As mentioned earlier, it’s been a pretty wild thing to experience our first ever lockdown within the first few months of our transition to India. I think the novelty of the first weeks of lockdown and the many positive spins that people were initially giving it started to fade away after about a month in and the last few months have been a major adjustment to say the least. I know that it’s not just me, I think maybe a lot of us can resonate to this weird space that is becoming our new normal. Some weeks I find myself fighting that spaced out feeling like I just woke up from an afternoon nap that I overslept. No matter what your own experience of this lockdown has been, I think we can all agree that there has been a definite disruption to the normal rhythms that we have all been used to.
On top of all this it seems like this is a season that the world has been de-glamourised, we all have had a courtside seat to the heightened reality of suffering and brokenness all around us. Many days we woke up to the haunting images of the poor and under resourced among us that are struggling to stay alive, the daily running commentary of COVID numbers around the world, rumours of war and conflict. Racial and religious tensions around the globe and just a few months ago there were reports of a locust swarm laying waste farmlands all across the nation. That week felt like a page straight out of the OT! I almost want to publicly apologise to 2019 for all of my under appreciation and ask if we could have it back. I mean, no one signed up for this kind of disruption and suffering right?
how are we even supposed to live and navigate all of this? How do we start to make sense of this moment that we collectively share? Does the Bible give us any helpful handles to approach such a season? Well, The Bible is honest to us about life in a broken world and has some helpful counsel for us.
In fact, today for our short time together, I want to invite your attention to a book of the Bible where the apostle Peter is writing to a group of Christians who found themselves in a similar period of disruption and suffering. You see, the book of 1&2 Peter introduces us to a Christian community that was scattered all around Asia minor/modern day Turkey. These were folks who loved Jesus and had to flee their homelands and be scattered in foreign lands owing to persecution and other difficulties. These were people whose lives were up ended by oppression, segregation and even some systemic economic marginalisation. Peter while addressing these Christians gives them all kinds of instructions in the inspiration of the Spirit, instructions meant to help them navigate the suffering and uncertainties that surrounded them. Now, what is most interesting to me is that most of this can be distilled down to a simple call to remember the Gospel, this simple call to consider the gospel serves as a compass to help them navigate the complex terrain of disruptions. It feels to me like this whole letter is like one of those ‘you are here’ signs that we see in mall directories that helps us to locate ourselves. So why is the apostle writing this letter? How does this letter help the church to locate themselves to navigate the disruptive season that they are in? I think more importantly what can you and I glean from the apostles teaching that may help us to navigate our own season of disruption and uncertainty? So, if you have your bibles, would you grab them and turn or swipe them to the book of 1 Peter 2: 4-10
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. 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,” 8 and, “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. 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. 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.
So from the passage that we just read there are 4 encouraging gospel reminders that our brother Peter is giving the church in Asia minor. Four encouraging reminders of their gospel identity that I believe would be helpful for us to hear this morning as well. Peter reminds the church that we are a people redeemed by Jesus, A People built on Jesus, A people changed by Jesus, a people sent by Jesus, what do I mean by this?
1. People redeemed by Jesus.
Now, it’s not immediately visible to us at first, but Peter is actually referencing a very important Old Testament story in this verse.
The story Peter is referencing is The Exodus - In that story, God’s people were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years, being brutally oppressed by Pharaoh
But God, seeing their slavery and oppression, had mercy on them and sent Moses to redeem his people out of slavery in Egypt and brought them safely through the Red Sea and to Mt. Sinai where he says these words:
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” — Exodus 19:5-6
What Peter is reminding us in this passage is that you and I were just like the people of Israel, only we weren’t physical slaves under the harsh oppression of Pharaoh, we were spiritual slaves under the harsh oppression of Satan, sin, and death.
Now before Jesus rescued you and I, much like the Israelites we were stuck in all kinds of sin – In my own story there was the shame and brokenness of sexual sin, out of control drug addictions, and a host of other things. For some of you it may have taken the form of looking to religious morality to tell you that you are okay or be stuck in the absolute fear of not being accepted by peers, to being controlled by the possessions we owned or wanted to own....No matter what form it took we were all enslaved to all kinds of sinful and misdirected desires.
