This morning we’re going to be thinking about waiting. How good are you at waiting? How long would you have to wait for something before you’d stop believing that it was going to happen? Let’s imagine that you’ve ordered pizza for tea. The guy on the phone said it would be half an hour. How long would you wait before you’d realise they weren’t coming? What would you do if you’d stopped believing your pizza was going to come? What would make waiting for the pizza easier?
What if a friend of yours had said they’d had a pizza from that shop and it was really good? What if you were waiting with someone? What if you spoke to the guy at the pizza place on the phone?
This morning we have heard a reading from one of Peter’s letters. He was writing to some people who seem to have got fed up with waiting and had given up. But those people hadn’t just been waiting for pizza, they were waiting for Jesus to return to earth. Peter had spent three years wandering around with Jesus, he’d seen him doing amazing things, and showing people such a strong way of living. He wanted people not to give up, but to hold on to their belief that Jesus is coming back and to live in a way that shows they are waiting for him.
As I said a little bit earlier, this morning we’re thinking about our belief that Jesus is going to return to earth, and what he’s going to find when he does. And, a bit more than that, we’re going to think about what might help us to keep the faith while we wait for his return and what kind of things we need to be doing while we wait.
For Peter, this is the big theme underlying his letters. The things that he writes are all based on the foundations of a belief that Jesus is alive and will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. All the directions he gives about how people ought to be with each other, and the things that they should do, and the way that they should live were all rooted in the basic belief that Jesus is going to return. This isn’t surprising if you think for a minute about how often we hear Jesus warning his disciples (including Peter) to be watching and waiting for his return. Even less surprising when you remember that one of the last times that Jesus spoke to Peter before his death was when Peter and the other disciples kept falling asleep in the garden of Gethsemene on the night that Jesus was arrested.
However, it seems that there were people in the church that he was writing to who didn’t agree with him. They were getting fed up with waiting.
It seems to me that there are two possibilities. It might be that they had lost hope and started to doubt that Jesus was going to return. And so, like a restless class of teenagers who have decided that the teacher who is late for a lesson is actually never going to turn up, they have started to misbehave. Having decided that the judge isn’t on his way, they’ve convinced themselves that it doesn’t matter what they do.
On the other hand, it might be that they have come to the conclusion that they don’t want to live in the way that Jesus gave. It was too hard, it required self control, it meant not doing what they wanted to do sometimes. So, in order to get out of what they saw as a prison, they attacked the foundations. They argued that Jesus wasn’t going to return, there would be no judgement, so people may as well do what they liked.
Whichever way round it happened, faith and hope were failing and so was holiness. Jesus’ followers were not waiting faithfully.
Peter knew from personal experience what it was like to look into the eyes of Jesus after having failed to wait faithfully. He did not want his brothers and sisters to have to experience that painful shame. In this part of his letter he writes to defend one of the foundations of the faith. His defence is in two parts.
The first part of the defence is to state that the belief that Jesus will return in glory was not concocted by people. This belief was based on eye witness accounts of things that actually happened. Peter, and others, had seen Jesus in some of His glory when he was transfigured on the mountain, an eye witness account given in more detail in the gospel reading. Peter doesn’t give all the details here, so it seems to me that the details he does give are probably important for his argument. The first detail is the one that I’ve already mentioned. Jesus, the ordinary man from Nazareth was seen in his glorious majesty. It was so awesome that the disciples ended up on their faces. Peter has had a glimpse of what Jesus in glory looks like and so is convinced that Jesus in his ultimately victorious glory, when He returns to earth will be overwhelming. The second detail is the voice of God, speaking love and approval for Jesus, the Son. This voice gives weight to the claims that Jesus made about himself. Basically Peter is saying, “I saw Jesus looking so kingly that I fell on my face, and I heard God saying that Jesus was the beloved Son. So when Jesus said he was going to return in glory, I believe him and I know something about what it will be like. What he promised has been underwritten by God, and, believe me, you do not want to take this lightly.”
