July 19, 2020
We’ve all heard the variety of euphemisms used for death or dying. Some go like this:
- He passed or passed away
- May she rest in peace
- They met their demise
- She is deceased
- He lost his life
- She gave up her battle
- He succumbed to (some disease)
Some with a touch of humor go like this:
- Six feet under
- Kicked the bucket
- Pushing up daisies
- Sleeping with the fishes
- Met his Maker
- Bought the farm
- Bit the dust
- Cashed in his chips
- We lost her
Of course, Christians, typically using the Bible, have their own vocabulary:
- Going the way of all the earth
- Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
- Being gathered to one’s people
- Entered into their great reward
- Going home
- Putting off the body
- Going to heaven
- Breathed his last
- Fallen asleep
In the Bible, there are a number of testaments – that is, the final words of some great person like Jacob or Moses or Joshua. In the NT, Stephen’s final words are recorded in Acts 7. As they stoned him, he said, “‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep.” Paul’s last letter – II Timothy – is considered his swan song, his testament as he faced imminent death. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
We even have recorded for us the seven sayings of Jesus Himself from the cross, the last two being, “It is finished,” and “Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit.” There are also recorded several last words of great Christian people:
As related by his wife Martha, President George Washington said, “Doctor, I am dying, but I am not afraid to die.” He folded his hands over his chest and said, “It is well.”
John Wesley said, “The best of all is that God is with us, farewell.”
John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, said in his last days, “I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon.”
Missionary David Brainerd said, “I am going into eternity and it is sweet to me to think of eternity.”
Dietrich Bonhoffer, German theologian, while standing in front of a firing squad during World War 2 for opposing Hitler said, “This may seem to be the end for me, but it is just the beginning.”
In 2010, one of my personal favorites, John Stott, wrote his last book, entitled The Radical Disciple. He died the following year, 2011. In the book, he writes eight characteristics or qualities of a true follower of Jesus. The last words, of his last book, in the last chapter called Conclusion, are these, “We cannot conclude better than to hear and heed the words of Jesus in the upper room: ‘You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am’ (John 13:13). Basic to all discipleship is our resolve not only to address Jesus with polite titles but to follow his teaching and obey his commands.” That’s what Peter has been telling us.
Two days ago, on Friday, J.I. Packer died. He had macular degeneration, so for the last few years of his life, he could neither read nor write. In his last interview, he was asked what his final words would be to the church. After a ten-second pause, he replied, “Glorify Christ, every way.”
There are many more encouraging final words I could read. II Peter is often considered Peter’s testament – his final words in his final letter, facing imminent death. I suggested as I introduced the book most scholars believe the letter was written from Rome in the mid to late 60’s, during Nero’s persecutions. Christians were being killed – Peter was a leader among them. Death by martyrdom seemed imminent. Tradition tells us he was crucified upside down.
Here’s a question I’d have you ponder – if you knew death was close – soon – right around the corner, how would you live your last days, weeks or months? Not because you’re sick, necessarily – you just somehow knew death was close. What would you do? How would you live? Most have a bucket list – you might try to squeeze in some of the things – sky dive, scuba dive, travel, ballroom dancing.
What would you do? What did Peter do, knowing his end was right around the corner? Let’s read the text for today, II Peter 1:12-15.
Peter has just finished preaching a mini-sermon, from verses 3 to 11 of chapter 1. It helps lay the groundwork for the rest of the letter. Now, having reminded us of God’s grace in our lives – we have everything we need for life and godliness, having challenged us to pursue godly virtue, having reminded us that eternity is at stake, he transitions to the body of his letter – his main purpose for writing – in these few verses. He’s going to oppose the false teachers in chapter 2, expose and correct their false teaching in chapter 3. But first, he reminds us he was with Jesus on the holy mountain – the Mount of Transfiguration. He reminds us these prophecies regarding the return of Christ and the coming judgment were not a matter of one’s own will or opinions – but they were moved by the very Holy Spirit who inspired their writings.
That’s the end of chapter 1, but he begins now, in these transition verses, by saying – since your eternity is at stake, even though you already know these things, I will stir you up by way reminder until I die. You see, he says, my death is imminent. And I want you to be ready. So again, what would you do in your closing days, weeks and months? Nothing is more important than reminding people of the truth of the Gospel – to be prepared for Christ’s coming, His judgment and His eternal kingdom. After all, eternity is at stake.
