In 2001 Miss Kate Middleton arrived at St Andrews University. It was there she met Prince William and fell in love. Ten years later she left Westminster Abbey as Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge. When she married her status was changed forever. Now you might think, "I'd quite like to be a Prince or Princess, and live in a big palace!" But if you've come to Jesus, you have something better! We'll see tonight in 1 Peter that when we come to Christ we become God's temple and people. Your status is changed forever!
Over the last two weeks we've heard how believers are saved into a relationship with God. Because of that they are to be holy – set apart for God. Peter is writing to believers who were being persecuted. They were finding it hard to follow Jesus. So reminds his readers of their status so they can live out the implications he'll spell out in his letter. Just as marrying Prince William has implications for how Kate lives, likewise if you're part of God's people it has implications for how you live. From our status flows our service. Peter shows us three truths about the status of God's people, the church, we need to get our heads around. Firstly, the church is a People who are built by God (v4-5). When we come to Jesus by placing our faith in him something happens. Look with me at verse 4:
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 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.
Peter is using the picture of a building. Jesus is described as a living stone. When we come to Jesus in faith, we too are like living stones used for building. What is being built? A spiritual house. What's happening in this spiritual house? Priests are making sacrifices. Peter is picturing a temple where God lives. But what he's saying is God does not in a temple made of stones, but out of believers! God lives in his people, the church.
God dwelled in the garden of Eden, but following Adam and Eve's rebellion people could no longer enjoy his presence. Yet, God chose to dwell amongst his people, Israel, through the tabernacle – the mobile temple. Solomon built a permanent temple in Jerusalem that was filled with God's glory. But again because of the rebellion of the people, his presence left the temple. God's presence would return in Jesus, the true temple of God.
Yet, at Pentecost, as the Spirit came on God's people, the church is now God's dwelling place. One day when Jesus returns, the temple of God will be the whole earth!
What does this mean? We don't' look hugely impressive tonight. But Peter says the gathered believers here tonight make up the Gateshead branch of God's temple people! That means when we gather as a local church in small or big groups, at home or in this building God is present!
We don't have to magic up his presence with a choir or band, nor beg him to turn up or go on a pilgrimage to a special place. God is with us because he lives in us by his Spirit!
It also means this: If you've come to Jesus you are united to him and also to his people. You might not feel like part of his people, but you are. You might find it difficult meeting on Sundays, but you have entered God's community. So when we're following Jesus, the question isn't, "Will I join the church?", but "How should I live out being in the church?"
When you come to Jesus your status is changed. You belong to a new community. Think back to Kate Middleton. When she became a Duchess she also became part of a new community. Her question isn't, "Shall I join the royal family, it's, "Now I'm in the royal family, how should I live?"
How do God's people live? Well Peter says we are to "be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." Priests offer spiritual sacrifices to God. There is no longer any need to offer sacrifices for sin. The sacrifices Peter talks about are sacrifices of thanksgiving to show your gratitude to God. How do God's people live? They are to offer up their whole lives as an offering to God in worship. Last week we saw that meant being holy, and loving your brothers and sisters. Over the next few Sundays we'll see Peter spell out what that looks like for us in detail.
What else does it mean to be a priest? Peter's language takes us to the book of Exodus. God had saved Israel by grace, and now told them that they'd be his kingdom of priests so long as they kept the covenant. God had brought his people so close, their access was priestly. Yet Israel failed to keep the covenant, and God withdrew his presence.
Yet God promised that his people would experience his presence once more. How? Jesus was the one who kept the covenant. Jesus was the one who perfectly enjoyed God's presence, yet at the cross he cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Jesus lost the presence of God on the cross so we could enter it. When we trust in his death we become temple people knowing God's presence. We become holy priests able to come to God with confidence. The Duchess of Cambridge may be able to enjoy the presence of the Queen. She's got her number. She can pop round for a cup of tea. If you've come to Jesus you know God's presence now by the Spirit, and one day you'll physically enter his royal presence forever!
How does Peter support his claim that the church is a temple people built by God? A people who enjoy his presence? He says look at the Bible! He shows us some more Old Testament promises about Jesus. Promises that say when we believe in Jesus, the cornerstone, we will not be put to shame. He says the church is a People who believe in Jesus (6-8). Come with me to verses 6-7:
6 For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,"
Peter takes some promises from Isaiah about a cornerstone God will lay in Jerusalem. Peter is again using the picture of a temple being built. This cornerstone will be rejected. Those who trust in him will not face shame. Who is the cornerstone? It's Jesus. Those who trust him will not face judgment for he pays for sin. Those who do not believe will face judgment for their sin has not been dealt with.
