return-of-christ

2 Peter 3

Today we reading 2 Peter 3.

In addition to the threat of false teaching, which we read about yesterday, the church must guard against the ridicule of scoffers which we read about today here in 2 Peter 3. These “scoffers will come scoffing” (v. 3b) and questioning us as to why Christ’s promised return has not yet happened (v. 4).

Peter prepared us for the long time that has elapsed since Christ promised his return and today. He reminded us that God is not bound by time as we are (v. 8) and that he is “patient” allowing many people to be saved (v. 9).

Still, when Jesus does return, it will happen suddenly “like a thief” (v. 10a). Burglars do not call ahead or ring the doorbell, so they catch people who are sleeping unprepared. Similarly, Christ will keep his promise and return when the world is blissfully going about its own ways. The end result will be judgment with everything that exists now destroyed (v. 10b).

For those of who believe in Christ’s promised return, how should we prepare? The answer is not to try to figure out the date of his return or to life a kind of spartan lifestyle. The answer is to focus on our faith and discipleship: “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (v. 14b). Do this by learning to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” And, as you grow in Christ, put your hope in eternity and set your heart on his coming kingdom. As verse 13 put it, “...in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”

This has gotten easier for me as I have gotten older. Part of that is, I think, my own spiritual growth. Part of it, though, is learning how empty the promises of this world are. God has blessed me with a great family, a great church family, good health, and some pretty nice material things. I have a great life and truly enjoy it. But as content and thankful as I feel with what God has given to me, I find myself more and more longing to be with Christ and to live in a kingdom where he rules. To be finally redeemed from my own sinful desires and able to know God purely, experience him fully, and be free of the pain, fear, sorrow, and so on that all of us--even the most blessed--experience in this life.

I hope you are content with what God has given you and that, as you grow in Christ, you find greater joy in your life. But don’t let contentment turn into love for this present world or cause you to crave more material things. All of this stuff is going to burn up; it isn’t worth living for because it can’t satisfy us for long and isn’t an eternal store of value. Look to eternity; invest in that and pray for Christ’s kingdom to come, just as he taught us to do.

2 Timothy 4

Today’s reading is 2 Timothy 4.

Paul seemed certain in this chapter that his life was nearing its end. He said so in verse 6, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.” Despite the fact that he was soon going to die as a martyr for the faith, the return of Christ and his coming kingdom were still promises that were important to him. It was “his appearing and his kingdom” that he had in mind when he charged Timothy to “preach the Word” in verses 1b-2. The reward he was looking forward to was tied to the fact that he had “longed for his appearing” (v. 8c). Even though his death would prevent him from seeing Christ’s return from the vantage point of earth, there was no fear that he would miss out on Christ’s kingdom. As he said in verse 18, “The Lord will... bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” What he wanted most in life was for Christ to return and establish his promised kingdom on earth. If he died before that happened, he still had confidence that it would happen and that he would be there to enter the kingdom with Christ.

We have milestones in our lives that we look forward to. Depending on where you are in life, it might be graduating from high school or college, falling in love and getting married, having your first child, watching your children become adults, holding a grandchild, or retiring from work. These are all noble and worthwhile things to look forward to but does the coming of Christ and establishment of his kingdom enter your thoughts as well? Are you looking forward to that day when we will live and reign forever with Christ?

If not, why not? Is it love for this present world? Are you investing too much in this world and not enough into God’s kingdom? The coming of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom will be the greatest time in the history of humanity. The best family event or festival or concert or life milestone will never bring you as much joy as reigning with Christ in his kingdom. It will be the greatest time of your life and it will last forever. If you believe that, it will help you keep serving Christ no matter what the climate or culture or traditions around are. Enjoy and anticipate the good things in life God created for us to enjoy, but keep Christ’s return and his kingdom at the center of what you hope for. It will help you serve the Lord when truth is unwanted (vv. 1-4) and it will give you hope and comfort in the moment of death (vv. 6-8).

2 Thessalonians 1

Today’s reading is 2 Thessalonians 1.

In yesterday’s reading we contemplated the end of humanity as we know it. We learned there in 1 Thessalonians 5 that most of the human race will be caught utterly unprepared when the “day of the Lord” comes in judgment. Here in 2 Thessalonians 1 Paul continued that theme.

