Last year John Piper penned a great little book at the start of the pandemic, and 12 months later his words still ring true:
“The coronavirus is God’s thunderclap call for all of us to repent and realign our lives with the infinite worth of Christ.” (77)
“Disasters are a gracious summons from God to repent and be saved while there is still time. . . . I think that’s God’s message for the world in this coronavirus outbreak. He is calling the world to repentance while there’s still time.” (79–80)
“What God is doing in the coronavirus is showing us—graphically, painfully—that nothing in this world gives the security and satisfaction that we find in the infinite greatness and worth of Jesus. This global pandemic takes away our freedom of movement, our business activity, and our face-to-face relations. It takes away our security and our comfort. And, in the end, it may take away our lives. The reason God exposes us to such losses is to rouse us to rely on Christ. Or to put it another way, the reason he makes calamity the occasion for offering Christ to the world is that the supreme, all-satisfying greatness of Christ shines more brightly when Christ sustains joy in suffering.” (82)
“And remember, our Lord’s patience gives people time to be saved.This is what our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him— speaking of these things in all of his letters. Some of his comments are hard to understand, and those who are ignorant and unstable have twisted his letters to mean something quite different, just as they do with other parts of Scripture. And this will result in their destruction.” 2 Peter 3:15-16 NLT
It is truly astounding the way rich Bible truths are anchored at the “3:16” point in nearly every New Testament book. This post continues my long exploration of the Three Sixteens. Today we are looking at the salvation which comes to us through the Lord’s patience, as described in Paul’s teachings.(If you missed the earlier posts, go back to the start and check them out: Matthew 3:16 through to 1 Peter 3:16.)
To understand the significance of these words, it is worth understanding the patience that Peter is referring back to (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. This actually a response to the criticism mentioned in verses 3-4: I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?
So what did happen to that promise? More than ever, the idea that Jesus would come and end all the pain and suffering of this Covid world is attractive. We who hope in Christ and the resurrection would probably welcome his return today! But unlike God, we are each so wrapped up in our own interests. The reason for the Lord’s delay is the salvation of souls.
With each day that passes, new believers are made, new children are born to the Kingdom of God. How gracious is the delay of this promise! God’s purposes in calling people to himself are not thwarted by the criticism that Jesus’ return should come right now. For the sake of mortal men and women, our loving heavenly Father is patient. And though he stands outside of time, we can be thankful for the passing moments from where we sit, and wait. More people are coming to put their trust in Him!
Verse 15 leads into 16, where Peter makes the interesting connection between Paul’s teachings and the rest of Scripture – giving weight to Paul’s letters and thereby declaring that they too are indeed God-breathed. Peter’s verse 15 agrees with Paul who wrote in Romans 2:4: “Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Peter’s agreement with Paul is significant in that it sets the apostles’ teaching apart from that of false teachers, who denied the Second Coming of Christ.
As for Peter’s comment that some of Paul’s writings are “hard to understand”, I don’t think he is being critical. Rather, the opposite. He wants us to see the truth in Paul’s hard teachings. Just as Jesus spoke in parables – so that we might seek the meaning and exercise faith to understand the truth – so Paul’s teachings call on us to think!
John Piper offers this comment in a sermon on the passage:
” . . . even though Scripture is inspired, it is not all easy to understand. Verse 16: “There are some things in them hard to understand.” I would love to preach an hour on the implications of that sentence; but since I don’t have time, here is an outline of that sermon. Point 1: Being inspired, the Scriptures reveal the mind of God. Point 2: The mind of God is vastly greater than our mind and will often be perceived by us as strange and complex, not familiar and simple. Point 3: Therefore, the Scriptures will sometimes be strange and complex and hard to understand. Point 4: The continued selection only of what is simple in the Bible would be a sin in the regular preaching of the church, because Hebrews 5:13 says, “Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness; for he is a child.” Point 5: Therefore, preaching which aims to deliver the whole counsel of God in Scripture (and which does not presume to be wiser than the apostles) will sometimes be complex and will demand from God’s people the utmost in humility and mental effort.”
Praise be to our great God – who has revealed himself to us and patiently waits for more to be gathered into the kingdom of His Son.
Here is a song to finish with, reminding us of God’s Mercies which are new every morning. (Recorded by Matt Redman – Thy Kingdom Come Event | London, UK)
“That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true meaning of Christmas. Wherever Jesus goes he brings the reign of God! Christmas is ultimately about the kingdom of God coming to this sad, broken, sin-marred world. Christmas is ultimately about a baby who would grow into a mighty warrior – a warrior who would crush Satan, undo sadness, defeat death, and ensure that it would be always Christmas and never winter.
Listen closely. For just a moment, tune out the Christmas music and television commercials. Do you hear that slow creaking and cracking noise? It’s the sound of Satan’s skull being slowly crushed underneath the foot of our conquering Savior.
Now we suffer. Now we experience cancer and migraines and anxiety and singleness and sadness and loneliness and poverty. Now we are afflicted by sin and Satan and our flesh. But not always.
