Well this evening we’re going to be taking a short break from our series in the Beatitudes to look at what ought to be a very well-known passage of Scripture to many of us since it is our theme verse for the year. So let me invite you to turn with me to Peter’s first epistle, 1 Peter chapter 2, and we’re going to be reading from verse 9 through to verse 12.
In these verses we’re going to notice and we’re going to explore how Peter, he outlines, I think quite marvelous, some of the elements that God has, in His sovereign mercy and grace, He has gifted and given to the church, to us as His people, to act as a fuel for mission, as a fuel for mission. And part of the reason that we’re looking at this and considering this and reflecting upon this, this evening, is in light of our upcoming global Mission Conference that begins on Wednesday. We’re heard a lot of details about that both at the morning service and Wiley has reminded us this evening. Once again, pick up one of the brochures that’s around the place and just get involved, if nothing else, but at least be knowing how you can be praying for our missionaries and the conference at large.
Now many of you will know that the vision of First Presbyterian Church is to glorify God. It’s to worship and adore the One who is the Lamb who is worthy and who was slain. Ed expounded that in quite some detail this morning. But we are to glorify God by making disciples. And where are we commissioned to make those disciples? Well, it’s on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and of course around the world. And this implies that if we as a church exist to make disciples, which is the heart of God in Matthew 28 and throughout the New Testament and it’s rooted in the book of Genesis, but if that is why we exist, is to make disciples, then we also need to admit that the church really has very little to do with the place and the building. This is the hub where we gather to worship and exalt the risen Christ. It’s the place where we are equipped as brothers and sisters, as saints, in order to go out and fulfill that which God has commissioned to us as His body. And so it concerns people living together in covenant relationship through the grace of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Just as a quick aside, that’s partly what we witnessed just last week’s Sunday where men and women professed their faith, covenanting before God and us as the community of faith here at First Pres, to be gathered and to be used of God in the explosive expulsion of the Gospel to the ends of the world. It’s for the glory of God and for the good of the world that the church exists. Nothing more; nothing less. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing that has been entrusted to us by the Lord Himself.
Now let me take you back a little bit to the book of Acts. Just after Pentecost, you will remember that the church was growing. In fact, it’s very clear that we could say that the church was a church that was on mission, where mission began in the family and in the neighborhoods in which they lived. It began in the marketplaces. It began in the schools. Every relationship was impacted by this new identity that had been given to the men and the women who had been changed for the sake and the cause of the Gospel. They understood that the world that they lived in did not know the Lord Jesus Christ and they also understood that the world that they lived in needed the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s that combination that fueled them to go and tell despite the cost. Their world, it certainly wasn’t free and as hospitable as it is here in the United States; not at all. In fact, if you lived as a Christian you marked yourself as an enemy of the state, an enemy of Nero.
And it’s into that context that the apostle Peter is writing this letter that, as many of you know, David has been working through over the last few months in the morning services. One author summarized the first few centuries of the church as follows. He said, “They strove to spread the Gospel and stay alive.” It’s not what we think are the two phrases that would go together, but you just think about what happened in Jerusalem when the persecution came. There was this explosive expulsion as missionaries went out to Asia Minor. They went east into India and they went south to Africa and the Middle East. And we know from the records outside of Scripture and in Scripture that many of those new communities began to face the persecution of the Roman State and the growing Roman Empire. Many of them found themselves living in caves and in the forests because they were committed to spread the Gospel message and stay alive.
Now brothers and sisters, God is always at work in the hearts of men and women. He is at work in ways we just can’t always perceive and we don’t understand. He is on mission to redeem the other sheep that are not yet a part of the fold. The same God who condescended to redeem us in Christ, the One who has promised and told us in Scripture that He prepares a home for us, He is the same one who calls and who burdens and who sends His church – local congregations, ordinary men and women in local congregations – into the world to bear witness to His grace, making the Gospel of Christ clear and compelling to those who have not yet heard this good news.
