In 2 Peter, the apostle Peter tells us that we have some things that we need to remember. How will we do that? How will we remember? Tie a string on our finger? Put up a note on the fridge? Or write a reminder on your arm the way my daughter did the other day? Those reminders are fine for routine things, like buying more string, feeding the dog, or paying the power bill. But some things are much more important to remember, and there could be serious consequences sometimes if we forget.
Have you heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre? It happened in 1921 on Memorial Day weekend over two days, and there’s debate about exactly what started it. It started probably as some small thing, some accusation, false accusation. But it ended up that over eight hundred people were injured. Probably somewhere between (they’re not sure) seventy-five and three hundred people were killed. Thirty-five square blocks of the Greenwood area, Greenwood neighborhood near downtown Tulsa, were destroyed or burned. They even used airplanes to drop incendiary bombs on the crowd. You may have heard about it, but here’s the interesting thing. I lived in Tulsa when I was in high school. It was about fifty-five years after that event. And do you know what? I never really heard about it. I mean, I knew that something had happened. You know, I remember hearing about that something in the 1920s, but I didn’t know where it was or how bad it was. It was something that just happened somewhere, I figured, way out on some other end of town, not right near downtown. As a matter of fact, I walked around those parts of downtown. There was a Western store down there that I used to like to go to. I was right there, had no idea. There was nothing there to help me remember what happened.
I’ll tell you today, if you go there, you’ll see it because seventy-five years after the massacre, in 1976, they started to put together commissions to memorialize what happened. And in 2001, they’ve started more things. And then at the 100th anniversary, there was more. So, things have changed. You couldn’t walk around that area now and not see some of these memorials. But when I was there, those memories were paved over. And it points to what one author called the failure of American memory, when we don’t really confront the past; we don’t really think about the past. We kind of forget it.
So, what about us? Do we, God’s people, have a failure of memory? We have gathered here for the last several weeks to read 2 Peter and learn to remember. We’ve learned that we should grow, discern, and wait. And we may remember these things today, maybe even next week, but do we know that our memory will not fail at some point? We are forgetful creatures. Like the children of Israel, who saw God’s miraculous rescue from Egypt and crossed over the Red Sea on dry land, yet a few months later, wanted to worship a golden calf, we need to pray that God will help us remember.
So, today we’ll review some of the memorable lessons from 2 Peter. And I’ve crafted a prayer that I hope will help us remember. We’ll build that piece by piece as we go. But we should pray that our memory would not fail and that we ourselves would become memorials to God’s promise. I think there are three parts to this prayer. First, we should pray to remember God’s promise. Peter starts his letter, as Rebecca read for us just a minute ago, with what sounds like a lot of heavy theological language. But if you take that apart, you’ll see that Peter’s saying that all of these things are here to remind us that this is what God has given us.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”
That’s a lot to remember, and it’s worth remembering. But there’s one key point I want you to think about — the word “promise.” By using the word “promise,” Peter here is saying that all of these gifts come from a God who keeps his promises. You can count on him. That’s worth remembering. Our God keeps his promises.
The idea of promises … Really, it’s interesting. It comes up several times in this short letter. In verse 4, as we said, “he’s granted us this great and precious promises.” But then Peter brings it up again at the end and several times in between. At the end, chapter 3, verse 13,
“According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
So, we’re waiting because we know we have a God who keeps his promises.
Peter also tells us that because of God’s promises, we should work, be diligent, make every effort. And the word that Peter uses often in this book is the same word that Paul uses when he tells Timothy in II Timothy, “do your best to present yourself.” That’s the word —
“do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
You may be familiar with it in the King James —
“study to show thyself approved unto God.”
That word “study, do your best, be diligent,” it implies zeal, resolve, drive. And Peter uses it five times in this letter. And we need to remember that we make every effort like this — we’re diligent not to earn God’s favor, but because of it. Peter says,
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, your virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control,”
and so on, through all of those eight virtues. And then again, he brings it up at the end, chapter 3, verse 14,
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”
Now, it can be a little bit confusing if you think about this, because it sounds like we’re supposed to be diligent in order to earn God’s favor; God will be happy. One book I read one time that had mixed-up theology said we should give money to the church, we should give an offering, because if you want to have good people working for you, you have to pay them good. So, in other words, we’re paying God? Is that what that is? And is that what we’re doing here? We’re earning his favor? No. He’s already favored us. We now act on that favor. And that’s something we need to remember.
We also need to remember that knowing equals growing. Peter uses the word “knowledge” thirteen times in this letter, which is a lot for this small, three-chapter letter that he has. And we need to remember what knowledge meant for him. We often think about knowledge as something separate from action. You know, somebody can know a lot, but they don’t do anything with it. But for Peter, that wasn’t possible. He’s thinking the way the Hebrews thought about this. Knowledge and action are inextricably linked. So, if you know you’re going to grow, and if you don’t grow, you probably didn’t know in the first place. And you could really put these three terms together — “knowing” and “growing” and “remembering.” When Peter talks about them, they all kind of fit together, and he puts this right at the end.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Growing in grace and knowledge; they’re all tied together. So, we need to remember that the God who keeps his promises has given us grace to know and grow. So, how should we remember those promises?
