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Thursday, November 7, 2019

2 Peter, Day 15: 2 Peter 3:15-18 - How Should We Respond to Those Who Twist the Scriptures?

How Should We Respond to Those Who Twist the Scriptures?
2 Peter, Day 15




And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 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 Scriptures. 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. 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 3:15-18, ESV

2 Peter ends with one of the most remarkable verses in the New Testament. In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter refers to the letters of Paul as Scripture, on the same level with "the other Scriptures," most likely a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, but possibly also including the Gospels. It is remarkable for one living Apostle to refer to the letters of another living Apostle - his contemporary - as Scripture. It is a strong affirmation of the truth that the books of the Scripture were almost immediately recognized by the church as the Word of God.

What we really glean from this final passage of 2 Peter, though, is not just an affirmation that the letters of Paul were recognized as Scripture. We can see how Peter handles those who twist the Scripture and how we should respond to them ourselves. Sadly, people have always been eager to twist the Scriptures to their own destruction.

As I write this final devotional in 2 Peter, recent news reported fundraising appeals by Paula White in which she claims "apostolic and prophetic authority" to ask people to give $3,600 to her ministry. To support her appeal, she refers to Old Testament animal sacrifices. For her to claim to be an apostle or a prophet or to use these Old Testament texts to support her high-pressure fundraising tactics is just wrong. It is twisted and self-serving and ugly. But things like this are done all the time by professing Christians all around the world. [More about Paula White]

So, how should we respond to such people? Simply by doing two things:

1. Expose them for what they are. Peter calls them "ignorant and unstable."
2. Have nothing whatsoever to do with them. As Peter says, "take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability."

Instead of following after these kinds of people, we are called to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." We are to focus on Christ, on His word, and on His Gospel, for He and He alone is our salvation. 

That's the wonderfully refreshing truth woven throughout 2 Peter. Do you remember how Peter had begun this letter? "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." (1:1-2)

Notice how Peter is relentlessly Christ-centered and how his focus is strongly on the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. That's what we all need to focus on, instead of the nonsense of Scripture-twisting false teachers. We need the grace of Jesus to grow in our knowledge of Jesus. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

2 Peter, Day 14: 2 Peter 3:11-14 - How Should We Live as We Wait for Jesus?

How Should We Live as We Wait for Jesus?
2 Peter, Day 14 




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 heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
- 2 Peter 3:11-14, ESV

So, now what? We know Jesus is coming again. We know He is patiently waiting for all His beloved chosen ones to enter His kingdom. We know that when He comes all passing pleasures and temporary things of this world will come to an end, and all things will be made new. So, how should we live until then?

To put it simply: We need to live as beloved chosen ones who do not belong to this fallen and doomed age but who do belong to the glorious age to come and to the King whose coming will usher in that age. We need to live as God's holy people, set apart by Him and for Him. We should seek to advance His kingdom and not our own, and we should be looking forward to His glory and not our own.

What does that mean? Well, we live in a world where everyone is taught to look out for Number One - and, of course, we're all taught to think of ourselves as Number One. We should look out for Number One. That just makes sense. The craziness in our world is the tendency to think of ourselves as Number One, when we're not. Only King Jesus is Number One.

In the world's way of functioning, you can only really desire three things: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17) Those three basic items are the only things on the menu: satisfy your appetites (food, sex, rest, recreation, adrenaline rushes, etc.), acquire possessions and power, or achieve greatness in some way. You can pick one, two, or three of those things, but that's all. Even those who seem very committed to doing good and making the world a better place are most often motivated by pride. 

But why would we want to live to satisfy appetites that are never satisfied and that will pass away? Why would we want to work hard to accumulate a bunch of stuff that's going to burn up? Why would we want to seek to make our name great when it's His name that is the name above all names? 

One of my struggles on Thanksgiving Day is waiting for the main meal and not spoiling it by eating a bunch of junk all day. If we belong to Jesus, we have a feast coming which nothing in this world can touch. We have a new heavens and earth to enjoy forever which will put everything in this passing world to shame. Let's not ruin our appetite for the world to come by over-valuing and over-indulging in this temporary one. 

