Our text this morning is 1st Peter chapter 4, verse 7. In order to give you the best understanding of this text possible, I want to read it to you form several different versions of scripture.
KJV "But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer."
NKJV, "But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers."
Berkley Version "The end of all things is near; so, be serious -minded and be awake to the practice of prayer."
A literal rendering from the Greek would sound something like this, "Now of all things the end has drawn near. Be ye sober-minded therefore, and be ye sober unto prayers."
My wife asked me this week how many verses I usually seek to preach for each sermon. Of course the answer is, "as many as necessary." Usually I want to take a complete paragraph for each sermon, for in the original language, the paragraph was the only punctuation mark, in that it contained a complete thought. In chapter 4, verses 7-11 form a paragraph. But there are times, and this is one of them, where there is simply too much content to cover in a single message.
There are three things verse says to us: one speaks to our need to understand the times in which we live, the second instructs us to be intentional about our manner of living and the third reminds us of our need to remain in communion with God through prayer.
Let's begin with the first which enjoins us to . . .
I. Understand the times
Like verse 1, verse 7 begins with a conjunction, or a connecting word, which not only marks a new thought but ties this new thought to the one in the previous paragraph. The word, "but," or "now" followed by Peter's assertion that the end of all things is at hand, points back to verse 5 which assures us of the judgment to come. As we have seen, this judgment is not only for those who persecute Christians on account of their faith, but as 4:17 tells us it is also for the church because "the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God."
Peter's has a three-fold purpose in writing verse seven. Let me explain.
A. Be aware of eschatological realities
Or simply put, he wants them to recognize that Jesus could return at any moment.
God's has set the gears in motion and at some point, fixed in the mind of the Father alone, Jesus will return and all that has been foretold will come to pass.
The word translated, "Near," or "At hand," interestingly enough, is the same word Jesus used in Mark 1:15 where He said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel." Understanding this word, "near," or "at hand," is key to properly understanding everything Peter is saying with respect to the times. Remember that the early church was expecting Jesus to return within their lifetime.
If you go back to Acts 1:11, you'll remember what the angels who attended the ascension of Jesus told the disciples. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven." If you go to 1st Thessalonians 4 you find Paul instructing the Thessalonican Christians about the second coming.
The clear testimony of the New Testament is that the early church expected Jesus to return at any moment. What they often failed to understand was that God's timetable is not the same as ours. Jesus is in fact coming again; it's just that no one knows when. But the clock started ticking when Jesus ascended and now it could happen any day.
What I want you to see here is that Peter is simply repeating what Jesus had said back in Mark 1:15. What he wants to convey is that with the coming and completed work of the Messiah, namely His death, burial and resurrection, God had ushered in a new time period or as some like to say, a dispensation, which simply means a specific period of time. Jesus, at His resurrection, inaugurated the "last days," in the sense that from that point forward everything is moving toward the "Eschaton," or the end of all things. When Jesus returns the sequence of events foretold in scripture will unfold and everything prophesied will come to fruition.
All faithful believers of all ages have looked forward to that day. But since the first generation of Christians passed off the scene, there has been a growing skepticism in the minds of many as to whether or not Jesus really will return.
For those of us living in the 21st century, there are two major reasons people remain skeptical about the second coming of Christ.
First of all, because most people in our culture operate from a materialistic or naturalistic world view, they are unwilling to believe that there is a God who can intervene in time and space and bring this world to a cataclysmic end. Since they cannot prove God's existence in a test tube, they say He must not exist, therefore, they reason, He who does not exist cannot be a causative agent in human history. Of course their logic is faulty because while they are unwilling to recognize the overwhelming body of evidence that points to our universe being intelligently designed, and at the same time, they cannot disprove the existence of God. All of creation points, not only to the existence of God, but to His creative power and majesty. And He who created something can just as easily destroy it.
This naturalistic worldview should not be a problem for Christians. For those of us who have come to know His transforming power, who have been filled with His Spirit and have ongoing fellowship with Him it is not difficult to believe that God created this world and that will accomplish all He said He will do. No, the problem for Christians is not our inability to believe God can do as He wishes with His creation. Our problem lies elsewhere.
Which brings me to the second reason people are skeptical about the return of Christ, and this is the reason many Christians, while professing to believe that Christ will return, in truth do not live as though that is truly their belief.
For Christians, our problem is out of sight, out of mind. In other words, since He has not yet returned, and so much time has passed since He promised to return, we have a tendency to think He is not coming, at least not any time soon. Sadly, many Christians who should know better, have, over time, began to live as though Jesus will not return. They will be caught off guard when He arrives.
It is to that end that Peter says what He does in his second letter. Listen to what the apostle says in 2nd Peter 3:2-10a.
