This short series in the evenings we're going to be spending some time in 1 Peter… but it's not a 1 Peter series per see… we came at this from a 'church' end. We did the church weekend away where we looked at church from a distance – what is it all about, where is God taking us, what are God's purposes in forming the church..I really enjoyed that, I hope you found it helpful too… but we thought it would be good to balance that distanced view with a more close up view in this series. If God is doing all that in and through the church, what should church look like on the ground for us? That's where we're going in this series.
And so it makes sense for us to start with worship – with how we respond to God and all he's done for us. And that lands us in the middle of 1 Peter – so please open up the blue bibles to 1 Peter 2 if you haven't already.
I'm going to start tonight with another cricket illustration, and I really do promise I'm trying to cut down, (I might be addicted to cricket illustrations…) you might be surprised to find that tonight's cricket illustration concerns the long running rivalry between Australia and England in test matches – the Ashes… no, not surprised? They all do don't they… but the twist tonight is this illustration is about you, well sort of. Perhaps I should stop talking about it and get on with it…
If you've been here more than five minutes you'll probably know two things about me – I'm Australian, and I'm a cricket tragic. If you're new there's two things you need to know about me – I'm Australian and I'm a cricket tragic…I've been living in England for almost 7 years now, which means that I came after the 2005 ashes series, but not so long after that I expected to lose every series, as I do now … in fact when I first arrived there was an ashes series in Australia that Australia won 5-0… no one wanted to talk to me about cricket then… but when we came over here for the return series things were a lot more even. In fact the whole 5 test series came down to the final test, and in fact the final test came down to the final hour. And that final hour happened on a Sunday night when we were in church. So as we sat down to church that fateful Sunday evening it was still possible for Australia to win, but it was likely that England would win.
No one mentioned the cricket during the service, but one of the lads had cunningly offered to serve tea and coffee so as we finished the service he was sitting out in the kitchen checking the score, I mean getting the tea and coffee ready. As soon as the final hymn finished there was a rush to the back… and England had won. Cue delight for everyone except me. As I headed up the aisle for my cuppa someone ran down to me and did the classic 'Haaaaa' knees bent, fingers pointing, tongue slightly out and everything.
And I know it wasn't meant to, but man it really hurt. It hurt much more than it should have, much more than I'd imagined it would. In fact it hurt for days. I actually found my self looking up at the planes flying over head and wondering if they were flying to Australia, and dreaming of going home. Perhaps cricket is a bit too important to me, perhaps being away from home I've made more of that link to Australia that is healthy, and perhaps that was the first time I'd really had to process how far I was from home – the realities of leaving my family and friends and being on completely the wrong side of the world. But over and above all those things I think what hurt so much was that I'd thought I was among friends, I was at home: if there is anywhere in England that I belong, it's here. I helped start this church, you'd welcomed me and looked after me, paid my stipend, I felt fully at home here. And then suddenly I was feeling the pain of losing while you felt the thrill of winning, and a great big gap opened up between us. And it was painful because I hadn't realised there was a gap at all, I'd thought we were family, and suddenly we were on completely different sides.
Why am I telling you all this – is this just a blatant bid for sympathy? Yes, I mean, no – I'm telling you this because that gap, that sense of separation, that reality of being outsiders even when you expected to be insiders, that's what our passage is about tonight. In absolutely stark terms Peter makes clear to us that if we're Christians then we're foreigners, even in to our home town. And that will have consequences, it will probably hurt, and we'll want to pretend we're not… but we're foreigners by God's design and for good reason.
So the big idea in the passage tonight is that as Christians we are called out by God to be different for his Glory.
There's three parts to that idea and they'll be our three points:
We are called out by God
We are called out for God's glory; and
We are called out to be different.
We'll start at the beginning:
We are called out by God
This is a pattern that we see throughout the whole of the passage, have a look at verse 4 with me and as we read see if you can see how Peter keeps emphasising the separation between us who believe and those who do not:
4 As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men 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. 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 capstone," 8 and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for. 9 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.
