McLaurin Memorial

Peter’s Last Words

MORNING MESSAGE: John Cline

2 Peter 1 – Reader:  Richard Wallman

If you knew your life was going to end soon, what thoughts would you like to share with others? Would you: Encourage your friends and family to be kind to each other? Write a blog about a cause you’re passionate about? Warn as many people as possible about potential threats to the world? In the end, it’s probably safe to say that you would convey your thoughts to those you love about the things you think are important.

When the apostle Peter wrote his second letter to the early church from a prison in Rome, a place you can still go to and see – it is very moving! – he knew that the Roman Emperor Nero was going to have him executed. His death sentence had been signed. Instead of being discouraged and writing a disheartening “woe is me” letter, though, Peter wrote to the Christians of what would today be Turkey, a group he had already written to in a first letter, Christians that he had a special bond with, instructing them to do and cling to certain things. Remember that those Christians were undergoing intense persecution for their faith. Peter was concerned that they might fall away from the faith as a result of simply being worn down by the ongoing, intense trials and persecution. In his first letter to them, he encouraged them to stay strong in the faith. Many commentators believe that his words in that letter to the elders, the overseers, the pastors of those churches were written because they were giving up and not wanting to lead anymore. Their families and loved ones were at risk but, really, so were all the Christians there as they underwent trials and persecution. As you may remember, they would flee to tunnels and caves to live in whenever the persecutors would show up. The world’s largest tunnel system is in that region and it was to the tunnels that the Christians would flee.

History tells us that Peter was crucified for his faith in 67 or 68 A.D., crucified upside down because he requested his executors to not crucify him upright, stating to them that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord Jesus. Just before he died, though, he wrote his last words, his final letter, the one preserved in the Bible as Second Peter. As we will hear in this three-part sermon series on it, Peter encouraged them – and, by extension, us – to be a “light shining in a dark place”; to trust in the promises of God to finish what He had started; to be ready for the Second Coming of Jesus; and, to strengthen their faith and become so mature and deep in their faith that they would be able to recognize false prophets and teachers and to reject their teachings while clinging to the truths that he, the apostle Paul, and the other writers and prophets of Scripture had written out for them. In chapter 3, Peter tells them to read Paul’s letters. And, he also says to read the prophets of the Old Testament. He wanted his people grounded and mature. In chapter 3, Peter wrote,

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles. (2 Peter 3:1b,2)

Peter wrote his two letters to those Christians in Turkey – and, to us today – to encourage his readers to “wholesome thinking”. What he means by that, we will soon see. Well, the verses we just heard read are found in chapter 3 but let’s now start our study of Peter’s second letter by turning to chapter 1, where Peter introduces himself thus:

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:1a)

Peter could have flaunted the fact that he was one of those apostles who spoke the words of Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, but instead he called himself first a “servant”, literally a “slave” of Jesus.

To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:1b,2)

These words, “grace and peace” were not just formulaic statements thrown out there casually and without thinking by Peter. No! They were his heart for the people. He wanted them to want grace and peace! They had to desire those things in order to experience them.

I remember one Christmas day my mom fixed a Christmas meal for us, her family: turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, corn, peas, broccoli (she loved her broccoli!), carrots, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and ice cream for dessert, and a whole bunch of other delicious food items. The aroma filled the house. We all knew that a delicious meal was waiting for us. However, I, a teenager, had filled up on junk food all through the day. Something great was awaiting me in mom’s meal, but I had lost my appetite for it. In settling for something that tasted good at the moment – that junk food – I had lost my appetite for the fantastic feast that was presented to me! Similarly, on a spiritual level, some Christians, it is evident, don’t have much of an appetite for the incredible spiritual food God has prepared for His people, because they have satisfied themselves with lesser things, with “food” so to speak that tastes good at the time but is not helpful in the long run. Peter wants his readers to experience God’s grace and peace but for that to happen, they must first want it.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3,4)
If a Christian wants to live a “godly life” and to have full “knowledge of God”, well, those things are possible. Peter describes how but it takes determination and effort and purposeful living on our part. You know, when we were first converted, we had faith put within us. But having “faith” that saves us does not, in and of itself, protect us from the “corruption in the world caused by evil desires”. We must get past the place of thinking that belief alone is good enough. No, there has to be more to keep strong in the faith.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)

Here, Peter lists seven things for us to “add to our faith”. In other words, being converted is a good first step but now we need to grow spiritually in order to be able to withstand the evil and corrupt things of this world. Remember, Peter was concerned with his original target audience that they would lose their faith due to the trials and pressures and persecution they were undergoing. He knew that they needed more than the “faith” that led them to conversion. To their faith, they – and we – were instructed to add:

