August 22-23, 2020
Pastor Joe Wittwer
1 Peter 4:1-11
The end is near!
Have you ever seen one of these sandwich boards? “The end is near.” I have. This is one of my favorites. Or this one.
As much as people have made fun of this, the end is near, whether it is the Lord’s return or the end of your life. I have two friends who learned this week that they have weeks to live. The end is near, and Peter writes to tell us how to be ready. Let’s read.
1 Peter 4:1–11
1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. 2 As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4 They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.
Let’s pause for a moment. These verses are difficult—lots of commentary has been written about them. For our purposes today, I’m going to point out one very clear and important idea and then move on.
Peter tells his readers that they have spent enough time in the past living like pagans—in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and idolatry. “Enough of that!” he says. “You’ve changed.” Your friends may be surprised that you don’t join them in wild living, and may even abuse you for it.
ILL: When I came to Jesus, my friends noticed the change right away—I stopped my “reckless, wild living.” But they still continued to ask me to join them in our old behaviors. I said no over and over, until finally they stopped asking. We were still friends—but I wasn’t joining them in wild living anymore. I was different.
Christians are different. We are not living the way we used to, before Jesus. We are not living the way unbelievers do. Enough of that! We are different and the difference is noticeable to everyone around us. Christians live to do the will of God—“Whatever You want, Lord”—and this makes them stand out like lights in darkness.
Does that describe you? If not, Peter is telling you that it’s time to stand out. Enough of the old life! Would you say this with me: “Enough of that.” When you’re tempted to live the old way, say, “Enough of that.” And get on with the new life of doing God’s will.
Let’s continue on…
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
“The end of all things is near.”
Did you know that there are over 300 references to Jesus’ second coming in the New Testament? Thousands of books have been written, charts and graphs have been drawn, and predictions have been made. Unfortunately, most of them are about the when and the how, and the one thing they’ve all had in common is that they’ve all been wrong.
ILL: In 1988 a book was published called 88 reasons why Jesus will come in 1988. By the way, 1988 was a favorite year for many eschatology buffs because it was 40 years, or one generation, after Israel had become a nation again, something that many considered a key fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Well, 1988 came and went and the guy was wrong. But he was undeterred, because the next year he published 89 reasons why Jesus will come in 1989! He was wrong again…and happily he didn’t come out with “90 reasons why Jesus will come in 1990.”
This is not a new phenomenon. For 20 centuries, Christians have been fascinated by the second coming of Christ (as we should be), and have wondered when it will happen (which is ok), and have tried to figure it out by interpreting Scripture in light of current events (which hasn’t worked out well for anyone). As I said, they’ve all been wrong—no one has gotten it right yet!
Christians are all over the map on subjects like the rapture, the tribulation, the millennium. So when it comes to Jesus’ second coming, what can we know and be sure of? What really matters? Here are three things you need to know (give all three).
A. Jesus is coming again.
Mark 13:26-27 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”
Jesus is coming again. Christians believe in a literal, physical coming of Christ. The first time He came humbly; the second time, He will come in “great power and glory”. The first time He came quietly, almost unnoticed; the second time, every eye will see him. Jesus is coming again. This is the essential that every Christian believes.
B. No one knows when.
Mark 13:32 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
No one knows when. No one means no one. This is why I think all speculation about when Jesus is coming is a waste of time. No one knows when Jesus is coming. There is something else we ought to be spending our time on: being ready.
C. Be ready!
Mark 13:33-34 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
Jesus is coming back, we don’t know when, so we ought to be ready. If you knew you had a day, a month, a year to live, you’d get ready to meet God. None of us knows the day of our death, and none of us knows the day Jesus will return. We’re going to meet God one way or the other, and either way, none of us knows when. So we’d better be ready.
How do you stay ready to meet God? Peter gives us four things to do in v. 7-11.
1. Pray: If the end is near, I want to be good with God. I want to be on good speaking terms with God.
ILL: In the movie, Pearl Harbor, Jimmy Doolittle is leading his famous surprise bombing raid on Tokyo. As he is about to take off, flying a B-25 bomber off the deck of an aircraft carrier, his co-pilot begins praying. “When did you get religion?” Doolittle asks him.
“When I was assigned to this mission,” the co-pilot answered.
“Do me a favor,” Doolittle says. “Pray for both of us.”
Even irreligious people pray when facing death.
Prayer is talking with God. It’s a conversation with God. There are lots of reasons to pray.
The most common reason to pray is to ask God for something that I want or need. The Bible is clear that God welcomes this kind of prayer.
Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
What does Jesus invite us to do? Ask! Why? So we’ll receive! Billy Graham says, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one ever bothered to ask.” Prayer is asking for what we need or want.
Another reason to pray is to say thanks, or tell God that we love Him. The Bible says that should ask God, but also that we should thank Him.
Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Paul tells us to ask—to present our requests—but to do it with thanksgiving. We talk with people for that same reason: to express thanks or tell them we love them. Prayer is thanksgiving or worship.
Another reason to pray, and the one we overlook most often: We talk to know each other. We talk to be close. We talk to build our relationship. Maybe what God wants more than anything else is a relationship with you. Maybe that explains why He created you, and why He became a man and died on a cross for you. Maybe He did it all because He wants a relationship with you.
This is what Christianity is all about: a love relationship with God. It’s not primarily a creed or set of doctrines that you believe—although that is important. It’s not primarily an ethic or a set of rules that you obey—although that is important too. It is primarily a love relationship with God. I can believe things about God without knowing and loving Him; I can try to keep all the rules and still be far from Him. And if that happens, God is sad, because more than anything, He wants me to know Him and to love Him. He wants a relationship with me.
So Peter says, “The end is near…therefore, pray.” Why? So that when the end comes, we’re ready to meet God, a God who has become our friend, a God that we know and love. I want to be on good speaking terms with God.
Action step: Set aside some time each day this week to PBJ—Prayer, Bible and Journal. Let God speak to you through His word, and then take time to speak with Him—to have a conversation.
The end is near, so pray!
2. Love: If the end is near, I want to be good with people.
If you knew that tomorrow was the last day of your life, you would want to be good with God (you’d pray), and you would want to be good with people, especially those closest to you. In fact, I think you would do whatever you could to let those people know how much you love them and to mend any broken fences.
ILL: One evening a man suffered a heart attack and after being admitted to the hospital, asked the nurse to call his daughter. He explained, “I live alone and she is the only family I have.” The nurse went to phone the daughter. The daughter was quite upset and shouted, “You must not let him die! Dad and I had a terrible argument almost a year ago. I haven’t seen him since. All these months I’ve wanted to ask for forgiveness. The last thing I said to him was ‘I hate you.”‘ The daughter cried and then said, “I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Don’t let him die.”
The father went into cardiac arrest, and was coded. The nurse prayed, “O God, his daughter is coming. Don’t let it end this way.” But the efforts of the medical team to revive him were fruitless.
A few minutes later, the nurse saw one of the doctors talking to the daughter outside the room. She could see the hurt in her face. The nurse took the daughter aside and said, “I’m so sorry.” The daughter responded, “I never hated him, you know. I loved him.” The nurse took her into the room, and the daughter went to the bed and buried her face in the sheets as she said good-bye to her dead father. The nurse, as she tried not to look at this sad good-bye, noticed a scrap of paper on the bed table. She picked it up and read: “My dearest Janie, I forgive you. I pray you will also forgive me. I know that you love me. I love you, too. Daddy.”
When he knew the end was in sight, this dad did whatever it took to make sure his daughter knew that he loved her.
When the end comes, you not only want to be good with God, you want to be good with those you love.
You don’t know when the end will come! So why wait? Why not tell that person today that you love them? Pick up the phone, write the letter, make the visit and look them in the eye and say it with feeling, “I love you.” Say it as though it may be your last chance to say it, because it might be.
Can you see why Peter put this one in his list of things to do to be ready for the end? Love one another deeply. Make sure that your relationships are healthy and that people know you love them.
“Love each other deeply.” The word “deeply” literally means “stretched out.” The word is used in Philippians 3:13 of a runner stretching out toward the finish line in a race. Fully extended. Love each other deeply—fully extended, stretched out.
There are some people…it’s a stretch to love them. Do you know what I mean? Some people are easy to love—they’re nice, they love you, you love them back. Easy peasy. But some people are stinkers—they’re not nice, they don’t love you, and if you’re going to love them, it’s a stretch!
This love that God commands is not easy. It’s a stretch. It will require all the mental and spiritual energy you can muster. It means loving the unlovely and the unlovable; it means loving in spite of insult and injury; it means loving even when your love is not returned. It is not easy. It will stretch you beyond your comfort zones.
That’s why we need His help—and we can ask Him.
Action step: Who do you need to stretch out and love? Is there a broken relationship you need to repair? Go do it this week.
The end is near, so love.
