Strategies for Last Days Living

Please read 2 Peter 3:11-18 in your Bible.  I used the NIV for my research, but there is no compulsory choice.

As if he’d received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, the Apostle Peter dealt with the question, “How would I live if I knew today were my last day?”  In our time, people have answered this question by writing “Bucket Lists.”  It’s become so common we all know that a “Bucket List” is the things you want to do before you “kick the bucket.”

There’s even a website where members can explore over SIX MILLION ideas of things to add to their Bucket List.  You can not only get ideas there, but you can share your own Bucket List items and your experiences crossing them off.

Have you seen the TV commercial where they guy is driving his elderly dog all over, crossing items off the dog’s Bucket List?  Do you remember the product they were selling?  HINT: a dog can’t use it.

Notice that most of the items that make Bucket Lists are possessing worldly items or doing things that excite or please the flesh.  Many are taking advantage of the fact that you won’t be held responsible for some mean-spirited or illegal acts.

How many Bucket Lists have you seen that include something like GROW IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST?  How about you?  If it became clear your time was drawing to an end, would this make your Bucket List?  Would it be a priority?

REVIEW (See the previous two posts.)

  1. We are called to be Saints among Scoffers (3:1-7).
  2. God’s timing is not your timing (3:8-10).

NEW

  1. Last Days Living (3:11-18).

Number One Last days Living Strategy = Live like it matters (vs. 11-13).  Knowing that this reality will end in fire could just as easily become Nihilism or some other excuse for ungodliness, saying, “The end is near and clear, so it doesn’t matter what I do.”

Peter wants to deny the SCOFFERS this excuse by asking the pertinent question: “Since the end is coming some day, how should we live today?” (11)  And then he immediately answers it; “We should live HOLY AND GODLY LIVES.”

The word HOLY describes a spiritual condition.  It means that my existence is set apart to God.  I no longer live for myself, but for God’s will.  The word GODLY describes a moral condition.  It means that with God’s help I am going to do the right thing with all the days given me.

Peter gave two good reasons for living HOLY AND GODLY LIVES in v. 12.  Firstly, AS YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY OF GOD. The Second Coming of Jesus is an event only His followers will anticipate with relish, because it is the day on which all the promises of God are realized, our faith is vindicated, and we go to our eternal home in new bodies, heavenly versions of our bodies.  Verse thirteen elaborates on this PROMISE God, adding that we have a new HOME to which we can look forward.  It is nothing less than a new reality (a NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH).  It is a place characterized by RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Secondly, in the phrase AND SPEED ITS COMING.  He didn’t need to, but God has chosen to partner with us in bringing about the DAY OF GOD!  We learned last Sunday that the Second Coming was being held back to give everyone every opportunity to repent and be saved.  As you and I participate with God in helping people come to faith, then we move God’s timetable ahead if the people who are going to be saved are saved sooner.  If anyone who claims to follow Christ but has never had the experience of leading someone to Christ, then they have not participated in speeding the Day of the Lord and need to be serious about their claim.

Number Two Last Days Living Strategy = Live blamelessly and biblically (vs. 14-16).  The phrase SO THEN in v. 14 might be paraphrased, “Now that you’re properly motivated, here’s where your part comes in.”  What will be true of people who are headed for heaven is their daily choice to MAKE EVERY EFFORT to live the HOLY AND GODLY LIVES mentioned in verse eleven.

Heaven-bound believers will MAKE EVERY EFFORT to live that way beyond all accusations of falsehood or hypocrisy.  Peter describes this EFFORT in terms of the EFFORT put into our relationships.

SPOTLESS and BLAMELESS refer to our relationships with one another.  We want our moral and spiritual life to give evidence that our claims of faith are true and give form to our witness to those who’ve not yet believed.

AT PEACE WITH HIM refers to our relationship with God, that we have accepted His gift of salvation and been forgiven our sins.

