June 5, 2011

Sermon for Sunday after Ascension

The End of All Things
1 Peter 4:7
First Sunday after Ascension
June 5, 2011

"The end of all things is at hand." There have been so many predictions and discussions and expectations of the return of Christ recently that I could not pass up the opportunity to preach on our reading in First Peter this morning. It is not helpful to make predictions about the date of Christ's return for two reasons. First, they make Christians look like fools. Every time some person or group declares that they absolutely know Christ is going to return on some specific date, they expose the Church to ridicule, and bring shame on the name of our Saviour. Skeptics and atheists held "Rapture Parties" on May 21, the date Harold Camping declared would see the Christians raptured and the judgment of the ungodly begin. These parties were often arrogant and derisive repudiations of the Christian faith. The world finds many reasons to scorn us, let us not give them more by our own foolishness. The second reason why speculation and declarations of the date of Christ's return are not helpful is that they place the emphasis on something we can never know, and ignore what we can know. They place major importance on interpreting "signs" and events, which they misinterpret and misrepresent, and they forget about what God is really trying to tell us. As the saying goes, they "major on the minors and minor on the majors." So let me say this as plainly as I know how; first, the Bible does not give us the date of the Lord's return. Second, many passages of Scripture, such as Matthew 24, in which people think they find the "signs" of Christ's imminent return or "rapture" of the Church, are not about the Second Coming; they are about the fall of Jerusalem to the Roman army, which occurred in 70 A.D.

Having said that, let us look again at the first phrase in 1 Peter 4:7, "the end of all things is at hand." Doesn't that seem to contradict what I have just said? Doesn't that seem to emphasise the end of the world, and Christ's return? Why would Peter put that in his book if we were not to know about dates and be concerned about the end of the world? The answer is that he put it there to teach us one lesson; live for Christ now. It truly is that simple. In First Peter 4 we find the Apostle continuing the theme which dominates his book, which is, living for Christ in all situations and at all costs. Peter is not saying, "Just hang on a little longer, endure a little longer, persevere a little longer because at any moment Christ is coming to take us out of this world and end all our troubles." He is saying, live for Christ at all time and at all costs. The word, "end" as it is used here carries a double meaning. First, it means "the end result." Second, it means "goal." Looking at a similar passage, 1 Peter 1:8-9, we find the same word, with the same double meaning applied to faith; "though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." We are already enjoying the end result of our faith, Peter is telling us. We are already enjoying the goal of our faith, which is the salvation of our souls. By the way, 1 Pt. 1:9 and 1 Pt. 4:7, in the original Greek, both use the same Greek word for "end," telos. The two meanings of "final result" and "goal" are intrinsic to understanding both verses. Just as 1:9 means the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls, and that we are already enjoying that goal and final result now, so 4:7 means the goal of all things is at hand (within our grasp) and the final result and condition is also at hand and is a present reality. We are enjoying it now. We are not enjoying it in its fullest sense. We are enjoying it only in a limited sense right here and now, but we are enjoying it, nevertheless.

Now I have just told you not to major on the minors, and I have majored on the minors all of this time, haven't I?" Well, I have done so to demonstrate the meaning of the phrase, "the end of all things is at hand." Because what Peter is telling us is that we live in the last days. We live in the era of fulfillment. We live in the era when the promises of God given in the Old Testament, are being fulfilled in the New Covenant and Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We live in the days when the end, the goal, the purpose of God for His people and His creation are being fulfilled, and are moving out of the realm of promise into the realm of reality. Yes, we are also living in the last era of time as we know it before God brings it all to a close. But the primary meaning of 1 Peter 4:7 is that the deepening fulfillment of the purpose of God for all things is taking place right before our eyes in this very time and place.

I need to remind us again, that the "end" is not the primary emphasis of this passage, or of the book of First Peter. The primary emphasis is living for Christ in every situation, and at all costs. The fact that the world will end one day, and that we already live in the era of fulfillment and the last days, is simply stated as a motivation to live for Christ now. Peter is saying that, because we live in the age of fulfillment, and, because the end and goal of all things is being accomplished right before our eyes as Christ calls His people and builds His Church, we must live the Christian life fully and faithfully in all times and at all costs.

So Peter, after briefly referencing what I have taken so long to say, quickly moves on to tell us how to live for Christ now. He tells us to soberly watch unto prayer, to love one another, to be hospitable to one another, and to study the Scriptures (speak the oracles of God). This is the point peter is trying to make. I have read that Harold Camping has revised his prediction to say the Lord is coming back on October 21. I personally believe October 21 will come and go the same way May 21 came and went, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that we live for Christ now. That's what Peter is saying.

Holy Father, help us not to major on the minors, not to get distracted trying to figure out dates and times and signs, but to live for Thee in the here and now. We beseech Thee to grant this prayer, in the name of Christ. Amen.

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