The Slowness and Patience of God

The Slowness and Patience of God

The Slowness and Patience of God
Text: 2 Peter 3:1–10

Main Point: The long delay between Christ’s first and second coming is not a sign that he will never return. It’s an act of grace for the repentance and salvation of sin-bound humans.

Sermon Outline:

I.  The So-Called “Problem” of the Second Coming (2 Peter 3:1–7)

II. The Purposeful Patience of God (2 Peter 3:8–10)

As we turn to chapter-three this morning, we run headlong into a theological question that pretty much dominated American Christianity in the 20th and early 21st century — when is Jesus Christ going to return? And the sad truth of the matter is that for many Christians, this single question has become the sole focus of their entire Christian life.

These Christians can virtually recite Daniel chapter 7–12 and a significant part of Revelation. And most of them are able to delineate the subtle differences between pre-trib, mid-trib, pre-wrath, post-trib, and amillennial views of the rapture. But, all too often their preoccupation with Jesus’ return does not compel them to winsomely share the gospel with their friends NOR does it constrain them to joyfully pursue a life of sin-killing sanctification. No, to the contrary their obsession with “the end” often enflames a spirit of arrogant divisiveness that destroys close friendships and split entire congregations.

Yet, in our text today, we are going to be confronted with the truth that denying the second coming of Jesus Christ is far more dangerous than fixating on it, in that, denial not only destroys any true sense of the Christian’s true reward and mankind’s moral accountability to God. It obliterates the gospel itself.

Have Christians been waiting for over 2,000 years for the return of Christ? Yes! All we have to do is read Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians or 1 Corinthians to see that Christians were starting to ask questions 25–30 years after Pentecost. But, as we press into our passage today we are going to see something marvelous and praise worthy and awe inspiring about God’s purpose in this delay.

Main Point: The long delay between Christ’s first and second coming is not a sign that he will never return. It’s an act of grace for the repentance and salvation of sin-bound humans.

The So-Called Problem of the Second Coming (2 Peter 3:1–7)

A Loving Reminder (3:1–2)

Now it would be really easy for us to blow past these first two verses so that we can dig into the question of the second coming in verses 3–10. But, these first two verses are very important, in that, they expose Peter’s true love and concern for his audience. AND they help us see how Peter equips these churches to fight back against the fine-sounding arguments that these false teachers were using to excuse a life of sensual pleasure and sinful license.

He lovingly points them back to the very same weapon that he directed them to at the end of chapter one: the written record of the prophets in the OT and the verbal witness of God’s NT servants (The Apostles). And in doing this he is reminding them of the two truths that he is most concerned with in this letter.[1]

First, the “commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles” is that: God always calls his people to abandon their sin and pursue a holy life. (2 Peter 1:3 God has granted to us everything we need for life and godliness)

  • 1 Peter 1:14–17 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile

Secondly “the predictions of the prophets” is a reminder that: God’s people of every age will be confronted by false teachers who deny God’s judgment. (This is the constant experience of the OT prophets) And in the case of our passage, this is exactly what these false teachers in Peter’s day were doing. They were justifying their sensual pursuits by denying the very foundation of the gospel— the second coming of Christ.

The Clear and Present Danger (3:3–4)

The first thing I want you to see in these verses is that even though Peter speaks of the “end times” as if it were still a future event, he is pointing to “the present” with a bit of sarcasm. The events that mark the “end times” are happening in his life time. And that is because the “end times” began when God poured out his Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

  • Acts 2:16–18 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

The second thing I want you to see is that these false teachers are not ignorant of the Bible. They seem to know quite a bit! They know about the promised return of Christ. They know about the OT fathers, the patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses. They even seem to believe that God created the universe.

The fundamental problem is that this knowledge was not leading them to greater faith, hope, and obedience. No, they were leveraging the obvious delay in Christ’s return as an opportunity to openly deny his return.

  • 2 Peter 3:4 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.”

To put it in modern terms, their argument would sound something like this: Come one, Christian are you really that naïve?! Scientific discovery has demonstrated— beyond the shadow of a doubt— that we live in a closed universe that is governed by the irreducible and unchangeable laws of nature. If there really is a God, the natural order of things necessarily precludes his activity or intervention in human affairs.