This passage, like our text this morning, was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God as a word of insight, both to those early Christians and to every generation of Christians since, telling them not to be foolish and think that just because it hasn't happen that it won't happen. God is on His throne, He has set His plan in motion from the beginning of time and in His time, when He wills, it will come to pass. This is the essence of living by faith and not by sight. We should believe that Jesus will return because God says so, even if we cannot yet see it.
So when he says that the end of all things is at hand, in essence he is saying that Jesus could return at any moment. We need to understand this if we are going to believe the right things and live in consonance with those beliefs. So clearly, Peter writes to instruct them, to help them have a proper theological understanding of their times.
But remember that Peter has at least three reasons for telling them that the end of all things is at hand. Proper understanding is the first.
B. Encourage persecuted believers
With their lives on the line because of their faith and having withstood so much for the sake of the gospel, Peter wants these Christians to recognize that the world is moving, not according to the vacillations of human rulers and their governments, but according to the eternal timetable of a sovereign God. God's purpose throughout history cannot be thwarted. His will ultimately be accomplished. This is something which should bring comfort to any believer going through difficulties here on earth. God is on His throne, so whatever may happen to you here on earth, remember that it is not outside of God's control and someday He will make all things right.
As I read through this morning's text this last week, it struck me how extremely relevant this text is to the world in which we live. Our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are undergoing intense persecution. In India, particularly in the state of Orissa, the last six months have been some of the most brutal months for Christians. Many of them, some whom I know personally, and whom we as a Church have helped, have been beaten, robbed and forced into hiding for their faith. Christians in communist countries like China and North Korea are persecuted in unspeakable ways for their faith and in Muslim countries, converting to Christianity is often a capital offense.
And things are not getting any better for those of us who live in the west. In the name of toleration, many are seeking to silence Christians from preaching the unique claims of Christ. In Canada there is a movement afoot to say that all religious beliefs are of equal value. In our own country, there are those who would classify our preaching against sexual perversion as hate speech and if they have their way, prosecute us for merely reading certain passages of scripture.
There is no question but that we are seeing the world change before our very eyes, and yet, as Peter will tell us in this powerful verse: God is still on His throne. This should be an encouragement to Christians everywhere. We who live for eternity, who have been adopted into the family of God by the blood of Jesus, we who know the Sovereign One who holds the world in His hands, we can live with hope because we know that this world and it's passions are passing away, but the one who does the will of God abides forever.
Peter wrote this to encourage distraught believers. But there is a third reason he writes that the end of all things is at hand . . .
C. Counsel them on how they should live in their understanding
This is no time to give up; this is no time to be slothful or indulgent in the ways of the gentiles, as he has already said, they wasted too much of their lives before coming to Christ in this type of living. Now is the time to make the most of your pilgrimage on earth.
And this naturally leads into the very next thing that he says in this verse . . . Look at verse seven . . . . "Be ye therefore sober." In other words . . .
II. Be intentional about how you use your time
The word "therefore," again, ties this instruction about the second coming of Christ directly to the way we are supposed to comport ourselves in the meantime, between when He ascended and when He returns. That's why I've entitled this message, "Life in the Meantime." If we believe that Jesus could return at any moment; If we believe the testimony of scripture which tells us Jesus will return when people least expect Him to then that belief should drastically impact the way we live in the meantime. This is what he is saying when he says that we should be sober.
There are two verbs here in the original language. One is the word translated "sober," by the King James Version. It is rendered "sound judgment," in the New American Standard. The other is the word "watchful," or "alert." They are close synonyms in that they speak to the necessity of self control or the ability to be aware and thus intentional about how one lives. Instead of living life unaware, like one who is drunk or ignorant of the reality of what is going on around them, we are to live disciplined lives and purposeful lives. This speaks to intentionality, to living on purpose, proactively not reactively.
Far too many people who call themselves Christians live as though they are not. True, they have a moral code which is better than that of the world around them, and yet, while there is a certain morality about them, it could not be said that they are living their lives to expand the Kingdom of God. For all practical purposes, they are living for the same temporal goals which define their lost neighbors.
What does it mean to live with sound judgment and to be alert? It speaks to both what we are intentional about doing and what we are intentional about avoiding. We are to purposefully pursue God's kingdom and just as purposefully avoid falling back into the kind of lifestyle out of which God called us.
Peter has just told them, in the first part of this chapter, that those who live according to the will of God, no longer live for the fulfillment of the desires of the flesh. And yet, over and over we see this admonition to abstain from sin and to be different from the rest of the world.
The reality is that as long as we live in this fleshly body, we are going to have to struggle with temptation. Go ahead and admit it. Temptation is a part of the life of every believer. Satan cannot get your soul so he tries to destroy your testimony. He wants to render you ineffective for the kingdom of God here on earth. That's why Peter will go on to say that the Devil is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. It is to that end that he will tell us in the last part of this verse that we need to be constant in prayer. If you go through life unaware of the pitfalls and the hidden traps, chances are you are going to fall prey to them. But for Christians whose desire is to be intentional about the way they live, there is no reason we should have to give way to temptation and fall into sin. As Paul tells the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 2:11: we are not ignorant of the schemes of the devil.
