Issues concerning the end of the world have always been fascinating. They are also quite terrifying. The end of the world will usher in a time of divine judgment. We might not like to talk about it, but we must. Perhaps this sermon by Kevin Miller—material that delivers hard-edged truths in a loving, pastoral manner—will give you a few ideas for your own preaching.
Introduction: Two ways to look at the end of the world
There are really only two ways you can look at the end of the world. The first way is popular, and it goes like this: "What 'end of the world?' There's not going to be any 'end of the world.' Who's to say there's some God? Or a purpose? Or guiding hand? Or any real progress to speak of? History isn't going anywhere, except maybe 'round and 'round in a circle. There's not going to be any 'end of the world.'"
The second way you can look at the end of the world is to say, "There sure is going to be an 'end of the world!'" This second view usually comes in different versions. For example, many folks speak of an environmental apocalypse, saying, "Follow the trends on rising temperatures, melting glaciers, disappearing rain forests, and shrinking ozone layers. Pretty soon, half of California will be under seawater, and people will be dying because of UV rays and lack of food." Others ascribe to a "Left Behind" apocalypse, outlined in the popular series of books: bombers on the Syrian border, people disappearing from planes, and one-world government leaders named Nicolae. When placed alongside these many different versions, the historical version of the end of the world is much simpler. I can explain it in three phrases, using 2 Peter 3 as my guide: (1) Jesus is coming again (v. 4); (2) ungodly people will be destroyed (v. 7); (3) the earth will be remade (v. 10), giving way to the new heavens and new earth (v. 13). In other words, the earth is going to get an extreme makeover—the house we're living in will be bulldozed, and on the site where it once stood, the Architect is going to put up a newer, better house. In the biblical view of the end of the world, you're left with the way things were originally intended, only better: a beautiful earth with a good God and his people back together again.
But here's what happens. The folks who believe there's going to be an end of the world are always trying to defend their case against scoffers and doubters. For example, there are a lot of blogs scoffing at the notion of an environmental apocalypse. One blog I read said, "Man-Made Climate Change Is Bunk." In response, those who think there's going to be an environmental end of the world say, "Wait! I can show you satellite photos that prove the ozone layer is wearing thin! I can show you measurements that show how the polar ice shelf is shrinking!"
Similarly, Christians have their own line of reasoning to push back against the "nothing's going to happen" folks. You might be interested in what that line of reasoning is, and you might be surprised to find out that it wasn't developed in our "whatever," "prove it" culture. In fact, this line of reasoning took shape in biblical times, because even back then, many people didn't believe in an end of the world.
People scoff at the idea that there will be an end to the world.
Peter wrote his second letter to the church when he was near death. In fact, at the time of its writing, many of the apostles were starting to die off. Christians were wondering, What happened to the promise that Jesus was coming back? It was painfully obvious to them that it had been 30 years since Jesus left, so what was going on? Some people were starting to say, "You know what's going on? Nothing! And nothing's ever going to happen!"
With this in mind, Peter writes verses 3-4: "First off, you need to know that in the last days, mockers are going to have a heyday. Reducing everything to the level of their puny feelings, they'll mock, 'So what's happened to the promise of Jesus' Coming? Our ancestors are dead and buried, and everything's going on just as it has from the first day of creation. Nothing's changed.'" (The Message)
It seems like the scoffers have an irrefutable argument: "Nothing has happened, so how can we possibly say that something will happen? It looks like we've got a Second Coming that doesn't come. This looks like yet another 'The sky is falling!' moment." But Peter says: Guess what? There's a very good reason the end of the world hasn't happened yet, and it's not the reason you think.
Peter offers this reason in verse 9: "The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. "In other words, the delay doesn't mean it's not going to happen; it means God is giving you more time to "get your paper done and turn it in."
Peter then turns the argument back around and says: Do you want to know the real reason you don't believe there's going to be a Second Coming and a final judgment? It's because you don't want to believe it! Check out verse 3: "In the last days, scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires." Then look at verse 5: "They deliberately forget" that God destroyed the world once, and he can do it again.
I was reading a book by an executive coach, and she shared the one question she asks every CEO: "What are you pretending not to know?" This is the same question Peter is asking of the people who think there's never going to be a Second Coming—who think that there's never going to be a final judgment or an end to the world. Peter says: You can tell yourself whatever you want, but the thought that there's never going to be an "end of the world" is not coming from an objective, impartial evaluation of ideas. It's coming from your deep, unacknowledged desire to do whatever you want to and get away with it. You know full well that if you paid attention to the fact that the world is going to end and God is going to hold you accountable, you would have to clean up your act. To avoid the necessary changes, you just keep telling yourself that it's never going to happen.
