Dealing With Scoffers

I have noticed an alarming trend today. Few people truly discuss issues and ideas any more. We have replaced healthy dialog and debate with sound bites and personal attacks. Since we make everything personal, it is hard to talk about things rationally. This is especially true in matters of faith. Rather than dig for truth, we are much more likely to scoff at (or mock) one who disagrees with us with a derisive laugh, a shake of the head (the “I can’t believe you can hold to something so foolish”), or a condescending comment. This is called “scoffing”.

This morning Peter warns us about scoffers. The particular scoffers Peter references are those who scoff or ridicule the idea of the Second Coming of Christ and the subsequent Judgment of Christ.

Before we look at this issue, notice the change in tone in the letter. Throughout chapter 2 you had the feeling that Peter might have been agitated. As he dictated the letter I imagine him pacing, face red, neck veins bulging and his voice raised. He was warning the believers of false teachers with a sense of great urgency and alarm. In chapter 3 Peter changed his tone. Perhaps he took a nap or had dinner between chapters two and three. His tone is much softer now.

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. 2 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.

Now Peter is writing less like a preacher in the pulpit and more like a friend sitting across the table from you.

Peter’s Purpose in Writing

In my attempts to write books I have discovered that one of the hardest parts of the writing process is to decide who you are writing to and for what purpose. Putting words on paper is time consuming, but it is easier than actually communicating (I have read (or started to read) a number of books that had lots of words but did not communicate.

Peter states specifically why he is writing. First, he wants them (and us) to think sincerely or wholesomely. Peter wants them to think carefully and correctly. We might even be correct in saying that Peter’s goal is to get us to think period!

We live in a sound bite world. Most of us are swayed by whoever spoke last. We have grown up being told certain things are true and given the implication that it is wrong to ask questions. Take the debate about creation as one example. As soon as someone questions the accepted theories of the scientific community they are labeled a religious fanatic who has no intelligence. We are expected to parrot what we are taught by the teacher and not question anything.

Think about how arguments are often resolved

  • We shout louder
  • We make threats
  • We ridicule a position rather than engaging it
  • We attack the person instead of the issue

These things may make you feel like a brilliant debater or that you are a person nobody “messes with” but in truth, you simply shut down any real discussion! Peter wants us to think about issues. He wants us to evaluate what we hear and then make whatever corrections are necessary to remain in the way of Christ.

Second Peter wrote: to remind them of the source and standard of truth.  Peter says there is the prophets (or the Old Testament), the words of Jesus (Gospels), and the teachings of the apostles. In other words, our sourcebook for truth is the Bible.

There are some who embrace the words of Jesus but reject the rest of the Bible. If Jesus didn’t address a topic then, in their mind, it is not an issue for us to be concerned about. This is a foolish argument for three reasons:

  1. Since the Bible is the “inspired” Word of God, and since Jesus is God, then Jesus IS speaking in the other parts of the Bible!
  2. We do not have every word that Jesus spoke. John tells us that if he had written down all the things Jesus said and did it would fill an entire library. We have only a sliver of the things Jesus said.
  3. Though we only have a sampling of what Jesus taught, the disciples spent many hours in the classroom of the teacher. They write with a much more acute knowledge of the heart and mind of Christ than we have.

If we want to think in a godly manner, we must be students of the Scriptures; all the Scriptures!

Answering the Scoffers and Skeptics

3 First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” 5 But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

There is no reason to be surprised that people scoff at the gospel. Peter says that in the last days “scoffers will come.” Peter diagnoses this scoffing as a clear indication that people are following their own evil desires. They want to create God in their image. They want to believe

  • There is no absolute standard
  • They can do whatever they want (and can get away with)
  • There is no ultimate accountability.

If these people accept the fact that Jesus is Lord and someday will return in Judgment, they would have to rethink the way they live their entire lives. They are unwilling to do so.

In fairness, we understand some of the cynicism toward the Second Coming of Christ. In recent years there have been several predictions of the end. When these predicted dates of return come and go it makes the doctrine of the Second Coming look like a foolish.

It has indeed been 2000 years since Jesus promised He would return. Every generation has believed the Lord would return in their lifetime. Every generation so far has been wrong.

The Bible clearly tells us that no one knows the day or the hour (some say . . . but we can know the year! But they are missing the point.) (Matthew 24:36, 25:13, Mark 13:32). Jesus said His coming would take people by surprise. It would be like the coming of a Thief. He told us not to set dates!

Peter answers the scoffer in three ways.  First, to the one who says “everything goes on as it always has”.  Peter says, “No, that’s not true!” Throughout history God has intervened.

  • Even most Scientists believe creation had a beginning. There was a time when the world was not here.
  • God brought a worldwide flood on the earth
  • He confused languages at Babel
  • He made a nation out of one man (Abraham)
  • He delivered Israel in miraculous ways (the plagues, parting the Red Sea, causing the walls of Jericho to fall, causing armies to flee)
  • He predicted and sent Judgment on Israel and other nations
  • He brought Jesus into the world through a miracle
  • Jesus Himself did amazing miracles (walked on water, fed the masses, healed diseases)
  • Jesus rose from the dead!
  • The Holy Spirit came upon the early believers and they were transformed.

The point is: things have NOT always gone on as they did before. God has intervened many times in the world. He has established Kingdoms and destroyed them. Peter reminds us that the God who has intervened in the past will return in the future. All it takes is ONE WORD and the end will come. God only has to say “Enough!” and Judgment will come. It could happen at any time!

Second, Peter points to the Transcendence of God.

