The Lord's Day Evening
December 27, 2009
2 Peter 3:18
“The Last Words for the Last Sunday of the Year”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now as Ligon was explaining this morning, we’ll get back to 1 Samuel next Lord's Day evening, but since this is the final Lord's Day of the year, I thought it might be opportune for us to consider together a text that comes at the end of 2 Peter. These are his last words that he wrote, probably written just shortly before his death. He was, according to tradition, crucified outside Rome, upside down, at his own request that he not be crucified in the same manner as his Savior, for he felt that he was unworthy. That would be somewhere between 65 and 68 AD during the reign of Emperor Nero. So it's possible these words in verse 18 of 2 Peter chapter 3 were perhaps some of the very last things that Peter said, and certainly the last thing that he wrote publically. Now before we read the text together, let's look to God in prayer.
Father, we bow again. We thank You for the solemnity of our worship together, where two or three are gathered together in Your name, there You are in the midst of Your people. We thank You that we have You, but we thank You too that we have Your Word. You haven't left us without clear direction as to how to live our lives and we thank You for the Scriptures. We thank You that they are a light unto our path. We thank You for the truth that they contain, that all Scripture is given by inspiration, the out breathing of God, and is profitable for doctrine and reproof and correction and instruction in the way of righteousness that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Now bless us. Without the Spirit, this is a dead letter, and we pray Lord, not only for the reading of the Scripture with our eyes and the hearing of it with our ears, but that in our hearts these words might be written. And we ask it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
2 Peter chapter 3 and verse 18:
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
Now as I was thinking about this text, particularly yesterday and perhaps more especially this afternoon, I thought it might have been more appropriate to have a text on shrinkage rather than growth with all that I've eaten in the last forty-eight hours. Of course, Peter is speaking here about spiritual growth, and as we come to the end of a year, and as again Ligon was saying at least at the first service this morning, there's something almost artificial about what we're doing at the end of the year and we tend to reflect on the year that has gone by and perhaps make some resolutions or resolve to do certain things in the year to come. All of those have their place. It seems to me tonight that it may be just the right time for us to consider this particular admonition and exhortation of the apostle Peter to grow in the grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Now growth is something that was particularly important for Peter right at the very beginning of his first letter. You remember he speaks about, in the second chapter, he speaks about Christians being like new born infants at first, and that we should long for the spiritual milk that by it you may grow up to salvation. And it seems that Peter, and you wonder perhaps because of what Peter had experienced, the many lapses that he had experienced in his own walk with the Savior, that growing, desiring the sincere milk of the Word in order that you might grow, was something that was particularly important to him.
Now there are two things that he tells us here. We are to grow in grace and we are to grow in knowledge. And let me consider those in the opposite sequence to the way Peter puts it, and I’ll try and explain why I'm doing that. I want us to see the emphasis that is put on grace before knowledge, and in order for that emphasis perhaps to ring home, I want us to end with that emphasis rather than begin with it. So let me begin with what he says about growing in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I. Grow in knowledge.
And perhaps we need to ask ourselves here what kind of knowledge does Peter have in mind — is it objective knowledge, factual knowledge, things about Christ, the life of Christ, the data about Christ, certain doctrines about Christ? Or does he mean a more subjective knowledge — it's one thing to know about Christ; it's another thing to know Him and to know Him personally and to know Him relationally. And I think that Peter undoubtedly means both. We are to grow in knowledge about Christ and we are to grow in knowledge that is relational to Christ. Let's think about that for a minute. We need to grow in our objective knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need to remind ourselves again and again of the basic truths about Jesus — His incarnation, His life, His ministry, His death upon a cross, His resurrection, His ascension into glory, His session at the right hand of God - doctrines, truths that are contained in the Scriptures, because all truth is Christ's truth. Every truth in the Bible is related in some way or form to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can't be content, surely we can't be content with a half hour sermon on a Sunday morning and a half hour sermon on Sunday evening and perhaps a twenty-five minute sermon on Wednesday night. That surely can't be enough. That can't be adequate to grow us, to build us up in our most holy faith. We live in an age where we have more access to sermons and Christians literature than any generation that has gone before, and we are probably among the poorest educated in Christendom. I don't want to exaggerate or brow beat this evening. I simply want to exhort us. There are books to read and every minister here and others here can give you a list of books. I can give you one book that would change your life; I guarantee it, a book that centers on Christ — Sinclair Ferguson's, In Christ Alone, published by Reformation Trust in the last year — a marvelous book that would profit every single person here.
