Sunday, April 02, 2006

Just Before I Go

If the Lord revealed to you that you had three days to live, what would you say to the people nearest to you? If you are not sure what you would say, you might look at how godly men in the Bible handled that situation.

Jacob prophesied about the future of each of his children. He used the time to either bless or rebuke each one according to how he had lived his life. Moses’ last words to the Israelites were prophetic as well. He warned them about their future apostasy and taught them a song that would remind them of the goodness of God. Joshua also had some good last words. He told the people that following the Lord was the choice for his family. But he reminded them that they would have to make their own choice.

Each of these men had a specific purpose behind their last words. With the limited time they had left, they wanted to say something that would make a difference in the lives of those they loved.

The apostle Peter was given a similar opportunity. As he wrote his second letter to the scattered believers of Asia Minor, he explained to them his reasoning for writing this one last time. He knew that he was about to die and he wanted one more opportunity to make an impact on the lives of these dear people.

For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you, knowing that shortly I must put off my tent, just as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. Moreover I will be careful to ensure that you always have a reminder of these things after my decease. — 2 Peter 1:12-15 NKJV
He recognized his accountability (12).

As an apostle, Peter had the great responsibility to spread the gospel to every creature and to oversee the churches which resulted from his preaching. Because of his sense of accountability...

He refused to be negligent.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says that negligence "implies inattention to one's duty or business." Peter felt a responsibility for these believers. He felt that if he did not prepare them for the dangers ahead, it would be his own fault if they fell.

This reminds me of Paul’s speech to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20:18-28. There, Paul spoke about his own example. He explained to these elders that he had faithfully proclaimed the Word of God to them and therefore had not been negligent. But he went on to say that they needed to take the responsibility of the flock now that he would never see them again.

Peter’s words to these believers are more concise. But it doesn’t take long to get the drift of his message. Peter refused to be negligent about the spiritual needs of these believers.

He reminded them in spite of their spiritual status.

We get the idea that these believers were doing well spiritually. Peter describes them as established in the truth. In other words, they were spiritually mature believers. But how did they get that way? Who had taught them? Had Peter been their teacher?

The first evidence of spiritual training is Peter’s first letter. You remember how he prepared them for the persecution they faced under Nero. But he did not limit his teaching there to persecution, he also covered a number of other helpful topics.

The second evidence that he had prepared them was the wealth of doctrinal truth with which he begins this second letter. He began by explaining what God had done (3-4) and then taught them what their responsibility was (5-11). The doctrines contained in the first few verses are wonderfully deep truths which are even difficult for mature believers to grasp. However, they were what Peter used to encourage these men and women.

But somehow I doubt that this was the limit of Peter’s contact with these people. From the record of the book of Acts, we find Peter traveling around and being used by God in the lives of many Jews and Gentiles. But when Paul comes on the scene, we don’t hear much more about Peter. What did he do after Acts One commentator says that Peter "is said to have been bishop of Jerusalem and bishop of Antioch before he moved to Rome. [But] little is known about his life after the events recorded in the New Testament."1 In any event, it is clear that Peter felt these believers’ spiritual condition was the result of some past action. The perfect tense of the words knowing and established reveal that in the original language.2 He considered them to be mature believers who already knew much about their salvation and new life in Christ. But why does he say that?

I think Peter wanted his readers to realize that those who are spiritually mature must not fall asleep spiritually. They must be continually striving in their Christian lives. He had just attempted to get this across by showing them their responsibility to add to their faith those essential qualities (5-11).

How about you? Are you striving daily to become more like Christ? Or have you become someone who is content with what you have attained? Though you know the truth and could be considered an established believer, could you also be considered spiritually lethargic?

He recognized that his time was limited (13-14).

As time goes on, each of us realizes the shortness of life. Some of you have gotten into the retirement years and are wondering what will become of the new generation. What will happen? Will they follow the Lord? Will the church keep going in a right direction? These are the thoughts that Peter had toward his beloved children in the faith.

He was about to die.

There should be little doubt what Peter was talking about in these verses. When he talks about his tabernacle, he is referring to his physical body. Peter, now an elderly man, knew that he was getting close to the time of his death. He would soon be leaving his body and joining the Lord in heaven. But how was he so sure of this? The Lord must have informed him about the time of his departure.