8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

When we confront the scoffers in our day our job is not to list the “signs” of His coming. It is to show people who Jesus really is. When people see Jesus as the Son of God who was sent to die in our place as our unique and only Savior; when they see that He fulfilled prophecy; when they see that He rose from the dead; when they understand that all of it was done so they might be made right with God; when they finally embrace Him as their Lord and Savior . . . when Jesus is going to return becomes secondary. We trust His promise, not the newspapers or prophecy conferences.

Peter reminds us that God is not bound by the restraints of time . . . He is not looking at a clock. He is not checking His calendar. Think about the difference in the way time is reckoned by a child and their parents. We tell them that their birthday is in three months and every day they come up and ask if their birthday is today. Or you tell your kids that your trip will take 10 hours and before you have gotten out of town the kids are asking, “Are we there yet?” Parents often counsel a child in a time of crisis to be patient because things will get better. The child however has a different reference point and in their mind the current crisis is the “end of the world”. As the child’s perception of time is different from that of their parents, so God’s relationship to time is different from those He has created.

God is not bound by time constraints. God created time; He is not subject to it. God is eternal. Peter says the difference between 1000 years and one day is a meaningless distinction to God who is eternal. God does not wear a watch. He does not use a calendar. These are the things of time-bound creatures. God is not like us! God is Transcendent: He is beyond ordinary limits.

Third, Peter says they miss the point of the delay.

9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The seeming “slowness” of Christ’s return is not because God is unable to fulfill His promise, or negligent . . . it is because God continues to extend mercy. The Delay in the return of Christ is giving us time to repent. Think about it: If Jesus had returned 25 years ago how many of you might be facing a different destination today? Rather than scoff, we should give thanks for His patience.

Unfortunately, people have drawn erroneous conclusions from this verse.

  1. Some conclude it proves that everyone will be saved in the end. Since God does not want anyone to perish then they will not perish! God always accomplishes His will. (However this conclusion is contradicted by numerous verses in the Bible. Not everyone will be saved; some will perish and face eternal judgment.)
  2. Some conclude that God does not want anyone to perish but since some do, it must mean that God has chosen to offer salvation and has to wait and see who will respond. He is, or has chosen to submit himself to the will of man. However, once again as we read the whole Bible we see that God has chosen us from “before the creation of the world”. God knows exactly those “who are his”.

It is therefore best to understand these words as saying: God is delaying until all those who will be saved are saved. Do you remember being on a bus trip or with a school group? Sometimes the bus would have to wait to leave its destination. Why? It was because not everyone was on the bus yet! It wasn’t that the driver was lazy or even that plans had changed; it was that the bus would not leave until everyone who was supposed to be on the bus was actually on the bus!

I think it is a similar case here. God knows who is supposed to come to true faith. He knows who “is supposed to be on the bus.” He is not slow about His promise. He is waiting until everyone who is supposed to become a follower of Jesus to actually become a follower of Christ! I realize that is hard to grasp . . . but I do believe it is what Peter is teaching.

How Should We Respond?

Rather than become scoffers we should be more diligent. We must be diligent first of all to make sure we are in the faith. It is possible to stand around the fringe of the family of God and feel like you are a part of His Kingdom yet really be only a spectator.

Maybe you have stood on the sidelines of a football game and felt every high and low. After the game you say to others “We won!” But in truth, you weren’t really in the game at all. You were a spectator. You did not win, the team did.

Is it possible that you are standing on the sidelines in the family of God? Have you been cheering but still aren’t really on the team?

Perhaps you ask: How can I know if I’m on the team or just identifying with the team? Ask yourself some questions:

  1. Do I see myself as someone who has sinned and needs a supernatural work in order to be right with God or do I think I am doing a pretty good job on my own?
  2. Do I embrace Jesus as my only hope? Do I believe He really was God in human form, that He really died as a payment for my sin, and that He really did physically rise from the dead? Do I see Jesus as my only true hope of being right with God?
  3. Have I really entrusted myself to Christ? Have I really turned to Him, surrendered to Him and resolved to trust Him and His Word in my life?
  4. Am I living differently because God’s Spirit is now changing my heart and desires? Do I see that I am more and more pursuing holiness instead of worldliness?

Peter extends an invitation. When Jesus returns Judgment will begin. The door will be shut. For now, the door remains open. Take advantage of His invitation. Come to Him not because you are afraid of Judgment or that you don’t want to be left behind. Come to Him because He loves you and wants to lead you to the life you were made to live.

Second, we are to be diligent in sharing the good news with others.  Take a lesson from Peter.  Our job is not to motivate people to political action. Our job is not to get people to memorize charts or signs of His coming. Our job is to point to the open door and the loving Savior. Our job is to remind people that Jesus came, He taught, He gave His life, He rose again, and He did all of that so that we might be forgiven and have a real and vital relationship with God.

We do not know who is going to believe and who is not going to believe. Our job is to diligently present the gospel to everyone. This text reminds us that we dare not say, “Maybe tomorrow I will tell this person about Christ”. This could be the day that Jesus returns. This could be the last day of that person’s life. We must share the message of the gospel with a sense of urgency.

The best way to go about this is to relate to people differently than the rest of the world. We must treat people with respect and kindness. We must listen to others (even when we don’t agree), discuss rather than attack, truly love person, and then share the gospel as the good news that it really is. We don’t need slogans (or sound bites) we need to really care and engage the world in which we live.

We don’t know how much time is left before the Savior returns. Perhaps it will be in our lifetime, perhaps not. What we do know is this: someday Jesus will return and gather His people to Himself. This should not so much scare us, as it should motivate us to make sure we are ready, to live lives that are holy, and to work hard to endeavor to bring with us as many people as we possible.

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