************ Sermon on Nicene Creed ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 5, 2012
Nicene Creed 11
2 Peter 3
"We Believe Christ's Return"
Is history linear or is history cyclical. If you were asked to picture history, do you draw a line or do you draw a circle? Is history simply a repetition, a cycle, of events that happen over and over again? Or, is history a progressive line of events?
The Christian faith requires a distinctly Christian view of history. We don't subscribe to a cyclical view of history because this leaves no room for the providence of God. Nor do we subscribe to a never-ending linear view of history because this leaves no room for the judgment of God.
The ascension of our Lord, as described in Psalm 110, connects history to a destined end or purpose. The psalmist says,
(Ps 110:1) The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." (Cf Ps 2:8-9)Telling us what? Telling us that someday history will come to an end in what we know as a final judgment.
We believe that history has its beginnings in God. As Peter puts it, "long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water" (2 Pet 3:5). And, we believe that history has its end in God. Again, as Peter puts it,
(2Pt 3:7) 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.
History is not a meaningless series of disconnected events; to the contrary, history contains specific objectives related to the personal rule of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not merely float up in a cloud away from the earth in the ascension. Because of the cross and grave He was enthroned in heaven to rule and to direct the unfolding events of history. There He rules over all things for the sake of the church and to bless the church.
History has meaning and direction because of this reality. History does not meander along an unknown path toward an unknown future. Christ will rule, says the psalmist, until all His enemies are made a footstool (Ps 110:1). This is the determined end, which is the judgment of all men.
This is the view of history adopted by the fathers of the Nicene Creed. So, with the church of all ages we confess about Jesus, "He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead."
I God/Jesus as Judge
A When we look at the judgment, our starting point – like Peter – is God as Creator (2 Pet 3:5). Peter makes clear that the God Who creates is also the God Who judges. He is the God Who sent the flood (2 Pet 3:6). And, He is the God Who has reserved the present heavens and earth for fire (2 Pet 3:7)
Telling us what? What's the connection between creation and judgment? God is uniquely able to judge because God – as Creator – knows the world inside-out. Who, better than Him, is able to make judgments about what is right and wrong?
B "He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead." The judgment also shows God's great care for what He made. By way of the judgment, God is assuring that what starts off as "good" or "very good" (Gen 1:10f; Gen 1:31) also ends up as good or very good. By way of the judgment, God cleanses and purifies so the original goodness of His creation is restored.
C "He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead." The teaching that God is Judge, and judges justly, is constantly affirmed throughout the Old Testament. Remember God's conversation with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah?
(Gen 18:25) Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?""God is a righteous judge," says the psalmist (Ps 7:11). "He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice" (Ps 9:8; cf Ps 67:4; Is 30:18; Jer 11:20; Ezek 7:8).
God is a righteous judge. This has two implications.
First, if God is a righteous judge, this means He sees all things and hears all things and knows all things. We tend to hide our real selves from one another but – hear this – we are entirely transparent to God. He judges not on the basis of appearances or bribes but on the basis of the heart.
Second, if God is a righteous judge, this means He also sets wrongs right. The most frustrating thing about justice in our land is that wrongs are not made right. Quite often the guilty in our land do not get caught or, if caught, do not end up in prison. And, if the guilty party does end up in prison, he or she rarely makes restitution. He or she rarely expresses shame and remorse and asks for forgiveness. However, at the end of time, all wrongs will be set right.
D "He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead." Distinctive to the New Testament teaching is that Jesus not only is Savior but also is Judge. Do you realize how radical this confession is?
First, consider this: He Who was executed as a criminal will someday come again as Judge. What a massive turn-around! This is the greatest upset of history.
Second, this is further proof of the divinity of Jesus. God is Judge. Jesus is Judge. So, Paul can declare that God will judge men's secrets "through Jesus Christ" (Rom 2:16). Paul also affirms that "we will all stand before God's judgment seat" (Rom 14:10), and he also says "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor 5:10). Jesus shares in God's work of judgment – because He is God. So, like God He must see all things, hear all things, and know all things. Like God, He judges men's hearts. And, like God, He sets wrongs right.
Third, the church is stating her belief that Jesus has risen from the grave and is powerfully alive with God's own life. He must be alive because a dead Jesus will not come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.
II Modern Revulsion
A This morning I presented a list of doctrines many people have a hard time accepting:
-the foolishness of the cross and the grave (1 Cor 1:23)
-the incarnation – that is, the eternal Son of God taking to Himself a true human nature (Jn 1:14)
-the claim that Jesus is the only Way to the Father and salvation (Jn 14:6)
-the miracles of Christ
-the teaching that the heavens and earth and everything in them have been made by God
-the doctrines of Total Depravity and Original Sin and Total Inability
I want to add one more doctrine to the list this evening: the doctrine that Jesus "will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead."
Many people are revolted by this teaching. I want to spend a few minutes looking at why and what this says about our modern world.
B First of all, our world today hesitates to use the word "sin." We prefer the word "sickness." Or, we refer to deviant behavior as "alternative lifestyles." So, alcoholism or addiction is not a sin; it is a sickness. Homosexuality is not a sin; it is an alternative lifestyle. And, people cannot be blamed or held responsible for any of this because they are born that way – which means, they think, that God has made them that way and therefore there is nothing wrong with their behavior. A world that cannot use the word "sin" cannot use the word "judgment" either. For, if there is no sin there is nothing to be judged.
