Loosen Your Grip
Chuck Swindol wrote a devotion book some years ago that became popular. It was titled Strengthen Your Grip. The basic theme of the book was get a hold of yourself and your life through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our text has the opposite theme. Peter's theme isn't strengthen your grip but loosen your grip. Rather than strengthen your grip IN this world that will come to an abrupt end, Peter urges us to loosen our grip ON this world.
Peter wants us to loosen our grip because this world doesn't last forever. Although people make plans for years down the road - certificate of deposits are taken out for 10 years, savings bonds mature in 25, mortgages are made for 30 years - we have no guarantee that this world will last one more minute let alone one more decade.
Of course this not what the mockers say. Mockers poke fun at the idea that this world could end any minute. They poke fun at the fact that Christ promised to return to end the world but hasn't shown up yet. "All continues just as it was from the beginning of creation," they say with glee. Our parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and our great, great grandparents all thought this world would, but it didn't. The sun has been coming up for day after day for centuries; don't worry it will come up tomorrow too. Only a fool, a dupe, an idiot would think it might not.
Well friends, the teaching of the Lord is not only that the sun might not come up tomorrow, it might not even get a chance to set today. The Lord tells us this clearly when He says, "Heaven and earth will pass away." Here in 2 Peter, He teaches us that the present earth is reserved for destruction by fire. Twice He warns us, "The heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat." In the time of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, 'Lift your eyes to the sky; then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment." "Look around," says your Lord. "The sky that has always been above your head is no longer lasting than campfire smoke. The earth that is so firm beneath your feet is no more durable than the clothes on your back. This world doesn't last forever; this world wasn't meant to last forever."
So how come the mockers and most people believe it will? Peter says that people maintain the world will last forever because the example of Noah and the Flood escapes their notice. Everybody forgets that the people of Noah's day thought their world would last forever too. When Noah preached that the world would be destroyed by a massive flood, they ignored him. When he built a huge boat and proclaimed that only those who went into it would be saved from the flood, they laughed him to scorn. But they didn't ignore Noah when the floodgates of heaven opened up and deluged the earth. They didn't mock Noah when walls of water swept them and everything else off the face of the earth.
Don't forget about Noah. Remember what Jesus promises in Luke 17? "Just as it happened in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating and drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all." Put yourself back in Noah's day. Those people didn't think there was any way that water could cover the highest mountain. They didn't think that it was possible for water to overtake them so quickly that they wouldn't have time to move to higher ground. They didn't think their whole world which was so permanent, so enduring, so stable could be washed away as quickly as a child's sand castle on the beach.
As the end of Noah's world came suddenly, swiftly, and totally, so will our world end. As Noah's world was reserved for destruction by water, so ours is reserved for destruction by fire. As the people of Noah's world went the way their world went, so people in the grip of our world will go the way of it. They will be like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Captain Ahab was obsessed with killing the great white whale, Moby Dick. He chased him half way around the world until he finally harpooned him. When Ahab stuck the last harpoon in the whale, Moby Dick took off for the bottom. The rope attached to the harpoon wrapped around Ahab and he went where the great white whale did, to the cold, unfathomable depths.
Dear friends, you can have what St. Augustine called a "fatal joy" in earthly things. You can be so wrapped up in eating and drinking, marrying and life making, pursuing college and career, family and friends, that you give little thought to eternal things. You can be so busy trying to get a grip on the sweet cherries of the world that you don't realize the world really has its grip on you and is dragging you to the pits.
Age is no factor here. Young and old, the middle aged and the hardly aged are all at risk. Those at greatest risk of being in the world's grip are those who are in rich in the things of this world whether that be money, talent, looks, or education. The rich young ruler desperately wanted to follow Jesus but his riches held him in a death grip. The rich fool in the parable was lulled into believing that because he had saved plenty of money to live a lifetime on, he had a lifetime to live. The rich man, outside whose gate Lazarus sat in sores was full of the very best things of life. He was so full that he had no room or interest in the Word of God.
It's only God's Word that can break the world's death grip. Colossians 3 beckons us "to seek those things which are above where Christ sits on the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above not on the things that are on earth." The Word of God seeks to lead us out of the grip of the world just like the angels of God sought to lead Lot out of the Sodom before it was destroyed. But remember Lot's wife? She would not be led. She was in the world's death grip. She was like Ahab; her heart, mind, body and soul were held by Sodom. Where God was leading her didn't appeal to her as much as where she had been. But where she had been was being destroyed. Lot's wife perished with Sodom even as Ahab did in the great deep with Moby Dick.
