New Earth, where I will see God and serve him as a resurrected being in a resurrected human society, where I will overflow with joy and delight in drawing nearer to God by studying Him and His creation, and where I will exercise, to God’s glory, dominion over His creation?

Just as there was a beginning, there will be an end. We will not be reincarnated. We will
not be given another chance. We live once, we will die once and then we will stand
before God. It’s not like an on-off switch. We will all end up in one of two final destinations.

So, get ready. If you don’t know Jesus, today is the day to believe in Him and be saved. God wants your repentance.

And if you do know Jesus, then get ready by thinking right, by living lives of holiness, by sharing Jesus far and wide, and by longing for your heavenly home.