As a Christian you should not simply mosey through life, reacting to this or that which happens to you. We are called to be disciplined in our lives, intentional, living with the determination which says you are going to live for Christ. That means you are going to spend the substance of your life furthering the kingdom of God and keep your focus on the prize, lest you get distracted and taken off course.
This will put you at odds with the rest of the world. When you are living for the express purpose of advancing God's kingdom that will be what you talk about, what you spend your time pursuing and what you spend your money on. This will not only put you at odds with the rest of the world, but sadly enough, it will put you at odds with many who call themselves Christians.
Peter's counsel is this, "Don't go through life in a spiritual stupor, as though you were drunk. Live intentionally for Christ and deliberately avoid falling into sin and temptation." Interestingly enough, if you are focused on doing the right things with your life, you'll naturally avoid doing many of the wrong things. The best defense is a strong offense.
But if you are going to live above the fray of sin and temptation of this natural world, you are going to need supernatural power. That's why he follows up what he has said about the end of all things and the way we should live with a clear call to prayer.
Look at the last part of this verse, where Peter says . . .
III. Be awake to the practice of prayer
What Peter has said about being sober minded, or alert and intentional about our manner of living, ties directly into our prayer life. The sense of the original language here is that we should live properly so that we can pray powerfully.
Prayer is the greatest resource available to every Christian and yet remains the most neglected discipline of the Christian life. There are many reasons for this but I would suggest four.
We like to think that we can do things on our own and are inclined to ask God for help only when it appears things are beyond our control. If we really understood how helpless we are and how powerful prayer is, we would not attempt anything without first going to the throne of God.
B. A faulty view of reality
We have a tendency to view our world in physical terms rather than in spiritual terms and we have made the mistake of separating the two. When we take God at His word, specifically with respect to prayer, we live with the awareness that it is the spiritual realm where ultimate reality exists, this world is a shadow of the world to come and the power to change this world lies in the other. If we could see the principalities and the rulers of darkness which war against our souls, our prayer lives would be radically changed.
In Ephesians 6, after instructing us to put on the whole armor of God, what is it that Paul says? He says, "With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints . . . ." How often do we fail to pray because we are walking in the flesh and not in the Spirit?
C. Neglected relationship with God
Folks prayer is, at its heart, simple communion and communication with God. You cannot be in an intimate relationship with someone when you fail to communicate with them. Yes, we all have friends with whom we can go weeks, or even months, without talking and you've heard people say about such friends, "They're such a good friend that we don't have to talk all the time. Whenever we get together we seem to pick up wherever we left off."
Unfortunately, that's the kind of relationship many people have with God. They go for long stretches of time without talking to Him and think they can just pick up wherever they left off but that kind of communication does not describe an intimate relationship. That's not the kind of relationship you have with your spouse and the relationship you have with God should be the most intimate relationship you have. The depth of your relationship with God will always be defined by your prayer life. The more prayer the deeper the relationship, the less prayer the more shallow the relationship. Like it or not, that is the truth.
D. Lack of faith
While we are told that God will hear and answer our prayers, we really don't believe it. If we truly believed it, the evidence of that belief would be that we would pray more. This is what the scripture says in Luke 18:7-8 where after the parable of the unrighteous judge Jesus says, "Now, shall not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
The depth of our faith is seen in direct proportion to our practice of prayer. The more active we are in prayer, the more we acknowledge and recognize that without Jesus we can do nothing. True prayer is always a display of true faith.
So what? That's always a good question to ask of a sermon, so what. What is it that I am supposed to do in response to this sermon?
Allow me to suggest three things to do in response to this message:
1. Assess everything in your life through the lens of this truth: Jesus could come at any moment.
This is not my word. This is not my interpretation. This is the word of the Lord. If you believe it, if you honestly hold it as truth, what difference should it make in how you view reality? Does your life reflect the knowledge that Jesus could return at any moment? Are you living for His return?
2. Use your time intentionally
Taking an honest look at your life, ask yourself the hard questions. For whose agenda are you living? Could it truly be said that your priority in this life is the kingdom of God and His righteousness? If not why not? Knowing that this instruction is from God, what will you do about it? Will you simply ignore it, passing it off as optional? Are you aware that God will hold you accountable for what you know? And now that you clearly understand your life is to be lived intentionally for His kingdom if you fail to do this, what excuse will you give Him?
Make prayer a part of your very existence. I'm not talking about prayer that works like coffee breaks, where you set aside fifteen minutes three times a day. I'm talking about a prayer life which defines your every move. Being constant in prayer. Talking to Jesus throughout the course of your everyday life in everything you do.