Recently preached a sermon on the letter of 2 Peter, just in time for Advent 🙂
Good morning Union!
When Renee asked me to preach from 2 Peter, I was intrigued because this compact letter is so urgent and focused in its message while resonating with so many other parts of Scripture that it simply explodes with meaning. In it, Peter references story after story in the Old Testament, his own firsthand encounters with Jesus and the prophetic realities about what is yet to take place and how we should respond in light of them.
My first encounter with this letter was probably around high school when I started to take my Christian faith more intellectually seriously. Although I had read through the Bible completely at least once by then, there were many words, concepts and experiences I was only beginning to grasp and relate to. A puzzling thought here, a scary warning there, and an encouraging word in between, it felt like studying a textbook that you had to read over and over again to connect the dots.
And in that process, I remember being captivated by chapter 3 verse 8 to 9:
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.
As an insecure, driven and often frustrated teenager, wondering why life was so hard and feeling like the world (and I) could be spared so much pain and suffering if Jesus would just return and solve all our problems, these words gave me something to chew on. People may scoff at the idea of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and I may feel disappointed that God hasn’t fixed the world yet, but God’s slowness is actually giving all people–people like me–time to repent. Salvation takes time.
And that was a very strange thing for my idealistic and impatient personality to accept.
And yet today we witness the wisdom of God’s patient timing, even in hearing Mketwa’s testimony of the grace of God and the steadfast love and faithfulness of Jesus towards him across decades. Salvation takes time.
Fast forward to just a few years ago, before the pandemic. I was on a 14 hour flight to Jakarta. I fully intended to pass the time catching up on several movies, but decided to catch up on some Bible reading first. I opened the app on my phone and came across 2 Peter:
Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
I was floored. Peter, the apostle opened his letter by saying that I have a faith as precious as–some translations say “of equal standing”–as the apostles of Jesus! How did high school me miss that critical detail?
I read on:
His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
What?! While I’m taking each day one step at a time, feeling depleted and barely able to keep up with responsibilities, problems, the uncertainties of the future, longings, and struggles I hear that God’s power has already given everything needed for life and godliness. Do we really already have everything? Do we really lack nothing?
And as I continued reading this letter on that 14 hour flight, I felt compelled to memorize it. I repeated it over and over again, wrote it on slips of paper and tried to recite it eyes closed for hours. And although my rote memorization of these words has faded with time, the impact continues to this day.
Peter writes this letter fully aware of his impending death. There is a clarity, urgency, seriousness and passion you can feel as he writes to his beloved flock. Peter doesn’t shy away from addressing the serious threats of false teachers and sensuality and describing the day of judgment, but he does so in a way that demonstrates just how far he has come in his journey of being with Jesus.
Peter was the disciple who boasted that he wouldn’t abandon Jesus to death even if everyone else did. He was the disciple who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant in an attempt to prevent Jesus’ arrest. Now he writes of enduring suffering while being zealous for good.
He once jockeyed for the status of being Jesus’ greatest disciple. He was the apostle who had to step far outside of his comfort zone to follow the Spirit in welcoming unclean Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ. Now he is the one who now writes that we all have received an equally precious faith as his own through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
How precious it is to have this word! For me, it was like receiving a letter from a grandpa in the faith or like receiving a dear mentor’s final words. Someone who saw Jesus glorified, transfigured, with his very own eyes. Who heard the voice from the Majestic Glory with his very own ears “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Who experienced firsthand the confirmation of the prophetic word in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter, the servant-apostle of Jesus Christ, gives us what he considers of utmost importance in the face of impending death.
So let’s listen with attentive ears.
Thus [God] has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.
Peter does not mince words. He literally means that we have been given God’s promises so we can escape from the corruption in this world, a corruption that is due to lust–people’s unrestrained, insatiable, sinful desires. And where do we escape to? To become participants of God’s reality, partakers of God’s qualities, companions with God.
For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.
For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I slowed down to think about this list of words I noticed a few things.
First, these seven qualities are what it’s like to become participants of the divine nature! Growing in them is growing in Christ-likeness. Like the fruits of the Spirit, growing in these brings great gain with no harm. We can maximize these qualities without fear or limitation unlike other pursuits such as wealth, popularity, experiences, achievement, creativity or even leisure. Consider the energy we apply to such things. Peter urges us to up the ante by going all out in supporting our faith with these qualities.
