In 2 Peter 3 we learn that the creation will be disclosed at the great day. God will finally unleash the creation to be what it was intended to be, just as he will us. This has implications for us in life and work. Our text in Luke 3 and 2 Peter 3 give us a biblical view of creation and life the way it was designed to be as well as the implications it has for us in our daily work.
The context for this passage is that those who have come to John the Baptist to be baptized are asking “what should we do now?” In other words, they are looking for a proper response to this symbol of new life they have been given. Here is how John responds:
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3:10-14)
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:9-13)
There’s an interesting point to be made in the fact that he wants every one of these Christians to come to full repentance. We’ve described repentance as something that spans the whole Christian life, not just initially coming to Christ, but the constant turning to Christ so that Heaven is the completion of our repentance. At that point, we will have completed our repentance and fully turned to Christ forever. The creation will have full completed its repentance too. It will have been turned from its subjection to futility and sin and will be freed to be a home of righteousness. So, effectively, Peter is expressing God’s desire to redeem all of life.
God has created the world as the arena of his redemption and the day is coming when the creation will be unleashed. Its potential will be fully discovered. What it was originally intended to be will be disclosed, and we have a hand in unleashing that creation.
I have a dear friend who, before he was a Christian, was interviewing for a job in New York. He was interviewing, he thought, as a waiter at a fancy restaurant, but came to understand in the course of the interview that they thought he had come to interview for a different job – the manager and Maître D’ of this restaurant in New York and London. My friend is very quick on his feet, so he said “I think I’ve caught a bad cold, and I need to take a day or two to take some rest.” So, he exited the interview and they asked him back the next day. He studied what it meant to run a restaurant, came back the next day, and he got the job. Within one week, he went from being on the brink of homelessness to managing restaurants in New York and London.
This is the way that some of you are approaching life. Some of you think as a follower of Jesus Christ that God has just called you to do a kind of mop-up operation. Keep yourself holy; keep yourself out of trouble. Just get through life; stay away from bad stuff; win a few people to Jesus; earn enough to live on and keep your family alive; and then when you die you get to go to Heaven. Some of you view your work in this life like D.L. Moody once said: “I heard the Lord say to me, ‘Moody, here’s a life raft. You swim around and grab as many people as you possibly can because this world is going to Hell; it’s sinking.’” That’s actually a very pathetic way to live life. It is acting as if you are a dishwasher, when God has called you to run restaurants in New York and London.
Yes, God has called you to lead other people to Jesus and to live a holy life, but even more than that, he’s called you to do that in the broader context of being a co-laborer with Jesus Christ in redeeming and restoring this entire cosmos. That’s your job. So, when these disciples came to John the Baptist, they were effectively saying, “I’m a tax collector. Do you have a job for me leading people to repentance like you do?” The soldiers asked the same thing. But John replied and effectively said, “No, you go back to that very vocation that God has given you and you redeem it in the name of the one who is coming – Jesus Christ.
We are called as people of God to walk triumphantly in this world, to enter boldly into every corner of every vocation and activity in this world and declare, “this belongs to Jesus Christ,” and unleash it from its bounds to sin, and set it free to live as a follower of Christ. We’re called not just to reconcile people to Christ; we’re called to reconcile systems and the Earth itself.
To do that you have to understand a few things.
Creation (Genesis 1-2)
You first have to understand the eternal purpose of the creation. The eternal purpose of the creation is found in Genesis 1 and 2. God created all things out of nothing. He spoke and it came to be. Now, we tend to think that God created the Earth one way, but after the fall in Genesis 3, the creation had to take a different route from what God originally intended. But it’s important for us to understand that God created the world with an eternal purpose; and that purpose has never changed.
Let’s ponder for a moment how God created the world, and look at the way we fit into that. There are 3 stages of creation:
The first stage we call ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.” God said, “let there be light” and there was light. There was no light before. There was nothing to key off on. There was no catalyst. It arose, because he said “let it be.” That’s the first stage of creation
The second stage was diversification. The vocabulary is rich in Genesis 1-2. God is a master craftsman who puts his hand into the ‘stuff’ of creation and starts unpacking its potential – let there be light; let there be orbs to light the day, to light the night; then let’s separate the water to create dry land; and then let’s cause the Earth to bring forth vegetation; and let’s create animals; and let’s throw birds into the air; and let’s multiply the fishes of the sea; and then let’s fashion a man, and from him, a woman. God creates the ‘stuff’, then he diversifies it, and then there is a third stage.