But think about it for a moment… what’s wrong with the false teacher’s assertion? Well the fault in their logic is this: They were trying to support their abject denial of the second coming with an even greater denial of the Old Testament’s clear and consistent record of God’s intervention, judgment, and salvation in history past! And to make matters even worse, their primary examples of God’s inactivity in verse 4 are, in fact, monumental accounts of his active intervention in human history.

Their Fundamental Error (3:5–7)

Notice, here that Peter begins his rebuttal by attacking these teacher’s deliberate rejection of the truth. See the heart of the matter is not that they do not know the truth! No! They know the truth and are deliberately rejecting the truths that easily debunk their flesh-pleasing world-view. And where does Peter go to set the record straight? He goes back, once again, to the Bible.[2]

To the claim that “all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” Peter reminds them that the very word creation acknowledges divine intervention, in that, it points us back to a time when everything in the universe sprang into existence by the very word and power of God. If God had not spoken it into existence it would not exist!

Even more, Peter reminds us of the fact that our world was wholly unsuitable for life until God himself intervened and made it a habitable planet of his own accord. The world was a watery chaos, unformed and undeveloped (Gen 1:2) until God intervened by his word and formed the dry land and filled the planet with life.

See, in light of this example alone, the teacher’s purely naturalistic world-view is false. The laws of nature are not the ruling factor in the universe. God is.

But, just in cast these false teachers tried to quickly shift their argument from God’s act of creation to God’s activity after creation, Peter quickly drags them from Genesis 2 to Genesis 6–9 to prove that God is more than able to override the laws of nature so that he can intervene in human history for his purposes.

Just think about it what’s the key difference between creation and the flood? It’s this, whereas creation was an expression of God’s sovereign goodness, the flood was a manifestation of his judgement and sovereign Lordship over his creation. The flood is a warning for humans every age, that we live in a moral universe and that we are directly accountable to God for our choices. And that he is more than able to intervene in judgment when he so chooses.

All things have not continued as they were from the beginning of creation!

And finally, to make it abundantly clear that the final judgment is real, Peter points his readers to the fact that the same “word” that spoke the world into existence and judged the ancient world with a global flood, is actively directing human history to a sudden and definite end. “The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire”; the universe that now exists is under sentence of condemnation. It is being “kept” for the day when God will save his holy people and consign the world and the ungodly to “destruction.”[3]

All things have not continued as they were from the beginning of creation! And all things will not continue as we know them indefinitely into the future!

Yet, thankfully this warning of wrath and judgment is only the first-half of Peter’s rebuttal. Yes, he wants everyone to know that God is more than able to keep his word and that nothing in this universe can deflect his sovereign purposes. The day of the Lord is coming. And as we will see, the only reason it has not arrived is that God has a glorious purpose in his delay.

The Purposeful Patience of God (2 Peter 3:8–9)

The Providence of God (3:8)

The first thing that Peter wants these churches to grasp about the obvious delay in Christ’s return is that God does not see time the same way that we do. No, his relationship to time utterly transcends our finite human minds. What seems slow to us is not slow for God and what seems fast for us is not fast for God. And the sad truth of the matter is that these Christians and the false teachers should have known this because Peter’s statement about time is, in fact, a quote from Psalm 90.

  • Psalm 90:4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

See, Peter’s simple point in this is that from God’s perspective, as an eternal being, it hasn’t been very long yet. Let me try to illustrate this with an analogy everyone can engage:

As most of you know Colleen and I spent 18 years on Kodiak Island. And while our two daughters were born in Oregon, island life is all they knew. This meant that we routinely spent more time getting them in and out of their car seats than we did driving from point A to Point B. In fact, our longest possible drive to the end of the road system was little more than an hour.

Now imagine our daughters impatient agony when we traveled to the lower-48 for vacation! The 3-hour plane ride from Anchorage to Seattle was three times longer than anything they had ever experienced in their life, but it was a relatively short amount of time for Colleen and I who grew up with week-long summer road trips across the country.