Verse fifteen reminds us of what we learned earlier; the “delay” of the Second Coming is a demonstration of God’s PATIENCE.  As we are the beneficiaries of God’s PATIENCE, it is fitting that we patiently await the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

In verses fifteen and sixteen, Peter supports this teaching by referencing the writings of his fellow Apostle, Paul, noting how the two of them were in agreement on this issue.  This is interesting, because Peter and Paul weren’t always on the same side of issues and Peter had to bear Paul’s rebuke at least once.  What Peter does in these verses is also important because it is Scripture verifying itself as the word of God, His revelation to us in written form.

Peter wants to protect the truth, especially the truth about the Second Coming, from the SCOFFERS.  One way he goes about that is to say, “Paul’s had to deal with his own scoffers and we are both in agreement about this teaching concerning the Second Coming to refute their false teaching that it’s not going to happen or has already happened.”

Number Three Last Days Living Strategy = Live guardedly, growing in Christ (vs. 17+18).  The word THEREFORE warns us that a summary and/or application of the previous teaching is about to occur.  In this case, we’ve been served notice: a WARNING has been given.  Peter warned his readers that this reality and all the people who have – by rejecting God – declared their allegiance to it, will be destroyed by fire.

Part of what makes this teaching so crucial is that it is a warning we all need to hear repeatedly.  Unbelieving people need to hear it so they will repent and be saved.  Believers need to hear it to renew our commitment to follow Jesus in the days we have left.

Peter’s warning is to the people in the church, as indicated by his salutation – DEAR FRIENDS – in verse fourteen.  That church people can be believers and unbelievers may come as a shock to some.  As much as we try to honor the doctrine of regenerate church membership, experience, reason, and Scripture combine to demonstrate that every local church has some degenerate members.

First, he warned the unbelieving church folk (the degenerates) that they need to be on GUARD lest the false teaching of the SCOFFERS cause them to fall away from what otherwise looked like a SECURE POSITION.

Second, he warned the believing church folk (the regenerates) to confirm their true standing in Christ by GROWING IN THE GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.  Science teaches that growth is part of the definition of life; things that are alive grow.  Peter sets forth two signs that we can use to judge whether we are alive in Christ or just faking it.

First, the phrase GROWING IN GRACE means that the temperament and character of a true disciple will be in the process of becoming more like Jesus.  We need to acknowledge that aging and maturing are two different things.  In fact, it may be observed that the majority of people “freeze” at a point of maturity and though they continue to age, they do not mature.

Second, the phrase GROWING IN KNOWLEDGE means that a true disciple is always a learner, always humble about what they know.  Humble people know in their hearts and say aloud that the more they learn, the more they realize they have more to learn.  Humble people acknowledge the biggest “room” in their home is “room for improvement.”

So believers and unbelievers are both being warned, but to different ends.  Peter is NOT warning the believers that they can forfeit their salvation.  Instead, he is giving church folk (both believers and unbelievers) a warning that simply claiming faith is not enough.  A genuine faith is not merely assumed or claimed; it is proven by how we live in these LAST DAYS.  Since God already knows our hearts, we are proving our faith to ourselves and others by the maturing of our character into Christ-likeness.

Believers are NOT given this warning to undermine our confidence in our salvation, but to give us signs we can see on our own, to verify our confidence.  This warning was given to humble us and cast us back on the grace of God and stand on that alone.  In this understanding Peter was again in agreement with Paul, who wrote; SO IF YOU THINK YOU ARE STANDING FIRM, BE CAREFUL THAT YOU DON’T FALL! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Peter ends this letter giving GLORY to OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, which is the happy task of all His followers and the best use of our LAST DAYS on earth.

In his book, The Quest For Character, Charles Swindoll wrote about a little blue box held in the Library of Congress.  A label on the box reads: CONTENTS OF THE PRESIDENT’S POCKETS ON THE NIGHT OF APRIL 14, 1865.  Here’s what was in Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he died:

  • A handkerchief, embroidered “A. Lincoln.”
  • A country boy’s pen knife.
  • A spectacles case repaired with string.
  • A purse containing a $5 bill — in Confederate currency!
  • Some old and worn newspaper clippings.

The clippings were concerned with the great deeds of Abraham Lincoln. One of them reported a speech by John Bright which said Abraham Lincoln was “one of the greatest men of all times.”

