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2 Peter 3:8-9
Dear Friends in Christ,
How patient are you? Can you wait until Christmas to find out what your gifts are, or are you already snooping around to see if you can find them? How patient are you in traffic? How about in the check out line at the store? It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to wait, especially for something you know will be really good when it happens.
Peter reminds us that, as the world continues on year after year, and nothing seems to change, it will be hard to be patient. As crime and persecution increase; as the love of most grows cold; it will be hard to be patient. We will be tempted to look to heaven and say, “come, Lord Jesus. What’s taking you so long to return and put an end to all this wickedness and suffering?” And, what will make it even worse, is that unbelievers will mock us for thinking that Jesus really will return in glory. They will say, they do say, the world has been evolving for billions of years and it’s going to keep doing that with, or without us, unless we destroy it with our fossil fuels or nuclear weapons. But, they say, God has nothing to do with it. Jesus is just a prophet who died, he’s not coming back in judgment or glory. It’s hard to be patient in the face of the mockery of the world. We want to say, “did you hear what they say about you, Jesus? Why don’t you come right now and show them!”
Part of our problem with being patient is that we are governed by time. When God created the world he made it subject to time. There was morning and evening already on the first day. Later he created the sun, moon and stars to mark the passage of time. We are never happy with time. Either we are looking forward to something and we wish time would come more quickly, or we are dreading something and we wish the time for that dreaded thing would never come. Everything we do is subject to time. But God isn’t. He is outside of time. That’s what Peter means when he says that for him a day is like 1000 years and 1000 years like a day. He is the I AM God, the one who simply exists in an eternal present. This enables him to interact with us, who are stuck in time, at just the right time. We hear that expressed by Paul when he reminds us that when the time had fully come, when it was just the right time, God sent his son to be born into the world, to be subject to time and space as we are, so that he could redeem us.
God, who is outside of time and can interact with us who are subject to time, and do so at just the right time, has a good reason for taking his time in bringing judgment. That good reason, Peter says, is that he does not want anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance. The one who sees the past, present and future as an eternal present knows when the best time for the judgement has come so that the greatest number of people will be saved. God is patient with a purpose, and that purpose is salvation for you, and me, and as many others as possible.
Peter reminds us of the patience of God in the days of Noah. The world was a lot worse then than it is now. Yet, God waited patiently while Noah built the Ark and proclaimed God’s word. He gave the world 120 years because he wanted all to come to repentance.
When God told Abraham that he would give him the land of Canaan he also told him that his promise wouldn’t find fulfillment for 400 years. The reason was that he was giving the current residents of Canaan that long to come to repentance before he used Israel to bring judgment on them.
Consider God’s patience with Israel. Over and over and over again they turned away to idols. For about 1000 years God was patient with them until he finally sent the Babylonians to take them captive. And even after that he allowed them to return to Israel and rebuild the temple.
God is patient. He was patient with the people before the flood. He was patient with the Canaanites. He was unbelievably patient with rebellious Israel. Praise God, he is patient with you! Think about all the times you have been impatient with others. Think of the times that you have been like James and John, wanting to call down fire from heaven, or at least wishing that God would bring judgment on someone, because they hurt you, or acted in unbelief. He could have brought judgment on you for your sinful impatience, but he was patient with you.
Think about the times you lost your tempter with your spouse, or your children, or a sibling, or a co-worker. Your impatience with them led you to say or do hurtful things. God could have brought judgment on you for your sinful impatience and the hurt that it caused others.
Think about the times when you have become impatient with God because he didn’t do what you thought he should do when you thought he should do it. God could have brought judgment on you for your prideful impatience, thinking that you knew better than God and that your timing was better than his.
Think about the times when you gave up on someone, when you thought you had been patient with them and tried to use God’s word to lead them to repentance, but they seemed to continue in unbelief and you gave up sharing God’s word with them.
We are often guilty of impatience, and sins that come from impatience. But Jesus was always patient. Consider how patient he was with his disciples when they displayed lack of faith or lack of understanding of his mission, even though they had seen many miracles and heard him explain his mission over and over again. Consider how patient he was with Pilate at his trial, explaining that his kingdom was not of this world and that if Pilate really wanted to know the truth he would gladly tell him. Consider how patient Jesus was even as he was being crucified. Instead of calling down fire from heaven on those who were treating him unjustly he prayed Father forgive them.
Jesus was patient with a purpose. He patiently taught his disciples. He patiently endured the terrible pain of crucifixion so that he could win salvation. He was patient so that he could pay for all the times we have been impatient with God and with others. He is patient for your sakes, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance. Thank God that he is patient with you, for your sake, for your salvation.
God is patient, but not forever. The flood did come. Israel did conquer Canaan. Israel was destroyed. The day of the Lord will come. The reason he has not brought about the final judgment is that he wants as many as possible to be saved. As those who know this; as those who have personally experienced the result of God’s patience and have been brought to repentance and faith in Jesus; we want to work while it is day before the night of the judgment comes. As children of God through faith in Jesus we share his patience with a purpose. We realize that God’s patience will run out. The last day could come at any time. God’s patience at the present time isn’t an excuse to be lazy. It’s a reason to get to work. It’s a reason to patiently, persistently, and urgently share God’s word with others, especially with those who scoff at the idea of the Lord’s second coming. If it’s God’s will that all come to repentance, then, as his disciples, that is our will too. And, as Luther reminds us, God’s will is done among us when his word is taught in truth and purity and we, as children of God, lead holy lives according to it. God’s will is done when we use the time God patiently gives the world and us to make sure as many people as possible hear the good news about Jesus so that the Holy Spirit can bring them to repentance, so that they do not perish but have eternal life.
How patient are you? It’s hard to be patient in this world of instant gratification where we complain if the internet is slow, or a package shows up a day late. It’s hard to be patient when our sinful nature wants God to act according to our will and time table. Thankfully God is patient. Jesus was perfectly patient. He is patient with a purpose. His patience won salvation for the world. His patience with us is the only reason we are saved. As a child of God who has experienced God’s patience, be patient with a purpose. Show patience with others in a way that points them to the word and how patient God is with them so that many more will come to repentance and not perish, but have eternal life with Jesus.