The second part of Peter’s defence is to do with the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus, and especially about the prophecies that deal with the end of time when God will judge the earth. Peter is convinced that these apply to Jesus. He is convinced because he has seen the prophecies that have already been fulfilled in Jesus’ life and because he has experienced for himself the power of the Holy Spirit, who gave those prophecies. At Pentecost, Peter received the Holy Spirit in the way that had been promised him by Jesus. On the mountain God the Father spoke in a way which supported Jesus’ promises. Through the prophets God the Holy Spirit spoke in a way which supported Jesus’ promises.
In Peter’s experiences, God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit have spoken to say that Jesus will return as King and judge.
That’s all very well for Peter and maybe even for his original readers, but what about us? Where does that leave us? We have to decide. Do we believe that Jesus is going to return? It’s a big question. We’ve been waiting for 2,000 years. Is he going to return?
Do you actually believe that Jesus is going to return to judge the living and the dead? And if we decide that we do believe it, what difference does it make to our day to day life and the decisions that we make about how we live our lives, treat our neighbours, speak to our families?
It seems to me that we do have the evidence that Peter offers, but we actually have more evidence, if we look for it. Peter points us towards the lamps in dark places that are a foretaste of the sun, rising in all its glory at dawn. The glimmers in the dark are an indication that light is possible and that the dawn will come. I do know that sometimes it can be difficult to see them, especially when you feel like you are getting battered. But it seems to me that it is at those times that we need to look for them hardest.
I believe that it is part of the gift of the Holy Spirit that draws our eyes to those lamps. The Holy Spirit hasn’t stopped speaking. The Holy Spirit waits with us for Jesus to return. And that is not just a passive, keeping company, kind of waiting with us. It is an active, encouraging, empowering, convicting, waiting with us.
It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to live in a way that waits faithfully. And what does this faithful waiting look like? Elsewhere in his letter Peter gives us some examples of what he would expect to see in the lives of those who live in the active expectation of the return of Jesus.
2 Peter 3:11 – Leading lives of holiness and godliness
1 Peter 1:13 – discipline yourselves
2 Peter 3:14- strive to be found by him at peace
1 Peter 1:22 – love one another deeply from the heart
1 Peter 2:1 – rid yourselves of all malice, guile, insincerity, envy and slander
1 Peter 4:9 – be hospitable to one another without complaining
These are the qualities and ways of living that Jesus calls us to, so that when he returns to judge us we may not be ashamed. I mean, if Jesus were to return now, what would His judgement of us reveal? We know that in him we have been saved from the death that would otherwise be the ultimate consequence of our sin, but we will face the judge, who will look us in the eye and know us to the depths of our souls.
The great thing is that we do not actually need to wait to know the answer to that question. This is because one of things that the Holy Spirit does is to show us now where we are failing to live in the light of the dawn of Christ.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit does that through a feeling of conviction in our hearts and minds. We become aware that we have acted badly in a situation, spoken ill of somebody or are harbouring a grudge. We then have to do the hard work of repenting of that sin, of turning from it and choosing not to do those things any more. We may have to speak to somebody and ask their forgiveness.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit prompts that feeling by someone pointing it out to us. That can be very difficult to take. How do we feel when someone comes to us and says to us that something that we are doing, or our way of behaving, is unhelpful or unwelcoming? Is our first reaction to deny it, to defend ourselves, to be angry back? Or do we listen with humility and examine ourselves with the help of the Holy Spirit to discover the truth?
However it comes to us, the conviction of sin now is a really precious gift. It is to be valued very highly. This gift enables us to go to Jesus now and receive forgiveness for it. Then it need never be considered again, either by us or by God.
Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. Peter speaks to us as someone who knows what it was like to fail to wait faithfully and then to have to look the King of glory, his friend and brother in the eyes. In the light of that experience he encourages us to live in a way that will not make us ashamed when we come face to face with our Lord. Amen.