The Next Life: What If It's True?

Cultivating an Eager Anticipation of Jesus' Return

2 Peter 3:1-16

Teaching t21093

Introduction

SERIES TITLE: We have been exploring the nature of God’s eternal kingdom that Jesus will establish when he returns, and how this should affect us now.  What we have learned about this kingdom (I will review it soon) should ignite a hunger, an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return.  This is a dominant theme in the New Testament:

In Matt.24, Jesus described how he would return to terminate this world order and replace it with God’s kingdom (24:29-31).  He went on to tell his followers that they should “watch for” and “be ready” for his return (read 24:42,44)—to live our lives “on tiptoe,” looking forward to it. 

In 1Pet.1:13, Peter exhorts Christians to “fix our hope completely” on Jesus’ return.  Jude tells Christians that one of the main ways we stay anchored in God’s love is by “eagerly awaiting” his mercy at Jesus’ return (Jude1:20,21).

Jesus taught his followers to pray for this (Matt.6:9,10), and this was one of the favorite prayers of the early Christians.  Paul echoes it in 1Cor.16:22—“Come, O Lord!  After revealing the new heavens and the new earth to John, Jesus testifies that he is coming soon—and John ends the New Testament with: “Amen, Come Lord Jesus!” (Rev.22:20).

If this anticipation sounds completely foreign to you, if you have no memory of ever having it, then you probably are not a Christian.  When you give yourself to Jesus, he puts his Spirit in your heart, and Jesus’ Spirit puts this anticipation in our hearts—it is simply not there otherwise.  But even if you belong to Jesus and have his Spirit, you know that this anticipation is not a given—it can wane, and it has to be cultivated.  I want to look at a passage this morning that helps us to do this.  It is found in 2Peter 3.  Here Peter gives us three ways to cultivate an eager expectation of Jesus’ return—one for our hearts (what we desire), one for our heads (what we understand), and one for our hands (what we do; how we live).

HEART: “Is Jesus my greatest desire?”

Read 3:3,4.  Peter describes certain people who scornfully dismiss Jesus’ return.  In our day, these mockers may be college professors, influential peers, even ministers.  They say it is naïve to believe that Jesus will return and end this world.  They say that years have come and gone since he promised to return—so we should wise up and realize he’s not coming back.  Peter answers the content of their question in the verses that follow—but first there is something in 3:4b that we need to notice.  What motivated these mockers’ aversion to Jesus’ return?  Was it their careful research?  No—it was their desires.  “Desires” is the word epithumia, which means “inordinate desire.”  It means wanting a good thing too much.  It is related in the New Testament to idolatry—seeking security and significance and approval from created things (e.g., relationship; career achievement; possessions; human recognition; etc.) rather than from your relationship with God.  It was these desires that motivated the mockers to mock, and it is these same desires that chill our hearts’ passion for Jesus to return.  Just as your desire to see your spouse wanes when you have allowed your heart to be captured by another lover, our hunger for Jesus’ return wanes when our hearts desire something or someone more than we desire him.  That’s why cultivating this hunger involves honestly asking yourself: “What is my greatest desire?”

Do you remember when you were excited about the promise that Jesus is coming back?  Do you remember when you resonated with Paul’s and John’s prayers: “Come quickly, Lord Jesus?”  Is this a distant and faded memory?  Do you not only not long for Jesus’ return, but even secretly hope he does not come back for a long time?  If this is the case, is it not because you have begun to desire something else more than you want to see Jesus—to be married, to get that house, to advance in that career, to enjoy that hobby, etc.?  How does your heart react to this quote: “The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie.  It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.  It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality that we drink in every night.  For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Lk.14:18-20).  The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts.  And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth.  For when these replace the appetite for God himself, idolatry is scarcely recognizable and almost incurable.”  

What can you do if you have this heart problem?  You can’t fix it with your head—e.g., learning more about the signs of Jesus’ return won’t help.  Neither will just feeling guilty—that may just alienate you from Jesus even more.  You have to do what I have counseled unfaithful spouses to do.  You have to go to Jesus and confess this to with humble honesty, and cast yourself on his mercy, and tell him that you want to return to him as your heart’s true Treasure.  I advise you to confess it to Christian friend and ask him to pray with you for this.  Why?  Because you may be fooling yourself about having really confessed it to Jesus.  Humble yourself before him in this way, and he will receive you and life you up (Jas.4:4-10)!

HEAD: “Why is Jesus delaying his return?”