The third stage of creation, he says to the man and to the woman, “I want you to continue the work that I have begun. I want you to continue to unpack the potential of the creation. I want you to continue to imitate me.” The image of God is like a refracting mirror in this case. It’s not a mirror in the sense that we shine back God to him as he shines on us. He doesn’t need to know who he is. The image is of God shining onto us as mirrors and then we refract it onto the Earth. We imitate the God who made us by the way we work, by the way we relate, by the way we create, by the way we think, and by the way we play.
The purpose of the creation, then, was to be unpacked in its full potential for the glory of God by those who bear his image. In other places of scripture like Jeremiah 31 and 1 Timothy 6:17, God speaks of a covenant with creation. God made a covenant with creation that it would always function until his redemptive purposes are finished. God made a covenant with creation to cause it to bring forth good things for our enjoyment. Even after the fall, Paul says, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).
It is not that after the fall that somehow, we are to divorce ourselves from everything material and to think that everything material is somehow inherently evil and the only thing that is good is when we’re in our spiritual state and having devotions. It’s actually rubbish according to the New Testament. God has made us material beings to reflect the image of God in a material world, so that we unleash it for his glory. The creation purpose remains.
Fall (Genesis 3)
The second thing we need to understand is the extent of the fall. In Ephesians 3:9-10, Paul said that God created all things in the creation so that his manifold wisdom would be known. God created this world as an arena, as a stage, upon which he is playing out this great drama called redemption. That great drama includes the Fall. Now we know that God cannot make anyone sin, but God was not surprised by man’s rebellion either. In fact, the Bible seems to teach that the very first decree – not that God operates within time – that God made before he created the world was the decree to redeem. God’s purpose for all of history and all of creation is to redeem a people and an Earth for the praise of his glorious grace – therefore, he created an Earth, man fell, and God sent Jesus to redeem it. The Fall didn’t catch God off guard; it was a part of his plan. The Fall did not subvert the purpose of creation to be an arena in which God will play out this drama.
We have to understand the full extent of the Fall if we are going to participate in that redemptive drama. When man rebelled against God, he (man) was affected by the Fall and all of that beautiful diversity that worked in harmony was interrupted.
Next, the Fall worked its way back into the ‘stuff’ of creation until, at the point of the flood, God describes an ‘erasing’ of the division between the Earth and the waters. God was saying by that, “your sin against me has not just wounded the relationship we have with each other. Your sin has affected the very ‘stuff’ of creation.” There was that low point that occurs in the flood of course. There’s nothing; everything is destroyed except the eight people in the ark.
But then God causes the waters to recede, and he brings Noah and his family out of the ark and they’re surely wondering if God’s purposes are finished. They knew that they had been created to be redeemers in the world, but they must have been wondering if because of man’s sin, God’s purpose for them was finished. But God says to them, “let’s start again. I want you to unpack the potential of creation. I’m going to cause the seasons to continue with regularity. I want to you to fill the Earth and subdue it. I want you to practice animal husbandry. I want to plant and reap. I want you to build cities. I want you to start over as my fellow redeemers.”
God teaches us through Noah that our work as fellow redeemers is to continue, and we are to take that redemption, not just to our own hearts, but we are to take that redemption of Jesus Christ “as far as the curse as found,” as the old hymn goes.
This is evident not only in the Old Testament, we find it in the New Testament in Romans 8 as well. In verses 18- Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:18-19).
The creation is an audience surrounding us. It’s reflecting everything that’s happening on center stage. So, when our relationship is broken with the father, the creation reflects that in its brokenness. Now, as we are being redeemed, the creation is effectively saying, “we can’t wait for your redemption to be finished, because our redemption will also follow.”
Paul goes on:
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (Romans 8:20-25).
If we want to be these kinds of co-laborers in the work of redemption in creation, we have to understand not just the eternal purpose of creation and the extent of the fall, we need to understand the extent of the redemption that Christ is bringing to this world in us and through us. It truly will be as far as the curse is found. It will be into every square inch of this globe. The creation waits eagerly for our revelation as sons of God so that it too can be set free.
We are called the “firstfruits.” The firstfruits offering was when you take the very best of the harvest or the very best lamb and you would bring it to the Lord and say, “you are the one who has brought this, and I trust that you will bring in the rest of the harvest.” If we are the firstfruits, what is the rest of the harvest? The rest of the harvest is all of creation. Jesus is not going to finish his work of redemption until he has redeemed everything and set every created thing free from the curse of sin.
We participate in that in all of our work. That means that if we are going to be these co-laborers, we must participate in the privilege of restoration. We are paying forward to that day when all things will be renewed.