3. Show hospitality: If the end is near, I want to use my resources for God.
If I knew that my life was over soon, that I would stand before God soon, I would want to use my resources for God, to advance God’s purposes.
“The end is near.” That cry has been used to motivate people to withdraw, to head for the hills and prepare to meet God, and forget about everyone else. Remember the big Y2K scare? Some Christians were preparing for the end by stockpiling food and water and weapons! I guess they were going to shoot people in Jesus’ name! Or even now in Covid, some folks are hoarding and hiding. Instead of withdrawing, Peter tells us to serve others. Instead of hiding away, he tells us to open up: open your homes, your hearts and your hands to others. Instead of hoarding my stuff to make sure I’m taken care of, I’m supposed to share my stuff to advance God’s work. Offer hospitality!
The Bible places a high value on the virtue of hospitality. For example:
Romans 12:13 “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
Why was hospitality so important? The early church couldn’t have survived without it. God’s work depended upon the hospitality of Christians for two reasons.
First, the early church met in homes. Larger groups of Christians gathered at places like the Temple in Jerusalem, or in the lecture hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus. But the most common and universal meeting place for the church was in homes, and that was true for several centuries, and is still true in many places around the world.
Acts 2:46 “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” This verse tells us that the very first Christians in Jerusalem met at the Temple and in homes. Meeting at the Temple was “Big Church” where the apostles taught. Meeting in homes was “micro church.” Both were church! Notice two other things about these home meetings. First, they were meeting every day. When the church first started, they didn’t just meet once a week, or twice a week, but every day! And second, notice what they did in the homes: they ate! They ate together! There is nothing that brings people together like food!
Imagine having church in your home every day…with a meal! Now that’s hospitality! As far as we can tell, the habit of meeting every day slowed down, but the habit of meeting and eating in homes didn’t. Usually, it was the only place the church could meet. The church was dependent upon her members for survival. No hospitality, no church.
The same happens to be true right now! It’s difficult if not impossible for all of us to meet together “at the temple” in Big Church, but we can be hospitable and meet in small groups in homes or backyards—micro-church. (Please follow Covid precautions in both.)
So the first reason that God’s work depended on hospitality was that the church met in homes.
Second, the missionary work of the church was dependent on hospitality. There were no Holiday Inns! Public inns were rare and usually were dens of iniquity—not exactly where missionaries wanted to stay. All of the apostles and missionaries of the early church were guests in homes.
We all know the names of Peter and Paul, great apostles who took the story of Jesus across the world. But do you know Simon the tanner and Mnason? In Acts 10:6, Peter stayed at the home of Simon the tanner. In Acts 21:16, Paul and his friends stayed in the home of Mnason, described only as “a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.” Who are Simon the tanner and Mnason the man from Cyprus? Unknown disciples who made it into the Bible because they did one thing: offered hospitality! They made it possible for Peter and Paul to do their work. They “worked together for the truth.”
3 John 8 We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.
So can you see why Peter might have put this on his end-times list? “The end is near; therefore, offer hospitality.” Use your resources—your home, your food—to work for the truth, to build the church, to move God’s work forward. Start seeing everything you own as ministering currency, stuff that can be used for God’s purposes.
Action step: How could you show hospitality this week to advance God’s cause? Do it!
4. Serve: If the end is near, I want my life to count for God.
Use your gifts to serve others. Each of you has been gifted by God with unique abilities, spiritual gifts, temperament, passions and experiences. What you are is God’s gift to you. What you make of your life is your gift to God. Use whatever God has given you to serve others. Make your life count!
ILL: One of my favorite books is Halftime, by Bob Buford. The subtitle is Changing your game plan from success to significance. By midlife, Bob Buford was a very successful businessman. As the founder and owner of one of the largest cable television operations in the nation, he was rich, powerful, famous, and influential. But he began to wonder if his life was making a difference, an eternal difference. When his 24-year old son, Ross, drowned in the Rio Grande, Bob determined to do whatever it took to make sure that his life counted. He devoted himself to achieving significance, not just success. Bob became, among other things, the director of the Leadership Network, an organization that networks Christian leaders and trains them for greater effectiveness.
What are you doing with the one and only life God has given you? Are you making a difference for good, for God, for eternity?
The closer we get to the end of our lives, the more clearly we see what is important. It comes into focus. So Peter says, “The end is closer than you think. Don’t wait to make a difference. Don’t wait to live significantly. Don’t wait to use your gifts to serve God and people. Make your life count. Do it now!”
Action step: What could you do to serve others this week? Do it.