So sometimes the reason we lose our hunger for Jesus’ return is in our hearts.  But not always.  Sometimes the reason is in our heads—our hearts are discouraged because our heads are confused.  Our hunger for Jesus’ return can be stunted by ignorance or misinformation.  That’s why we’ve spent so much time understanding how much better heaven is than we may have been taught (CHART).  But it can also be stunted because we don’t understand why he is waiting so long—especially when we suffer.  That’s what Peter addresses in 3:8-10...

Read 3:8.  First of all, it only seems slow to us because our perspective on time is different than God’s, who is eternal.  But God’s plan also takes longer to complete because his scope of concern is wider than just me.  When I was 5 or 6, my father promised to take me fishing “soon.”  “Soon” meant “within one hour” to me.  But the hours became days—and I became discouraged and felt like my father didn’t care about this fishing trip and had forgotten his promise.  But he hadn’t forgotten, and he did care.  Unbeknownst to me, he was waiting for the day that my best friend could come fishing with us.  In a similar way, Jesus delays his return because he caresfor the ones he wants to join us ...

Read 3:9.  Jesus is waiting because he wants as many people as possible to repent and believe in him—and so escape his judgment.  The “you” in this verse doesn’t refer to true Christians.  We are forever exempted from God’s judgment.  It refers to the people Peter knew would be listening to his letter who hadn’t yet made the decision to receive Christ.  It refers to many of “you” who are here this morning reading this passage and listening to this teaching.  God is patiently telling you about your need for his forgiveness, and how he sent his Son to die in your place.  He is waiting for you to receive his forgiveness by giving your life to Jesus.  God is literally delaying his plan for a new world to give you a chance to be included in it!

But he won’t wait forever (read 3:10).  He will send Jesus, and then it will be the end of the world as we know it.  If you have not received him before then, his coming will be like a thief in the night—you wake up in the morning to a bad surprise (MY MG).  Your things are gone, and it’s too late to do anything about it.  But losing your car or computer is just stuff; this is losing your life and eternity with no opportunity to get it back.  It will be too late to get ready.  Your works will be laid bare and you will be judged for refusing to receive his forgiveness.  So get ready now by receiving Christ...

HANDS: “Am I actively helping people come to faith in Jesus?”

There is a third way we need to cultivate an eager anticipation of Jesus’ return.  Our hearts need to have him as their greatest desire, and our heads need to understand what he is bringing and why he is delaying.  But we also need to put our “hands” to work by actively pursuing his interests.  Our hearts will follow what we invest our lives in (explain Matt.6:21; FINANCIAL INVESTMENT).  In the same way, our hunger for Jesus’ return will grow as we invest our lives in what he wants.

If you want your heart to be consumed by Jesus’ return, you have to invest your life in what he wants—more people to come to faith in him.  That’s what Peter addresses in 3:11-15a (read).  He is connecting “looking forward to” Jesus’ coming (being in eager expectation of it) and “hurrying along” his coming.  And how do we hurry it along?  By using this time to help other people come to faith in Jesus (3:15a).  We can do this in two, complementary ways:

By verbally sharing our faith in Jesus here in Columbus and all over the world.  When we tell our family, friends, neighbors, work associates, etc. about Jesus, our hearts will hunger more for him and his return (EXAMPLE).  Are you sharing your faith in your sphere of influence?  Are you involved in ministries with others here that are reaching out to people who don’t know Jesus?  Are you providing prayer and financial support to our missionaries?  Invest your life and resources in this, and your heart will follow!

Peter emphasizes that as we share our faith in Jesus, we need to adorn this message with personal integrity and deeds of love.  That’s what 3:11,14 describe.  You may read such phrases and think: “Be nice and stay away from bad people.”  But they describe a life that loves lost people and seeks to penetrate the darkness with the light of Jesus love so that they may see him and be redeemed by him.  They describe a life that goes into our broken community, that cares for specific broken people.  Don’t shield yourself from this brokenness—go into it (like Jesus did) with God’s redeeming love.  Many of you are doing this—and you know what happens.  It changes you.  Your compassion is stirred, your heart is broken, and your zeal for God and his kingdom grows.  You begin to mean it when you pray: “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  You become more eager for Jesus’ return!

Conclusion

Love Jesus with your heart and head and hands!  Focus your heart’s affections on him as your greatest Treasure.  Focus your head’s thoughts on the kingdom he will bring and the reason he is waiting.  Focus your hands on helping other people to come to him before he comes.  If you live as a consumer and relate to Jesus as one more “product” that you consume, your life will become more and more complicated and anxious and disappointing.  But when you love Jesus with your heart, head and hands, your life will become much simpler and fuller—and your desire for his return will grow. 

John Piper, A Hunger for God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), p.14.