At the end of the gospel of John, the Lord prophesied about the way Peter would die (21:18-19). He said that in Peter's older years he would be dressed by someone else and taken where he did not want to go. Apparently, he was telling Peter that he would be imprisoned before his death. Several early historians say that Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome about the same time. Others say that Peter was crucified upside down.

"Eusebius also records this story, but says his source is from a church theologian named Origen (who wrote about AD 230): ‘Peter appears to have preached through Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia, to the Jews that were scattered abroad; who also, finally coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downward, having requested of himself to suffer in this way’ (Ecclesiastical History 3:1)."3
We cannot be certain how Peter died, but we are sure from these verses that the Lord had revealed to him that he was soon to die. This knowledge caused him to think through how he ought to use the last days of his life. What did he choose to do?

He wanted to stir them up.

Peter chose to use his remaining days wisely. He decided to stir up these believers. This was another way of saying, "Wake up!"4 Before he left his body for the joys of heaven, he wanted to be sure that these believers were awake to the dangers that lay ahead. If they had gone to sleep spiritually, they would be easy prey to false teaching.

At certain times during our lives, we slowly but steadily become spiritually lethargic. We begin to yawn at spiritual matters and ever so slowly, we set aside the things that used to bring us joy. Instead of looking forward to Bible Study, we put it off. Instead of speaking to the Lord and praying for others, we find other activities to take up our time. Soon, our love for God wanes and any hint of brotherly love slowly evaporates. As we fall asleep we are unaware of the dangerous choice we have made. With that in mind, it might not be a bad idea to re-examine our lives next to the characteristics mentioned in 2 Peter 1:5-11.

He wanted them to be ready for the future (15).

Peter uses some strong language here. He wanted to ensure that they would remember what he had taught them after he was gone. To do that he had prepared something that would constantly remind them. What was it that he was referring to?

His current letter would prepare them for the future.

In the rest of the letter, Peter instructs these believers of coming dangers. Note what the remaining three sections of this letter speak about:

• Differentiating truth from false teaching (1:16-2:3)
• The perils of wickedness (2:4-22)
• The coming of the Lord (3:1-18)

There is no doubt that Peter used this letter as a last chance to teach his people. He was very concerned about the coming days because he could already see evidence of a downward turn toward spiritual things.

The gospel of Mark would remind them of what he had taught them."Many people believe that Peter was referring to the young man, Mark. In the first letter, Peter mentioned that Mark was with him (1 Peter 5:13). Mark may have traveled with Peter during the last years of his life, and during this period Peter taught him about the Lord. It has been suggested that Peter was preparing Mark to write a biography of the Lord Jesus, which we now have in the gospel of Mark. Many have called it 'The Gospel of Mark according to Peter.' It is interesting that Mark includes facts about Peter which are not contained in other gospels." 5
Knowing that Mark spent some time with Peter makes this explanation sound reasonable. Unfortunately, Peter does not explain in detail what he meant in those verses. What we do know, however, is that Peter had an influence on Mark and that his letters have made an impact on Christians for the past 1900 years.

Conclusion:

Peter’s words can be summed up with three thoughts: accountability, limited time, and ready for the future.

Accountability

We who are pastors and elders are accountable for the spiritual well being of Bible Community Church (see Hebrews 13:17). While we cannot make choices for each of you, we must make every effort to help each member to become like Christ. But accountability is not just for those in leadership positions. We all have a responsibility to live a godly example in front of others. It may be that others are watching and following your example. Is it good or bad?

Limited Time

Unlike Peter, none of us knows the day that we will die. God does not reveal information like that to us. But we do know that our time on earth is short. And as it is easy to get lulled to asleep, we need to be careful to keep ourselves actively involved. Wake up and serve the Lord while there is still time.

Ready for the Future

These words were written to help those early believers to be ready for the future. But they are here for us as well. As we read them and live by them, we will be prepared for whatever challenges lie ahead.

__________


End Notes:

1. http://www2.evansville.edu/ecoleweb/glossary/peter.html

2. "The Greek perfect tense denotes the present state resultant upon a past action." Machen’s New Testament Greek for Beginners, 187.

3. http://www.new-life.net/faq800.htm

4. "The prep. in compound is perfective ‘to stir up or wake up thoroughly.’" Rienecker and Rogers, 771.

5. Barbierri, Jr., Louis A., First & Second Peter in Everyman’s Bible Commentary, (Chicago: Moody, 1993), 103.

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