2 Peter 3: remember Jesus

The last part of 2 Peter reminds us to think wholesomely, remember the words of the prophets and to anticipate the last days. It then goes on to describe the end of days. They seem awesome and terrifying at the same time, but Peter reminds us that our gaze will be on the arrival of God’s promises: the new heaven and the new earth.

We are to remember the prophet’s commands and the words of Jesus. This means, I expect, that we need to know them well and probably try to remember them. This will help us be blameless and spotless on the day of judgement. It may be that the day of judgement does not come in my time, but I need to remember that patience equals salvation. There’s a lovely verse: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (v. 9) Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone goes to heaven and it’s like the handouts at the Oprah Winfrey Show. It just means that God’s heart is leans toward salvation not toward condemnation.

Peter warns that we need to be on our guard so that we don’t fall away. This probably is in the context of the previous chapter. And how do we go about doing this? We grow in grace and our knowledge of Jesus Christ. I think this takes us back to the very beginning of the letter, remembering that God has given all that we need. We need to be living according to the promises of God’s salvation and learn more about Jesus. This is also linked to the statement to remember the words of Jesus. By doing this, and daily reminding ourselves of them, we are able to know Jesus more and more.

We need to be reading our Bible and just seeking a deeper knowledge of Jesus in everything we learn.

Hear, Believe, Go

Sometimes, it’s easy to wonder why I do what I do? Why become a missionary? There are lots of theological reasons and positions on the matter (Is it for some? Is it for everyone? Is it for no one?) and mine is probably not particularly refined. This post is also a tiny part of my own reason for going on mission, however, it is one If you do want a theological discussion on what is mission, this post isn’t it.

If you asked me ten years ago whether I would become a missionary, the answer would have been no. If you said it would be to Asia, I probably would have been even more firmly adamant. However, here I am.

One Bible passage that is often used is this one.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Romans 10:14-15

There are billions of people that have not even heard the about Jesus, so have no chance to believe. They will never hear that Jesus can save them and therefore will not be able to call on him for rescue. We know that they have no access to the gospel; we know their situation. We know the importance of our message.

I don’t know what the day of judgment will look like. But imagine if we had to listen to the accounts of the people that had never heard the gospel. What would they say? “They heard but did not speak. They believed but did not proclaim. They knew but they did not come.”

James 5

The last chapter of James starts off with strong condemnation against the rich. It tells of their fate on the day of judgement (namely, much weeping and wailing). They have not helped the poor, they have been selfish, they have failed to act justly. Therefore, they are condemned and their corruption will destroy them. The imagery is graphic and striking. There can be no mistaking it: James does not think highly of rich people, especially those who exploit, demean or reject the poor.

Of course, once again, it makes me look to Western culture and society. How much of our values are about accruing wealth without thought of who it affects. This can be from our throw-away culture, with cheap clothes and plastics, that usually mean sweatshops and environmental damage. Or the selfishness of the banks, the business and the political leaders.

There’s an allusion to Jesus’ words in Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This verse concerns me. How many of us actually take these words seriously? How many of us give abundantly generously to the poor and are willing to sell what we have to do it? Would I be willing to sell my laptop or my motorbike or my furniture in order to give the money to the poor? Or am I more concerned about accumulating items that provide fleeting comfort or simply look nice?

We might think, “Oh, I already tithe, I give regularly to charity, I give my 10%” But Jesus’ words would have been addressed to his fellow Jews. They were already giving money and offerings to the temples and giving tax to the Roman Empire. Around 1-2 thirds of their income would have gone this way. Now Jesus is asking them to give more. So, this is a challenge to us. I look around and I see so much stuff. Clutter and books and papers and exercise equipment I hardly use and decorative things that have no actual real function. I’m not sure this is the life that I am called for and I’m pretty sure something needs to change.

The next passage reminds us again of the importance of patience, especially in suffering. Then it discusses the importance of prayer, rejoicing and confession. Finally, James ends with thoughts about leading those who have gone astray back to righteousness.