See, just as Colleen and I had a completely different perspective of time than our daughters; God has a different perspective on time than we do because he is eternal. And just like our daughters often complained “we are never going to get there;” we are tempted to start believing the lie that Jesus is never going to return.

But, I need to point out there is also a notable difference in the time it took our family to fly to Seattle and the amount of time that precedes Christ’s return… God has a glorious purpose in the very midst of our waiting. What appears to be slowness on God’s behalf is, in fact, an intentional expression of his patience. And this patience is the very means by which he is actively adding more children to his family.[4]

The Patience of God (3:9)

The second thing that Peter wants these churches to grasp is that, God’s delay is not a sign that he has become disinterested in his children or that he is going to renege on his promise or that he did not mean what he said. Not in the least bit! No. According to Peter, God’s delay is a tangible expression of his divine nature that he has already revealed in his Word.

  • Exodus 34:6–7 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

The very heart of God toward mankind is that of mercy and grace and patience and forgiveness.

His judgment against sin is the sad consequence rejecting his grace.

  • Isaiah 55:1–3 Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

What do we see in these verses about God. He is not standing back idly waiting for sinful humans to respond to his grace. No, he’s calling out, abandon your suicidal love-affair with the pleasures of this world. Forsake your countless pursuits that promise satisfaction and pleasure but leave you dry and empty… Come to me and find everything you have been looking for.

  • Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

What brings pleasure to God? What brings him joy and delight? It’s not judgment and wrath but repentance. He loves to forgive wretched, hell-bound sinners so that they can find life in him.

See, the tragic irony in these verses is that the false teachers are taking the very expression of God’s mercy and grace to mankind— which is giving them an opportunity to repent and enjoy everlasting life if they will respond— and they are turning it against God as an evidence that Christ will never return… when in fact, his return will be the singular end to human history as we know it.

The Certain Judgment of God (3:10)

Peter’s final attack against the these false teachers is simply this: God is actively leading history to its final conclusion, Jesus is returning in glory whether you believe in it or not. The day of the Lord is not bound by your unbelief. And it will come at a time and in a way that no one is expecting (like a thief in the night).

And when it comes, the only question that is going to matter is do you belong to Jesus Christ?

Two Responses to this text

So let me ask each and every one of you this morning, whether you are viewing this sermon online or sitting in this room: “Do you really belong to Jesus Christ today?” Have you repented of your sin and embraced Jesus as your only hope of forgiveness, restoration to God, and everlasting life OR not? If you have not, why not?

One the one hand, if you are like the people in this passage that think this world will keep going on as it has since the day it was formed OR if you think that you can put off the decision until much later in your life because Jesus has yet to return. You need to hear the warning of verse 10! Jesus is going to come at a time and in a way that we least expect it. And when he returns it will be too late to respond.

On the other, if you think that God could never forgive you, you need to know that he doesn’t delight in the judgment of the wicked, rather he loves to forgive those who repent and believe! A lifetime of sin cannot bar you from everlasting joy in Jesus Christ. Because, you and I don’t contribute anything to our salvation other than the sin that made it necessary.

And if you are still trying to understand the gospel, please talk to me or pastor Ryan or one of the elders we’d love to answer your questions.

In fact, let me speak directly to our church kids. I know that many of you have grown up in the church and that many of you know the stories of the Old and New Testament better than many adults. But, my question is this: have you actually placed your faith in Jesus Christ? Have you embraced the gospel’s promise: “Jesus lived, died, and rose again for sinners and God will forgive you if you turn and trust in Jesus.” Because if you have not, you may be learning many wonderful things about Jesus, but do not belong to Jesus yet.

Finally, to all of you who belong to Jesus Christ and know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you will spend eternity with him. I’d like to leave you with the question that Paul asks in Romans 10.

  • Romans 10:14–15 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

[1] Michael P. Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 18 of Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 146–48; Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003), 370–71.

[2] Douglas J. Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 169.

[3] Moo, 2 Peter, Jude, 171.

[4] “The verse may be highly ironic. The false teachers use God’s patience as an argument against God, when it should lead them to repentance.;” (Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 381).