Folks we are all tempted by the things of this world as Lot's wife was. But the world only rewards those who are her friends, but "Friendship with the world is death," as John says, So each of us must ask the question that a man named William Kelly did. Kelly was a very gifted Christian who used his talents in a small, overlooked town in England. Powerful men in Great Britain took note of his abilities and urged him to step into the public limelight. He refused. Then they asked in amazement: "Aren't you interested in making a name for yourself in the world?" He replied, "Which world?" Which world, folks? Which world are you interested in making a name for yourself in: this fallen, soon to be destroyed world or in the world without end?
Wait. Before you answer, see what Christ Jesus has a grip on you for. Before you hitch your wagon to this world destined for destruction, see where Jesus wants to take your wagon. Do you think He suffered and died on the cross so that you might live in this fallen earth? Do you think He redeemed you, purchased and won you not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death, just so you could be burned up with the rest of the world? Do you think that Jesus died a cruel death for you on the bloody cross just you could wither and grow old in a wretched sinful world? Think again.
The Father's purpose in sacrificing His only beloved Son was not so you might be successful, wealthy, powerful or popular in this life. Christ didn't bear the pains of hell so you might get a college education. He didn't suffer so miserably in an olive garden so your life in this world might be a rose garden. His purposes were much more grander and nobler, much farther reaching than this.
Christ grabbed hold of you for the purpose of bringing you to the place described so beautifully by Isaiah. Christ has a grip on you to pull you out of the grasp of the old heavens and the old earth that is marked by falling tears and crying eyes. Christ has got a hold on you to bring you to the new heavens and the new earth where the "sound of weeping and crying will be heard no more." Christ didn't redeem you merely to live in a world that can only drown out the sound of crying by loud music, wild parties and forced laughter. He redeemed you to bring you to a place where even when it is so silent that you can hear a pin drop you still won't hear a tear fall.
Christ did not die so you could live in a world where some infants only live a few days and old men die slowly and painfully. Christ redeemed you to lead you to a place where no children tragically die, where there are no old people slowly dying, where there is no death at all. Christ didn't die on Good Friday and rise on Easter Sunday just so we could spend our days earning our bread by the sweat of our brow. It's so much better than this. He endured the sufferings of hell and the punishment of damnation so He could bring us to a place where no work is useless, no dreams are broken, no hopes are ever dashed.
To be sure, sometimes this world is very alluring. The wildlife enchants and the scenery picturesque. But on closer examination, we see that this world is really a place of violence and death even in the animal kingdom. So brutal is the scenic animal kingdom that the Time-Life video series has to have warnings cautioning viewers that the violence may be too graphic for some. Yes, behind the world's facade of beauty there is a wolf chasing down a helpless lamb and sinking it's teeth into it's throat. And the lion may look peaceful and majestic sunning itself on the side of that hill, but that's only because behind the hill is a bloody half-eaten oxen carcass.
This world isn't the reason Christ redeemed us. This world is not as good, as beautiful, as peaceful as it gets. There's another world with new heavens and a new earth where the wolf and the lamb feed peacefully next to one another and the lion is content with filling itself on straw. Such a place really exists. Fill your hearts and minds with pictures from this place. Continually tell yourselves, you're merely passing through this life on the plane of Christ's salvation. He never intended for this to be your landing zone.
When it gets really bad, when you're sorely tempted to land, do what Handley Page, an aviation pioneer, did when he found a rat in his biplane gnawing on the flight controls. He was tempted to land far short of his destination as he visualized the damage the rat was doing. Suddenly he pulled up into a steep climb. Higher and higher he flew till the gnawing stopped. The rat died from lack of oxygen.
The temptation to land in this world will often gnaw at our hearts especially when we fly too close to the earth and see all the excitement and pleasures of this life. We hear the remedy for this every Sunday when the pastor says, "Lift up your hearts!" Our hearts are lifted up off this earth to the Lord through His Body and Blood that He puts before us in Communion. In the thin air of God's forgiveness, life and salvation, the things of this world can't survive, so they stop gnawing at us and so lose their grip on us. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Last Sunday of the Church Year (11-24-02), 2 Peter 3:3-13