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Good morning, church. I’m really glad to see each of you this morning. It’s been a rough week, I know, for those of us with homes and houses, worried about damage, and many of you, I know weathered the storm without any kind of protection. So for each of you, I’m glad to see you. I have never had the experience of having a storm go directly over us. AJ and I walked around the house in the eye of the storm, I looked up and could see a patch of blue sky in the middle of everything. AJ’s staring at it and goes: it’s like the hurricane is looking at us and winking.
But with all of the troubles of the world, we know God is bringing about a good and right end for us. No one’s story ends until the Lord writes the final chapter, and the last chapter is one of peace, justice, and rejoicing for those who are in Christ.
Please go with me to 2 Peter, chapter two, and we are going to start in v.1.
We’ve been in a series through Peter’s letters now for the majority of the year, because Peter is writing to a church that’s scattered and suffering, and, as this week reminded us, this year has been a year of being displaced, out of normal rhythms, and in many ways, suffering. Peter’s message has been, over and again, no matter what’s happening around you, no matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, there is hope in Christ. Hope for life on the other side of brokenness. Hope founded in Jesus’s own death for your sake and his resurrection Suffering in this broken world is inevitable, but in Christ restoration is just as sure.
In his second letter Peter writes from a place of personal suffering, as he’s been condemned to crucifixion in Rome. This book, 2 Peter, is what he wants to leave with his church when he’s gone. He started out talking about how you have to actively work against the sin in your life, because it doesn’t heal in time, like an infection, and Christ has called us to participate in his very nature and in his work in the world.
Last week, we talked about how Christ—his life, his death for your sake, his resurrection—is not another myth, but rather the true story at the foundation of our reality; he wants his people to see that the gospel calls us into a relationship with a living God that allows us to see the world in a new light, and by that light, to see everything else. He wants them to see the gospel as life-giving, sacred, set-apart. For so it is. This week we are talking about the rescue of God. Rescue and judgement together, because his rescue is only possible because of his judgement.
Read with me, 2 Peter, chapter 2, starting in v. 1. […] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
I have two initial observations for you. One, Peter definitely seems to dislike false teachers. And two, he really likes Noah’s Ark. This is the second time he’s mentioned Noah kind of out-of-the-blue in two letters.
The first point from v.9 in our text today is this: The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials. The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials.
And two things I want you to remember at this point that will help you enormously in understanding the passage rightly: one is that in Acts, chapter 12, Peter is miraculously rescued from prison. He’s sleeping, and in the text he admits that he thought the rescue was a dream. An angel kicks him awake and walks him straight out of the prison. Remember that story, and remember 2 Peter 1:14, which I preached just a couple weeks ago, where Peter writes that he is in prison and will die soon.
Remembering both of those passages at the same time should shake you. Because I know there are teachers in the world who will tell you that if you have enough faith, bad things will not happen to you, that you will always receive blessing, and never anything bad. So why does Peter write, in the same letter, paragraphs apart, that the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and then also that he’s not expecting any kind of rescue? This same man who has been miraculously rescued and released from prison before—he’s saying goodbye. Why? Has he lost his faith?
No, it’s because the Lord does know how to rescue the godly from trials, but sometimes he doesn’t rescue us. Sometimes he asks us to bear the trial, to face illness or death or pain or loss. Peter hasn’t lost faith that God is able to rescue him; he has faith enough to walk willingly into a trial knowing that he will suffer. Willingly because Peter could have just recanted his teachings and gone home. Publicly told everyone that he had lied about the resurrection of Christ, the whole thing was a sham.
What do you think, in writing this, is on Peter’s mind? Two stories that come to my mind here, and I wonder if they came to Peter’s mind as he was writing: when John the Baptist was put in prison to be executed for what he had been teaching, he sent a messenger to Jesus saying, “Are you the messiah or should we look for another?” Peter was there for that. See, John the Baptist couldn’t understand why, if Jesus was all powerful, why he was still in prison. Why, if Jesus could save him, was he still having to suffer? And Jesus responds in Peter’s hearing that he is the messiah, God incarnate, come to save humanity, and then John was executed shortly thereafter.