Reflection

  • How do we live so we pursue justice for the poor?
  • What should our attitude towards money be?
  • How generous is enough?
  • Should we really sell all our things and give to the poor?

Amos 6

There seems to be two themes in this chapter: pride and complacency. We see that the people of Israel are enjoying life. The drink wine, have beautifully furnished homes, eat delicious food, listen to music, relax and have fun. It all seems great.

But this wealth and status has made them arrogant. They look down on the poor; they have stopped caring about them. It also means they’ve forgotten about God and his desires. Their worldly gain has been their spiritual loss. It’s stopped them doing what is right and good.

And the result we be destruction. The big mansions will be destroyed. Israel will be oppressed. The Lord detests their ways.

Amos 5

God calls the people of Israel to repentance. He tells them again and again “Seek me and live.” This is what we are to do. We too are sinners; like Israel we turn astray. Although our idols are not the gods of foreign nations, we have idols. But we are to seek God and live.

He is particularly condemnatory of those who “turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground”; “hate the one who upholds justice” and “detest the one who tells the truth”. Those who levy unfair taxes will see their wealth and homes destroyed. Those “who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” are to experience God’s wrath. Again, it feels like these accusations can be about many people we see today in the media, people in very influential positions.

It’s interesting what it says in verse 13. It says, “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times, for the times are evil.” It makes me wonder if this too is a moral judgment against the “prudent”. It seems a bit like cowardice here. It also makes me ask, “Are these evil times?”

Verse 14-15 set some ways to please God and live: seek good, love good, maintain justice and hate evil.

The end of Amos 5 is pretty famous. It mentions religious ceremonies. They are doing what is seen to be right. Here, perhaps, is the emphasise on the word seen. These offerings, festivals and assemblies are outward displays of righteousness. However, they are just window-dressing; they are glitter on a turd. You can still smell the stench, no matter how much you put on.

For it is the lack of justice, the oppression, the hatred of truth that is what angers God and is what needs to change.

And the more I read Amos, the more I feel it was written for now. For the times are evil.

Amos 4

Amos 4 continues to list Israel’s crimes. Oppression of the poor was given as a sin again, as well as gloating about offerings. God had already tried to warn them and bring hunger and crop failure and war on them. However, they still refused to return to the Lord.

It’s interesting as it’s easy to think of God as petty and vengeful towards the Israelites. They slighted him and now he’s punishing them to the extreme. But there’s things we should remember:

  • God deserves glory. He made the universe, he is all powerful, he is mighty and full of love. He deserves recognition.
  • The Israelites were treated with special favour, which they have rejected.
  • For God to be just, there needs to be a consequence for sin. Rejecting the one holy God is the biggest sin there is.

So in the light of these things, God is only seeking what is due to him and is only responding in the way a just, powerful God would.

Amos 3

Amos 3 speaks of God’s special relationship with the people of Israel. He has chosen them and they have rejected him. Therefore, they will be punished. This punishment is presented as a sure thing. This is done through a series of rhetorical questions that seem to state the obvious. Therefore, this retribution is just as obvious.

Verse 7 tells us that God uses his prophets to reveal his plans. This is so his people can know about it.

The plan is that the people of Israel will be overrun by its enemies and will be destroyed.

Amos uses some farming similes, that reflect his status. Israel will be like the remains of a lamb pulled from a lion’s mouth. There will only be scraps left.

At the end of the chapter you get an idea of Israel’s wealth. There are winter palaces and summer palaces and houses adorned with ivory. This isn’t a poor pitiful nation. They are rich and they are well off. And they have abandoned the Lord.

This, like Amos 2, is scary. Symbols of wealth are all around us: holiday homes, big houses, lavish decor. These thing are pointless if you do not follow the Lord; these things can’t save you and these things will be gone when judgment comes.

Amos 2

Amos 1 warns various countries surrounding Judah and Israel about their future. Moab gets the next warning in Amos 2. God will destroy Moab’s rulers.

Then God’s anger turns on his own people. Judah rejected the law of God; they worshipped idols. Again, Judah too will experience consuming fire.

