For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ. To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord . . . . 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 1:1–2; 3:17–18
It’s the springtime of a new season of life for our south campus family. Eleven Sundays ago we moved our weekend services here to Lakeville South High School. Thirty days ago God granted us to purchase 12 acres of land for a permanent site to built on, at Interstate 35, a mile and a half from here! Tonight we will join the other campuses to vote on Jason Meyer to become our new Associate Pastor for Preaching & Vision. Our South Campus family has not experienced such a season of change since we were born five years ago.
So, my aim this morning in the message is that in the midst of all this seasonal and circumstantial change, you individually (and we as a body) will hear and heed the apostolic command to “grow [i.e., to get stronger and sweeter, more stable and settled, more established and experienced, more developed and complete, more advanced and responsible] in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” To that end, I invite you to join me in asking for God’s help:
Our Father, You are the God of the living, not of the dead . . . and everything that You make alive proves it by growing. What is true physically in nature, come now and make true supernaturally in the minds and hearts of Your people. Touch us . . . so that the preaching of your Word makes our minds and hearts “bud and blossom.” Open our minds to the light of your Son . . . enlighten us and cause our thinking to mature, so that we put away childish thoughts and habits and feelings in exchange for the disciplined, hard work of thinking and speaking and reasoning like adults. And as You touch our minds, do as much and more to our hearts. Pour out the Holy Spirit, who cannot only guide into all the truth but can lavish us with mercy and grace, and especially the graces of affection and adoration. We not only want to know about You . . . we want to love You. Seeing You, cause our spirits to delight in You. Trusting You, make Yourself our highest Treasure. I ask this in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What we have in this morning’s text is the Apostle Peter’s first and last words. He both starts and stops his last NT letter with the same instruction . . . to begin with, stating it as an introductory blessing, and then to conclude, repeating it as his final command. Look with me at the nearly identical similarities, first in …
- 2 Peter 1:2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord and then in
- 2 Peter 3:18: but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Though we won’t take the time to look at everything in between, I want to spend our next 25 minutes or so, looking for what growth in grace and knowledge looks like, through Peter’s words and in our Summer 2012 experience as a south campus. Here’s how we will proceed. Though I have my sights set on all 18 verses of 2 Peter this morning, I don’t want you to grow weary in my attempted well-doing. So, with one eye on the text and another on the clock, let’s walk backwards through the 2 Peter 3, taking ever larger portions of this chapter into consideration, starting with . . .
I. Peter’s last recorded word: “Amen” (3:18c)
I was preaching one time a few years ago and when I finished in record time, I heard that one young ladies turned to her mother with a look of delighted amazement and asked, “Is he done already?” Well, that was then . . . but not this morning. The Hebrew word is pronounced amen and the Greek rendering is “amen.” It’s one of those few original Bible words than goes untranslated, words like “hallelujah,” and “hosanna.”
“Amen” can mean, “so be it!” if it’s a statement of purpose, or determined resolve. And it can be a prayer: “Amen . . . may it be so!” I think Peter was mingling both those meaning in his last recorded word: both inward resolve and upward request. What’s the modern equivalent of “amen”? It’s the word, “yes,” and it it’s said as deep feeling and affirmation, then it’s said with delight and zeal and excitement . . . not just “yes,” but “YES!”
What can you shout “YES” about? What loud “YESES” will the south suburbs hear ringing from this campus? Let’s move up the ladder to Peter’s last sentence and see what merited his final, forceful “Amen!”
II. Peter’s last recorded sentence: “To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” (3:18b)
Can you say “yes” to that? In fact, can you shout, “AMEN!” to the glory of Jesus Christ both now and forever? Peter could, and in doing so, he agreed with all the Bible writers (as well as God himself who inspired those human authors), that Jesus deserves our loudest, longest, most loving praise.
What does it mean that “the glory belongs to Jesus Christ”? “Glory” in the Bible is about brightness and about fame. Glorious things are brilliant, exceptional, admirable, outstanding things . . . anything approaching perfection. The Apostle Paul told the Philippians some of the attributes of “glory” when he wrote: “Whatever is true . . . honorable . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . commendable . . . if there is any excellence . . . anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Jesus Christ is all those things and more . . . in everything he has the pre-eminence (Colossians 1:18).