We could, I suppose, pray that God would do something like this [picture of girl with a note paper-clipped to her shirt]. This little girl has a reminder paper-clipped right to her shirt, and I can’t quite tell how she feels about that. The story is that the teacher wanted to get a message home to her parents and figured the best way would be just to put it right there on her shirt. Now, we could pray that God would pin his promises right to our shirt. But hopefully we’re going to change our shirt every now and then. So, that may not be the best way. Instead, I think it’s better if we ask the Lord to write his promise on our hearts and transform us so that His promise becomes the center of our thinking and actions, our knowing and growing. I think we should pray something like this —
“Lord, write your promise on my heart;
May it my center be.
Your great and precious promises
Are life itself to me.
And planted there within my heart,
Let now your love take root
So I become what grace supplies
And bear a godly fruit.”
So, we should pray that we remember his promise.
And next, we should pray that we remember his rescue. Peter reminds us that false teachers will come. And these false teachers may not only deny orthodoxy, but also orthopraxy. Let’s talk about what that means. Orthodoxy — if you go to the orthodontist, he straightens your teeth. “Ortho” is straight; so, “orthodoxy” is “straight doxy, straight teaching,” the right teaching. And there are false teachers, obviously, who deny right teaching, who teach false things. Peter touches on that in this letter. But there’s more because they also deny orthopraxy, “right practice,” the right kind of actions and behavior. In fact, that’s a prominent characteristic of Peter’s vivid description of these false teachers. Look how he does this. He says these false teachers …
“There’ll be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.”
And then he goes on, talks about their sensuality, greed, false words. They’re “bold and willful.”
“[They’re] irrational animals, creatures of instinct … blaspheming about matters of which they’re ignorant … blots and blemishes…. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed…. They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption.”
That’s what forgetting looks like. In fact, denying orthodoxy and orthopraxy, that’s the same as forgetting. Just like knowing and growing and remembering are the same, forgetting and falling away from truth and right practice, those are also the same.
It’s also worth remembering, Peter tells us that this forgetting is most often willful. In chapter 3, verse 5, when talking about those who deny, the scoffers who deny the Lord’s second coming, they deliberately overlook this fact. And that word “overlook” is a synonym for forgetting. They deliberately forget that the Lord is [not] coming.
And they are reveling in these deceptions, and they may be nearby. That’s the next thing to remember. The false teachers may be nearby. It says,
“Reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you.”
In other words, they may be part of your love feast that you have as part of the Lord’s Supper. They’re not just off on the Internet or across the world or the country or in some other church or some other denomination. They can be here. Now, does that mean that it’s possible that some of us could fall into false teaching, false doctrine? Yeah, it’s possible. But it’s also possible that we could forget what God has done and fall into false practice. That’s why we need to remember God’s promises.
So, there are willful false teachers nearby who set traps for us. What should we do? What else do we need to remember? Peter tells us, in a sense, that God’s promises come with proof, and that’s worth remembering. He says,
“The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials.”
And when he says that, that comes at the end of a sentence, a long sentence that spans seven verses, and it contains the proof, where God gives examples of how he has rescued other people and how he has carried out his judgment and still preserved his people. He judged the angels who sinned. He judged the world in Noah’s time while still rescuing Noah and his family. He rained down fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah while rescuing. Lot. Now, it would be enough if God just said, “Believe me.” But we don’t have to just take him at his word because graciously he has given us examples of how he has rescued his people. And over and over and over again in the scriptures, there are stories of God’s rescue. That’s the proof of his promise.
So, how should we pray to remember God’s rescue though some false teachers may try to deceive us? Well, to make sure we’re not deceived, we could study and pray the way these Israeli men do in an ultra-orthodox yeshiva [picture of men praying in a yeshiva]. They spend all of their time reciting the Torah and praying, often rocking back and forth as they do it. They don’t have other jobs. They’re exempt from mandatory Israeli military service that the rest of the population has to do. They receive a monthly stipend from the government to support themselves and their families. So, they’re spending all their time studying.
And even though we’re supposed to be diligent, I don’t think it means that we spend all of our time reciting the scriptures and putting aside all other responsibilities. Instead, I think we should pray that God would weave the story of his rescue and his promise into our thoughts themselves so that when we hear the deceptions of false teachers, we stay on a stable course and remember God’s rescue. I think we should pray like this —
“Lord, weave your story through my thoughts
That I may not forget
For some may promise freedom here
But live in slavery yet.
Though they set traps my soul to snare,
Your story tells me true
That you know how to rescue me
With mercies ever new.”
So, we should pray that we will remember God’s promise. We should pray that we will remember his rescue. And we should pray that we will remember his return. When Peter talks about those who deny the Lord’s return, he suggests that denying Jesus’s return may be an excuse for sin, and that’s something we need to remember. It says that these scoffers that come in the last days with scoffing will deny the Lord’s return. They are following their own sinful desires.