Second, even though faith is a gift, it is something to be diligently, vigorously, earnestly, zealously supported! Friendship is a gift, but if it isn’t supported with connection, it atrophies. Our health is a gift, but if it isn’t supported with rest and exercise it declines. Faith is a gift, but if it isn’t supported with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love, it will end up ineffective and unfruitful.
Peter is just saying it like it is. God’s power has already provided everything we need for life and godliness–all is still grace–and that provision includes diligence in adding these qualities to our faith.
Third, these qualities are both individual and collective. Peter writes, “if these things are yours and are increasing among you,” Both the yours and the you are second person plurals, so this could be rendered “if these things are y’all’s and are increasing among y’all they keep y’all from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” These qualities belong to individuals, but can only be practiced in community.
Before continuing, I admit that some words can seem vague in our day. The word “goodness” for example, arete, is rendered as “excellence” or “virtue” by other translations. And godliness is not commonly used in our everyday language, referring to “devotion to God” or a “life oriented around God”. As part of Peter’s exhortation to “make every effort to supplement your faith”, think about the ways you are seeing these qualities grow in your life and in our community.
Continuing with verse 9:
For anyone who lacks these things is nearsighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
Here we see Peter’s heart.
He knows he will die soon and he’s worried that Jesus’ beloved flock could be led astray by false teachers and the corruption in this world due to lust. He’s worried that his brothers and sisters could forget God’s great and very precious promises and the holy commandments given by Christ. It may be similar to the problems we face today with disinformation and hidden agendas–when Peter is gone as a trusted authority, how will followers of Jesus be able to cut through the noise and deception to remain faithful and fruitful?
What is the antidote to spiritual disinformation?
Although we do not have time to read chapters 2 and 3 of this letter right now, let me summarize them to outline Peter’s approach. In these chapters, Peter connects the dots between how false prophets behaved in the past and how false teachers will secretly arise among the Christian community in the present, especially when he is gone. To gratify their greed, they will entice and exploit people with deceptive words and a false sense of freedom that actually enslaves and corrupts. They twist scripture. These false teachers are insincere scoffers who believe that because Christ hasn’t returned yet, he’s never coming back. And since he’s not coming back, there is no judgment and they are free and clear to do as they please.
And through example after example, Peter shows that even though they take the name of Christ on their lips, they will be judged.
Judgment can be an uncomfortable word in our day and age, but in Peter’s thinking it really is just one side of a coin. The other side of the coin is salvation. Judgment and salvation go hand in hand. It is the decisive moment, the crisis when all is made clear.
Think about the instability our world is facing due to disinformation–in a global game of “he said” “she said” it is hard to know who is telling which parts of the truth mixed with what lies or omissions in the service of what agenda. Judgment is when the truth is decisively revealed and the lies are exposed and done away with.
And it is this day of judgment, the day of God who is the Truth, that Peter urges believers to eagerly await and hasten, as he writes in chapter 3:
Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
Isn’t that a wonderful promise? A new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. Where we no longer have to fight to prove who is right and who is wrong, where we can finally rest in abundant peace and righteousness. A new creation free from corruption, decay and deception. A new creation where we are truly free and truly home–relaxed, cozy, vital, eternal hygge. Salvation.
This is what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has promised us.
And before he dies Peter does everything he can to help us remember, remember, remember.
In this letter, Peter’s solution to the spiritual disinformation campaign that he knows will be waged against believers when he’s gone is not to go on the offense and aggressively weed out heretics. God will judge the false and rescue the godly.
Rather, it is to help beloved people of faith remember the divine qualities Jesus Christ is already giving to us and the divine hope God has promised. It is by paying ever closer attention to the prophetic word and by increasingly applying ourselves to the practice of supporting our faith with goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love.
Union Church, this is the way.
This is how our individual and collective faith is made stable and secure. This is how we help one another receive God’s promise of entering the Kingdom of God. This is how we strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish. This is how we eagerly await and actively hasten the return of Christ, which is also known as Advent.
Let us grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Scripture citations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).