The outline looks like this:
- Peter’s Reminders (12-13)
- Peter’s Imminent Death (14)
- Peter’s Diligence (15)
Starting with, Peter’s reminders. He starts this short paragraph with the word therefore, tying it to verses 3-11, his little sermon. Therefore, because God has given us everything we need to grow in spiritual maturity, grow in spiritual maturity. After all, those who grow prove the reality of their faith, and will receive an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Therefore, because all this true – indispensably necessary – I will always be ready to remind you of these things. Stop right there. I want you to think about that for just a moment. Some of you have been in church all your lives. You’ve been studying the Bible for years – decades. You’ve heard the truth, over and over. And perhaps you’ve gotten to the point where you think, I know all this – I don’t really need it anymore. I’ve got this down. Why does Peter say he will keep reminding his readers – that’s us – of these things over and over? Because the truth is, we are forgetful. We are easily distracted. We need to be reminded of God’s grace in our lives, and our response to that grace – repeatedly.
That’s why, for example, through the OT, God often told the Israelites to erect memorials – in the form pillars of stone, for example – to remember His works on their behalf. (Crossing the Jordan.) He gave them the Passover to be observed year after year, so they would remember their deliverance from Egypt. He gave them the Feast of Tabernacles – when they would camp outside for a week each year – so they would remember how God preserved them through their wilderness wanderings. Inside the Ark of the Covenant were three things: the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s budding rod. All three represented significant events in their lives – events God wanted them to remember.
Why do we do communion, month after month, year after year? Because we are prone to forget. And God doesn’t want us to forget the work of His Son on the cross – His blood shed for us, His body broken for us. We observe communion both to remember, and also as a means of sanctifying grace, so that we can grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
So, Peter says, I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them, and have been established in the truth which is present with you. On the one hand, he says, I know you know it. I don’t want you to forget. But on the other hand, he seeks to encourage them. What do I mean?
Well, let’s be honest. His words from last week – last week’s message – were hard-hitting. He actually said to us – if you have these qualities in abundance, you will be neither useless nor unfruitful. He said if you don’t, you are still blind, and have forgotten His purification of your former sins. He said, if you are growing to spiritual maturity, an entrance into heaven will be supplied to you. The implication was, if you aren’t growing – if you think you can just say a prayer and use Jesus as a fire escape from hell, and still live in your sin – you call yourself a follower of Jesus, but you don’t follow Jesus – then you will not receive an entrance into heaven. Hard words last week.
But now, he seeks to encourage us. He says, I will always remind you of these things you already know. I don’t want you to fall. I don’t want you to desert. I don’t want you to turn away. This is too serious. So I will keep reminding you, even though you know them, and in fact, you are established in these truths. You are well-grounded in them. (Luke 22) I say that to you. You are well-grounded – you are established on firm foundation in the truth. Why do I keep saying it over and over? So you stay well-grounded. So you never fall. I can give you names of people who have. Who grew up in this church – who heard truth week after week, month after month, year after year. Not only from me, but in their homes. From many others. And they walked away. I don’t want you to do that.
So, verse 13, I consider it right – proper – good – as long as I’m in this earthly dwelling. Not the best of translations – it’s literally, tent. As long as I’m in this tent. This was a common way to refer to the body – and it spoke of the temporary nature of the body. It’s like a tent – it’s not a permanent dwelling, at least not now – not as it is. Paul spoke of the body as tent in II Corinthians 5:
1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
2 For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven,
3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.
4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.
5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
Paul is comparing the temporary – our earthly bodies – with the eternal – with which we will be clothed in heaven. This mortal will be swallowed up by eternal life – this mortality will put on immortality, this corruption will put on incorruption, he says I Corinthians 15. And we have received the Spirit of God as pledge of that promise.
Here, Peter too speaks of the temporary nature of the earthly body. Now, we should not think he or Paul is teaching Greek dualism – that everything that is physical is bad, and everything spiritual is good. That gave rise to living sinfully in the flesh – like the false teachers – because it didn’t matter. It was evil anyway. That’s not what they are saying. We are body and soul or spirit. And this body will wear out and die. Kick the bucket. Push up some daisies. But not forever. I’ll come back to that at the end.
So as long as we are on this earth, together, in these tents we call bodies – I will stir you up, he says. The words stir you up are strong in the Greek. They speak of awakening someone, of provoking them. I will keep stirring you up – wanting what is best for you.