Ultimately, Christmas should give the most hope to those who hate Christmas. Things won’t always be this way. As it says in 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”
Those are such sweet words. Christmas is a celebration of war! Jesus himself has declared open season on Satan. He came to destroy all the works of the evil one. He came to wipe away tears and heal broken bodies and lift up despondent hearts and drive out fear and destroy loneliness.”
“When our musicians, instruments, lighting, and technology aren’t impressive, we can wonder why people would come to our church. They come because we have something the world doesn’t: the amazing news that Jesus Christ died in the place of lost, rebellious sinners to reconcile them to God. Music, no matter how great it is, can’t raise a dead soul to life. The gospel can and does. Your church may never come close musically to what the church down the street does or what people listen to on their iPhones. That’s okay. Faithfully preach, sing, and explain the gospel and you’ll see lives changed.“
“This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”(Hebrews 6:19 NLT)
There is a unique perspective offered in this song, sung by Lauren Daigle: that we stand in and on our hope in the Rock of Christ. It is all about Him. He is the source of our hope, the anchor of hope. The grace that comes to us in Him, both in what He has done and will do, provides an unshifting hope, more valuable than any material thing the world offers. We can stand our ground and maintain our hope only because Christ gives us the strength to do so. This strength comes in His Spirit, living in us. He is completely trustworthy – our salvation is complete in the Cross of Christ. I trust this song will be a blessing to you today!
Though times it seems like I’m coming undone
This walk can often feel lonely
No matter what until this race is won
I will stand my ground Where hope can be found
I will stand my ground Where hope can be found
O Lord O Lord I know you hear my cry Your love is lifting me above all the lies No matter what I face this I know in time You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right
Your strength is found at the end of my rope
Your grace it reaches to the hurting
Still through the tears and the questioning why
Make it right, Make it right right
I will stand my ground
I will stand my ground
“If you really see and feel your helplessness and God’s deliverance, you will be amazed that you are a Christian. You will be amazed that your heart inclines to the beauty of Christ. You will be amazed at every good resolve, and every impulse to praise, and every good deed.”
I’ve really enjoyed following some blog discussions about hymnals in recent weeks (which you can find at the end of this post). In the space of around 30 years most church congregations have moved away from using them at all. Those piles of well-thumbed and well-sung collections of hymns have disappeared from church foyers and from the experience of many church-goers. In fact, if you are under the age of twenty you may have no memories at all of singing from a hymn book.
Last night I pulled out my little, moth-eaten, blue hymnal at the dinner table. My ‘elderly’ teenagers and twenty-year-old were bemused by the little tome. And while not entirely oblivious to the contents, they did find my rendition of the drawn out and repetitive phrase from “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” quite amusing: ‘AndCrow… ow.. ow.. own Him! Crown Him! Crown Him! Crown Him and Crown Him Lord of All’. (Who said hymns were easy to sing, and not repetitive?)
Whenever there is a great cultural shift in the way something is done there will naturally be losses, and gains. (The internet itself is one giant case in point. While it allows me the opportunity to write and share with people on the other side of the world it can also distract me from giving good attention to the people under my roof!)
And of course we shouldn’t forget two things: the church has done without hymn books before – when people repeated or memorised the lyrics; and, the collection of hymns we have used in church in the last few hundred years are not actually the ones referred to in the Bible, in Ephesians 5:18-19. Those hymns and spiritual songs have been lost forever.
For me, the move away from hymn books has meant the loss of something tangible, a bound book of songs for the church, which have been agreed on and published for their value in helping us praise God, in spirit and truth. People could own or borrow a hymn book and look up songs and reflect on the lyrics. As a child who loved words, I spent many a Sunday service pouring over the hymn book (especially if the sermon was very long or over my head). I devoured both the poetry and theology they contained. They challenged me to learn new words and concepts about God. I was also fascinated by the names of the hymn writers and the years they lived, and wrote, as well as the number of hymns written by each person. This little blue book was something of a little Blue Box, bigger on the inside, and a portal to the rich history of the church for the past few centuries. (If you understand this Doctor Who reference, you may like to visit my old Blue Box Parables blog, on finding Christ in popular culture.)
While I have been brought up on hymns, (and learned to sing harmony because of them, and probably learned to read music from the hymn book on the piano at home) I am not mourning their loss. I have been part of the movement of change, and spent the last few decades looking for spiritual songs and hymns which will edify and teach us well. Alongside this new body of songs, most churches retain the ‘good old hymns’ in their repertoire, hymns that are biblical and continue to encourage people today. Modern adaptations of hymns also help keep the ones worth singing alive (while those full of obscurities and archaic phrases are happily shelved for good).
The authors of the following posts have explored these losses and gains in much more detail and you can read them at your leisure. But to close, I will quote myself for a change, and refer you back to a post written in the defense of new songsin 2012.
In a nutshell, I argued that new songs say that God is doing something here and now, not just a few hundred years ago: “. . . it also comes down to the concept of “renewing our minds”. By hearing the gospel explained in new and fresh ways, our understanding of God and the gospel of His grace is strengthened and deepened. That has got to be a good thing.”
You will find that Tim Challies also picks up this point in the third post below (which is his own response to his first post about things we lost when hymn books were set aside). The second and fourth links below are other people’s responses to Challies’ original post.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please comment below. Blessings!