And none of it ever delivered the joy and pleasure that it promised us and yet we couldn’t break free - Instead, we were mastered by it, owned by it, and controlled by it.
But what Peter is telling us is that God looked down on our helpless condition as slaves and His heart was filled with mercy and grace - Instead of sending Moses, God sends Jesus (The Greater Moses) who brings us out of darkness and into the light, out of slavery and into freedom.
Friends this is so important for us to rehearse together, because in seasons of suffering and disruptions, when all the mile markers of stability in our lives are disrupted there is the real sense of anxiety and disorientation we feel. Most people are trying to desperately hold on to some kind of a stable anchor that will keep themselves from being carried away from the flood of despair and fear. Peter is reminding the church that if you belong to Jesus, you do have such an anchor in the redeeming love of Christ. However, he also knows that this is a season where we can easily lose sight of this so, not only are we called remember the love of Christ, but we desperately need to help each other see his love in the midst of these uncertainties.
Let me try to unpack that a bit more, consider this season of lock down that we are in, some of the basic rhythms that reminds us of the love of Christ weekly has been disrupted. The rhythms of being able to physically gather together with other believers, to sing the truth of the gospel in community, to physically hold the elements of communion in our hands with others, to enjoy the gift of grace flowing through a good meal with friends all of this have been disrupted. Being in 2020 the church leaders are faithfully stewarding these times by leveraging technology as best as they can to help us sustain these rhythms, but can we be honest that inspite of all that the desire to stay that the temptation to disconnect and isolate is very real for many of us.
Now, without a rhythm of healthy reminders of the love and rescue of God you and I can easily drift into an apathy to the message of the gospel this season. I don’t mean to say that we will reject the message of the gospel, but it can cease to move our hearts. In fact it’s even good for us to ask ourselves the question, when was my heart last moved to tears by the message of the gospel?
Friends, we have always been in desperate need of real reminders of God’s love. This is just more profoundly felt in this season of disruption. As a gospel community, this calls us to be sober minded about this reality and intentionally move towards each other in community. We desperately need the witness and encouragement of each other in this season to remember and be reminded of the rescuing love of our Saviour.
I have personally felt the grace of God at several points of this lockdown, whether it is in the phone call of a faithful brother or a scripture that was texted in my hour of desperation that helped me remember God’s love for me in Christ.
This is a season to help each other to remember the we are a people redeemed by Jesus.
Now, when Jesus redeems us or rescues us, he doesn’t save us the way batman saves people. Have you noticed that when batman steps in and rescues people he never has anything to do with them again, they turn around to thank him and he is gone.
Jesus does not rescue us like this. He not only rescues us from sin but rescues us into his Church.
That brings us to our second reminder from this passage.
2. A people built on Jesus
1 Peter 2:4 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. 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.”
Peter uses this analogy of a building to communicate something really important to the church. He uses the image of a cornerstone. Unless you are into construction cornerstone is not something that we usually think of but in Peter’s context it was the most important stone that any stable structure was built on, all the other stones had to be connected to it and it was the load bearing stone that kept the building together. If there was no cornerstone, there was no building. What Peter is pointing out through this analogy is that there are really only two types of people in the world, those who build their lives on Jesus the cornerstone, and those who build their lives on everything else.
(1) The church builds their lives on Jesus: Every aspect of who we are is truly built on Jesus, his gospel. This does not mean that we will be exempt from suffering, but this simply means that Jesus is the center point around which all of our life is built. For a Christian although there is a million things trying to occupy the throne of our hearts, there is an intentional vacating of this space to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is very different to cultural Christianity which stops at ‘I’ve been redeemed by Jesus.’
Then there are those who
(2) People who build their lives on everything else: Listen, everyone builds their life on something. For some it may be their career, for some it may be money or success, for some it may be fame or the approval of others, for some it maybe the security and certainty of the future that their investment brings.
Friends, this is particularly relevant to us because a season of suffering and uncertainty will definitely test and expose the foundations that our lives. Whatever we are most anxious about would probably be the functional cornerstone we’ve built our lives. The Holy Spirit invites us to bring those anxieties to Him and cling to Jesus tighter.
Now in addition to this the passage also reminds us that through Christ the cornerstone we are inseparably connected to each other as well.