Second, our world wants to thinks of God as love. Our world does not think of God as Judge. Of course, as the Catechism explains it, you cannot have the one without the other (Q & A 11). A great final court at which Jesus sends some to eternal life and others to eternal punishment is simply unimaginable to many.
Third, many people cannot there is accept anything beyond this life. Their philosophy: eat, drink, and make merry for tomorrow we die. Eat, drink, and make merry for this life is all there is. What has happened is a widespread collapse of any belief in "the world to come."
A fourth factor is the sense of dismay at the triumph of evil in the world. It is hard, awfully hard, to believe in the return of Christ and in justice and in the triumph of righteousness when you see all the unchecked evil in our world. When, for instance, a crazy man sprays bullets around a movie theater in Colorado killing 12 and injuring 58 others (and, I understand 7 more people died in a mass shooting in Wisconsin today). When the Syrian Army butchers entire villages of people. When a local police officer is killed and it takes 4 or more years to bring his killer to trial. Open the newspaper and see all the news that is reported. Most of it is bad. Most of it is a litany of sin and evil. How can we believe in an almighty, omnipotent, and judging God when such evil is allowed to exist and even to flourish?
Yet, in the face of such questions and problems the church maintains her confession that "He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead." That is our confession because that is what the Bible teaches.
III Since ...
A The King Who has risen from the dead in conquest is also the One Who will judge all men. Judgment is certain and this line of the Creed acts as a serious warning to all of us. Rest assured that as certainly as Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, He will come again to judge all peoples.
With this in mind, did you notice the word "since" in the middle of our Bible reading?
(2Pt 3:11) Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?Or, to put it another way, since "He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead ... what kind of people ought you to be?" Peter give us a number of answers.
First, Peter starts off with scoffers who deny that Christ will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. Nothing has changed, they say. Everything continues on as before (cf 2 Pet 3:4).
These scoffers are talking about sin and evil. Now, like them, we can all name a person, or perhaps even entire groups of people, who have apparently escaped judgment. In fact, many of us are personally forced to face this on a daily basis.
This reality can force people to draw wrong conclusions – just like the scoffers. When we see injustice and inequity and sin and evil we can conclude there is therefore no judge on earth. But the scoffers who talk this way are arrogant. They demand immediate justice and will not wait upon the Lord.
Christians know better. We know we cannot seek revenge. We know we cannot put matters into our own hands. We know we need to be patient (cf Rom 12:19-20). We know that one day the God we serve will bring all things to justice. We know that no man will escape the judgment of God forever.
B Here is the second answer: live holy and godly lives. Christ will come with glory to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, "live holy and godly lives" (2 Pet 3:11).
"Holy lives" means you live apart from the world, separate from the world, different than the world. You do not conform to the ways of the world. [Remember what we said about covenant living this morning?] "Godly lives" refers to a life of piety before God; this includes such things as worship, prayer, Bible reading, and Christian service. The word "live" is in the present tense, indicating that these qualities are to be constantly present; they are to be a big part of your daily life.
Someday you will be standing before the judgment throne of God and His Christ. Someday the God Who sees and hears and knows will ask you about your life.
I remember the time I heard a great wrestling match in another room. Boys were screaming. Furniture was tipping over. I yelled at the top of my lungs to stop acting like heathens.If this is a sobering thought, how much more should we be shaken to the core that all of our actions come under the scrutiny of Almighty God?
Was I ever embarrassed when the first face peeking around the corner was the neighbor man.
None of us want the neighbors to hear when we are mad at our children or our spouse. And, we are embarrassed when they do.
Christ is coming. He sees and hears and knows everything about you. He is coming to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, live holy and godly lives. Or, as we read in verse 14,
(2Pt 3:14) So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
C Here is the third answer: look forward to the day of God. Christ will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, "look forward to the day of God" (2 Pet 3:12; cf vs 14).
How can we look forward to something so terrifying? Because our sentence will be different than those outside of Christ. Because we will be judged under grace rather than law. Because when God opens the books and reveals our sins, He blots them out with the blood of Christ
D Here is the fourth answer, one that might surprise you: speed the coming of the day of the Lord. Christ will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. Therefore, "speed its coming" (2 Pet 3:12).
How can believers hasten something as cosmic as the second coming? What difference can we possibly make to something that is so much bigger and greater than we? Here is the answer: the godly lives of the Lord's people and their witnessing help bring others to repentance. And, once the number of the redeemed is complete, then Christ will come agin with glory to judge the living and the dead. Furthermore, God commands us to pray for the coming of the Kingdom. This prayer means nothing if it does not hasten the coming of Jesus as Judge.
E Here is the fifth answer: "be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position" (2 Pet 3:17). Christ is coming so be on your guard. Don't fall for false doctrines and false practices and evil deeds.
F And, a final answer: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18). Christ is coming. Christ is coming again. He is coming again with glory to judge the living and the dead. This doesn't mean you do what some of Harold Camping's followers did – they sold their homes and businesses and waited for the return. Life does not come to a stop as you wait for Christ's return. Rather, you are supposed to grow and increase. You are supposed to get a head start on what you will be like in glory.
Head starts are not allowed at the Olympics. If a swimmer or a runner is out of the blocks too quickly, the whistle is blown and everyone needs to start over. A couple of head starts and you are disqualified.But this is not true for eternity.
"He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead." With the church of all ages we confess that history will have a conclusion. We confess history will end with judgment.
Therefore, what kind of people will you be?
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