SAINTS AND SCOFFERS
Notes of a sermon preached by Paul G. Watts at Rehoboth Chapel, Coventry, on February 14, 1993.
“Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts. And saying. Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men. But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; hut is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness. Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” 2 Peter 3.3-12.
There arc two kinds of people in this passage – saints and scoffers:
and whether a person is a saint or a scoffer becomes apparent in terms of the attitude shown to a great event – the Day of the Lord.
Saints have a special attitude towards that day. They not only believe it will happen, they actually look for it. They hope it will come speedily. They live differently as a result of this expectation. Their “conversation” (v.l1), or way of life, is one which reflects a realistic appraisal of the future.
Scoffers, however, treat this coming Day of the Lord lightly. In Noah’s day the majority mocked the idea of a flood. Today most people deride the teaching of the Bible about the end of the world. Ultimately all who are not saints are scoffers. Anyone who goes on living as if the world is going on for ever, as if the Lord Jesus Christ is not coming again is a scoffer. We may say we believe these things but it is a mockery unless we prepare for the coming Day of the Lord, unless our lives reflect what we say we believe. One of the features of the last days, we are told, is that scoffing will come out into the open. People will be brazen about it.
Perhaps you hesitate over the description “saint”: yet it is the Biblical term for all real Christians. Peter writes to the saints very affectionately. Four times in this chapter alone he calls them “beloved”. Peter knew that the saints needed to be stirred up: “I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance” (2 Pet. 3.1). We need to be reminded of the Day of the Lord, of the Second Coming of Christ. It has been said that saints need reminding of old truth more than they need to be taught new lessons. How easily we forget! How easily we forget that all these
present things will be dissolved. They will all melt away. They will be burned up. What manner of persons ought we to be?
One of the characteristic words of this passage is “ignorance” (vv. 5,8,16). The scoffers are willingly, or wilfully ignorant. “Everybody is ignorant”, it has been said “only on different subjects”. How disastrous, though, to be ignorant on THIS subject. I shall concentrate on three things, in connection with this subject of the dissolution of all things, of which scoffers are ignorant. Saints are not ignorant in the same way but often exhibit a dangerous forgetfulness.
1. POINTERS – God has given us unmistakable pointers to the second coming of Jesus and the end of the world. These verses speak of the judgment of the world by a great conflagration, catastrophe (v. 7). Now the scoffers argue that ever since the creation of the world things have just carried on. “Where is the promise of his coming?”, they ask, “… all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (v. 4) They demand evidence. To them the universe appears stable enough. Life goes on as usual. And yet there is evidence: the Bible gives us pointers. Two are mentioned in this chapter:
(i) Creation itself is a pointer – The very word creation suggests the sovereign, powerful act of the living God. It is plainly not logical to believe that God is capable of creating the world by the word of His power but not of destroying it equally suddenly by the same word, by the same power. God is the Creator and the Sustainer of the universe. He also will destroy this present order. “The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (v. 10).
(ii) Noah’s Flood is a pointer – God has already shown, in history, how by catastrophe a whole world was judged and destroyed. God has the power in a moment to break in. He has promised that He will not again destroy by water, but the Word of God tells us here that catastrophe will come to the world by fire. It is not surprising that the scoffers of our age have poured scorn especially on the book of Genesis. The Biblical accounts of the Creation and the Flood have come under repeated and prolonged attack. Such accounts are too threatening for those who want to repudiate a Divine judgment.
In His ministry the Lord Jesus also spoke repeatedly of His Second coming and the end of the world. He, too, referred to pointers – wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, famines, false Christs, false prophets, trouble, betrayal. “When you see these things begin to come to pass”, He said, “look up for your redemption draweth nigh”. The Apostle Paul warns us also: “. . . in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud,
blasphemers . . .” Yes, there is plenty of evidence that what the Bible says is true.
2. POWER – Scoffers always underestimate the power of God and
the power of the Word of God (verses 5,7); the power of the “voice which rolls the stars along”, the power to judge and condemn ungodly men, the power to dissolve “all these things” (v. 11) God exists beyond time. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”. What man regards as a long time, a millennium, is like a mere day in God’s reckoning. God sees the end from the beginning. When God’s time comes it will be like a thief in the night -sudden, unexpected, devastating, disastrous to the unprepared. If there was one thing that you could rescue from your house if it was burning and all the people were safe, what would you take: a book, a photograph, a valuable piece of furniture, a diary, a computer disc? But every single item will be destroyed on “that day”. There will be a great noise, a crackling roar: like a forest fire, like a train rushing through a station. Analogies fail. It will be something totally outside our present experience: yet the event itself utterly real, momentous. It will not be an accident but it will be by the Word of the Lord. He has the power to destroy the heavens and the earth and the elements. He has the power to create new heavens and a new earth.
3. PATIENCE – Scoffers are ignorant of the patience of God, ignorant of His love. His compassion. God is longsuffering. His compassion is still alive even after great provocation, even after a long period. His mercy is lengthened out. This same longsuffering was shown in the days before the flood. In his first epistle Peter says that “the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah” (1 Peter 3.20). Yes, time is opportunity. God stretches out His arm. He is not willing that any should perish. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He gives time. The gospel is preached. The door stands open. It is open to scoffers. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Scoffers wilfully remain ignorant of these things, but saints know them, and need to be reminded of them. They are comforted by them. They hold on their way because of them. The word of God, and especially what Peter says in verses 8 and 9, counters their tendency towards apathy and spiritual lethargy: and verse 10 counters any tendency to idle speculation or curiosity. The purpose of the doctrine of the second coming of Christ is to stir us up so that “when he shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2.28).
Most people believe that the universe is going nowhere; that it has no ultimate destiny or underlying purpose. But if only people knew! If only they knew that all these things will be dissolved, that we are moving on inexorably towards the dissolution of all things, what different people they would be, what different lives they would lead! And the saints, how unashamed to be different we ought to be, how unashamed to live as strangers and pilgrims in this world in all holy conversation and godliness. Christians do not deliberately cultivate difference. They do not strive to be odd. But different expectations and different knowledge bring about a different lifestyle, different ambitions and priorities. This difference speaks, and under the blessing of God it also attracts those who are genuinely seeking truth, and to be right with God. What a tragedy, though, if the saints have forgotten, if they have stopped “looking for such things”, if they are living as if everything here were permanent! “If the salt have lost his savour wherewith shall it be salted?”
Where do you stand in relation to “the day of the Lord”? Are you a saint or a scoffer? Whichever it is it will show by the sort of person you are and the sort of life you live.