It reminds me of Psalm 14:1. It’s a familiar verse.
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
And the sense of that is not simply that the fool is saying “God doesn’t exist” because existence … The word “is” for the Hebrews was more active than that. He’s saying, “God isn’t active. God isn’t doing anything. God isn’t intervening in my affairs. God isn’t judging me. And since there is no judge, I can do whatever I want.” That’s why they’re corrupt. They do abominable deeds. There’s none who does good because they don’t think they’re ever going to have to pay a price for it. And I think often, when people deny the Lord’s coming, that’s what they’re thinking. But flip it around and you’ll see why it’s important for us to remember. If denying the Lord’s coming is an excuse for sin, remembering his return is a reason for diligence. That’s why we should work.
We should also remember that God doesn’t punch a human time clock. 2 Peter 3:8-9,
“Do not overlook this one fact.”
Don’t forget it. That’s the same word.
“Don’t forget this fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise [there it is again] as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
God’s day planner doesn’t look like ours. He doesn’t lay things out in a schedule that would necessarily be our preference. We don’t understand it, and we are not in a position to tell God what to do and when to do it. And while it’s fine to cry out to God and say, “What, Lord? Where are you? I need your rescue. I think I need it now.” Well, that’s okay, but if we start to slip into forgetting and error and the wrong practice because of it, that’s where we get into trouble. God will keep his schedule.
And the other thing to remember then is that even though God is delaying, God’s delay is our salvation. There is much we can’t know about God’s timing, but one thing we can know is that he’s delaying for our good. This is an opportunity for salvation. And it’s an opportunity for service because the final thing that we should remember is that we have work to do while we’re waiting. Again, right at the end of the book, chapter 3, verse 14,
“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot and or blemish, and at peace.”
So, how should we pray to remember his return? We should pray, I think, that God would help us build a memorial to his promise, his rescue, his return. We don’t want to just pave over these things like they had done in Tulsa for so many years. We need to remember. And what would that memorial be? Well, there are a few examples. Remember when the children in Israel were crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, God told them to take twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River and pile them up on the other side at their camp. And he said that in the future your children will ask, “what mean these stones?” And then you can tell them “this is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” So, to help them remember God was making a connection between that pile of stones and his salvation.
People are still using stones to mark important events. Across Europe today you can find the Stolperstein, which literally means “stumbling stones.” These are small blocks of concrete topped with a brass plaque, and it’s a way of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. The first Stolperstein was installed in 1992, and these stones are placed right into the pavement in front of the victim’s last known, freely chosen place of residence. To date, there’s more than 70,000 of these laid all across Europe. So, we could do something like that. We could pile up stones to remember what God has done, put up historical markers. God did this here; God did this here.
That may not be a bad idea in some cases, but is there a more fitting way that we can remember God’s promise and his rescue and his return? I think there may be. I have an idea. Here it is. Take a look. Look familiar? That’s you. It’s as simple as that. You are the best memorial to what God has done. You, as redeemed sinners and changed lives! Because of all that God has done for you, people can look at you and remember the God who saves. You are all souvenirs of grace, reminders of redemption. And instead of a memorial with words carved in stone, you each bear his promise, carved in the fleshy tables of your heart. So, if one of us grows weary and begins to forget God’s goodness, like my friend texted me last week, it says the wilderness is beating you down. They only need to look across the aisle to find rows and rows of reminders of promises kept. And when someone who does not yet know God walks by you and asks, “what mean these people, these peaceful, giving people?” you can tell them of God’s promise and his powerful work of grace that gave you hope in life.
I had the opportunity to visit a couple of these memorials this past week when I and my wife went to have dinner with Joe and Nadine LaPenna. And as some of you may know, a couple of years ago, Nadine, in a fairly dramatic way, discovered that she had brain cancer. And since then, the disease and the treatments have taken their toll. But when you talk to her, you don’t hear about that. You hear about Jesus. You hear that she loves him and he loves her and she’s looking forward to seeing him. There’s a gentleness. There’s a resolute confidence in the promise of God. Joe too — you hear him talking, and he’ll tell you the stories of how God has provided for them. God has worked things out even in his time. And you know, you think about that. Well, wait a minute. Wait a minute. God’s worked it out. But, you know, she’s still most likely dying. Well, what do you mean? Where’s God? Well, wait a minute. Here’s the point. It’s not that they’re suffering. It’s that while they’re suffering, they’re pointing to something better. They’re pointing to something greater. They’re pointing to the promise of God. And Joe told me that there’s a friend of his in their neighborhood, who’s not a believer, who has watched them go through all this and seen how they’ve responded. And he has said, “I need what you have.” In that case, Joe and Nadine are acting as the best kind of memorial to God’s promise. So, I think we should pray finally like this —
“Lord, carve your pledge into my soul
In figures bold and true
That you will come to set things right
And make the world anew.
And as I wait, may others read
Your promise writ on me
And find the path that leads them home
To live forever free.”