And what we’re going to see in these verses as we look at verses 9 through 12 is that Peter tells us that a church on mission thinks consistently, speaks consistently, and acts consistently. Thinks consistently, speaks consistently, and acts consistently. And so without further adieu, let us turn to God’s Word, and as we read it, we will then pray just afterwards. This is God’s holy and inerrant Word. 1 Peter, chapter 2 from verse 9. Peter writes:
“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. 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.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Praise be to God for His Word. Let’s bow our heads as we go to the Lord in prayer. Let’s pray.
Our Father in heaven, we give You thanks and praise for the revelation of truth that You have entrusted to the church. Father, thank You that You have shone the light of the Gospel upon our hearts. And we pray, Lord, that this evening, that You would continue to open up the Word of truth. Draw us in. Cause our hearts to be stirred so that we may love Jesus Christ all the more. And Lord, that our desire, our sole desire would be to do that which He has called us to do. And we pray this and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Mateo Langat was a man, a very young man, when he first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his mother tongue when a couple of missionaries came through his village and they settled there for a couple of years learning the language, and eventually understanding the language sufficiently they then explained the good news of the Gospel. And it is said that he was one of the early converts to Christianity amongst the Kipsigis people in Kenya. As he matured and as he grew up, he went on to be a preacher and a pastor amongst the same community, amongst the same community in which he grew up, and in one of his sermons that was translated into English in 1976 he gives this analogy. He says, “Here in Africa, one person cannot cultivate with oxen by himself. There must be people in the field to guide the oxen on each side as well as one who holds the plow. Likewise, one cannot be the church by himself. He must call others who are in Christ to work together.”
I think in some sense it’s quite a beautiful analogy of what we’re going to be looking at this evening. It’s this united witness of the body, the united witness of the church that impacts a rebellious and a fallen world. That’s the testimony of the early church. They were thinking and speaking and acting consistently with that which they read in the Gospel and in the narratives that had been left for them. They had been so changed by it. And we have these records given to us throughout the course of church history which will tell us similar stories and similar details in various countries. One of the great church historians of the 19th century, Kenneth Latourette, he writes with regard to the missionary advance that was propelled out of Europe and out of North America, in other words, the transatlantic protestant community. He writes this. That, “The missionary advance of Christianity into a global religion was the result of sacrificial, unconstrained donations of many millions of individuals, both people and resources.” It was being gripped by something larger than themselves, something of heaven we might say, and binding themselves together to be involved in reaching those who have not yet heard the good news, who are still in spiritual darkness.
By the way, we live in a day and age where we think that most people have heard about Jesus Christ, but there are nations around the world where there are very few Christians, if any in some of those communities. So many of the languages of this planet still need to be translated into their mother tongue. The mission is not finished.
Now as we have already mentioned, Peter is writing this letter to a community who are under persecution. He’s writing to them who face the prospect of increasing and greater persecution if they stick with their convictions. And even though he knows they are facing increasing persecution, he does not write to say and ask them to back off. But in actual fact, in the midst of this clear and present danger, he gives them further instructions to stand their ground and press on with what God has called them to do. So firstly, the church on mission thinks consistently. We are to be governed by who we are in Jesus Christ, knowing our identity so that we think consistently and in light of that.
A Church on Mission Thinks Consistently
Peter presses this home I think for us in verse 9 of the text where he uses a series of identity descriptors regarding the Christian where he says, “You are a chosen race. You are a royal priesthood. You are a holy nation. You are a people for His own possession.” One of the things I was reminded of just this afternoon as I was reflecting on this again is the Trinitarian language or the implications of the Trinity that are given to us in those phrases. A chosen race. That’s part of the work of the Father. A royal priesthood is part of the work of the Son. And then you’ve got a holy nation. That’s part of the sanctifying work of the Spirit. And then he wraps it up by saying as a result of the work of the Trinity, He has made you “a people for His own possession.” He holds you together. He has you in the palm of His hand, and so much more.
These are remarkable, if not even astonishing statements, these phrases. This was a Jewish man who, in his day, was writing to a mixed community of Jew and Gentile believers and he was giving them the label that is deeply entrenched in that which God called His people back in Genesis and Exodus. And he’s doing this intentionally; using historically rich and Biblical language to remind the Jews of their history, but secondly to remind the Gentiles who have now been grafted in, “You have the same identity as the people of God because you are a true Israel.” And of course, Romans 9 verses 3 through 11 goes into much greater detail with regards to that.