Has Jesus ever excited you with his glory? Has the light of his glory shone in your heart? Has the praise of his glory ever been the praise on your lips? Is he worth that to you? That’s what true worship is . . . your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection riveted on enjoying the worth of something . . . in this case, Someone . . . Jesus Christ, the Son of God! Peter saw that glory one day when Jesus took him along with James and John up on a mountain to pray, and while they were there, Jesus was “transfigured” before them: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light, and they heard the Father’s voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 16, Mark 9, Luke 9).
That’s what we want every weekend worship service at Bethlehem to be—a “Mount of Transfiguration experience” of beholding the glory of Jesus Christ! That’s what this church exists to do. Many of you can say our mission statement from memory. Those who can, say it now with me: “We exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all things through Jesus Christ.” Did you say it? If you meant what you said, then, you cannot help yourself from also saying, “Amen.” But let’s be honest, a passion for God’s glory (or “his supremacy in all things”) as focused in the praise of his Son Jesus is not yet a reality for more than a few of you now in this room. And it’s not yet a constant reality for any of us in this room. We are all so immature, so untaught, so unstable . . . so very much like Peter was himself when Jesus first came and called him to become a disciple. How shall we ever change, ever arrive where Peter ascended to giving glory to Jesus both now and to the day of eternity?
There is help in widening the lens from his last sentence to hear the counsel in . . .
III. Peter’s last recorded paragraph (vss. 14–18)
The title of this message comes from v. 18a. It was Peter’s last command: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The command is to “grow,” and the metaphor behind it is that you and I are all like trees, trees that must grow and bear fruit because if we don’t, we will wither and die. And the basic law of all such spiritual growth is the person and presence of Jesus Christ. We must be vitally connected to him. Jesus said as much, using a slightly different image in John 15 when he said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:5–6).
To continue the image as trees, we need to be planted, like Psalm 1 says, by streams of water so that we can put down our roots into the grace that flows from Jesus and nourishes us. The grace of Jesus Christ is God’s infinite kindness to us in his Son, the riches of his mercy won at the cross, the perfect peace of forgiveness through his shed blood, the death-conquering power of his resurrection, the boundless hope of eternal life at Jesus’ right hand. God’s grace in Jesus is what you need when you are overwhelmed with guilt and failure. God’s grace is what you will need when you die, and what you cannot get along without if you want truly to live. And the knowledge of God, according to the opening verses of 2 Peter, is all that we need for life and godliness, and that knowledge is packaged in “God’s precious and very great promises so that through them we may escape from the corruption that is in the world and become partakers of the divine nature” (1:3, 4).
For the rest of this message, if you are a note-taker, you might be helped by making two columns, one marked “grace/love” and the other marked “knowledge/faith”. We are going to see Peter at work filling up both those columns as we continue, starting right here in verse 18. The first word to put in the “grace” column is “living water,” and in the “knowledge” column is “fertilizer.” I get that word from a message Pastor John preached on this passage almost exactly 30 years ago (June 20, 1982), when he said, “The best fertilizer for our hope and godliness is the knowledge of our future in God’s grace.” If you don’t like that analogy for “knowledge,” D.A. Carson said it in a less pungent way: “Nothing is an stabilizing and as motivating as a growing grasp of the mind of God” (Nov. 29, For the Love of God, vol. 1).
Look now up at v. 14 that begins Peter’s last paragraph. No wonder Peter began it by calling his readers to “be diligent to be found in him [i.e., in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ] without spot or blemish and at peace.” So much is at stake in being planted, firmly rooted, well-watered by Christ . . . to be found by him who is our spotless, unblemished, peace-making Savior and Lord!
Are you so planted? Has Jesus found you? Will this be a fruitful summer of growth in the grace and the knowledge of this Lord and Savior?