The other story that comes to my mind, and I wonder if it came to Peter’s mind in his captivity: the last time Peter was asked by a Roman soldier to recant his teaching or die, Peter denied he even knew Christ, let alone worshipped him, and he did get to go home because of his denial. And by the way he acts later on, I think Peter considered denying Christ that day as the worst thing he had ever done. I wonder if he remembered that moment as he wrote this letter, as the Roman legates goaded him to publicly deny Christ and live. He’d had the same choice before.
So Peter knew he could just deny Christ again and go home. He knew God had the ability to come and save him—he’d even done it before. But then he also knew that just a little while, and he would be nailed to a cross of his own. He wasn’t suffering because of a lack of faith; he had faith enough to suffer, and suffer well, to face hardship in his life with enough care and concern that he writes to his church to comfort them in their struggles, even to comfort them about his own death.
I’ve said this before. It’s easy to believe in a God who will never allow you to suffer, and if you have enough faith you’ll be healthy and wealthy and receive blessing after blessing. It’s also easier, in some ways, to reject Christ, as John the Baptist did, and say, he must not have the power to save me, we must have misunderstood something about him. God isn’t who I thought he was. What’s difficult is believing in a God who does have the ability to save you from your struggle, to rescue you from pain and suffering, but who, instead of taking away the pain and suffering, stands beside you and suffers alongside you because he knows, in the end, he is what we really need in suffering.
I would encourage you to do the difficult work of believing in the God who comes and suffers alongside you. Believing in the God who had all power and yet decided to make himself weak so he could stand beside us in suffering. It’s not what we would have done with that kind of power, but praise God that he doesn’t do what people do whenever we gain power. He emptied himself to seek out the weak and the suffering and stand beside them.
The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials. There is always hope in Christ in the midst of the things that you’re going through. Sometimes he’ll rescue you miraculously. Sometimes he’ll allow you to go to the cross and rescue you by resurrection. But always, he’s with you, because he is what we really need.
I say all of this hoping to give you, not the child-like faith that demands things of God and throws a fit when you don’t receive them, bit a more mature faith which is able to say, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. This trial you’re going through, God knows how to rescue you out of it. But he also knows how to bring you through it, and on the other side, to allow you to be the person who helps others through the pain and sin in this world.
Because we can never forget that when we are in Christ, when we are saved, God hasn’t promised us a calm, comfortable life. He has only promised to make us more like Christ. Christ, who entered into the pain and suffering of the world. Christ, who was strong enough to bear it for the people around him. Christ, who suffered even to the point of death for your sake, so that you might live.
For Peter, his faithfulness brought him to his own, literal cross, like Christ, in the end. For us, our trials may look different. But I do know God is strong enough to see us through, to stand beside us, to sit beside the bed, to hold us in times when we weep, and then, always in the end, to rejoice at resurrection and the turning back of everything that was wrong in the world.
And speaking of that end, that glorious end, when Christ sets everything back to rights, and all the saints of God rejoice—that glorious end is achieved through judgement. Judgement, which we have drastically misunderstood. Judgement, which we don’t like talking about, but which should be one of the reasons we praise God and rejoice.
My second point from the text today is this: The Lord is a righteous Judge. The Lord is a righteous judge.
I know a lot of us shy away from talking about the idea of the judgement of God, which makes sense. The judgement of God, especially here in the French Quarter, is sometimes touted as an excuse for hatred. This is a real statistic which I definitely didn’t make up just now, but 95% of religious opinions you angrily shout at people are immediately ignored. Could be higher. You never know; there’s a margin of error for those kinds of stats.
But, as this passage reminds us, the Lord is a righteous judge who will not let sin, evil in the world go unanswered or unpunished. And I praise God for his judgement, even though I know that I am a sinner and deserve to be judged. I am as sinful as anyone else in the quarter. And I don’t say that out of false modesty, but out of a place of conviction and confession. But I still praise God for his judgement, because he is a righteous judge, and we need the world to end with all things being brought to mind, and all people being brought to account. Everyone who has wronged you, everyone in the world who’s gotten away with it due to power, or trickery, or privilege. All will be made right again, everything that has been taken restored. Everything that has been done in the dark will be brought into the light for everyone to see.
Some of you may know this about me already, but I’m extremely politically involved. I keep up with all the races and vote in literally every election—even the runoffs, and the ones no one cares about. Every one. And some of y’all might have heard, but there’s an election going on right now. And this past week, I voted. You should go vote, too. Tuesday’s the last day.