What was so important about this? Because in a world where different groups, people were being divided by race, where one tribe steeped in its own cultural traditions was pitting itself against another tribe with its own cultural traditions, where people would distinguish themselves on the basis of socio-economic issues and many other issues – here comes Peter and he says to them, “Oh, you all, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” And he tells them, “You are one in Christ.”
Now to understand the terms, these terms of identity, we have to go back to God’s call to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12 where God says through His Spirit, or He speaks to Abraham and He says that through Abraham’s offspring the nations will be blessed. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the twelve tribes, the nation of Israel itself had been the recipients of God’s abundant mercy and grace. But that mercy and grace was never meant to end with them. They were always meant to be the conduits of mercy and grace – “As you have received, so you are to give as well.” And then in Exodus chapter 19, right before God gives Israel the Ten Commandments, He says in verse 5, “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant you will be My treasured possession among all peoples.” And then in verse 6, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Do you hear what Peter is doing? He’s picking up on the terminology that was given to God’s covenant people in the old covenant, in the Old Testament, and he is applying it to the new covenant community. They were always meant to be a light to the nations, Isaiah 49 verse 6. But that doesn’t happen. The record of the Old Testament tells us that. Israel failed, and in some sense we might say Israel failed dismally. God did not choose Israel because they were bigger or better or brighter than the other nations. No, He chose them because He placed His love upon them. But unfortunately, what happens all too often is that Israel misconstrued God’s mercy, thinking that God preferred them over the other nations; that God loved them and did not love the other nations. And with that, they lost sight of the mission that had been entrusted to them. And the result was that they thought more highly of themselves, they forgot God, they forgot God’s purpose, they forgot the plan of redemption. They became dark like the surrounding nations as they became inward focused, living as if they had not received mercy and certainly appearing as if they had not come across as God’s people, set apart. And so as they turned their back on the covenant, guess what happened – God judged them and the record of that is in the Judges and of course throughout the prophets.
Brother Andrew, he was a smuggler of Bibles amongst other things back in the days of the countries behind the Iron Curtain, he took, I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of Bibles behind the scenes. But he once wrote this. He said, “Persecution is an enemy the church has met and mastered many times.” What was he saying? He was saying and he was trying to communicate that when persecution comes to the church, the church, after it reorients itself, it knows where to turn to find refuge – and that is in the arms of the Savior. But then he continues in that quote. He says, “However, indifference could prove to be a far more dangerous foe.” What’s he saying there? When we don’t recognize the mercy and grace of God and give thanks and praise and adoration and worship to the One who is worthy and who is on the throne, when we assume these things were due to us, we become indifferent to those who are still trapped in spiritual darkness and on the path to hell.
Let’s extrapolate this to the 21st century. Is it possible that the reason that the Western church – and I’m speaking broadly here – but is it possible that the Western church is in such a dismal condition where spiritual poverty abounds and where willful and unconstrained sinfulness is flaunted as good under the banner of the church, is it possible that we too have lost sight of God’s overarching, massive and glorious vision to reach the nations with Jesus Christ, and our focus is turned inward instead of actually seeing what God can do through His church, by faith, with an expulsive power of a new affection?
Friends, having been given our new identity in Christ, let us be a people who boldly pray that God would renew and refresh our thinking and our mind so that our thinking would be consistent with that whom we have been declared to be in light of our union with Jesus, so that when we pursue our daily bread, when we go about the regular routines of life on the North State Street corridor and the greater Jackson area that we would truly grasp that we are set apart for His purpose, for His glory; therefore, our lives will exude worship, adoration, and that we are living for our great King of kings and Lord of lords. This is what Peter is pressing home for us – a sense of our identity, to think consistently in light of the Gospel in who you are.