Again, look at the first three words of v. 14. If you are reading an ESV Bible this morning, you’ll see that “Therefore” and “since” are two of the three, and they should get your attention and get you to thinking, “Humm, Peter is changing his thoughts here; where does he want to take me?” But Peter also put a word in between those two thought-provoking conjunctions, didn’t he? He inserted the word “beloved.” What’s up with that? “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these things . . .”
Question: Does that second word go in the “grace” column or in the “knowledge” column? Right, that’s an affection-word. Peter can use both . . . even though you might ordinarily not think of him as a particularly sensitive and loving person, but instead as sort of the manly “action-hero” among the apostles, nevertheless think again.
In the final written words of his life Peter addressed not only his readers repeatedly as “beloved,” (vss. 1, 8, 14 and 17), but also in his parting paragraph he calls Paul “our beloved brother” in v. 15. One wonders if that was always so, given that Paul, once a notoriously violent persecutor of Christians and now the least of the apostles, came at Peter with a very sharp, and very public rebuke . . . yes, Peter, the first among Christ’s followers and the well-known apostle to the Jews. Paul denounced Peter for compromising the freeness of salvation with his hypocritical lifestyle: “If you, though a Jew,” Paul said to Peter, “live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14).
But Peter appears to have grown in the grace and knowledge of rightly receiving this awakening slap of doctrinal truth, publically delivered! So, he readily acknowledged both with warm affection as well as urgent warnings the following things in closing paragraph:
- This is the “Age of Salvation” (v. 15a) “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation.” Nothing is more important about human history in the 2,000 years since Jesus’ first coming than that the way has been opened to God. Men and women can be saved. When Jesus returns that way will be closed, but today and every day till then is a day of salvation.
- Pay attention to the Scriptures, even when it’s complex and difficult: Peter both agreed with his fellow apostle and realized that some of what Paul wrote it is “hard to understand” (vss. 15b–17): “ . . . just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you, 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 Scripture. 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.” A lot is at stake in rightly reading and interpreting the Bible . . . in fact, nothing less than heaven and hell! The untaught and unstable are the most easily swept off their feet by Scripture-twisting false teachers. This letter (and the whole Bible) was written to keep that from happening to you . . . as you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
- So, the urgency of seeking to grow as the best proof of eternal life! (v. 18a) “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
And finally, a look at the remainder of . . .
IV. Peter’s last recorded chapter (3:1–16)
A. Paragraph 1
The 16 verses left for us to look at consist of three units of thought, again easily observed by the conjunctions at v. 8 “But . . .” and v. 11 “Since . . .” Verse 1 is also pretty obviously a starting and summarizing point in the letter:
“[v. 1] This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved [heart]. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind [head] by way of reminder, [v. 2] that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.”
V. 2 “ is the “seed-truth” that Peter planted first in his readers’ minds. Put this is the “knowledge” column. He wanted them and us to know we have a firm foundation, a reliable platform, a solid basis of authority and certainty on which to base all our thinking. It’s the written word of God. Peter called it here “the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandments of our Lord and Savior through your apostles.” Start with this: Know there is agreed testimony about history. First the OT prophets, then Jesus, and now the apostles of Jesus all agree. On what? That life and time are moving in one direction, from start to finish. The world everyone lives in is like a line, having a beginning, middle and end . . . we are all now moving along that time-line toward an end. History has meaning . . . there is a plot unfolding here; we are living out a grand story line.
The rest of Peter’s first paragraph (vss. 3–7) is a “big picture” description of reality, Look at v. 3 and the phrase, “. . . first of all.” Does that phrase reach out and grab your mental attention? Pay attention! Mark this one on the “knowledge” side of right thinking: You are living in the last days and you are living among scoffers.
“[v. 3] . . . knowing [head] this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires [heart]. [v. 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.”
” What are the foundational facts from those two sentences?
(a) We’re living in the “last days.” When we come to v. 8 we are going to hear something startling about the meaning of the word “day,” but for now . . .