But if you do go vote on Tuesday, you should know that there’s more than the president on the ballot. A lot more. In fact, there are twelve judgeships up for election on this ballot. I spent a large part of my week pouring over websites and Facebook pages and news articles trying to find out the character of each and every person running for a judgeship here in New Orleans, and my hope is always to find judges who won’t make a decision based on race or class, or how much money you might give to their next campaign, or your personality, but who will judge each person for what they have done with an eye towards peace and prosperity for our city. In short, I look, and I pray, for righteous judges.
Because not every judge is righteous. In fact, I’m sure another way Peter could have gone home from his imprisonment is just by making friends with the right people, maybe offering a well-placed bribe. We talked about, in his first letter, the fact that many of the people to whom he is writing were being dragged in front of judges every day who were willing to convict them on false testimony; they didn’t care what you had done, only that you were a christian—that third, despised race of people in Rome—and that was enough for a prison sentence. The worst evils in the society were being perpetrated by the very people who were sitting as judges and living in luxury. Meanwhile the righteous people are jailed and executed. In that situation, you begin to long for a righteous judge.
And today, in our country, the legal system has challenges. It is not perfect. Sometimes innocent people go to jail for years. Sometimes people get away with literal murder because they had the right friends, could afford the right lawyers, were the right race, and said the right things.
So praise God, that he is a righteous judge. In the kingdom of God, innocence does not go unseen. Pain and brokenness are met with compassion, not annoyance. Money gets you nothing, and each person is judged for what they have done. He is righteous. In this life, we may suffer injustice, but in the end, we all answer to a righteous judge.
But here’s our problem, you and I. Are we only ever sinned against? No, we’re not perfect. We are also the sinners. We’ve taken, and harmed, lied and argued, hurt the people around us, even those closet to us. We’ve broken not only the law of God, but even our own moral code. We’ve all done things we’re not proud of and contributed to the sin and suffering in the world, the suffering Christ bore when he emptied himself to stand beside the suffering. Jesus died, not because he had to die, but to bear the weight of our collective sin when we could not. He died to rescue you. So we, each of us, are complicit in the murder of the son of God. Our imperfections that we brush off and excuse are really worse than we’ve ever imagined.
Our sin is far worse than we’ve imagined, and if we were to stand before a righteous judge with our lives laid bare, we would be guilty. Guilty of contributing to the sin and suffering of the world, guilty ultimately of necessitating the death of God’s own son. And we can point to others all we want and say, what about him? Isn’t he worse than I am? But a righteous judge doesn’t hear what-about arguments or excuses. He sees the truth, that our sin is worse than we’ve imagined. We’ve done more damage to our own lives, and the lives of the people around us, than we know.
But our sins are against God alone, and God loves each and every one of you more than you could possibly imagine, enough that he would rather die than see us condemned. Our hope in life is not to be good enough to earn a good ruling. We will never be good enough, by our own standards or by anyone else’s. And our hope in life is not that God will just kind of let us off. He’s a righteous judge, he’s not going to let suffering go unanswered. Our hope, our only hope, is that Jesus Christ, the very person we’ve sinned against, the person we killed by our sin, bears that weight and forgives us our sins. Which is why we pray, Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Because his mercy is our hope.
My invitation to you today is to recognize your own wrongdoing in the world. Not to slough it off, or to make excuses, but to stare at it in the face for what it is, and to recognize that you, too, just like me, are a sinner in need of the grace of God. But also to recognize that the Lord is able to rescue you from even this trial. He is able to save you, restore you, and give you life everlasting in the end. If you are here, and do not know the salvation of God, I would invite you to come pray with me now, or after the service and know what it is to be rescued.
And if you are here today going through some things, in a trial of some sort, I would invite you to trust in a God who is able to rescue the godly from trials, who is faithful to make you more like Christ in all things. Trust in a God who will not leave injustice unanswered, but will come stand beside you until you find life on the other side.
In the life Jesus lived poured out for the sake of others, in the death Jesus died in our place, and in his resurrection which gives us hope for life on the other side of suffering, we find reasons for joy and hope in the midst of hardship. Pray with me.