Friday, May 27, 2016

A Chosen People

For the past three Sundays, we have been learning from the letter of 1 Peter. The first week we talked about hope. Last week we talked about holiness. Holiness is more than religion; it is a lifestyle. If you eat Krispy Kreme doughnuts all week long, drinking a Diet Coke is not going to help you. If you’ve lived apart from Jesus Christ all week, showing up at church is not going to fix you. Coming to church can be a start, but attending a religious service is not going to solve your problem. Through Christ, you need his holiness for that.


When Peter wrote this letter to Christians who lived in at least five different provinces, he reminded them that they were all a part of one “house,” the Church. Each local church is distinct, but we have a unity that comes from belonging to Jesus Christ. We belong to each other because we are all in Jesus Christ.


Each group of believers has to come to understand God’s truth, but we all should be mature enough to disagree without hating each other. My challenge to the Church is that we might move beyond the name calling, elitism, and traditionalism. Instead, let us understand who we are as God’s people. Let’s show others that Jesus came seeking, saving, and serving others.


1. You are a living stone in a spiritual house.

1 Peter 2:4-8 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”


“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.


The Church is a unique, spiritual structure that God is building throughout the ages. Jesus is the only Savior. The Church is the one spiritual building or house of refuge in this world. Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone of the spiritual building; he is a “Living Stone.”


Even though Jesus is the cornerstone, he was rejected by his own people, the Jews. Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting, so they stumbled over him. How could the Messiah die on a cross? Jesus is also rejected by the world. Even though Jesus was rejected, he was exalted by God.


People today stumble over Jesus as well. They refuse to submit to his rule and reign. They do not obey his teachings. They do not submit to the Christ of the cross.


1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.


For those who do believe, they become a stone in the building of the Church.


“Each time someone trusts Christ, another stone is quarried out of the pit of sin and cemented by grace into the building. It may look to us that the church on earth is a pile of rubble and ruins, but God sees the total structure as it grows.”[1]


Each believer is a stone in the building. Each stone is unique. Each stone is a living stone with its own shape, color, and size. Jesus treasures every single stone. We are all precious to him. 


Unity does not take the place of diversity. Just as children in the same family are different, people in the church are different. We can differ and still get along. Not every issue is a “right or wrong” issue. Sometimes we are called to work alongside those who are different than us. We have one Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism, but many personalities and approaches to life. We need to learn to get along with each other.  After all, we will spend eternity together in Heaven.


John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.


St. Augustine said it perfectly: “In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, charity.”


Just like any house, the Church must be maintained and lived in for it to retain its structural integrity. The pervasive effects of sin and the fall on the people of the church can eat away at the framing of the Church, just like termites in the wall of the home. Unresolved conflict, like a leaky roof, can cause rot and decay in the Church. Lack of biblical knowledge, like an unlocked door, can let a thief into the house undetected. Apathy, like dust, can ruin the appeal of the Church. The Church must be filled with those who take care of her integrity.


2. You are a priest in a world seperated from God.

Ancient Israel had a class of professional priests. The priests were from a tribe of Israel called the Levites.  The Levitical priests took care of offerings. They said prayers. The priests were living reminders that the whole nation was to be unique among all the nations. Peter reminded the Church that now that Jesus Christ has died, he has given us the Church the responsibility of being a new kind of priests—spiritual priests.


1 Peter 2:9-10  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


Not only are we a living Temple, but we are also a royal priesthood and a holy nation. We are set apart and are called to live holy lives.


It is my job to take care of the dishes. I don’t mind, because I hate to cook. I know what leaving a dinner plate, pot or pan will do. Leaving the food and mess on the plate will make it hard to clean in the morning. I know this from experience! An alternative to scrubbing is getting the dirt off immediately. We are much easier to “clean up” when we don’t let the contamination of this world stay on us. We need to go to the Lord quickly and seek forgiveness when we sin.


As “priests,” we are distinct from the world, but not in isolation. We serve God by being mediators of the message of Jesus Christ to those who do not know him. As priests, we can come before God personally without someone else having to go on our behalf.


God wanted Israel to become a Kingdom of priests, a people of influence on the surrounding nations. The priest’s responsibility is to represent God before the world and the world before God. Priests teach the people God’s way of life for them. Priests help people with their ultimate problem, their sin problem. Priests are the first line of defense for support and help when a person’s life has been shaken and turned upside down.


Exodus 19:6 And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.