(b) Recognize, but don’t join the scoffers. Can you see from Peter’s description that “scoffing” involves both the mind and the heart? Scoffers often portray themselves in a very intellectual way, saying their outlook is purely rational and scientific, based solely on unbiased observation. But scoffing is not primarily an expression of the mind, is it? More fundamentally it is an expression of the heart. That’s how Peter diagnosed it in v. 3: “Scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.” When you and I scoff, does it not come from our evil desires? We have lost our appetite for God (or perhaps never had one) and therefore our heart sends a message to our head that says, “Think in ways about life and reality that permit you to be in charge.” How does my mind operate under such orders from my heart? It will predictably and deliberately distort and/or deliberately and predictably ignore the teachings of God’s written Word . . . in this case, the past descriptions and future certainties of the Bible. According to v. 5, the scoffers of Peter’s day . . . “deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. [v. 6] By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. [v. 7] By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
(c) Remember, that world history is bounded on either side by judgments aimed at destroying the ungodly: one is past (the Flood), and the other is coming (the Fire)!
“Last days” . . . “scoffers” . . . “judgment” . . . those are where Peter began the ending. Now . . .
B. Paragraph 2, vss. 8–10
Look for the attention-getter here; it’s in v. 8!
It was “knowing first of all . . .” in paragraph 1. Now in paragraph 2, Peter grabbed for his readers’ minds and hearts again with a phrase at the start of a new thought in v. 8: “But do not overlook this one fact [head], beloved [heart] . . . The startling “one fact” never to be overlooked has to do with how and why God keeps time:
(a) How? (v. 8) “ . . . that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” By God’s time-keeping, the 2,000 years since his Son died and rose again and began to reign with him in heaven are to him as if they happened just last Friday morning . . . about 48 hours ago! And . . .
(b) Why? (v. 9) “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness], but is patient toward you, not wishing that any [of you] should perish, but that all [of you] should reach repentance.” One of the most “romantic” verses in the whole Bible is Genesis 29:20, about the length of time Jacob served his father-in-law as the bride-price for marrying Laban’s beautiful, youngest daughter: “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” If that’s what human love can do for one very flawed man, think where that came from and how it works perfectly in the infinitely loving God! Our God can thereby be compared to our heavenly Suitor, and expectant Husband whose patient, gospel-wooing, winning & serving ways do not wish that any one of his chosen Bride should perish. He has been bringing his elect ones to repentance for 2,000 years now . . . and all this time has seemed to him but a few days because of the love he has for us! Beloved, do not be like the scoffers who overlook this one tender/adoring fact!
And remember this tender fact against the backdrop of a terrible one—v. 10: “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.” On that unexpected day there will be no more wooing and winning and serving . . . the gospel day of salvation will have ended . . . and the day of judgment will commence with a roar!
That’s paragraph two: God is a loving Husband . . . AND God is a coming Judge!
C. Paragraph 3: vv. 11–13
The word “since” that starts v. 11 tells us Peter is arriving at the “practical applications” stage of his letter. The key expression in paragraph three is “lives of holiness and godliness” in vss. 11–12. That’s what to aim at in the center of the sentence! The whole sentence reads: “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 heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!” But on either side in this sentence of the goal of godly living a roaring fire is burning: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved . . .” starts the sentence, and “waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn” ends it. Why the heat of this warning? Because of the false teachers/scoffers who then and now deny that Jesus is coming back: This is done on two levels:
a) a heart level: Unbelief loves the world and therefore doesn’t want Jesus coming back to interrupt our love-affair with the world.
b) a head level: Unbelief rationalized its unholy and godless living with how steady and constant the world and nature have been in the long years since the day when Jesus departed and promised he would return. Peter’s response was both 1) to turn up the heat and 2) to turn to the future. He put the burners on high in vss. 11–12 (“All your houses and gardens and hobbies and gadgets and stuff are going to burn, so stop putting your hands in the fire!”). And he promised a better world in v. 13: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” And it’s on the positive side that Peter wants to keep us dwelling, not on how much we have to lose if we keep hanging onto our egos or our “stuff” in this present world, but on how infinitely much there is to gain in the promise of a new creation that will never burn and in which righteousness dwells.
God bless you . . . God bless our south campus . . . God bless all our campuses . . . God bless the Pipers and the Meyers. This is a season of remarkable change for us . . . May God make it a season of unprecedented growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
To him belong the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen!