Point Breeze Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh; Central Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga; United Presbyterian Church in Wheeling, and Central Presbyterian Church in Jackson. What do these four churches have in common?
Obviously they're American! They were all large thriving gospel churches, but they no longer exist. Sean Lucas, an American pastor, was writing a history of his denomination. He saw that these were thriving gospel churches until right up to the 1950s but now they no longer exist. And the reasons they no longer exist are multiple, but he makes this comment:
"It would only take a generation for a church to show signs of decay: perhaps a poor pastoral choice; a failure to continue to preach God's Word faithfully; a transition in the church's understanding of mission; an inability to see and adapt to the neighbourhood around it. It is enough to cause us as pastors to get on our knees and to beg God to continue to grant mercy to our congregations and to grant them mercy in the generations after us."
Lucas says failing to pass on the gospel faithfully is a deathblow to a church. It can only take one generation for the church to die if the gospel is forgotten. The apostle Peter knew that danger of gospel forgetfulness, so he aimed to remind the early church of the gospel. We've seen that over the last two weeks. In verses 1-2 Peter says knowing Christ brings grace and peace from God. Verses 3-4 we see that knowing Christ brings power to live a Godly life. Verses 5-11 we see that knowing Christ should lead to a transformed life, and ultimately eternal life. He says in 1:10, "For if you do these things (i.e. know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour), you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
Peter was a on a mission to remind the believers of God's gospel promises because some had become forgetful, or as Peter puts it, "short sighted and blind" in 1:9.
The false teachers had forgotten Jesus has cleansed them of their sin. The false teachers had forgotten that Jesus was coming back to judge sin. They were abandoning the gospel by refusing to make Jesus Lord and Saviour. They were in danger of facing God's judgment and Peter was concerned others would follow them.
In our passage this week Peter reveals his aim for his letter. He wants to remind them of Christ's work so they will not stumble but receive a rich welcome into heaven. My first point for us tonight is this: Keep remembering Christ's work (12-14). Come with me to verse 12:
"So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have."
Peter says established believers need reminding of the gospel. Why? Verse 11 reminds us that the stakes are high. To receive the rich welcome into heaven we need to keep trusting in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. If we flick to 3:17 Peter fleshes out his motivation even more:
"Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position."
Peter reminds all the members of the church who hear his letter that they are weak and they need to guard against the dangers around them. Peter's reminder was meant to motivate them to being on guard against false teachers and to keep Jesus Lord and Saviour. Peter knew the danger of falling away all too well. He'd told Jesus he'd never deny him, but three times he would deny his Lord. Yet Jesus prayed Peter's faith would not fail and told him he would one day strengthen the faith of others (Luke 22:32).
Here we see part of the answer to that prayer: Peter seeking to strengthen the faith of others. Peter knew that no matter how long you've been walking with the Lord there's always a danger of wobbling. Let's just take stock of that for a moment. Peter's not saying believers can lose their salvation. But he is saying we are weaker than we think. Whether we've been following Jesus for two weeks or twenty years we need reminding of the gospel. Our memories, when pressure or false teaching comes, can be very short.
In 2 Peter the danger of being carried away from the gospel comes from the false teachers. In 2:14 Peter says they are out to "seduce the unstable." People were tempted to "follow their depraved conduct" (2:2) as they followed their corrupt desires (2:10). To do this Peter says they "deliberately forgot" what was written in God's word about judgment (3:5) and even distort scripture (3:16) to suit themselves. In effect the false teachers were saying, "Jesus is not coming back so do as you please today." They were being short sighted about the future. But they were also being blind about the past too. The false teachers had forgotten Jesus had cleansed them from sin, and called them to live in obedience to him.
How do we experience those temptations today? Certainly we live in a world that denies Jesus will one day judge, and lives like it. We even see that thinking creep into the church too when we hear pastors distort what the Bible says to make it fit in with what society says. At times it's easy to wonder, "Have I got the Bible right here? Maybe I should follow the crowd indulging in drink, sex, ambition, fitting in or whatever it is that might tempt us?"
And it's this kind of context that Peter speaks into. Come with me to verse 13:
"I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body."
Peter has reminded his hearers that through knowing Christ we can become partakers of the divine: we become God's adopted children cleansed from sin. One day, if we keep our faith in Christ, we will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom. It's a picture of a host who lavishly welcomes a faithful servant into his home. It hints of the undeserved kindness that believers will experience in the new heaven and the new earth. Peter was out to sober them up here. His teaching is like a strong cup of coffee: refreshing but with a strong kick!
Peter's out to refresh them with the good news. You could also read the word refresh as "stir up." Peter is out to wake people up with the gospel! He's out to remind them of a better reality! So how does the gospel help when we're tempted to follow the crowd? How does it help when we're tempted to follow our rebellious desires?