Israel’s list of sins is quite extensive. They sell vulnerable people for gain; destroy the poor; fail to help the oppressed; they are involved in sexual scandals and the use of prostitutes; they use their power to make themselves rich. Those that should be honouring God the most – the prophets and the Nazirites – have all fallen into sin.

This list is somewhat terrifying. It’s not just because what they have done is wrong; it’s because the list is all too recognisable. There have never been as many slaves as there are today. People work in sweatshops for the profit of multinational business owners. London has become a hotbed of people-trafficking. Desperate refugees are used to make profits. The poor are being made poorer and the oppressed are still hindered through systematic, institutional and cultural prejudice and injustice. So many leaders and celebrities have been reveal to have been sexually immoral. People, even world leaders, abuse their power to get what they want. Churches are involved in such scandals nowadays it makes one weep.

Even “Christian” nations are full of these sins. They are the Israels of Amos’ times.

What does God tell them? He tells them he will crush them. It will be swift and no one will escape.

It’s a terrifying warning, especially as the picture looks so recognisable. It does make me wonder what might happen to the nations and the leaders of today.

Joel 3

This chapter concludes the book and ends with the judgment of the enemies of Israel and justice for God’s people.

All the nations seem to come together at the Lord’s command at the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat means “the Lord judges”, so therefore suggests that this about when everyone is finally judged at end times. God will judge the nations for what they did to Israel and his people.

God almost taunts the nations in this passage to come fight him. He tells them to bring everyone, even the weakest, to attack him in battle. And then he says that he will sit to judge them. He doesn’t even attack back, he just sits. Then he plucks them like a ripe harvest. It’s not the image of an epic battle; it’s a picture of God just harvesting them like crops. There’s no resistance, no power to fight back. He tramples them like grapes in the winepress.

The whole of heaven and earth will tremble at God’s judgment, but the people of Israel will find refuge in him.

At this, Jerusalem will never be threatened again. She will always be holy and blameless; full of wine and milk. The other nations will be desolate and empty, but Jerusalem and Judah will live forever.

I think this chapter just goes to prove the awesome judgment of God. His judgment is right and holy but also mighty and powerful. We often turn God into Santa Claus, who merely gives good things and if you’re really bad, you might get cross off the list. But that’s it. However, this chapter speaks of a God who is so powerful, he does not need to defend himself against all the nations. They’re a joke to him. He just destroys them like grapes underfoot.

Proverbs 9:10 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Joel 3 perhaps goes to show why.

Joel 2

Joel 2 discusses the judgment of the Lord coming on his people like an army. Its horror is far greater than the plague of locusts: it destroys crops, cities and even the sun, moon and stars.

So the Lord calls his people to repentance. This is not just an outwardly, superficial repentance, but an inward repentance. Verse 13 tells its readers “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” The Lord doesn’t want displays of repentance that mean nothing. He wants people to genuinely feel loss, as if their heart has been torn in two. Yes, there are outward signs, as verse 12 asks for “fasting and weeping and mourning”. But this, again, is meant to be genuine, as the Lord also asked that they “return to me with all your heart”. These acts were not trite and glib pretences. They were acts of humility: weeping because your heart has broken, mourning because your God has been wronged.

It’s currently the season of Lent, which is a time of introspection and repentance, so these verses are particularly timely. This repentance isn’t easy; in fact, it’s heart-breaking.

Of course, with Christ, we look to him and ask for him to save us. But often, I think we have the tendency to make it too easy. But our hearts should break. The one in whom all things were creator, the Son and Saviour, the most loved of the whole universe, died. He was tortured, humiliated and murdered. But more than this, his heart was rent as he took on the sin of all and was separated from his father. We should mourn his death with weeping and fasting. But then we should rejoice because on Easter day, he rose again.

And how does Joel 2 end? Not with our response but how the Lord responds to our repentance. First, those suffering from the famine will have their crops and lands restored. Then, God promises to pour out his Spirit on all people.

“And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.”

Joel 2:28-32

What a fantastic promise. That all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.