A Church on Mission Speaks Consistently
And that brings us to the second point. And for those of you who were worried, the first point is always the longest so you can relax! So secondly, the church on mission is to speak consistently. It’s to speak consistently. We have a message to proclaim. The message is given to us in the revelation of God Himself, but the message is also something that we embody because we have experienced the transformation ourselves. You know, when you think of the epistles of the apostle Paul, one of the traits that characterizes his letters is he always begins with his name. That was the traditional way of beginning 1st century letter writing or the format. But immediately after giving his name he would, in many cases, describe an aspect of his identity in Christ. And so some of the examples would be, he says that he is “a servant of Christ, an apostle of Jesus, he is called by the will of God.” Why does he do that? I often wonder whether he introduces himself and then immediately reminds himself that his identity constrains that which he is going to write about and that which he is going to call the Christian community to obey. You see, our thinking has an impact on our speech and on our actions, hence, we are called to dig down deep into the Scriptures and understand who God is, all that He has done for us, and of course all that He has made us to be.
In our text in these verses in 1 Peter, Peter reminds us that the message includes our experiential knowledge – three things. That God has sovereignly called us out of darkness and into His light; that there was a time when we were not God’s people but now we are God’s people. That there was a time when we were under God’s wrath because we have not received mercy, but now we are a people who have received God’s mercy. And you see, it’s these three sets of antithetical statements, this figure of speech, that reminds us of the two paths that every single person is on one or the other. There is no middle ground. It’s either darkness or light. It’s mercy or no mercy. It’s God’s people or not God’s people.
And so this speech, this message, this antithetical use of language that is given in these terms, in these phrases, that ought to be something that fuels and shapes our own conversations with people. Do you remember what it was like to be searching for truth and yet be walking in spiritual blindness and darkness? Now some of you have grown up in the church and we praise God that there had never been a moment where you have not known the good news of Jesus. But there are many of you here who can testify that there was a season when you were walking in spiritual darkness; even though you were hungering for truth, you could not find it. And so you would turn to the philosophers of this age, you would turn to other religions, you would turn to false gurus and there would still be no hope until God came down and He opened your eyes, and like the apostle Paul, it’s like scales fell from your eyes and all of a sudden you’ve got it because God had done the work in the heart to bring you to repentance and faith.
You see, when He opens our eyes to grasp true truth, this Jesus we recognize He is the light who dispels our darkness. Don’t ever forget that. That’s a part of your testimony that people who are in darkness; they need to know that’s what it was once like, but I also am now on the other side and I can testify to grace and mercy and love and all the other traits with that. Let your remembrance of His mercy towards you propel you to herald Him to be the light of the nations. Friends, when this message collides, this message of mercy, this remembrance of mercy, when it collides with your abiding love for your fellow image bearers – whether they be in your family, whether they be friends, whether they be in your community – when the message collides with love for those who are still trapped in spiritual darkness, it produces a longing within us; a longing to pray for them, a longing for them to know the mercy that you yourself have been a recipient of; the One who is all merciful in a very merciless world. We long for them to be enveloped into God’s people, to have a new identity and to understand what that means, where they can drop the facades that the world has pressured them to take on and that they can simply rejoice in the glory and the grace of who this God is. And so we pray, we remember our testimony, and we wait for opportunities to weave our testimony of mercy and grace into the conversations of everyday life, entrusting that God, in His perfect timing, will use our lisping tongues to bring light in the midst of the darkness of those who are still trapped at this very point in time.
A Church on Mission Acts Consistently
And so Peter presses home the importance of thinking consistently and speaking consistently and then thirdly, he reminds us that the church on mission acts consistently. We are to live godly lives. Peter now, intentionally I believe, draws our attention to two spheres of action – the one is positive and the one is negative. The negative one, he says, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh,” and the positive one is, “Act honorably,” so that even when they criticize the message that you embody, they still can say, “It’s good to have Christians in our neighborhood and community because of their acts of mercy, because of their love, because of their grace, because of their peace” and many of the other fruit of the Spirit and so much more. “It’s good to have them here.”
Friends, using the language of Peter is verse 11, as a sojourner and as an exile, you are passing through this place. You do not belong here, if you belong to Jesus. Your true home is in heaven. Do not get too comfortable here please. Comfort can bring the rot of immobilizing the church. And so he says to us, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh.” That’s the negative injunction. Flee from that which was consistent with the path of life that you once were on – the path of darkness. And for those of you who have been reading the chronological Bible this past week, you will know that a number of injunctions were given to us in Leviticus where God was saying, “Don’t do this. Flee from this. Abstain from this.” That’s what Peter is referencing and he’s calling it to mind.