  1. goodness or moral excellence. This doesn’t come automatically but as we decide to cling to it, or “add” it onto our belief in Jesus. 2. to goodness, add on knowledge. Once we believe in Jesus and begin to live for him in our morals and ethics then spiritual insight, and wisdom, and knowledge will come to us. 3. to knowledge, add on self-control. Once we have that knowledge, then we begin to understand the value of self-control and we add it into our life. Self-control becomes easier for us. 4. to self-control, we can then add on perseverance. We see its value. 5. to perseverance, we then come to understand and add on godliness, or, as Peter writes, to share in the “divine nature” as we live our lives. 6. to godliness, we then add on mutual affection, brother love, sisterly love. We truly care for one another. And, 7. to mutual affection, we finally add on love, that agape love, unconditional love that comes from knowing the Lord.

This is a process. It does not come automatically or grow in us naturally after we have come to faith in Jesus. It must be practiced. But we have a cheerleader as we do so. In the Olympic games, I enjoy watching the rowing races, particularly the 8’s. These big, strong men and women moving their boats through the water. But the most interesting person for me in the eight-person boats is the ninth person located at the front of the boats, the so-called “coxswain” (cocksun) who is the captain of the boat, the one who encourages the rowers on to victory. And who is it that gets thrown in the water in celebration after a victory? The coxswain, because the team recognizes their value. The coxswain shouts, “Forward! Forward! Forward! Harder! Harder! Harder! Faster! Faster! Faster! Press on! Advance! Go, go, go! Picture it! You have to want it!” The New Testament is filled with coxswains. There was Peter. Here was Paul cheering on his readers on to victory:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Similarly, the writer, the coxswain, of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote,

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1b,2a)

Peter, Paul, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews. They were all cheering on their readers to the finish line. Discipline and determination are needed on our part, for sure, but also listening to the coxswain of the team can propel the listeners on to victory.

For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (2 Peter 1:8-9)

Peter understood what was needed to take his readers to the victorious life. He wanted them to understand who they were, and whose they were: they belonged to the Lord Jesus who “called” them and “elected” them to live for him. Jesus is the ultimate coxswain.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10,11)

So, here’s the application: In addition to your faith in Jesus, that wonderful, saving belief that you had when you first came to him in conversion, are you making every effort to add moral excellence and goodness into your life? Are you making every effort to increase your knowledge of God’s character and his will, to add that into your everyday thinking? Are you making every effort to add in self-control? Patience? Godliness? Affection for your fellow believers? Agape, unconditional love for all, for other humans as well as for the Lord? If you are, then your “calling and election” will be evident to everyone, and you won’t be in danger of conforming to the “evil desires” and “corruption” that are so in play in this world. then encouraged his readers:

So, I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. (2 Peter 1:12-15)
The Lord had revealed that Peter’s death was imminent. He would soon be taken away from the “tent” that was his earthly body. But that was alright for Peter knew the glory of the Lord. He had seen it on the Mount of Transfiguration – an event described in three of the four Gospel books, in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. That was a historical event which the apostles Peter, James, and John eye witnessed.
For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. (2 Pet. 1:16-18)

Into that darkened world, the Lord’s glory was revealed. It shone bright. Likewise, Peter writes, the light of Jesus will shine in this world all the way until Jesus returns, a time of a new day dawning and the “morning star” – that’s Jesus – showing himself fully. That truth is the promise of God, revealed throughout scripture. The glory of Jesus will one day be seen by all. God’s promises are certain and to be clung to.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

We need to remember, though, that this final act of Jesus’ Second Coming will not be announced beforehand. There will be no time for last second conversions. People need to be ready now. Jesus said that he will not be announcing his return. Indeed, Jesus will be returning “like a thief in the night”. We will look more closely in chapter 3, where Peter really bears down in describing the Second Coming of Jesus. There, Peter quotes Jesus’ words, reminding his readers that,

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. (2 Peter 3:10a)

If you were like Peter, knowing that your death was imminent, what would your final, dying words be to your loved ones? Would you talk about purchasing new cars or clothes or going on fancy vacations or exploring far-away lands? I doubt it. I think your words would be more substantive than that. I know they would be. Well, today we have been reading Peter’s final words. He focused on Jesus, and on doing the things and clinging to the truths that would help his readers serve Jesus more effectively and fully. Let’s pray.

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