John Bright was a British statesman who was quite right in his assessment of Lincoln, but in 1865 many others had a contrary opinion. The President had fierce critics.   It is touchingly pathetic to imagine this great leader seeking comfort from a few newspaper clippings.

<See https://bible.org/illustration/little-blue-box.&gt;

True believers will, like Lincoln, face adversity in this life.  God promised that following Him would be worth it, but He did not promise it would be easy.  Peter faced his SCOFFERS and Paul opposed false teachers in the churches he founded.  Without bowing to opposition or compromising to the world, the promises and the warnings will be held dear by those who are true.  It is worth it.

Do You Love Surprises?

(Please read 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.  I used the NIV to research these remarks.)

Jesus’ Second Coming motivates us to be prepared.

You may have heard there is a football game today.  The winner will take a place among football immortality, the loser scorned.  I can tell you that from personal experience, having backed Super Bowl losers eight times.

Still, I don’t suppose the losing team at today’s game with have to bear the scorn that one college football coach suffered at the hands of the alumni after a few losing seasons and a particularly embarrassing loss to their traditional rival.   He received a text the next day which read, THE NEXT BUS OUT OF TOWN LEAVES IN AN HOUR.  BE UNDER IT!

Obviously, that is not the kind of message we who believe ought to be sending one another.  Throwing one another under the bus is behavior best left alone.

God commands us to do just the opposite, to encourage and build each other up.  Church families are functional families when we put each other in a greater priority one another than ourselves.

Love is to be the chief motive for this behavior, but in this passage Paul offers another powerful motive.  Jesus is coming again.  He will appear at any time and He wants to find His people following His commands.  Since His coming can happen at any time, we want to be ready NOW.

  1. Somebody’s going to be surprised. (1-3)

But it wasn’t going to be the Thessalonians.  They understood the TIMES and DATES.  Paul had confidence that they didn’t “need” a reminder.  He knew they were looking forward to the Second Coming of Jesus and were preparing for it.  The words he chose have particular meaning: TIMES meant indefinite chronological eras, like a king who was currently reigning.  When would his reign end?  Who knew?  DATES to us would refer to appointments on our calendars, but in the Greek, it was “opportune moments.”

Paul was sure the believers in Thessalonica had spiritual maturity to see the signs of the times and take advantage of opportune moments as they occurred.  This is the same kind of message expressed in Hebrews 10:25: we are to increase our encouragement of one another as we SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.

The expression THE DAY OF THE LORD references the Second Coming of Jesus.  The phrase is primarily found in the Old Testament; it appears just five times in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament, it looks ahead to the Messiah; to His overthrow of God’s enemies, the persecutors of His people, and the establishing of His eternal kingdom on earth.  Sound familiar?

The Jews believed there were two TIMES that divided human history.  The present, evil age would come to an end when the Messiah appeared and a new, golden age would replace it.  This concept carried over into the New Testament writers (understandably; it was written mostly by Jews) who saw Jesus as the Messiah and associated the DAY OF THE LORD with the Second Coming of Jesus.  (As – for example – Paul does here.)

Though we’ve been warned, it will happen suddenly.  The warning is in advance, but not immediately before.  For example, there will be no countdown, like on New Year’s Eve.

Paul uses an image of suddenness that will catch some surprised and unprepared: Jesus’ Second Coming will be like “a thief in the night.”  The emphasis here is on suddenness, not on illegality or stealth. His Second Coming will begin the Day of Judgment, the ultimate legal proceeding, judging the entire human race.  His Second Coming will not be stealthy, it will be obvious and every person, world-wide, will know who He is and why He has come.  Those who are prepared will react with praise.  Those who are unprepared will react with horror.  We are to wake each morning and live each day as if it were our last because there are two immanent and sudden events: death and the Second Coming.

The other part of the THIEF image is that even though one doesn’t usually know when a thief will come, one can prepare for him in the daylight and in advance.  For example, in our time, we can do things to our homes to deter and discourage thievery.  From something simple like locking our doors to something complex like a security alarm, we can do stuff to protect ourselves.  Americans are expected to spend more than 35 billion dollars on home security in 2017!

