New Hope Fellowship Church (virtual service), Alexandria, VA, Dec. 6, 2020, Martin Shupack
But the Lord’s day will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a great rushing sound, the elements will be dissolved in fire, and the earth and all the works on it will be disclosed. Since everything is going to dissolve in this way, what sort of people should you be? You should live lives that are holy and godly, as you look for God’s day to appear, and indeed hurry it on its way – the day because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the elements will melt with heat. But we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth, in which justice will be at home. That is what God has promised. –2 Peter 3:10-13
This is the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the Christian calendar. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas in which we anticipate Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem 2000 years ago and also look forward to his coming again in great power and glory.
This passage in 2 Peter from the lectionary focuses on Jesus’ Second Coming to fully bring the new creation. Peter describes this glorious event as the appearance of a new heaven and new earth in which justice is at home.
So I thought we’d talk today about this grand finale of God’s plan of salvation. The ultimate goal toward which God is taking the world and what that means for our lives now. We often think of salvation in terms of our soul or spirit going to heaven when we die. But that is only a small part of what Scripture means by salvation. Today we’re going to look at the big picture. The glorious future that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has accomplished for us and for the world.
We get glimpses of this big picture of salvation in the Old Testament. The prophets point toward a time of great renewal, of a Messianic Era when God’s Kingdom will fully come to earth. You’re familiar I’m sure with some of these prophesies:
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the calf and the lion and yearling together; and a little child will lead them. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain.” The prophets envisioned a time when nature itself will be completely tamed. Animals will no longer prey on one another or be a danger to humans.
And humans will not be a danger to each other, but “they will beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning forks, and never again fight wars.” All people will be secure from violence and poverty. “Each person will sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one will make them afraid anymore.”
Even death will die. “God will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.” And best of all, “the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” These are some of the visions given to the prophets of a wonderful time of peace and plenty to come.
Then Jesus came. And the first Christians proclaimed that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection the promised Messianic Era had begun. Sins were forgiven, the sick were healed, the dead raised, the hungry fed, the wind and waves tamed, and God’s glorious presence, the Holy Spirit, was poured out. The Messianic Era had come truly – though not yet fully. It arrived in Jesus, but there is more to come. God’s Kingdom on earth will appear in fullness when Jesus returns in glory.
What does the New Testament tell us about God’s coming Kingdom. 2 Peter 3 says that there will be a new heaven and new earth. 1 Corinthians 15 says that we will receive resurrected, immortal bodies. Romans 8 says that not just human beings, but all creation will be liberated from slavery to decay and made free and glorious. Ephesians 1 says that all things in heaven and earth will be brought into unity under Jesus.
And the book of Revelations describes the marriage of heaven and earth, the complete uniting of God’s heavenly realm and our earthly realm as one place. This will fully answer the prayer that Jesus taught us, “your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth.”
These passages tell us that God’s plan of salvation is to bring about a renewed creation in which all sin and sickness and death are gone. God has made human beings to have bodies and to live in creation, not in a spirit world. I read an article recently that just spending some daily time outside among greenery and trees and blue sky improves our health, even if we don’t walk or jog or bike ride. We are made for creation. And our salvation is eternal life in a healed and renewed creation, not living as disembodied spirts in heaven. Heaven and earth will be united as one. And through Jesus we’ll be included in that wonderful future.
In view of this glorious destiny, how should we live now? Peter writes that we “ought to live holy and godly lives as we look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” How do we do that? How do we actively anticipate the new heaven and earth? The answer is that we learn to live as part of God’s new creation now.
When Diana and I were a young married couple we decided to take ballroom dance lessons. So we signed up for a course with the local park district. Once a week we went to the community center with other couples and learned various dances. We learned the classics like the waltz, fox trot and swing. The goal was that one day we’d finish the lessons and go dancing at an actual ballroom dance venue.
But first we had to learn the steps so we wouldn’t be out of place on the dance floor, but would fit right in. That’s how it is for disciples of Jesus, learners for God’s coming Kingdom. We are learning the steps now, learning to live as “new creation” people so that when the Kingdom of God arrives, we’ll fit in, we’ll be at home there.
For example, in the world’s future, Paul tells us, all things will be in unity in Jesus. All barriers of hostility that divide people in this world — war and racism and bigotry and hatred — will be gone. Because that is our future, we are learning now to live at peace with one another. To work hard at having right and just relationships. To reject violence. To not abuse others by our words and actions. To make every effort to heal any broken relationships. And to respect each other as equals as males and females and across lines of race, ethnicity and nationality. We are leaning to be peacemakers and to love one another
What else? Because creation itself will be freed from decay, we learn now to be good stewards of the earth and its environment, to not abuse the earth, but tend to its care and keeping.
In God’s coming Kingdom the poor will be lifted up and “the hungry filled with good things.” Therefore we are learning to share our resources now. Those who have gathered more than they need will share with those who have gathered less than they need, so that all will have enough, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8.
Ensuring that there is enough for all isn’t just a matter of compassion and mercy. Peter tells us that the renewed creation will be a place of justice. Jesus says in Luke 6 that those who are oppressed or mistreated in this world will be exalted in the world to come. So preparing for God’s Kingdom means to seek a more just world now. Those who are victims of violence or economic injustice or racism can stand up and speak out against their oppression, and others of us can join them. As the Black Church did during the civil rights movement and others have done before and since.
That’s what the Greek-speaking believers in the Jerusalem church did when their widows were being discriminated against in the food distribution. They spoke up, and those in charge made changes. That’s also what the Apostle Paul did when he was unjustly jailed and brought before a judge. He spoke up and claimed his legal rights as a Roman. We too will sometimes feel called to speak up for ourselves and others in the face of oppression and discrimination. To protest and seek change. By doing this we help prepare the world to be a place where justice will be at home.
Most wonderfully, in the age to come God’s presence will fill the earth and we will be in perfect fellowship with God. Because of that, we strive by God’s grace to be in tune with God now, to be closely aligned with God’s heart and will.
In all these ways and others we get ready now for life in the world to come, for the Day when heaven and earth will be one place. This is what it means to be Jesus’ disciples. It means to be learners now in the ways of God’s coming Kingdom. We aren’t perfect, we fall short and we need to confess our sins. But we’re learning. Discipleship isn’t a matter of trying to live this way by means of our own will power. Rather, being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are growing inside and out in the character of Christ and the expression of his love for God and others.
I want to close with a passage from a document entitled Joy and Peace, issued by
Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council in 1965, which expresses well what we’ve been talking about:
“We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart.
. . . the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.
. . . For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in God’s Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, fraternity and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and activity, we will find them again, but freed of stain, polished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father a kingdom eternal and universal, of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace. On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.”