5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house,
Connected To Jesus & One Another: (v. 4-5)
This is an important aspect of our faith that we often easily forget, Listen friends all of us are swimming against the current of rampant individualism and consumerism in culture. There is a real temptation to treat church as just a place where we exchange religious good and services and do so at our choosing. This is a strange thing to Biblical Christianity. The Bible teaches us that Christian life was never meant to be just an individual thing - We are built on Jesus as the cornerstone, AND we are being built up into each other as living stones
Our interdependence has always been our prophetic witness, it makes us a strange but intriguing people.
In fact there are things about Jesus that we will never experience or savour unless we do so in community.
No lone ranger gifted Christians.
Between each other stands Jesus connecting us together to each other.
Now, in addition to this the passage also reminds us that you and I are a
3. People Changed by Jesus
Read 1Peter2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,
Peter now reminds us that we are a people changed by Jesus. The assurance that we have collectively as the church is that God has started a work in us, and it has not slowed down nor has it stopped as the circumstances around us change. Jesus has given us a new identity into which we are growing. Here are four ways in which this passage communicates this to us.
A Chosen Race: (A mixed group of Jews and Gentiles)
Chosen by God; Marked by God’s grace and love
We are a people no longer defined by our ethnicity, a particular culture or tradition, we are not gathered around a particular language group. I bet you that if you take a poll around, you can hear such diverse stories of people from all different backgrounds and views chosen by the finished work of Christ. We are one new kind of humanity brought together by Jesus.
A Royal Priesthood:
Access to God’s presence, called to service.
We have full access to God in Christ, like a child waking up a king for a glass of water at 2 am. We are also ministers of God’s grace and truth, Priests are called to serve and love not to be best kept secrets in their community. We move not only towards each other but move towards others.
Consider the witness of the early church in Pandemics.
A Holy Nation:
Set apart by God for God. The Church belongs to God in a way that others don’t. As offensive as this is to modern sensibilities, the Bible just does not shy away from teaching this. Jesus has a unique relationship with his church. We are called to walk and reflect the holiness of God.
Jesus’s holiness transformed sinners v/s Pharisees idea of holiness that separated people.
A people for God’s possession:
Bought and purchased by Jesus’ blood. We belong to God and are no longer our own
Now having said all that, let me ask you this? If someone who does not profess faith in Christ gets to hang with us during this pandemic season, would they leave overwhelmed with God’s grace witnessing the way we live all of this out? The way we encourage, support, love and are committed to each other?
Finally, in addition to being people redeemed by Jesus, built on Jesus and changed by Jesus the church is a gospel community of
4. People commissioned by Jesus.
9 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 marvellous light.
The reason why God has given us this new identity and worked such a dramatic change in us is so that we might proclaim His excellencies to a world lost in darkness.
What does it mean to proclaim God’s excellencies?
Proclaim through worship:
We do this in our small group communities, this may take different expressions now but between Sundays we practice hospitality, practice the 59 one-anothers, prayer, break bread together (virtually now), grow in our spiritual gifts, care for the poor and the marginalised
Proclaim through witness:
We have the opportunity to be non-anxious presence in our communities. We know how all of this is going to end. We’ve got a sneak peek of how it’s all going to end.
Friends, this is who we are, no matter what goes around us. We are A people redeemed by Jesus, A people built by Jesus, A people changed by Jesus and , A people commissioned by Jesus
Some of you at this point may be saying to yourself, man that all sounds really good but as the reality of Tuesday starts to roll in, I don’t really feel like a holy nation, Maybe some others may say, I already feel the exhaustion today even before the week has started. Friends if that’s where you are the invitation of grace is wide open to you. You have been invited to walk in Jesus’s work. He is calling you to live your life by looking back and looking forward. Here is what I mean we get to pause together and look back and there we see that
Jesus was rejected that you be received into the family of God
Jesus the cornerstone bore the load of our sin and was crushed that our lives may be built on Him.
We see the Holy one, the true and better high priest abandoned that you and I be made a people belonging to God.
You and I are commissioned out to walk in calling in our city by the help of His Spirit
The witness of God’s people shines the brightest when we come needy for Jesus and dependent on each other. The promise is that in pandemics, and in lockdowns and in quarantine, and in economic downturns, in disruptions and uncertainties Jesus will build His Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.