Ever since Adam and Eve stood over the grave of their son Abel – who had been ruthlessly murdered by Cain, his own brother – I imagine that parents and grandparents of every generation have asked the timeless question: “what is this world coming to?” Maybe it’s because I am now a parent myself, but doesn’t it seem like now is a pretty fitting time to ask that question? Consider some of the more recent events in our nation. It seems like a distant memory already, but it was only in July that Burlington, WI suffered some of the worst flooding in its history – destroying countless homes and forever changing people’s lives. Then came the hurricanes, one after another after another. Harvey, Irma, Maria, and now, Nate. On Sunday, September 24th, a gunman charged into a Christian church near Nashville, Tennessee, killing one worshiper and wounding seven others – a story you may not have heard about because it did not receive much media coverage. And last Sunday evening a gunman opened fire on a country music festival outside the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino, killing 58 and injuring over 500 – the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. “What is this world coming to?” – inspires a variety of practical questions: How do we deal with terribly tragic events in our world and lives? How do we explain them to our children? How do we cope with the fact that death stands outside our front door? What can we hold onto in a world where it seems you can’t really trust anyone or anything? Peter has answers for us this morning. He reminds us that in a dying world we have the dependable Word.
Maybe the first question is: how can we presume to have answers to these questions while the best and brightest minds in our nation seem so clueless and powerless? Whenever a tragedy happens, the discussions and potential solutions always seem to be the same: more gun laws or fewer gun laws, more mental health screening and more background checks, better warning systems or cutting our carbon footprint – and then there’s the endless, pointless debate over why people do evil things. There’s no shortage of discussion regarding the problems the world faces, but there is a definite shortage of answers. And, for the unbelieving world, that’s all you can expect. Paul told the Romans why we cannot and should not expect the unbelieving world to ever solve the problems caused by sin: although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. (Romans 1:21-22) The unbelieving world can neither understand nor solve the problem of evil in the world because it neither knows the one, true God nor believes his Word. What makes us any different? What makes us any more qualified to discuss evil in our world? The difference is not that we are more intelligent or better informed than our unbelieving neighbors.
The difference, Peter says, is that we were born again. We were given new life and a living faith, our eyes were opened, not by returning to the womb but, through the living and enduring word of God. How can we say with certainty that the source of evil is not a gun or a carbon footprint or a mental disorder? How can we say with certainty that the world is not getting better but much, much worse? How can we claim to have answers when the rest of the world only has questions? Because God has revealed the truth to us in his Word. And, unlike the seed of sin that we pass down to our children, the seed of God’s Word is imperishable – it doesn’t die. It keeps working day after day, century after century, inviting, forgiving, sanctifying, disciplining, justifying, informing and guiding us through a sin-sick world on the narrow path to heaven. It tells us where evil comes from: out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:19) It tells us why creation rises up against mankind in hurricanes and storms: because those who live in it are wicked. (Jeremiah 12:4) The Word of God convicts all of us as sinners worthy only of God’s wrath: there is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10); but promises salvation for all through the blood of Christ: he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) The living and enduring Word of God not only guides us through this life, it removes our fear of death: because although the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) We can state those things with certainty because they are God’s own unbreakable, unshakeable truth. That is the heritage we have received. By God’s grace we have come to believe and trust that God’s Word is the only dependable thing in this dying world.
But it’s so easy to lose our focus and trust in that simple, yet powerful and effective and eternal Word, isn’t it? Our world is one big sin city, filled with flashing lights and people to see, places to visit, and things to do. Perhaps Las Vegas is the perfect example of how Satan wants us to see life. The Eiffel Tower and Midtown Manhattan and an Egyptian pyramid rise out of nowhere. Fantastic fountains and brilliant attractions light up the desert floor. Towering hotels, monuments to mankind’s strength and ingenuity, reach up to heaven. Almost anything your heart desires lays at your fingertips. And, best of all, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas! All of it is a shrine which leads mankind to worship its favorite idol: itself. All of it tempts us to say: “wow, it’s amazing what man can do!”
Until it’s not amazing anymore. Until the prophetic words of Isaiah are once again proven to be true of everything mankind is and does: all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of field; the grass withers and the flowers fall. Peter reminds us of the reality that beneath all the glitz and glamour, beneath the fantasy and splendor lies sin and death. The hotels that tower over the strip are only façades that will eventually crumble and fall. Underneath the light shows and fountains prostitutes and drug dealers carry out their ugly business; the performers and entertainers – rich and famous one second, are used up and thrown away the next. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragic event like the one that happened last Sunday to shock people back to the reality: it’s not amazing what people can do…more often than not it’s horrible and wicked and evil. Which serves to prove Peter’s point: this world is dying.