Do you see it there? We who are Christians are followers of Jesus, the living Stone. And that means that we follow the one who was rejected, rejected by men that is, but who is precious to God. There are two groups, those who reject Jesus and those who come to him and find him precious, put our trust in him and become like him. There are two very distinct groups and the difference flows from our response to Jesus – who's precious to God but rejected and despised by men. It turns out there really are only two types of people, and the difference is profound.
See how Peter amps up the distinctions. Men have rejected Jesus, taken a look and decided that he's no good, certainly not worthy of use. The image is a building metaphor, the capstone or the cornerstone is the key stone that holds the others together… how does that metaphor play out in practice – God is building a house for himself, a temple where he can dwell and where acceptable sacrifices will be offered. And Jesus is the key piece – if you reject the key piece then you will not accept the building, you've rejected God's design and plan, you've put yourself outside of God's work. We see in verse 7 &8 (which quote from Isaiah, Psalms etc.) that this is God's design, the capstone is funny looking so that it will catch people out, so that it will reveal those who are in and those who are out, it will be the point at which the two groups divide. And so it is: – we divide over Jesus, if we accept him we're in with God, but if we reject him we are on the outside with God. This is no surprise, it's just as God said it would be in those passages quoted for us….
SO there's the people who reject Jesus on the one hand, they will trip over the stone they have rejected, their end is to fall. But on the other hand there are those who see the capstone for what it is, recognise Jesus in his majesty and hold him precious… they could not be more different from the people around them… they follow the chosen and precious stone and so they are like him in God's sight – they're little living stones which are like him being built into God's grand design… they are a holy priesthood, they offer acceptable sacrifices through Jesus Christ, they are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, a people who declare God's praises, a people called out of darkness and into God's wonderful light.
All of this is summed up in Peter's description of us in verse 11 – we are aliens and strangers… we live here, but we don't belong here. We're no longer natives, even where we grew up. My experience of being an Aussie slightly out of place somewhere where I don't quite belong… that's us as Christians living short of heaven, however much we look just like everyone around us, however much we speak the same, dress the same, share the same background and education and TV and food and all the rest, we're not like everyone else, we're a people apart, we're resident aliens, strangers to the people we grew up, even our families if they don't respond to Jesus as we do.
And just to press home the point Peter makes it clear that changes have happened to us – verse 10:
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.
We weren't always like this, we weren't a people, we hadn't received mercy, but now we have, now we are. God has done this to us intentionally, we are not accidents of time and circumstances, God has brought us out, set us apart, made us distinct, created a new people out of us.
We can easily take this for granted, but this is massive – our identity has shifted, and it's no peripheral matter – it's not just a case of getting a new passport printed, this goes far deeper than that, our very identity has changed.
And there will be things that follow from such a massive shift – we've changed sides and there will be consequences.. we've joined ourselves to the one who is rejected, what do we expect will happen to us? And just to be clear, there's real pain on offer for us here – made all the worse for the fact that we will find ourselves outsiders where we expect to feel at home. Like when I found a room full of friends celebrating my pain, we will find ourselves isolated even among friends, and that's when it really hurts. And that's when we'll be tempted to just quietly drop the things that mark us out as different…
We need to be really realistic about this… For generations in the west it's been easy to be Christians and fit in, more or less. Western morality was more or less Christian morality, the western worldview was more or less shaped by a Christian world view. … but no more, our days of flying under the radar are swiftly going. Not very long ago everyone agreed that sex outside of marriage was wrong, and homosexual behaviour was wrong, but young people today find that idea laughable, offensive even. We're not just wrong in the eyes of the world, we're out of line, not just old fashioned, offensive and bigoted. That's already going on, and we need to be prepared for it to get a lot worse. That's sexual issues, there are many others ways in which society is and will part ways with Christian ethics. So when you're with a group of friends or workmates, or at school and the conversation moves into these waters what are you going to say and do? Can you hold the line, or will you crumble and deny Christ? When that happens we're tempted to deny the differences, to go along with the crowd, to do what it takes to fit.
But we can't fit it and stay loyal to Jesus. We are different, God has called us out.