Instead of being a positive influence, Israel turned against God. They became influenced by the ungodly, instead of being an influence upon others. Israel became contaminated. They failed in the mission. I do not believe God is finished with Israel. To the contrary, God will fulfill his promises to them in the future.


The people of God have been chosen to be set apart as priests. This does not mean that we wear clergy robes or perform rituals. We are to call those who are far off from God to join us as God’s people. We are a kingdom of priests, bring the lost to Jesus Christ, who saves. We are set apart to be God’s special people who offer our service and lives instead of livestock or other burnt offerings.


You are a Holy Priesthood

·         You can go to God directly to confess and receive forgiveness for sin.

·         You are called to live a holy life representing the holy God before a sinful world.

·         You are called to praise God in word and action as a spiritual sacrifice, since animal sacrifices are no longer needed.

·         You are called to study God’s Word and teach it to others.


The reality that each person here can go to God on their own in prayer and worship does not mean that we can be selfish or isolated. Too many believers suffer from “individualism.” People become selfish about their feelings and preferences, and this drives wedges into the church. The Christian life is not about “either” a personal relationship “or” involvement in the Church; it is about “both/and.”


I heard the story of a little girl who was the only child for two years. She knew nothing about sharing because there was no competition. No competition for attention. No competition for love. All the dresses were hers. All the toys were hers. All the affection was hers. It was all about her until the second child was born. When the second child, a girl was born and brought home from the hospital, things had to be shared. Attention had to be shared. Love had to be shared.


One day, the father of the two girls walked into the nursery to find the older daughter standing and yelling over the new baby girl as she slept in the cradle. And then she did it. She took her hand and slapped the little baby! If a little girl can be that sinful at two years of age, imagine how sinful people are at twenty-two, thirty-two, or fifty-two—especially when they’ve learned to be pros![2]


Needless to say, there are those who like all the attention in church. They don’t want new babies in the family. They don’t realize how disappointed the Father is when he sees us looking at the church as a place where our individual needs for attention and affection are met. We are called to serve together, in the family. We are not in competition.


Peter suggests that we, the members of the Church, are priests together under the covenant of Christ’s blood. We are serving the same High Priest—Jesus, serving in the same Temple. Worshiping the same God. There is only one High Priest and heavenly Mediator, Jesus Christ. We have a personal relationship with Jesus, but we do not have a personal relationship while neglecting the rest of our Christian family. We are called to serve together.


3. You are a citizen of a holy nation.

Now, it is up to the Church to be what Israel was meant to be. Now, we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are a city set upon a hill which cannot be hidden (cf. Matthew 5:13-15). We are a chosen generation. Jesus chose us to be his special people.


John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.


Jesus chose us to be his holy nation.


Philippians 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.


Having a calling comes with privileges and preparation. The preparation is like the butcher shop. When I worked as a meat cutter, I would take cuts of beef and pork, upon request, and run them through the meat cuber. For those who wanted their sirloin  prepared so that you could cut it with a fork, the cuber was the way to go. In the same way, a person has to be softened up with pressing for a little while to be ready.


This calling and set of privileges come with a responsibility: We are to proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ who called us out of this dark world into marvelous light. Each one of us is called to be a representative, an ambassador for our great God! We are living witnesses to the mercies of God; he delivered us from sin, death, and Hell.


Our prayer is that in the darkest of hours in our day and age, the Church will be the brightest of lights. We are called to be the greatest resource of truth for those who are troubled. We are to be faithful ambassadors who exemplify the hope of Jesus Christ.


Our world misunderstands God. Christian author and theologian, Lewis Smedes, included this haunting anecdote in his book, Forgive and Forget: “A tailor prayed, ‘Lord, I cheat on pieces of cloth; you let babies die. But I am going to make you a deal. You forgive me my little sins, and I’ll forgive you your big ones.’”[3]


People are struggling out there! People are struggling in here! We live in a world full of painful realities that pat answers won’t solve. That’s why God called us to represent him to those who need his love. Only faith can guide us through this dark world. It is our responsibility to live out the faith, communicating the hope of the Gospel in words and actions.


We are the “Christian firemen.” We run toward those devastated by the flames of a fallen, evil world. We head into the burning building when everyone else is running away. When we see people in need, we must do everything we can to serve. We minister to those around us. We are priests. We are citizens of Heaven. We are a chosen people.

[1]Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), 401.
[2]Tony Evans, Tony Evans Book. . ., (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008), 28.
[3]Lewis Smedes, Forgive and Forget, (Nashville, TN: HarperCollins, 1984), 111.