Let me ask you a quick question. If you and I are on the path of life, why do you want to pick at the rotting carcass of your sin on the other side of the road? That’s meant to be a stench to us. We want nothing to do with it. Flee from those things. Abstain. It’s what Paul is calling us to. Friends, it’s not just that by nibbling at a little bit of sin here and there is going to have an effect in terms of giving us a virus or bacteria. Look what Peter says. He says these passions of the flesh, they wage war against your soul, and ultimately it compromises the witness of Christ to the world. But then he doesn’t just give us the negative; he also gives us the positive where he says, “Live out that which is consistent with your new identity and your new home. Don’t do that. Do this. Flee from that. This is what you should be pursuing and asking God to grow you in.”
Let me close with this. As you look at these four verses, the progression of Peter’s thought and his argument for me is pretty magnificent actually. And it’s very possible that Peter’s own rambunctious pilgrimage has given him a deeper understanding of what he is writing to the church. I mean, how many times does Peter say something on the spur of the moment or do something on the spur of the moment and Jesus has to rebuke him? But immediately after rebuking him, Jesus Christ restores him with gentleness and in grace. And when Peter, after the resurrection, truly understands who Jesus is and who Jesus has made him to be as a disciple of Christ, his speech and his actions were forever changed and he was emboldened by the Spirit to go and do whatever he was called to do, whatever the cost, sacrificially.
Friends, have there been inconsistencies in our thinking, in our speech, in our actions? I think that every single one of us can say, “Absolutely there have been inconsistencies.” And it’s a reminder to us that there is only One who is perfectly consistent in all that He has ever done and said and thought, and that’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He’s the One that lived the life that we could not live and He laid down His life for us so that we would find life, and life in abundance. But the point here is, in the midst of the inconsistencies of our thinking, of our speech and our action – are we a people who are quick when God brings that to our conscience, are we quick to repent and come back to the Savior and say, “Father, forgive me”? But not just to leave it there. “Now, quicken and embolden me and give me a desire to go and be the person amongst Your people that You have called us to be.”
Friends, our great King is advancing His kingdom. The mystery is that He has entrusted the mission to the church and it’s a beautiful thing. And as a church that’s on mission, my heart cry is that we would be a people who pray fervently that God would reform and refresh and revive us in our thinking, in our actions, and in our speech; that the consistency would be evident to a watching world because of our love for the Savior. And so, this fuel for mission, these elements that are fuel for mission, ultimately they need to be ignited by the sovereign hand of God. And we can pray for that as we ask God to send revival perhaps, and to reform the church.
Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, if you have been saved by God’s grace then let me remind you once again that “You are a chosen race, you are a royal priesthood, you are a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” You and I are recipients of mercy upon mercy upon mercy and grace upon grace upon grace. And we’re going to be further reminded of that as we come to the Table in a short while. Aren’t we? That we get to gather around this table as the community here at First Pres, but let us not stay with First Pres because this Table extends across the world where millions, untold millions are gathering and have gathered. And it crosses the space-time continuum. And part of the reason that we come here is to feed on Christ by faith, to be strengthened, to be emboldened so that we must go and tell the message to the sheep that still need to be brought into the fold. Let us pray that God would impress that upon our hearts as we enter into global missions conference week, and that would be in our own lives that we would have a growing desire for fuel for mission as well and to go and do that.
Let’s bow our heads in prayer. Shall we? Let’s pray.
Our Father in heaven, we give You praise and we give You thanks. We adore You for sending Your Son, the Lamb who was slain. Father, we thank You that in these few verses You once again remind us of what You have called us to think, to speak, and to act as Your church and ultimately to be burdened with a desire to see the good news of the Gospel that has penetrated and changed our lives, to see that go out to the nations. But Father, may we not take our eyes off the fact that there are people in our own neighborhoods who are not yet in the light. Father, commit us to prayer. Open our eyes; may we be fervent in looking for opportunities so that Jesus Christ may be praised. And we ask this and pray these things in Christ’s name, amen.
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