And for all that it might be hard Peter reminds us that it's a brilliant deal we've got – we're rescued from darkness into light, we go from nobodies into God's own people, from unclean people far from God to a holy nation, a people of priests, offering sacrifices to God that he finds acceptable through Jesus. This is a list of immense priviledge… but along with those privileges comes the downside of becoming outsiders. That's the way it has to be, we've been saved from a people who reject God, reject Jesus and hate him. We can't fit in, we've been called out.
And as Peter makes clear we're not called out randomly, God has done this for a clear purpose, and that's our second point.
We are called out for God's Glory
All of his calling out is not just random, God is very purposeful here. Three purpose statements in the passage:
Vs 5: we are chosen by God and precious to him – verse5 – to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus
Vs 9: 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.
Vs 12: Live such good lives among the pagans that, thought they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
The point is that our calling out is not incidental, nor is it even simply for our benefit. Rather, God is working to a master plan and we are caught up in something massive, something fantastic, we are caught up in God's great vindication of himself.
God has called us out for himself for a very clear purpose, and knowing this purpose makes all the difference in the world. We are called out for God's glory – as his spiritual priesthood to make acceptable sacrifices – that's temple worship language – to declare God's praises, and even to bring forth praises from people who reject God and oppose his work. Our lives are to be for God's glory.
I think that there is a fair degree of overlap between these three purpose statements. In fact it seems as if they are three aspects of the one overriding purpose. In the title for this talk we have called it 'worship'. We are called out from the rest of humanity to form God's special people for this purpose – to worship God.
This is what it means to worship God – not merely singing songs that reflect how great he is (though that is an aspect of it) – to worship God is to do so much more. To worship God is to give him his worth (that's that worship means – to worth-ship, to give worth). And God's worth is absolute – if we are to give him his worth then we have to give him everything, all we have; and we are to honour him above anything… But even saying that I feel it's too anaemic, to soft, it's grossly inadequate– it's not like God is just a little bit better than other things, or that if you were to rank things God would be top and there would be a little gap and then the rest. No God towers so far above everything else in value that God is worth more than everything else put together (and I do mean everything else – God is the one who made everything, everything). And still that's inadequate because God is worth more than everything else put together in the same way that the Sun is bigger than my little finger – by so large a margin as to make the comparison ridiculous. You can't bring them close enough to make the comparison, even at 93 million miles away the sun dominates! God is worth everything, so worshipping him is not a case of bigging him up to make him sound better than he is, but simply of pointing to the glory that is there.
Do you see that if God is worth all of this, and we have been called out in order to bring glory to him in keeping with his great self, that we have a very high calling indeed? I've just watched the Matrix again, it's been ages since I saw it, but it was on Telly so I watched it on holiday. There's so much in that movie that invites sermon illustrations… but what seems relevant to me is the way that Neo is greeted into the real world by his new shipmate 'Cypher' – did Morpheus tell you why he did it? So you're here to save the world? What do you say to something like that? What indeed? Neo tries vomiting, then he tries to deny it, until in the end he is forced simply to act in accordance with who he is and go out and save the day. If we could fully grasp the seriousness of our role as those who bring glory to God perhaps we'd be vomiting out of panic and fear too… But Peter says this is just the way it is. God has done this and now we have to live it out. We have been called out, we have been made God's special people, we have been given this heavy and wonderful responsibly of pointing to God's glory. That can't be a 10 minutes before breakfast thing. It can't be a Wednesday night and Sunday morning thing. It's the whole ball game. All our lives are now about this great overarching agenda, this project, this goal and aim. Jesus is our Lord, our saviour, our King, our joy, our hope – and our lives are all about him now.
So this pushes into every part of life. Major decisions in life – where are you going to live – not just the place with the best garden and the sunniest outlook, but good access to church and opportunities to invite neighbours to church so we can give glory to God
- what work are you going to do? How will your work affect your ability to be godly, to be involved in church, will it give you opportunities to speak about God and deep things, or will it undermine your testimony about Jesus? Will it hinder your godliness?
- Will you get married? Live here or overseas?