C.S. Lewis writes this:
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
Drink, sex and ambition, or whatever the world may offer, pale in comparison compared to the infinite joys offered by the rich welcome into the eternal kingdom. So when pressure or false teaching comes along the gospel enables believers to keep going. What Christ offers is far greater than what the world can offer. Peter desperately wants his hearers not to stumble, that is give up on Jesus, but rather, keep making Jesus Lord and Saviour, and receive that rich welcome into heaven. The flipside of salvation is judgment, the gospel says God cares enough about our rebellion that one day he'll step in and judge.
Peter lives today in light of tomorrow. He lives in the light of future salvation and judgment. He knows his life is coming to its end soon and want to spend his time reminding others of the gospel. We that in verse 13-14:
"I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me."
In John 20:18 Jesus says to Peter:
"When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
Jesus told Peter he would die for following him, and I take it with Roman persecution increasing Peter knew his days were likely coming to an end. Because of that he's all the more keen to refresh his readers' memories with what Jesus has done. But do you see how Peter describes his death? Peter pictures his body as a tent. A tent is the most temporary of homes isn't it? Peter pictures leaving this life like packing up his tent to move to a new home. In fact there is a second picture here: Peter talks about "putting it aside". It's a picture of taking off clothes presumably to be clothed with something better!
One old commentator says this, "The old, worn out apostle is one of the happiest men out of heaven." Peter knows this life is temporary, but in the next he'll receive a rich welcome into an eternal kingdom. Knowing Christ has made him a partaker in the divine enables Peter to cope with the pressures of persecution and even death.
In that sense Peter is a worked example of someone who was refreshed by Christ's work for him. So Peter says the preventative medicine to false teaching and pressure is remembering the gospel, what will the look like for his hearers? What will it look like for us to be refreshed by the gospel?
My second point is Keep remembering the apostles' writings (15). Peter is keen for his receivers to be stirred by the gospel so he writes to them. Come with me to verse 15:
"And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things."
I take it that Peter is preparing for his death by writing to the churches. Once Peter has gone to glory the church will still have his letters to remind them of Christ's work for them. In fact later on he talks about Paul's letter being scripture too (3:16). Remembering Christ's work means remembering the apostles' writings. Next week we'll hear Peter attest to him being an eyewitness, and that the writers of scripture were inspired by the Spirit. Peter's fear for his readers, is that once he is gone, will his readers listen to voice of scripture or others? The Bible teacher Dick Lucas says:
"although 2000 years of church history has elapsed there is a sense in which every generation of Christians is only the second generation. We do not have the direct knowledge and experiences of the first generation which is why Peter takes such care to pass on his experiences to us."
The challenge for us at HTG then is listen to scripture above what the world says. Our task is to pass that message on faithfully. The closure of the those four churches in one generation is a warning that all too easily we can assume the gospel. The church scholar Paul Hiebert cames from a background in the Mennonite church. His analysis of his own church down the generations is this:
"One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political implications. The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the implications. The following generation denied the gospel: the "implications" became everything."
The application for us is to pass on the gospel faithfully to the next generation. We keep Jesus as Saviour and Lord the main thing. We assume the gospel at our peril. Whether we've got a formal teaching position in Sunday School or it's an informal teaching opportunity as you chat to your children over dinner about the Bible, the task is to pass on what we have in Scripture.
The task of remembering Christ's work isn't just a personal task as we read our Bible over our cornflakes in the morning, but it's an activity for the whole church. In our first reading from Deuteronomy we heard God's instruction for the Passover, an exercise for all of God's people to remind each other who saved them. So for God's people today we are to help each other remember who has saved us. Peter models this by writing to remind the churches of Christ's work. In 2 Peter he calls his readers "Dear friends." He loves his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Part of expressing brotherly love is reminding each other of the gospel. It's hard to love each other if you do not see each other. So we need to prioritise seeing each other to remind each other of the gospel. Let me say that's especially true if you're out of the morning service to run Sunday School or creche.
One of the challenges we have as a church with such a big children's ministry is making sure the Sunday School leaders get reminded of the gospel too, and not just the children.
Sunday sermons are necessary but we need more. That's why we lay on home groups where we can get to know people better and remind each other of what scripture says. On top of that let me encourage you to build in opportunities to remember what Christ has done in the rest of the week too. It might be a prayer triplet. It might be a fortnightly one to one where you read the Bible with a friend. It might be taking the opportunity to chat about the gospel as you drive a friend to the football. It might be texting your housemate who's had a bad day some scripture.
As you meet your brothers and sisters, whether formally at home group or informally over a cup of tea, think, "How can I help them remember Christ?" That's a job for all of us. How are you helping your brothers and sisters remember Christ week by week?
Let's close. We've seen Peter's aim is to remind believers of Christ's work so they will not stumble but receive a rich welcome into the kingdom. So let's keep remembering Christ's work. How will we do that? We need to remember the apostles' writings where we authoritative record of what Jesus has done for us. Let's pray that by God's mercy we would keep our faith in Jesus, and pass down the gospel faithfully to the next generation.