I’ve read numerous accounts of the Holocaust and the way prisoners endured through those horrific experiences. Those who were captured in the Philippines experienced a similar phenomenon. Almost inevitably, the men and women who survived were those who occupied themselves with plans of what they were going to do after they were released. There was one story in the book Ghost Soldiers of a man who was among those Americans who were captured in the Philippines. As the Army Rangers were trying to get them out as quickly as possible, this man who could barely walk insisted on going back into his barracks. He pulled up a board from the floor and dug underneath it to find a little book that he had made with scraps of paper. It was his collection of poetry that he was going to publish when got free.
That’s the way we ought to live in this world. We don’t live as mere survivors. We don’t simply try to make it through with as little trouble as possible. We are to live in such a way that we are paying forward with the work that we do. Even the simplest tasks that we do, we ought to offer them to God as an act of worship and ask that he take it and make it eternally significant.
We have to change the way we think about culture. Richard Niebuhr was the theologian who said that there are five ways to think about culture, or five ways that the church has practiced throughout history. People have thought about the way we ought to relate to culture in these ways:
- Christ is against culture.
In this view, you separate. You wall yourself off from all that is not explicitly Christian and only interact with other believers. You may lead some people to Christ and draw them into your group, but other than that, you keep yourself from fraternizing with others and you create your own groups and leagues, etc.
- Christ of culture.
This is liberal theology. That is, you might say that there’s no real fall. Everything is good. Christ is in everything.
- Christ above culture.
This stemmed from the Roman Catholic church in the middle ages. It is the view that we are to dominate culture, to control science, art, etc.
- Christ and culture in paradox.
In this view, you live in your Christian world on Sunday and your secular view the rest of the week and you don’t let the two come together.
- The reformed view is that this our Father’s world.
We begin with that presupposition. In this view, we commit to do our work – every vocation, whether we’re at work or play – for the praise of God’s glorious grace. We don’t have to understand completely how it’s going to happen, but we are going to offer it up as an act of worship and say “take this and establish it as eternally significant.”
One of my great heroes in thinking this way was a man named Abraham Kuyper. He was a reformed minister in Holland in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was a gospel minister who was captivated with this idea that Christ is the Lord of all creation and that Christians have a mandate to take the redemptive gospel to every part of creation. He was so convinced of this that it led him to establish a newspaper that eventually became the prominent newspaper and also to establish the University of Amsterdam. Eventually, he became Prime Minister of Holland.
At one point in his career, he came to Princeton to deliver the Stone Lectures. Kuyper explained in those lectures how redemption is to be applied to science and politics and art. He said famously, “there is not a thumb’s width in the whole domain of human existence that Christ does not say over it ‘this is mine.'” That’s our mandate. Whether you’re a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker, a homemaker, a student, an engineer, a lawyer, a doctor, a judge, a preacher…no matter what you are, Jesus says, I want you to go into every square inch of this world and declare “this is Jesus’.” Plant the flag of Jesus Christ in every square inch.
In St. Louis, there was the St. Louis Cathedral, which was later made into the Basilica when the Pope visited. They started building somewhere around 1900 and the structure itself was completed several years later. But in 1912 they had the idea to cover the entire interior of the building with mosaics – 80,000+ square feet covered with little tesserae pieces of tile about a centimeter in width. They started in 1912. They put the last piece in place in 1988.
It took 76 years to install 41.5 million pieces of tile. It’s the largest collection of mosaics in the world. Three generations of workers worked on the project. The center piece is in the Narthex – the highest place in the whole structure, and it’s a depiction of 2 Timothy 4:7 – “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith…” It’s a picture of Jesus welcoming his disciples home saying, “well done, you have finished.”
Just imagine for a moment a worker in 1912 being told by his contractor to take a piece of this tile and put it way up there on the ceiling. Imagine he did that day after day without knowing what he was doing. Just fashion the tile and put it in place. Someday he had to retire and he looked up at what he had done and he still didn’t understand it. Then the next guy came over and did the same thing. And then some day – 76 years later – the last tile gets put in place.
It’s a picture of our world. It’s a picture of what we’re called to do. As you’re going about your tasks that seem so menial, maybe you don’t know how it fits. Maybe you’re suffering or you’re at a point in your career or studies and you’re wondering incredulously, “how does this all fit together?” King Jesus says to us, “Just keep doing your work, because nothing you do is meaningless. You do it for me.”
Someday the whole picture will come together and you will hear from Christ, “well done good and faithful servant,” and you’ll say, “yes, I had a hand in redeeming the whole cosmos for the praise of his glorious grace.”
This Sermon in Short is a summary of the message preached by Dr. George Robertson in the evening service on May 28, 2017. Click here to see the full service and the sermon in its entirety.
 Joy to the World, Isaac Watts, 1719.
 Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission (New York: Random House, 2001).