And more than our decisions - How will you cope with rejection? How will you deal with conflict? What will we hope for our children, what will be invest our time and money into, where will we place our hope. Etc. etc. – these are no longer decisions about you and your comfort or security; they're not about you and your reputation, they're not about your family's future. They're not about you at all. All of our lives are about him and his reputation, that people will see his glory reflected in us as we give him our all.
We're not called out randomly, but as part of God's great plan and purpose for the whole world. It is an immense privilege to become God's people, and therefore God sets the agenda. And that leads us to our last point:
We are called out to be different for God's Glory
The key thing here is being different. Look at verse 11 again:
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
This is where Peter has been heading through this whole section, this is the pay off, this is why he tells us all these things. We have been called out by God and we no longer belong here. God called us out so that we would reflect glory and honour to him as he deserves. And that means that we now need to live up to what we are – we need to be different, because we are different.
See that the way that we bring glory to God is by living in a godly way… makes sense, should be obvious, but our behaviour brings glory to God when those who want to oppose us have nothing bad to say about us, and in fact are forced to admit that we behave rather well actually.
Follows on from the change that has happened to us – in the past we used to indulge our sinful natures and we used not to be God's people. But we can't indulge in those sinful desires anymore because they lead us away from Jesus, they don't reflect glory to God, they undermine us and our witness. That's why Peter says they wage war on our souls – our sinful desires come from the enemy who hates us. We may think that our desires are for good things, it feels that way doesn't it – resisting temptation means going without things that would make us happy, things that would satisfy us. But that's not true, our sinful desires lead us into slavery, bondage to sin; they don't satisfy us, they rob us of satisfaction, make us slaves to ever increasing desires for more and more and more, but they never lead to contentment or peace. Get it into your head – our sinful desires come from within us, but they are not on our side, they are against us..
Peter knows how hard this is – because our sinful desires within us are inflamed by the sinful lives of people around us. People all around us will be giving in to these things. In ch 4 Peter lists off some sinful desires to avoid: Debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and the like – they're things the fella's boast about around the water cooler… they're standard university orientation programmes; I even saw quite a bit of it at the cricket last week. It's not just that people secretly want to do these things, increasingly they're things to be proud of. And these desires are within us these desires are at work in us and we're never immune to them. They are so real and powerful, but they are not on our side, they deceive us, they seek to overpower us, they are at war with us Peter says.
I got a small but slightly painful reminder of what we're talking about this week. I was picking Laurie and Evie up from nursery and I took down scooters for the both of them. Have you seen the little kids scooters with the two wheels at the front – I had two of those. The thing with those scooters is I'm too heavy to ride them, if I stand on one it just sits on the ground. But as I was walking down the hill with two in hand I had an epiphany – if I used both scooters I could beat the weight limit – half on one, half on the other. So I gave it a go. And would you believe it worked. It's a bit tricky cause you can't push off, so you have to get a run up, so starting's hard, but down hill it's a winner… so there I was scooting happily down the hill when I hit the ripple tiles half way down and lost control of the left scooter and suddenly left let and right leg were going in different directions. So now I can tell you from experience that you can't go in two directions at once. Glorious freedom quickly became a minor accident. It was only a small accident, no real harm done, just a bit stretched in the middle, and some damage to my pride. But what if I'd been doing some real speed? That could have been lethal. And you see the point don't you – God and sin are pulling in completely different directions. We can't go down two paths simultaneously, either we follow God and abstain from sin; or we follow sin and we're alienated from God. There's no foot in both camps, there's no middle way. We've stepped off one scooter and onto another… not just pointless to live as if on the old scooter, but positively dangerous, at best a nasty accident, at worse we could loose connection with God altogether and lose the privileges that come from being in his people..
See Peter doesn't want that for us. But he knows that living as strangers and aliens is hard. So he encourages us to see things as they are and to ready ourselves for action. We've been called out to be different for God's Glory… we are called out, made different and we no longer belong, we are as different as light and darkness, natives and aliens…we are called out for to bring glory to God –to declare his praises, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … and we do that by behaviour which is to be so different from our neighbours that it will mark us out and make us strange and even make them want to find fault with us, but for all that people may want to say bad things about us they will not be able to find anything bad to say and so will be forced to speak for God's glory!