Bringing us to our second point. I will keep reminding you till I die – which appears to be close. Verse 14, knowing that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling – tent, same word – is imminent. Again, he could know it was close because of the Neronian persecutions of Christians.
You see, on July 19, 64 AD, a great fire ignited Rome and raged incessantly for six days and seven nights. Half of the city’s fourteen wards were burned to the ground. Tiberius Claudius Drusus Germanicus Caesar, self-proclaimed Imperator Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, was the Roman ruler at the time. You know him simply as Nero, who was not a nice guy. Of all the atrocities I could share, perhaps one of the worst is when he had his own mother Agrippina and wife Octavia put to death so he could marry another. When the fire broke out, Nero was in his nearby birthplace, Antium, but he hurried back to Rome and enjoyed the sight from a window in his palace, singing “The Burning of Troy” with his guitar. There are those who suggest Nero was certifiably, pathologically insane.
Soon, well-founded rumors circulated Nero himself had ordered the destruction. In fact, the rumors were begun by several caught deliberately starting the fires. Nero made several unsuccessful attempts to remove the suspicion. He was in a bind and needed a scapegoat, someone else on whom he could blame the catastrophe. He succeeded by himself spreading false rumors that a sect known as Christians started the fires. He issued a decree that Christianity was henceforth religio illicita, an illegal religion, and that Christians be arrested and punished. During the savage persecutions that followed, many Christians perished throughout the empire. To include the Apostles Paul and Peter. Again, credible tradition tells us Peter was crucified upside down.
So, with the persecutions raging, Peter knew his time had likely come. But more than the persecutions, he says at the end of verse 14, as also our Lord Jesus Christ has made known to me. When was that? Was this some special prophecy Jesus had recently given Peter? Possibly. But most point to the end of John’s Gospel. John 21. You remember that story – it’s the one where Jesus restores Peter. He asked Peter three times, to you love Me, Peter? And three times, corresponding to Peter’s previous, grievous denials, Peter says, yes, I love you. Then Jesus said, feed My sheep, tend My lambs. I’ve suggested that is exactly what Peter is doing in II Peter. But at the end of that conversation, Jesus said to Peter:
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”
19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
In other words, Peter knew, from that day forward, that he would glorify God in what appears to be a death by martyrdom – stretching out his hands likely a reference to crucifixion. So Peter knew for over thirty years – thirty years of serving Christ – that he would die not by natural causes. He would give his life for Christ. And now, he seemed to understand his days were numbered – the day he’d known about was right around the corner. Bringing me back to my question – if you knew your last days, weeks, months were upon you – how would you live?
Peter says, point three, I will be faithful to the end. I will also be diligent – the same word, the thing he had encouraged them to be – diligent to remind you of these things so that after my departure – don’t miss that word, you will be able to call these things to mind. You will remember Christ and His gospel. You will remember to follow faithfully.
Interesting, he calls his death, my departure. The word actually exodus – leaving and going from one place to another. Paul said it this way in Philippians 1:
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
22But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
These Christian leaders – probably none greater in the NT – saw their deaths as a departure – to go and be with Jesus. Go from one place to another, which is better by far. Please understand, (aside) when you die, your soul goes immediately to be with the Lord. Remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross – the one who believed? Today, you will be with Me in paradise. Remember that passage in II Corinthians 5 where Paul talks about the temporary nature of our physical bodies – tents as they are? He goes on in the next verses:
6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—
7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—
8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
So, when we die, while our tents, our physical bodies are buried, we immediately go to heaven to be with the Lord. And we await the future resurrection of our bodies – when they will put on immortality and incorruption. Paul said is this way in I Thessalonians 4:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
The Scripture is clear – to die is to be with the Lord, awaiting with Him, His return and our bodily resurrections. And so, Peter and Paul desired their departures. To be with Christ was very much better. But till then, they were faithful. Faithfully reminding us of the eternal value of believing in and following Christ. I will keep reminding you of these things till I die.
I’m out of time – I’m done. What will happen when I say those words for the final time? I’m done. Tim Keller is 69 and battling cancer. John Piper is 74 and a cancer survivor. D. A. Carson is 73. Beth Moore is 63. Kay Arthur is 86. John Stott and J.I. Packer have gone to their reward. Who will remind us, who will remind the church, when they’re gone? Will it be you?