In April of 2008, I had to drive to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for work, so I went to Enterprise to rent a car. They gave me a big, brand-new, comfy Chrysler 300 to drive—and I loved it! In fact, I enjoyed feeling large and in charge so much that I blew right past the first tollbooth. You see, I'm not used to stopping for tollbooths, because I have an I-PASS in my own car—a little device that signals I've already prepaid my tolls.
After passing the first tollbooth, I thought about it: Oh! This car doesn't have an I-PASS! But just as I started to worry about it, I thought, This car belongs to the rental-car company—not me. So they're probably responsible for any tolls. That must be what your rental money goes toward covering.
When I got on 294, I drove past another toll, thinking, Even if I am responsible for the tolls, there are only a few tolls between here and Indiana—maybe $4 round trip. I'm sure there's some threshold where they don't even bother sending you a bill for the tolls. I mean, it wouldn't be worth their time to send me a bill for only $4. Nothing's going to happen!
After I returned home from my business trip, a month or two went by. Nothing happened—and I knew nothing ever would. Then, in October, I received a piece of mail that read: "Notice of Toll Violation."
I was right, to a degree. The Tollway Authority wouldn't bother sending me a bill for my measly $3.90 in tolls. But when you add in a $20 fine for every one of the 5 tollbooths I drove past, they did bother sending me a bill for $103.90!
I about had a heart attack. They had me dead to rights. They had a photo of my rental-car's license plate. They even knew the exact lane number I was in. The fact that months had gone by and nothing had happened didn't mean that nothing was ever going to happen.
Peter says: Get a clue, people! Just because the Lord hasn't come back yet, don't think for a minute that he won't! The Lord isn't being slow about his promise, as some people think. No—he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
We don't like the idea that God will destroy ungodly people.
God is giving you more time because so much is at stake—and what is at stake is not $100 in tolls and fines, but your very life and destiny. Second Peter 3:7 says that there will be a "day of judgment, when ungodly people will be destroyed." The question that remains, then, is this: What's the overall direction of your life? Is it godly or ungodly? Are you moving toward God or away from him?
If you believe God will bring judgment, it should make you shudder that people you know and people you love and maybe even you are in deep trouble. If you don't believe it, it probably makes you shudder that any religion would teach a doctrine so terrifying and exclusive—that some people are in and some people are out, some will be blessed and live forever, while others will be destroyed. We all struggle with this kind of thinking. We all want a God who will guarantee that no one will be left behind.
I understand that. But have you considered that a lot of us put God in a double bind? When we read in the Bible that God brings judgment, we think, That's so old fashioned! Who could serve a god like this? But when God is supremely patient, allowing the world to keep spinning even though drunk drivers kill innocent people, uncles abuse their nieces, and big companies play around until the economy gets wrecked, we think, Where's God? Why does he let all this junk go down? There must not be a God!
We don't like the fact that God judges and destroys some people, but we also don't like the fact that God keeps the world going out of patience, giving time for everyone to repent. It turns out that God is both more severe than we want him to be and more patient than we want him to be, and because of this, God can't please us. He just cannot make us happy.
When you see the kind of double bind we put God in, it makes you wonder, What are we pretending not to know? It's probably what the voice of our conscience, which we can't quite silence, tells us: "There will be a day of accountability. There will be a day when everything is revealed—when I will have to explain my life to God." The only reason that day has not come yet is because God would rather wait for you, than punish you.
Living lives of repentance
In light of our understanding about the end of the world, what should we do? For starters, we must repent! The way out of judgment is to repent, and here's what repentance looks like:
Verse 11: "Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live."
Verse 14: "While you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight."
Holy lives. Godly lives. Peaceful lives. Pure and blameless lives. That's what shows you are living a life of repentance.
You already know what a godly and peaceful life looks like. You know when you're living that way, and you know when you're not. Have you hurt somebody, and you know it, but you can't quite convince yourself to go and ask forgiveness? You may not have more time, so do it now. Or have you had this growing realization that you carry a lot of anger in your heart, and it keeps pushing people away? When are you going to stop tolerating that and start working on it? Jesus is coming back, so start working on it now. Or what about the time that money was tight, and you cut a corner even though you knew it was wrong? The time to get serious about living a holy life is now. Right this moment.
God doesn't want to punish you; he wants to pardon you. He's waiting and waiting and waiting, patiently giving you more time. But he won't wait forever, so repent.
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?