Friday, November 1, 2019

2 Peter, Day 13: 2 Peter 3:10-11 - What Will It Be Like When Jesus Comes Again?

What Will It Be Like When Jesus Comes Again?
2 Peter, Day 13




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.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness.
- 2 Peter 3:10-11, ESV

When I was growing up, I loved taking family road trips, just like my own kids love taking them now. I remember eagerly wanting to know three things: where we were going, how long it would take to get there, and what it would be like once we got there.

All creation is headed for a destination on our journey through time and space. This destination is the Day of the Lord, the ushering in of the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. This new creation was inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus, the firstborn from the dead, the first-fruits of the new creation. The full arrival of the new creation - our ultimate destination - will come when Jesus comes again. 

We have learned that Jesus is coming again and that He is waiting to return until the full number of His elect exiles are redeemed into His kingdom. But what will it be like when Jesus returns?

First of all, His coming will be completely unexpected: "the day of the Lord will come like a thief." Many people over the years have made bold and confident and completely incorrect predictions about when Jesus would come again. When He comes, He will take the whole world by surprise.

The day of the Lord will also bring destruction and exposure. This present world is passing away. Like our mortal bodies, which perish and die, so this present world is a mortal world, which will perish and die. This should teach us not to put our hopes in the temporary, passing pleasures of this world. 

The day of the Lord will expose the true spiritual character of everyone and everything. The enemies of God will have their evil natures exposed. The redeemed children of God will have their glorious new natures in Christ revealed, too. All of our works will be tested by fire and burned up, the worldly and rebellious destroyed and the God-honoring refined and made to shine. 

A chunk of gold or silver dug up from the earth may not look much different from an ordinary rock, but the trial by fire makes the one more glorious and destroys the other. That's exactly what Peter teaches us to expect when Jesus returns. Shouldn't this motivate us to seek to have more gold and less garbage in our lives? 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

2 Peter, Day 12: 2 Peter 3:8-10 - Why Has Jesus Waited So Long to Return?

Why Has Jesus Waited So Long to Return?
2 Peter, Day 12




But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 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.
- 2 Peter 3:8-10, ESV

My wife, Beth, and I met during her freshman year of college. Our first date was on her 18th birthday. It didn't take too long for us to realize two things: We wanted to get married, and we would have to wait until after she graduated to do so. Waiting is hard, and for us to wait three-and-a-half years to become husband and wife felt like an eternity at times. Looking back, after more than 21 years of marriage, it's easy to see it was worth the wait. 

The church has been waiting for the return of her Lord and Savior for almost 2,000 years. We saw last time that He is indeed coming again, but why has it taken so long? 

Even in the first century, when Peter wrote this letter, Christians felt like they had been waiting for Jesus' return for a long time. They wanted to know when He was coming back for them and why He was being so slow in keeping His promises. After all, Jesus had said all along that He would come back soon. 

The first thing Peter tells us is to remember that God's concept of time is different from ours: "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." God is not bound by time as we are; He is eternal. So, of course, His perspective on time is different from ours. As Aslan said in Narnia, "I call all times 'soon'." 

Then, Peter reminds us of the reason for the delay of Christ's return: God is being patient so that all of His people will be saved. Some take 2 Peter 3:9 as a statement that God intends to save everyone in the world, but Peter says God "is patient toward you." Who is the "you"? If we go back to the beginning of the letter, we'll see it is God's elect exiles, God's chosen ones living in this fallen world. 

Every believer alive today should be so thankful that God is so patient and that Jesus has waited so long to return. Just think what would have happened if Jesus had come back in the first century. None of us would exist, and so we would not be saved and be with the Lord forever. We would never have been born, much less born again! So, speaking personally, I am thankful for the patience of the Lord and the "slowness" of His coming.

God is going to wait until all of His chosen ones have been born into this world and then born again into His eternal kingdom. Once the number of the redeemed is complete, then Jesus will come again. When will that be? Only God knows, and He says it will be soon!   

Monday, October 28, 2019

2 Peter, Day 11: 2 Peter 3:1-7 - Will Jesus Really Come Back?

Will Jesus Really Come Back?

