Summary: In the Advent message from 2 Peter 3, the Apostle Peter tells us why the Lord has tarried for so long in returning from heaven: in order that we may come to repentence and not perish.
Why So Long, O Lord?
In the Psalms appointed for the Sunday of Advent this year, there is theme that runs through them all, a note of sadness, mourning, and more than either of these, a plaintive note of anxiety concerning whether or not the Lord will come to save his people.
Last Sunday, for example, we sang these words from Psalm 80 and verse 4: “O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people?” A short while ago, we sang these words from Psalm 85:4-5: “Restore us, O God of oursalvation, and cause Your anger toward us to cease. Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations?” Next Sunday, we will sing these words from Psalm 126:5: “Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses of the Negev.” And, in the last Sunday in Advent we will sing these words from Psalm 132 and verse 5: “For your servant David’s sake, do not turn away the face of your Anointed.”
Why the anxiety? Well, there are two reasons. First of all, there are the abundant promises from the Prophets that God will, indeed, return to save His people. The Old Testament lesson from Isaiah 40 is just one of many we could cite: “10 Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young. (vv10-11). In fact, from this point in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, the passages pile up on one another about the arrival of the Messiah, about God breaking out against the enemies of His people and his rescuing them from all their troubles.
So, if the people of Israel are worried about God’s returning to save his people, the most fundamental reason for this anxiety is that he has promised to do so. Without the promises, there would be no anxiety about his fulfilling them!
However, the promises alone do not produce anxiety about their fulfilment. Rather, it is the passage of time combined with these promises which create this anxiety. As the years stretch into decades, and the decades into centuries, and the centuries pass by one after the other, it is no surprise that we find in the Psalter these plaintive questions: How long, O Lord?
One can find the same anxiety among Christians concerning the return of Jesus Christ, and at this Advent season, we do well to ask ourselves what do we think about the 2,000 years since Jesus departed the earth for heaven? It is easy to see even in the New Testament that waiting for the Second Advent was giving Christians no little anxiety. It was to address this anxiety that the Apostle Peter wrote the words in the Epistle appointed for today.
Before what we heard read in the second lesson, Peter had said this: 1 Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), 2 that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior, 3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (1 Peter 3:1-4)
The fact that Peter had written a second letter to address this issue shows us that doubts about the Lord’s return were alive and well during the lifetime of the Apostles themselves. But, here we are, two thousand years AFTER the ministry of the Apostles has ended, and still the Lord has not returned. Is what Peter wrote in answer to this problem still valid? Let’s look again at Peter’s answer to this doubt and find out.
Peter’s answer is found in verses 8 and 9 of 2 Peter 3, and this answer has two parts.
First of all, Peter says, God’s view of time is very different than ours. He quotes the Psalm of Moses, Psalm 90 to make his point. “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
I once heard a story about the man who asked God this question: “God, how long is a million years to you?” God said, “A million years is like a second." And so the man asked, “How much is a million dollars to you?” And, God said, “A million dollars is like a penny.” The man said, “Could you spare a penny?” God said, “Sure, just wait a second.” [hat tip: Mark Batterson]