This illustrates preparedness without knowing the moment will occur.  That is how we think about the Second Coming.  We will not be surprised that it happens because we have been preparing for the moment every day of our life.

  1. Somebody’s going to be prepared.

Paul contrasts those who are prepared with those who are unprepared for the Second Coming.

Prepared (Believers)       Unprepared (Unbelievers)

Children o/t Light.                        Belonging to the Darkness.

– Know & accept the truth.       – Reject the truth.

– Do good.                                       – Do evil.

Children of the Day.                     Belonging to the Night.

– Good reputation,                          – Bad reputation, based

based on godly char.                       sinful character.

– Things are seen.                            – Things are hidden.

Alert.                                                  Asleep and drunk.

– Accurate view of self.                   – Purposely ignorant of self.

– High moral ambition.                   – Low/no moral ambition.

– Spiritual sensitivity.                     – Worldly sensitivity.

Self-controlled.                              Drunk.

– Practices self-denial.                    – Practices self-indulgence.

– Priorities in order.                          – Disordered priorities.

– Takes responsibility.                      – Makes excuses.

Those who are prepared exercise their preparations daily.  Prepared people put on spiritual armor (8).  In our passage, the armor pieces listed are the BREASTPLATE OF FAITH AND LOVE and the HELMET OF THE HOPE OF SALVATION.  See Ephesians 6 for a more complete use of this imagery.  Why armor?  Because God wants to protect us from the enemy’s attacks and help us to stand on the day of trial.

Prepared people encourage each other in order to build up our shared faith (11).  There’s an entire message to be had there!

Finally, let us claim the promises to the prepared.  First, GOD DID NOT APPOINT US TO SUFFER WRATH BUT TO RECEIVE SALVATION (v. 9).  Second, whether we are AWAKE OR ASLEEP (alive or dead) WE MAY LIVE TOGETHER WITH HIM (10).  Eternal life is the prize awaiting the prepared.

We don’t all like surprises, do we?  They frequently they end up blowing up in the face of the person plotting the surprise.  For example, in May of last year, college student McKenna Pilling’s mom wanted to surprise her by breaking into her dorm room and laying on the bed. She got into the room, laid down on the bed and took a selfie.  She texted this picture to her daughter with the text, “Guess where I am.  Where are you?”

Her daughter tweeted back, “Don’t tell me you are in the wrong dorm room.”  It was then that her mother realized she’d broken into the wrong room.

McKenna later wrote, “She came to surprise me from New York City to help clean out my dorm and apparently walked in the wrong dorm.  No one was in there so she laid down for five minutes in the wrong bed and decided to send me a picture as a surprise.”

McKenna’s tweet has been retweeted a total of over 13,000 times and favorited over 28,000 times.   In this information age, news of our failed surprises can become world-wide news!

As bad as that was, it is a much more serious fail to be caught unprepared for the second coming of Jesus.  By accepting Him as Savior and living for Him as Lord can you avoid the worst surprise ever; being unprepared for the Savior’s appearing.  There will be worse consequences to that surprise than world-wide embarrassment.

 

 

Be Brave Until the End

(Please read Matthew 24.)

           Imagine the General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches in the USA, Roy Medley calling a meeting of all the regional Executive Ministers. When they have all assembled at the national office, Dr. Medley begins the meeting with, “I have some really fantastic news and some very terrible news.” 

          Of course, all the executive ministers want to hear the good news first, so Dr. Medley tells them, “Jesus Christ has returned to the world. The time of judgment is at hand, and our faith in his existence is justified.” 

          There are happy cheers all around the room – the moment we’ve been waiting for!  After the commotion dies down a bit, one of the executive ministers speaks up; “After that, how can there be any terrible news?” 

          Dr. Medley replies, “He was calling from Salt Lake City.”

          That would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it?  Fortunately, it’s not going to go down that way.  When He comes again, Jesus is going to appear to all people, all around the world, all at once.  And He won’t be using the ‘phone to call.

          But His appearing will vindicate our faith following a time of judgment. so that much was not hard to imagine.