And it’s not just happening in faraway places like Las Vegas and Puerto Rico. It’s happening right here. I’m dying. You’re dying. Every new gray hair – or every hair lost; every new wrinkle and every new ache; every trip to the doctor’s office and the pharmacy; every bruise and sprain that takes longer to heal than the last one – all are a reminder of who we really are. I may fool myself into thinking that I’m strong and tough like the grass in the field; I may believe that I’m a glorious, beautiful flower – but the reality is that from the moment of my birth, I’ve been dying. And so are you. And we’re all dying for the same reason. What we see in the mirror and hear from the doctor are only symptoms. For the true diagnosis we must look deeply into the mirror of God’s holy law. There we see that God doesn’t expect us to compare ourselves to the terrorists and mass murderers of the world – he demands that we compare ourselves to him. Be holy. (set apart) (1 Peter 1:16) I’m not holy. Be perfect. (spotless) (Matthew 5:48) I’m not perfect. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37) But my loyalty is torn in a million different directions. Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:38) But I have spent all my love on myself. And so, just like every generation that has gone before us, we will die. For dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)
And the same is true of almost everything that we work so hard to pass on to our children. The best habits and behaviors that we can instill in them are often forgotten the moment they move out of the house. Inheritances and estates are poorly managed, stolen and lost. Even the best education cannot guarantee a secure future. We can try to provide the best life possible for our children, but the fact remains that they too face a future that ends in a cold, dark grave. So what can we pass on, what can we pray for, what can we work for that will make a difference, that will not rot and decay and end in death and destruction?
The word of the Lord stands forever. There is a heritage we can pass on that will not die, will not perish, will not end in death and destruction. The Word of the Lord stands firm – just as it has since the very beginning – from generation to generation. Scripture has served as our dependable guide through this dark world – and Scripture alone will guide our children long after we are gone. (Psalm 119:105) Scripture alone will teach our children that life’s biggest problem is not out there – it’s not the guns or hurricanes or political polarization; it’s in here – it’s the sin-sick heart beating in all of our chests. The next generation will learn from the created world that there is a God and that he is obviously much bigger, wiser, and more powerful than they are – and their consciences will tell them that they are accountable to him. But Scripture alone can tell them that God is a compassionate Father who loved them so much that he sent his Son to die for them. The bathroom mirror will sooner or later tell them that they are dying too. But Scripture alone reveals both the source and solution to death: the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56-57) Social media will inform our children of tragic stories and evil individuals. But Scripture alone will tell them that their most important battle is not against climate change or heavenly armed gunmen but against sin and the Satanic forces of hell. (Ephesians 6:12) These truths: the truths of sin and grace, of good and evil, of heaven and hell, of salvation in Christ by grace alone, through faith alone, revealed in Scripture alone – these are eternal, these will never pass away. These truths have guarded and guided and sustained generations of believers before us and they will continue to guide each generation safely through this dying world to the safety of heaven.
Allow us to demonstrate how this works. In Matthew 24, Jesus himself answers the question: “what is this world coming to?” Many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars…Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other…because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. (Matthew 24:4-14) What do you tell your children? Jesus told us that this would happen, and he said see to it that you are not alarmed. (Matthew 24:6) What do these things mean? Even so, when you see all these things, you know that [the Son of Man] is near, right at the door. (Matthew 24:33) What do we cling to? Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Matthew 24:35) How do we cope with the grim reality that we and this world are dying? Scripture alone assures us that although this world is coming to an end, neither death nor life…neither the present nor the future…nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39)
Scripture alone tells us who we are, where we came from and where we’re going. Scripture alone can make sense of this senseless, violent, evil world. Scripture alone tells us that the God who is our Judge is also our Savior. Scripture alone tells us that God sent his Son to suffer and die for a world of sinners. Scripture alone will endure long after you and I and whatever we plan or build withers and blows away like the grass of the field. Scripture alone is our dependable guide through this dying world to eternal life with God in heaven. And this is the word that was preached to you - this is the heritage we have received and will pass on to the next generation. Because no matter what happens in this dying world, the word of the Lord stands forever. Amen.