Sunday May 20th 2012
Reading – 1 Peter 2:1-12
If you have a Bible, please do open it to the reading in 1 Peter. I wish I could lead you in a Bible study on this passage, there is just so much here. But we only have time for a sermon … the working title for today that I was given, is ‘A Shared Hope’, so I’m going to focus on one small section that talks about our life together as a church … but let me encourage you to read the passage again when you get home … indeed, to read the whole letter – it won’t take long. It’s a thought-provoking and exciting letter to read, so why not come along to one of our GIFT groups to talk about it in a bit more detail?
Anyway – this morning I’m going to focus on one small part of our reading, and it’s a familiar one … Rev Tim uses some of these words each time we share communion together …
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9,10 NIV)
In some ways, these two verses are the heart of the whole letter. If you do manage to read the whole letter … keep a note of how many times Peter uses the words chosen and called. There are two instances in these two verses … we are a chosen people, called out of darkness and into the light. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
We are chosen
Earlier in this letter, we’ve already seen that God has plans for us … remember the opening verses of chapter 1, Peter, to God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God … 1v1,2.
What does it mean that we have been chosen? Think back to a time when you had to choose teams for games at school … or when you went to interview for a job? What were those doing the choosing looking for? They wanted the best man available, the person with the right skills for the task. But choosing the best people doesn’t always get the expected results … the most obvious illustration I can think of is once again football, when clubs pay millions for players with the best skills, but still don’t get the results they expect. Why not? Because a group of individuals can’t always work together effectively as a team.
Being chosen by God isn’t about our qualifications for the job he has in mind. But it’s clear he doesn’t simply choose people who all get on together, either … look at the disciples, always arguing and competing. Or look around most churches and see the friendship groups and cliques that develop.
We can get some insight by looking at people God has chosen in the past … some of the great characters of the Bible, like Abraham or Moses, or the disciples themselves. Why did God choose them? If you remember the story of David you might remember a memory verse we learned a few weeks ago, 1 Samuel 16v7 … The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
God chooses people who have a heart for him. Of course, they may not know that at the time! They may be looking for something, a meaning to life or the origins of the universe, or be completely unaware of the spiritual dimension. But when God steps into their lives, they recognise him and turn to him.
Which isn’t to say that they are immediately transformed into effective Christians … again, look at the people God chose in the Old Testament … Jacob who lied and cheated his way through life, David who had an affair and tried to cover it up by murder, Samson who lost all his God-given strength through lust … yet still, they each had a heart for God and were chosen by him.
And if God has chosen someone, then we can safely trust that he will keep them … this letter of Peter is full of references to suffering. Not suffering through circumstance or ill health or injustice, but suffering for being faithful to God. There’s another word you can look for as you read through … how many times does Peter mention suffering? Can you see how each time, he adds something to our understanding of why Christians suffer … to refine us, to grow in faith, to bear witness to God, to become more like Jesus … and all the while Peter reassures us that we are safe, kept by God, with a wonderful inheritance waiting for us in heaven.
And we are the people God chose to become this church and to be witnesses in this community. Whatever our doubts and difficulties about the task … we are safe, kept by God for a glorious future.
But I want you to notice something important … we are the people of God, that is, we’re not a bunch of individuals, doing our own thing in the same place at the same time. We are a unit, a team … look at verses 4-5 earlier in the chapter
As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5 NIV)
In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul wrote something very similar …
… you are … fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV)
We do not function as individuals when we are part of a church.
To understand why, we need to look at our second word of the day.
We are called
We have been called by God … out of darkness, into his wonderful light (v9). Why? To declare his praises! The sentence is a bit topsy turvy, but that’s what v9 is saying.
Our calling is simply to praise God – but not alone, and not just with those of like mind. We are to declare his praises … you don’t declare something to someone who knows it already! And verse 9 makes it clear that everything else that we become when we turn to God, is for this purpose … to make known the goodness of God in the world.
Peter is only restating something he learned from Jesus himself …
In John 13:34-35 we read that Jesus said,
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Although Jesus called this a ‘new command’, it was always God’s intention that he would be known across the world because of his relationship with a people he called his own. Only when we have this as our focus do our needs and interests as individuals become unimportant, so that we become an effective team.
We have been chosen and we have been called … but what have we become?
What have we become?
2v9 again …
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God …
We’ve looked already at what it means to be a chosen people – that we are no longer individuals, but part of something bigger, called by God to work together with a common purpose. So let’s move on – what does it mean that we are a royal priesthood?
First of all, royal! Royal? Us? Of course – as God’s people we are part, not only of his kingdom, but of his family. Before God, we have the same status as Christ, that of children and heirs. Not as those born as part the family, but as those who have been adopted into his family … because he chose us, just as adoptive parents choose the child they want to become part of their family. We are royal, because we are the King’s children!