          Here we are, our last Sunday to take a look at what may be the most significant passage in the Gospels about the last things, Matthew 24.  As we conclude, my prayer is that this series has helped you get a handle on a difficult chapter and has also replaced all your doubts and fears with confidence and faith so we look expectantly for the Second Coming.

REVIEW:       1. The End is near but unclear. (1-3, 32-34)

                      2. Sign #1: False Christs will appear. (4-5, 23-28)

                      3. Sign #2: The world will be in turmoil. (6-8, 29)

                      4. Sign #3: The Church will be persecuted, but will be triumphant. (9-14)

5. Sign #4: The Holy Land will be attacked.(15-22)

          In this passage, Jesus switches back and forth between predictions about the temple and predictions about His Second Coming.  With verse 15, He turned His attention to the temple.  As this prophecy concerns the temple, this section was fulfilled by the Jewish followers of Jesus who escaped when the Romans took Jerusalem.

         What is “THE ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION” to which Jesus refers? It is a phrase that came from the Old Testament prophet Daniel. The point is, this phrase refers an abomination (an awful, evil event) that results in desolation (God’s abandonment of the temple). This is the sign that God has judged Israel & His plans will now be centered on the Church.

          Daniel 9:27 = AND ON A WING OF THE TEMPLE HE WILL SET UP AN ABOMINATION

          THAT CAUSES DESOLATION UNTIL THE END THAT IS DECREED IS POURED OUT ON HIM.

          Daniel 12:11 = “FROM THE TIME THAT THE DAILY SACRIFICE IS ABOLISHED AND THE

          ABOMINATION THAT CAUSES DESOLATION IS SET UP, THERE WILL BE 1,290 DAYS.”

          In history there were at least three occasions when the temple was desecrated. In 168 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus in the temple. Or this may refer to the time members of the Zealot party took over (November 67 or spring of AD 68). They allowed crime and criminals in the temple, – even in the holy of holies.  Or this may refer to the desecration done by Emperor Titus when the temple was taken and Roman flags – with their pagan symbols – were brought into the temple courts.

          “LET THE READER UNDERSTAND” is a phrase that is difficult for us to understand because we do not have the inside information Matthew assumed his readers possessed.  However, what is clear is that this is a warning.  Jesus is saying, “When the sacrilege happens, the faithful are to flee Judea, for its destruction is imminent.” Since it is that serious, in verses 17+18 Jesus warns against making any worldly preparations, just run away. Jesus foresaw that time will be worse for the most vulnerable and immobile people; pregnant women and those who have newborns (v. 19).

          They are to pray it doesn’t happen in winter (v. 20) is because of the rainy weather; also because in winter the streams were swollen and hard to cross.  Jesus also warns them to pray that it doesn’t happen on a Sabbath because fleeing while carrying anything  would be work and that’s forbidden on the Sabbath.

          Verse 21 speaks of a previously unknown severity of suffering and persecution.  Even so, the Greek grammar in v. 22 makes something plain that doesn’t translate into English.  It implies that what Jesus is describing here an unreal condition. The people of God are not really in danger because God will cut short those days of distress.

          In spite of all these troubles, Jesus wants His followers to keep their minds on their witness for Him. God will not allow His people to be harmed by persecution or deceived by false messiahs. The purpose of this chapter is to warn Jesus’ followers about all these things so they’ll be prepared & understand t significance of these events.

6. We have nothing to fear. (30-31, 34-51)

          Starting in vs. 30+31, Jesus further develops His teaching about His Second Coming.  The cosmic signs Jesus gleaned from OT prophets will appear in the sky to indicate the end of reality as we know it & the coming of the Son of Man. This image of the Son of Man riding on a cloud with POWER AND GREAT GLORY is like various OT descriptions of God’s coming. The Son will come to judge all people, which, as is developed in chapter 25, will have 2 outcomes:

– He will recognize His faithful ones and gather them from all parts of the earth.

– He will not recognize those who have refused Him, condemning them to the Second Death.

          As the angels are God’s messengers, they will collect God’s people from the four corners of the earth and from one end of heaven to the other (see Deuteronomy 30:4-5;  Isaiah 60:4ff; Micah 4:1ff.). No one will be overlooked in God’s search for the faithful.