Peter is saying that Jesus separates the world into two. There is no middle ground with Jesus. He is as C.S Lewis says, "Mad, bad or God." We either come to him or we reject him. Your response to Jesus shapes your eternity. Let's look at verse 8:
"A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for."
If we disobey the gospel we are held responsible. Yet Peter also says those rejecting the gospel are also destined by God to such action. God is in charge of who comes to Jesus, yet the responsibility for rejecting Jesus remains with men and women. The Bible holds these two truths in tension: God is in charge, yet we are responsible. That may sound hard, but we need to remember the following truths.
Firstly, Peter uses the present tense so he does not the possibility of rebels coming to Jesus in faith. That's why Peter spent the rest of his life proclaiming the gospel! The gospel that says God will not turn away anyone who comes to Jesus. Secondly, we also need to remember that it's an incredible mercy that God would choose to save anybody given our natural position is to reject God. And that's what Peter majors on here. He majors on God's active role in choosing to save people by his mercy. So verse 9 starts with, "But you are a chosen people."
If you ask the question why is someone a follower of Jesus, and someone else is not, the answer Peter gives is God has in his undeserved kindness has chosen that person to follow him. It's not because they were smarter, or better in any way. It's purely God's undeserved kindness at work. And because of that God receives all the praise, and not us! Because of that we can be confident in our salvation because it's God's work not ours.
It's God's grace that makes us belong to him. That's the third truth we see about the church. The church is a People that belong to God (9-10). In verse 9 Peter uses words that once described Israel to describe the church. He says to his readers, the church is now God's people:
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
God chooses his people. They have priestly access to God. They are God's people so they set apart for Him. They are his special possession. In short the church is a group of people God has chosen for a relationship with him. My friends have recently adopted a little boy. He now bears my friend's surname name as his own. What have they done there? They've chosen to love, care for, protect and be bound to that little boy.That's what God does with the church. But God is not only a parent but a king, a king who chooses his subjects.
Why does God do this? So that we may declare the praises of him who called us! God has granted his people a new status that they may serve him by declaring his praiseworthy deeds. We're saved for a purpose. Salvation Army officers have on their right and left jacket lapels the letter 'S'. Those two letter S remind them that they are "Saved to Serve". Coming to Jesus is ultimately about God's glory. It's about serving his fame! He is gloried as his people proclaim what he has done. Praise is about rejoicing in what God has done. It is rejoicing in our saviour.
What we rejoice in we declare. We do this all the time. Some people rejoice in their computer and spend ages telling us why we should get a Mac. Some people come back from a holiday and say you've gotta go there! Some people eat a delicious meal out and then get on Trip Advisor praising the restaurant. What we love we declare! Praise is the overflow of our hearts.
There's an advert on TV for Sky T.V. called the 'Four Stages of the Boxset.' The first stage is 'Just one more.' Because we love a programme we keep wanting more. The second stage is 'The Preacher.' If we love a TV show we often can't help telling others the 'good news'. "You gotta see this!" What we love we declare.
If we've come to Jesus we have the greatest story to tell. We've got the greatest saviour to rejoice in: Jesus who delivered us from darkness to light. The one who changed our status forever. So the words of verse 10 become our story too:
10 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.
Two quick applications. Firstly, People who belong to God are to declare what Jesus has done to each other. In part that's why we meet on Sundays, and Wednesdays at Home Groups and informally in the week. But we also declare what Jesus has done to the world. As priests we display in our worship and declare in our witness the good rule of God.
Secondly, if you feel little desire to talk of God's kindness, go back to the gospel. Remind yourself of how Jesus has shifted your status from not being in God's people, to being in God's people. You think Kate Middleton's status has changed a lot since she met Prince William? Well, that's nothing compared to how our status changed when we came to Jesus! Ask God by his Spirit to help you see afresh his mercy. Peter says it's a job for all followers of Jesus. After all the church is a kingdom of priests. Speaking of Jesus is everyone's job not just the ministers!
Peter was telling his readers in effect what they already knew, but he needed to remind them of their new status so they'd be able to serve. If we forget who we are we'll struggle to serve. We need to keep reminding ourselves of the gospel. It is a simple message, yet we'll spend a life time getting it under our skin!
Let's sum up. The church is: a people who are built by God into his temple; a people who believe in Jesus; and a people who belong to God. Peter reminds his readers of their new status. From that status flows our service. When we come to Christ we become God's temple and people. So let's worship and witness to the God who has saved us.