The passage begins with Paul’s usual greeting to the church (vv. 1-4) and a transitional statement that all the ways in which the faith of the Thessalonians was growing (vv. 3-4) was evidence that they would be included in God’s kingdom (v. 5). At the end of verse 5 Paul notes that it is this kingdom, the kingdom of God, “for which you are suffering.” This phrase both indicates us the circumstances the Thessalonians were facing and prepares us for the next few verses which tell us what God will do about it. According to verse 6, “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Although all of us were once enemies of God and opponents to his kingdom, God in grace saved from the penalty that we deserved for our sins. That made us “worthy of the kingdom of God” (v. 5b) but also put us on the other side of the rest of humanity which is still at war with God and resisting Christ’s kingdom. That is why believers are persecuted--both back then in Thessalonica and around the world today.

Here, though, God promised that suffering would not be the fate of believers forever. Instead, God will execute justice someday in the future. That justice will give relief to his children who are suffering but judgment on those who reject him and oppose him. And when will this happen? “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.” In other words, the “day of the Lord” which we read about yesterday will begin when Christ returns as described here in verses 7b-10.

Christians debate about the timing of these events and this is not the place to address that debate. What we should take away from 2 Thessalonians 1 is the promise that God’s judgment is coming when Jesus returns. On that day there will be justice--eternal punishment for those who are not in Christ (v. 9) but salvation for those of us who are in Christ. Our salvation is not based on our goodness but based on the fact that Christ died in our place, taking God’s punishment for sin for us.

But what do we do while we wait for that day of the Lord? Verses 11-12 tell us. Paul prayed for these believers that “God may make you worthy of his calling.” This means that God would form real righteousness in these believers to match the status of righteous that he declared them to be in Christ. That “real righteousness” was described in verse 11b as God bringing “to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” Like all believers, the Thessalonians wanted to grow in grace, they wanted to serve God and become like him. Paul prayed for them that, until Jesus comes, they would be growing in God’s grace to become godly men and women. The result of this growth is described in verse 12: “that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What Paul described in this passage is what God is doing and wants to do in the lives of every believer. It is why I teach God’s word, shepherd his people, and write these devotionals. May God continue to change us and grow us until Christ returns to finally save us.

BTW: this is how we should pray for each other, too. Not that we would have health, happiness, and prosperity but that God would keep working in us to make us “worthy of his calling.”

Numbers 23, Psalms 64–65, Isaiah 13, 1 Peter 1

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 23, Psalms 64–65, Isaiah 13, 1 Peter 1. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read 1 Peter 1.

Holiness is hard work. Not being declared holy—that hard work God did for us in Christ. When Jesus lived a perfect life and died as a sacrifice for sinners, he did everything that was necessary for God to declare us holy (see verse 2). Now that we have been called to be his children, he calls us to become holy like he is; as we read today in 1 Peter 1:15-16: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Becoming holy in real life is where the hard work of the Christian life lies. We have what we need—the Holy Spirit within us, the Word of God, the community of other believers, but we also have significant opposition from our own sin nature, the world around us and the devil. As you’ve lived the Christian life and grown in Christ, you experienced the frustrating, painful struggle to do right when it would be so easy to do wrong. So how do we cope with the tug-of-war between what God calls us to become and what we often want to remain? Verse 13: “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.” It is thinking about the future that God has promised us in Christ that pulls us toward holiness. When we desire to sin, we need to remember what God has taught us in his word—that sin is pleasurable, but that pleasure is temporary and costs far too much while God is glorious and those who live by faith in him will be rewarded with great joy and glory when Jesus comes. That’s why Peter, after telling us in verse 13 to “set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” follows that with verse 14: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Yes, the evil desires we had before we knew Christ remain but when we think forward to the life Christ promises us, it empowers us to live obediently to God instead of obeying (“conforming”) to those evil desires within.

What are you grappling with right now? What sinful urges inject evil thoughts into your mind when you least expect it? What sin are you toying with or being tempted by? Do you know anyone who has succumbed to this sin? Did it make them happy? Did it cause them or anyone else pain? What would your heavenly father think if you surrendered to the desire that Christ died to free you from? How much will that sin matter to you when you see Jesus and are welcomed into his kingdom? These questions clarify the lies that sin and temptation tell us. They offer us pleasure, they promise us freedom, they lure us into rationalizing the act and they ignore or downplay the painful consequences that sin will bring into our lives. So, knowing what Christ has done for us and has promised us, “sober up” (v. 13a) and think about your sin, your desire, your temptations from Christ’s eternal viewpoint. That is where you will find the strength to choose holiness over sin, faith over unbelief.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.