          Verse 35 is Jesus’ assurance that the world will fail before Jesus fails to fulfill all these promises.  His word is more reliable than the seemingly unending universe in which we live.

          Some people have a problem with verse 36 because it asserts that there is something Jesus didn’t know. They shouldn’t think that way because the point of verse 36 is the same point Jesus made throughout His ministry; to direct attention to God. If the master does not know the timing of His Second Coming, neither do His disciples and they should not speculate on when it will happen.

          Verses 37-39 illustrate the suddenness of the Second Coming with the way in which Noah’s neighbors were overwhelmed by the flood (Genesis 6:5-24; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6).  Prior to the flood, people carried on with all normal activity, right up to the point Noah entered the ark. They were unprepared for what happened. Similarly, nonbelievers will be unprepared for the Second Coming.

          The phrase “took them all away” in verse 39 is the context that clarifies the language about one “taken” and one left in verses 40-41. Contrary to our usual understanding of the passage, the “taken” ones are the unfortunate ones because they are swept away by judgment. The ones left standing are the fortunate ones, like Noah.

          The parable in verses 42-43 is the story of an unexpected break-in and how it might’ve been prevented.

          Verse 44 makes plain what v. 32 made implied—Jesus is talking about being alert and prepared when the crucial moment arrives.  Similarly, the parable that concludes the chapter (verses 45-51) is about a wise servant who is prepared for the return of his owner.  The servant who is found doing his job wisely will be blessed when the master returns. The reward is greater service and more responsibility. The foolish servant goofs off and is wicked because he thinks the master will gone for a long time, and so he has time to misbehave. The punishment of the wicked servant will be swift and unsparing—he’ll be dismembered and assigned a place with the hypocrites, where there is weeping & gnashing of teeth.  The unknown timing of the return motivates wise behavior. The issue here is not knowing the timing of the master’s return, but faithfulness & preparedness whenever it happens.

          From the following website http://www.nowtheendbegins.com/pages/israel/the-coming-third-jewish-temple.htm I learned that rumors I’d heard about preparations being made to rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem have been underway for over two decades!

          “It Will Be Built In Time For The Fulfillment Of Daniel’s 70th Week!  Dare To Dream – Dare To Build. The 3rd Jewish Temple is fast becoming a reality in Jerusalem.

          “Daniel was given a vision far into the future, pointing to a time when the Jewish Temple would be rebuilt. The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, and for nearly 2,000 years now it has laid in ruins, with just parts of the Temple walls and some of the foundations remaining.           “Watchers of end times bible prophecy have long speculated as to whether or not the Temple would be built for a third time. But Daniel, verse 27, clearly sees that there is a rebuilt Temple.  How can you have sacrifice and oblations ceasing if there is no Temple from which to have sacrifices and oblations? Clearly there needs to be a working, functioning, rebuilt Temple, and the only place where God would allow a Temple to be built is exactly where the ruins of the last 0ne stand.

          “People have said that since all the various items need to stock the Temple would take so long to recreate according to the Bible’s exacting standards, that 7 years is just not enough time to complete that mission. And they are correct. It would take years, decades, to rightly create all items needed for proper Temple worship. Items like these:

Oil Pitcher for Replenishing the Menorah

Small Golden Flask

Silver Libation Vessels

Menorah Cleaner

Gold-Plated Shofar

Silver-Plated Shofar

The Crown for the Copper Laver

Modeling the Priestly Garments

The Golden Tzitz

Golden Frankincense Vessels

          “The Temple Institute, in Jerusalem, has been working since 1987, recreating the items that will be needed and used in the about-to-be-built Third Temple. Now, you can argue all you like about what will happen to the Muslim mosque that’s there now, and all the other points.”

          These are NOT the kind of end-times preparations Jesus called us to make.  Based on verses 17+18 especially, material preparations are useless.  The material world as we know it will soon end.  What counts is spiritual preparedness, a vigilant holiness that looks forward to the literal, physical return of Christ, but realizes that loving God and others as self is the best state of preparedness.