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 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.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
- 2 Peter 3:1-7, ESV

Let's face it: Much of what we believe as Christians is totally nonsensical to the world around us. This forces us to decide, on a nearly daily basis, who we will believe, our God or the world that rejects Him and His truth. One of the areas where this dividing line between God and the world is very clear is the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. If you tell certain people that you believe Jesus is coming again to judge the world and usher in the new heavens and the new earth, they're liable to look at you like you're talking about little green men from Mars coming to earth to destroy us. In fact, in their mind, they might think a Martian invasion to be the more likely scenario. 

So, is Jesus really coming again? Peter encourages us - he stirs us up by way of reminder - to remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the words of our Lord Jesus Himself, passed on through His apostles: Yes, Jesus is definitely coming again! The prophets of old foretold both Jesus' first coming and His second coming. Some of the most beautiful and powerful pictures of the Second Coming of Jesus are in the psalms, including Psalms 2, 24, 72, and 98. These psalms celebrate the worldwide reign of King Jesus over the nations, His glory covering all the earth.

When Jesus was here, He Himself was even more clear about His Second Coming. Some of the longest and clearest teachings of Jesus about His Second Coming are in Matthew 24:3-25:46, Mark 13:24-37Luke 12:35-48. Altogether, we could turn to dozens of passages of Scripture that either explicitly or implicitly teach that Jesus is indeed coming again to judge and to reign forever. 

The clarity of Scripture does not keep people from scoffing and ridiculing Christians for their hope, however. Peter says that, when they do so, they are deliberately forgetting that God created everything by His powerful word and that He certainly has the power and right to bring all of His creation into judgment. God never breaks His promise, and His word is powerful indeed. 

It's a helpful reminder to us that whenever people ridicule some aspect of the Christian faith, it's not really just that particular truth they find ridiculous. No, they deliberately reject and deny just about everything God has revealed. Their problem is much greater than a few teachings they think are far-fetched. They deny God the Creator and His powerful, unfailing word. 

Of course, people have good reason for wanting to deny, forget, or suppress the truth about God. Knowing God is real, that He has created everything, and that He will judge everyone is something unbelievers desperately want to believe is not and cannot be true. After all, the day of Jesus' coming is "the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly." But for us who long for His Coming, this day will be the fulfillment of all of our hopes and our full and final salvation. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

2 Peter, Day 10: 2 Peter 2:17-22 - What's the Danger of False Teachers?

What's the Danger of False Teachers?
2 Peter, Day 10


These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.”
- 2 Peter 2:17-22, ESV

We had an old beagle for a short period of time before he died. He was the sweetest dog, but having him in our home gave us opportunity to witness first-hand the proverb quoted in verse 22: "The dog returns to its own vomit." It's a very vivid proverb, and Peter here is applying it to false teachers who teach believers to live sinful, sensual, foolish lives. 

What exactly does Peter mean by using this proverb to refer to these false teachers? Peter has been strongly condemning these false teachers throughout this chapter. Earlier, in verse 10, he had told us that they "indulge in the lust of defiling passion."  Our modern American culture is not the first to be obsessed with sexual immorality. The ancient Roman Empire was awash in sexual debauchery, much of it associated with the worship of goddesses, whose temples were really houses of prostitution.

God had redeemed His people out of this lifestyle of sexual immorality and idolatry. Now, false teachers coming into the church were threatening to enslave God's people once again, as Peter said: "They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption."

For a Christian to be freed from bondage to sin and death and then to willfully return to that bondage is like a dog returning to its vomit or the sow, after washing, returning to wallow in the muck and the mire. It is like a slave being set free from the chains of his bondage then choosing to willingly strap the shackles on his feet again. 

Peter was addressing one form of false teaching, those who "entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error." But other false teachers follow a similar pattern of returning God's people to the conditions they were in before God rescued them:

Before we were saved by Christ, we were held in the bondage of materialism, foolishly believing that our lives consisted in the abundance of our possessions. "He who dies with the most toys, wins." Christ redeemed us from that and set us free to live for His kingdom and glory instead. Yet Prosperity Gospel preachers would put God's people back into the chains of materialism, this time with a spiritual twist: The abundance of your possessions not only is the measure of your life, but it is also the measure of the strength of your faith.    