And just as the priesthood of the OT were all part of one family or tribe, we are now God’s priesthood. In the OT the role of the priest was to stand between the people and God … to act as the intermediary between them, representing the people to God, and speaking to the people for God. Of course, the NT makes it clear that this role is no longer necessary, Jesus is our great high priest, who is alive and fulfils all these roles himself. But what about those people who aren’t already part of a worshipping community, who don’t know God, and don’t know how to find him? Our role as God’s royal priesthood is to find them and tell them all that God wants them to know … we’ll come back to this in a moment.
We are a royal priesthood, a holy nation …
Just as we share Jesus’ status before God – as part of his family – so we share his state before God, that of being holy. Because on the cross, Jesus died for our sins – he wiped the slate clean. We are forgiven because of him, and stand before God without guilt. Just as Jesus does. In God’s sight we are holy.
Now of course we know that in practice, we’re no such thing! But so does he … and part of his ongoing work in our lives here on earth, is to bring about a transformation in us, so that we become more and more like Jesus … another word for this is sanctification … and Peter has already told us, again in 1v2, that God is working in us to this end through his Holy Spirit.
To God’s elect … who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood …
In fact, virtually everything we learn in 2v9 has already been told us in 1v2 … that we are chosen by God, saved by his Son and are being transformed by his Spirit.
So we are both holy (in God’s sight), and being made holy (in practice) at the same time. And we are a nation. We’ve already seen that we are a people, chosen by God. But a nation is something more than a group. A nation has structure and there is order and government. There are laws and traditions. Other nations recognise and acknowledge it’s authority. And being part of a nation is to have an identity. The citizens of a nation are it’s citizens wherever they are, at home or abroad.
Part of our identity as Christians is that we are citizens of another kingdom – perhaps not a kingdom that others recognise as yet, but one that one day, they will be forced to acknowledge. Do we live as citizens of heaven? Do we acknowledge it’s authority in our lives as we live in another kingdom on a temporary basis? Those who travel abroad are ambassadors, official or otherwise, for their country, each leaving behind an image or impression of their home. And that is part of our role here, as we declare God’s goodness to the world.
And we are a people belonging to God …
I wonder if any of you are watching Simon Reeve’s excellent series on the Indian Ocean? In the last episode Tim and I watched, he was in Somalia, in the capital Mogadishu, a violent and impoverished society fighting a civil war. The recognised government has control over only a small area of the country, but it is the government recognised as sovereign by the rest of the world.
However, he then moved on to Somaliland … an unrecognised sovereign state that the rest of the world identifies as an self governing area of Somalia. The government of Somaliland have established a peaceful, almost happy society … but it has no ability to build relationships with other nations because in reality it simply doesn’t exist as a separate entity. So although happy, the people continue to be poor and are unable to build up their nation’s resources.
We are not a people who simply belong together, as if we had declared ourselves an independent nation … a people who are happy together, if left untroubled by outsiders. We have a sovereign, a king, God himself. And although the world may not recognise his authority … we have already won the right to exist, even if there are battles still to be fought.
It wasn’t always that way … v10
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
We are included in this people of God because of God’s mercy. Not by anything we have done for ourselves, or because of any merit we may have, but because God has shown us mercy. And that is what we are to tell the rest of the world … that mercy is available to everyone.
That brings me to one final thing I want to say about the words chosen and called in this letter of Peter; and forgive me if it’s a little technical.
There is sometimes no exact equivalent of a word when it’s translated from one language to another. The words we have been reading in English as chosen and called are, in the original Greek, three different words. We don’t need to consider the word chosen as it makes little difference in the context of what I’m saying. But called is sometimes a translation of a word meaning ‘called out’ or ‘summoned’ (incidentally the root word from which we get our English word ‘church’) but in 2v9 called stands for a word more accurately translated as ‘called as if by name’, or ‘invited’.
There may be those here this morning, who aren’t sure that they belong to this people we have been describing, the people of God, chosen and called. You may be unsure of your place in the heavenly kingdom, unsure of your inheritance. Perhaps you’ve never considered being royal before, and I suspect many of us are convinced that we are not, nor are ever going to be, holy!
But if you would like to be, or would like to be sure of having been … both chosen and called by God, this is your invitation … let me make it clear by a slight re-translation …
But you are a ‘called out’ people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who ‘invited’ you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9,10 NIV alt)
Mercy is there for the asking, and God is inviting you to be part of his chosen people. And when we accept his invitation, all these things we have been reading about today are true of us … we are secure, kept by God, we are royal and holy, with a purpose and a glorious future, and we belong together and to Him, for ever.