We need to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to read, yes, read books without pictures. We need to read sentences. We need to equip ourselves so that in the evil day we may be ready to stand. We need to read for the sake of our children. We need to grow in our knowledge for the sake of our teenage children and college children who have questions and more questions and we need to provide them, as good parents, with answers to these questions. We need to keep on growing. We don't need to reach a plateau. We need to keep on assimilating all the facts and all the truths that God has revealed. I think if I could do seminary all over again, I think I'd want to know my Bible better. I think if I could have the last thirty years over again, I think I'd want to know my Bible better. If there's one thing above everything else I would dearly love tonight, it's a better knowledge of Scripture. I'd love to be what Bunyan says we ought to be — that when you prick the vein, Bible texts come flowing out — that we are saturated with the Bible - that we can't get enough of the Bible. You can get enough of turkey, you can get enough of plum pudding, but you can't ever get enough Bible. You can't ever get enough Christian truth.
Now don't think that because you read a tract published by the Banner of Truth Trust or “The Sovereign, Holy, Consistently Calvinistic Publishers with No Holes Barred” company book — I'm making that up you understand — that that in itself will make you a godly person or a Christ-like person. No, what Paul says about the law — that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life. As you read, make sure you pray for the Spirit's blessing. As you read your Bibles, make sure you pray for the Spirit's blessing. Ask the Spirit to show you Christ, to fill you with Christ.
But I think Peter has more in mind than just that. He has that in mind - that's why he's writing a letter. That's why he's writing propositional truth in verbs and nouns and adjectives and adverbs. That's why the Holy Spirit has given to us a Bible. He didn't give us a CD with music on it. I'm not being facetious now, but that's not what He gave us. A CD with music and get a direct line to your affections — I can testify to that in a very powerful way, but God gave us the Bible. He gave us sixty-six books. Every single word, every jot and tittle of it, given as the out breathing of God. But there's more.
Grow, not just in knowledge about Jesus, but grow to know Him, to know Him personally. Do you remember what Paul says when he writes to the Philippians? He says, “I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” Sometimes, yes be careful; be careful what you ask for here. Be careful what you promise, because if you want to know Jesus more personally, He’ll take you through the valley of suffering, because it's there in the valley - in the loss of a loved one, in the pain that we're sometimes asked to undergo with members of our family, in the disappointments and heartaches that come into our lives - it's there that we learn more and more what it meant for Jesus to forsake those sapphire courts and come into this world and humble Himself and be found in fashion as a Man and in the form of a lowly servant. I want to know Him so. I want to know Him as a Prophet. I want to know, “What does Jesus say to me in this situation? What does He teach me?” I want to know Him as my King who rules over me. In every situation He is Lord and He governs and rules over all my enemies and all His enemies and He subdues them. In tense situations, in difficult situations, I want to know His kingship. I want to know His sovereignty. I want to know what it means to trust when all the lights go out that He is King, that He holds the power in His own hand. I want to know Him as my Priest who forgives every sin, every transgression, every blemish, every taint of past sins and present sins and sins I haven't committed yet, which He died for and shed His blood for. I want to know what that means that He would give Himself, that he would be prepared to say “Yes” when the Father says, “Will You go for these people?” I want to know Him as my Friend who sticks closer to me than a brother, who knows my inmost thoughts. He knows my frame, that I'm made of dust. He knows my weaknesses. Someone that I can talk to every single moment of the day — when I'm in the car, when I'm all alone, when I'm out running — that's not me you understand? Whatever it is I'm doing, He's my Friend, closer to me than my wife or husband or children even. The sweetest, dearest, most loyal Friend you can ever imagine — I want to know Him. I want to grow in my knowledge of Him.