Christ also redeemed us from the curse of the law, setting us free from a legalistic system of morality that would have us believe that we needed to earn God's favor by keeping His Law, or that we could justify ourselves by our own obedience. Most non-Christians and many nominal Christians believe they will get to heaven because they are "good people," people who generally do the right thing. Christ frees us from the trap of this kind of foolish thinking. Yet legalistic false teachers would have people believe they must measure up and be good enough for God, teaching that God will bless us only as we obey Him and curse us whenever we disobey.

Of course, we should obey God. Wanton sinfulness and open rebellion against God's moral law has no place in the life of a believer. But we obey because we've been saved by grace and richly blessed by God. God's grace empowers us to be able to obey; it is not a reward we receive for our obedience.

False teachers who seek to return God's people to the bondage of sexual immorality or materialism or legalism have plagued the church from the very beginning. Yet they should beware. Peter says, "For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved." These are serious words of warning from the apostle, and we would all do well to heed them. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

2 Peter, Day 9: 2 Peter 2:10-16 - What's More Important, Truth or Niceness?

What's More Important, Truth or Niceness? 

"especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.

Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness."
- 2 Peter 2:10-16, ESV

Last time, we considered how the wrath of God has fallen out of fashion in the church, and what a shame this is, because this is such an important doctrine. Doctrine has an impact on life, and Paul told Timothy, "Keep a close watch on yourself [or, "your life"] and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers." (1 Timothy 4:16, ESV) Paul knew these two issues - our lifestyle and our doctrine - are intertwined. 

As the wrath of God has fallen out of fashion in the contemporary church, a shift has happened in our values, too. We have de-emphasized the importance of truthfulness and plain honesty and have instead emphasized the importance of being nice. So, instead of telling people plainly what we believe and why, we tend to dance around the issue, trying to be as nice as possible and not offend the other person. 

I'm convinced that both of these changes - in doctrine and in life - have been made because of mounting anti-Christian cultural pressure. Our culture has been calling us narrow-minded, hateful, intolerant bigots in an effort to silence our proclamation of the moral law of God and our witness to the truth of the Gospel. And we have largely caved to the pressure. Now, we think the Christian way to treat anyone with whom we disagree is with loving acceptance and niceness.

Have we forgotten that our Lord Jesus Christ turned over the tables of the money-changers and drove the animal sellers out of the Temple with a whip? Have we forgotten that He called the scribes and Pharisees "white-washed tombs" and "children of the devil"? 

Because we have exalted niceness to the highest place of honor among the Christian virtues, passages like 2 Peter 2 make us very uncomfortable. We honestly wish these harsh words weren't in the Bible. Couldn't Peter have been nicer to these men with whom he disagreed? No, he couldn't. And why not? Because he didn't view these false teachers as people with whom he had a sincere disagreement. No, he saw them for what they were: a grave spiritual threat to the people of God.    

These false teachers were those who "indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority." They were bold blasphemers. They had "eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin" and "hearts trained in greed." To be clear: This was not some in-house debate between sincere Christians of good will over issues like baptism and spiritual gifts and varying models of church government. No, these false teachers looked at the church as a ripe field for sexual immorality and financial exploitation. They were after sex and money, not the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some people certainly do run to the opposite extreme and attack everyone who disagrees with them with equal intensity. Knowing when to be kind and gentle and when to sound the alarm is a matter of knowing the difference between a friendly family debate and an attack by the enemy on Christ's church. 

If I'm debating a Baptist about the mode and subjects of baptism, I need to be kind and respectful and gentle, for I am dealing with a sincere brother who loves the Lord. But if people come around teaching the Prosperity Gospel and also pushing ideas like "free love," then I need to be bold and clear and urgent in warning the church against them. Similarly on doctrinal issues: If you think the church should have bishops and archbishops who sit above local elders, we can have an energetic and yet friendly debate, but if you deny the deity or humanity of Christ, you stand condemned, and I must warn all Christians not to pay attention to your teaching, for it violates the essence of the Gospel. 

Some people might respond to all of this by saying, "I thought the most important thing was just to love God and love others."  And of course, that's right. But loving God means loving all of His truth, and loving others means loving them enough to tell them the truth clearly. May God grant us true love for Him, His truth, His church, and our neighbors.