II. Grow in grace.
But then Peter says, grow not just in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Grow in grace. Grow, yes in the knowledge of grace, in the understanding of grace, in the implications of grace. I want to grow in my appreciation of the Gospel, of what it means that He died for me. Those are simple little words, aren't they? He died for me. He died for me. And you could write massive, massive tomes, simply trying to explain what those little words mean - He died for me. I want to grow in my appreciation of - “by faith alone in Christ alone.” I want to grow in what grace really means. We sometimes think, don't we, we do, that we are saved by grace and that everything else is my effort. Never, never, never, never stop preaching the Gospel to yourself. No matter now long ago you were saved, never stop preaching the Gospel to yourself because it's by grace alone, all the way every day — every day.
Cardinal Bellarmine was the Darth Vader of the 16th Century. He was the personal theologian to Pope Clement the 8th, the 8th I think. He once said this — “The greatest Protestant heresy is” — now there's a Christmas quiz. “The greatest Protestant heresy is” — now you get some marks if you said justification by faith alone. But that wasn't what he said. “The greatest Protestant heresy is assurance.” Assurance — because for Cardinal Bellarmine, if there is such a thing as assurance, if you can be assured, his whole system comes tumbling down. Do you see? Because for Cardinal Bellarmine and the theology he represents, you get to heaven by effort, by lots of effort, by obedience to a sacramental treadmill. Perhaps only Thomas Acquinas could ever get there. No, not even Thomas Acquinas.
Do you understand the implication of assurance? That I can be assured, I can have absolute assurance that if I died, here in the pulpit, my soul would fly into heaven and into the arms of Jesus. Now for Cardinal Bellarmine, that is the height of arrogance to say that. But for me, it's all about grace, because the basis on which I get to heaven is not my doing. It's not how good a minister I've been, it's not how good my sermons have been. I'm not going to get to heaven if that's the basis. The basis on which I get to heaven is — He died for me. He gave Himself for me. He did it all. He did it not only that I might be saved and then left to myself to finish the course. He died so that I might get to heaven — lock, stock, and barrel.
You know, Luther said something one time, he got into a lot of trouble for it and he still gets into a lot of trouble for it. He was writing to his friend, Philip Melanchton, and he said — hold on to your britches now — he said, “Sin boldly.” C. S. Lewis didn't like it. He said it was an evil sentiment. But let me try and defend Luther for a second. And it's not me that's defending him, it's David Calhoun who's defending him, and I think he's right - David Calhoun, who taught history at Covenant Seminary. Luther is saying this, do you see — he's writing to Melanchton, and Melanchton is always pessimistic. He's always down because he never thinks that he's done it correctly.
You know, there are Christians like that? They never seem to have that assurance. They never seem to enter that rest. They never seem to know that peace of the Gospel. And Luther writes to Melanchton and he says to him, “Philip, the trouble with you is you don't sin enough.” Now you can take that in many ways and many of them are wrong ways, you understand, but try and understand what Luther was actually saying here. When you realize that all of it has been paid, that death has been fully cancelled, it's been washed away by the blood of Jesus, then no matter what you do, no matter what you do, you are safe in the arms of Jesus.
Now we're at a cliff edge, right? Take one more step and you’re into Antinomianism.1 Don't go there. But understand the assurance that comes from being deeply, deeply rooted in the theology of grace. I want to grow in my appreciation of grace.
You know, we find this difficult. I find this difficult. I have to confess; I’ll be personal if I may. I find this difficult because my default is to head in the opposite direction. My default is a performance mentality. My default is that I know my sins better than I know grace. Some of you are like that. Some of you are like that because you’re imprinting your own experience of a father on our Heavenly Father. And your own experience of a father is someone who is cranky and cantankerous and crotchety and moody and we imprint that on our Heavenly Father and we can't fathom it, you see, that God would be that gracious. Do you remember what Paul says? “Sin abounds” — and don't we know it! You know, we're Presbyterians. We know that sin abounds. Oh, we could have a field day. Name half a dozen sins around the congregation — sin abounds. Here, in this congregation, in this congregation, sin abounds. But you remember what Paul says? “Grace much more abounds.”
Now I find that difficult, you see? Because okay, I'm prepared to accept that sin abounds and grace is up to the task. There's this much sin and well, there's this much grace to meet it. But that's not what Paul is saying. He says, “Sin abounds, but grace much more abounds.” I think, I think we have to work really hard to get at what Paul is saying there. And when Peter says, “This is what I want for you, I want you to grow in grace, I want you to be saturated in grace, I want you to be drowning in grace.”
Yes, there is sin. I still hold to the — I'm somewhat old fashioned now, but I still hold to the semi-Augustinian view of Romans 7. I still think in the latter half of Romans 7 Paul is speaking about himself as a believer in a certain way. “Oh wretched man that I am! Oh wretched man that I am!” — that's true. That is true. That's a part of us. That's a part of us in our new humanity. That's a part of us in our regenerate state. That's a part of us in union with Christ. It's unimaginable. It's unthinkable. It ought not to be but there it is. That's the reality. “Oh wretched man that I am!”
But you know what Paul wrote immediately upon those words? Now I know there's a chapter division in our English Bibles, but that's not how Paul wrote it. “There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Yes, there's this wretchedness, there's this sin. “The good that I would I do not, the evil that I would not, that I find I do” but there's grace and there's forgiveness and there's peace with God and there's assurance of everlasting life and it's all because of Jesus. It's all because of Jesus.
I want you to grow in that. I want this year, 2010, to be a year in which grace abounds in our hearts, in our minds, in our affections. How do you measure that? How do you measure growth in grace? How do you measure an appreciation that you've grown in your appreciation of grace, the grace of the Gospel? Well, let me suggest one, one measurement. This is just one measurement. It's not the only measurement. This is just one — that in order to grow up — and how many times have you said that? Not just to your children, but to yourselves — “Why don't you grow up, because you’re behaving like a child?” — that the measurement of growing up is that we grow down. We grow down in humility. You know the example is Philippians 2, isn't it? “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God and made Himself of no reputation.” He humbles Himself, takes the form of a servant. He was found in fashion as a Man. The measurement that we have grown in our appreciation of grace is when those balloons of pride get popped and we're willing to subject ourselves in humility thinking others better than ourselves.
You know, one of the measurements you see in growing in an appreciation of grace is that we stop taking the hump — umbrage, offense. Do you remember, do you remember the older brother? I’ll never forget listening to Dick deWitt, Dr. deWitt as I still call him, preaching a series of sermons in Grace Chapel at RTS in 1975 that eventually became a book on the prodigal son. And I remember a member of my family visiting who heard one of those sermons saying immediately at the end — “I always felt sorry for the older brother.” Because the older brother — you see this was the tragedy of that statement — the older brother didn't get it. He saw himself as slaving for his father and that what the father had given to this prodigal son was not fair. One of the ways in which we measure growing in grace is that we don't say, “That's not fair” when God lavishes His affection on someone else.
Oh hear Peter's last words on this last Sunday of the year. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Let's pray together.
Father, we have not yet begun to appreciate the depth of the ocean of grace, that there is more grace in You than we can ever imagine. We pray, Heavenly Father, that we might, by the power of Your Spirit, be grown in our estimation of it, our love of it, our wonder at it, for the glory of Jesus. Amen.
Please stand. Receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
1. Antinomianism. The doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace.
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