Sermons

July 5, 2019

A New Nation

Daniel Viezbicke (South Campus) | 1 Peter 2:6-10

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,”

and

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

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

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.—1 Peter 2:6–10

We live in a day where people increasingly use labels as stereotypes in our public discourse. People of different political persuasions label others: social justice warrior, snowflake, Marxist, fascist, supremacist. We see our social media filled slogans about movements and what lives matter, and we begin to label people in our minds. If you’re a teenager, you get labeled as being the “in” crowd, or the “out” crowd, or the “us” and the “them” crowds.

Sometimes these are just pejorative, disapproving labels that others use to slam those they don’t like.

It can be individual: The label “Karen” has become popular these last few years; my apologies to all the Karens present that such has happened to your name!

It can be corporate: Are you one of “those evangelicals,” whatever that precisely means.

I heard a saying that I think is somewhat tongue-in-cheek that stereotypes are helpful because they save us time; they help us be lazy. And that’s one thing we lack very much of—time to nuance and think of each other holistically as complex beings made in God’s image. It’s often easier to just throw a label down or a stereotype and move on.

We even do that about our own self-identities. Take a label that tends to be held in honor by all in our circles: American. Last night, maybe you went out and watched fireworks, and perhaps you were stirred if you’re an American, whether born in our nation or elsewhere.

In America, our identity as Christians has long been connected with what it means to be an American. The Pilgrims and the Puritans—both of whom settled in modern day Massachusetts—thought of their venture as a new start, a new city on the hill, a new place for God’s exiles to gather. The language and labels surrounding the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other founding documents also invoked divine pleasure and providence, such that many thought of America as a new light to the nations, a city on a hill.

They took biblical labels for the church and applied them to the new nation. Labels originally applied to the church were repurposed to apply to America. So many have thought that to be the best version of America for so much of our history has been to be some kind of Christian nation, or at least influenced by Christian ideals and morals. 

So for Christians today to be marginalized, thought ill of, dismissed, and persecuted has not been the norm in our nation’s nearly 250 years.

But two millennia of history from around the world tells us otherwise about what the norm is for those who identify as Christians, and our Old Testament tells us about millennia before that of those who were followers of God from Abraham to Jesus. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle Peter in our text, speaks to such realities as our identity today and the labels that the culture surrounding Peter’s audience placed on them.

But what matters most of all are not the labels Christians are called by the surrounding culture, or what Christians label themselves, but what God calls us.

What about for those who read Peter’s letter? How were they labeled by the culture surrounding them? How did they identify themselves before they were Christ’s?

Let’s consider what was the case before they were Christ’s. Were they Jewish outsiders to the broader pagan culture? Apparently they were not all Jewish, but at least some were Gentiles! 1 Peter 1:14 tells us they were not to be conformed to the passions of their former ignorance about God, and 1:18 tells us that they were ransomed from the “futile ways handed down from their forefathers.” In Acts 14:15, the word for futile is used by Paul to describe the pagan worship of Lystra and is found in the Greek translation of Leviticus and Jeremiah to describe pagan worship of idols.

This is further confirmed in 1 Peter 4:1–5. 

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.  For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

“No longer for human passions” and “for the time that is past” point to something profound: Peter’s audience used to participate in such debauchery, some of it having to do with pagan worship. What’s also surprising here is the label Peter puts on the surrounding culture: Gentiles. But the people he’s talking to are also Gentiles, or at least some of them are.

This knowledge—that Peter’s audience includes Gentiles and is now being made into a spiritual house, a temple for God—is shocking. Whatever other labels their society may have put on them, and whatever identity they might take for themselves, what we heard last week in verses 4–5 was that God was using them to build his new temple.

1) The Chosen Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6–8)

What’s happening in verses 6–8? Peter is explaining with three texts from the Old Testament what he just said in verses 4–5. He’s showing that destiny of those who are the spiritual house of God, as well as those who reject God, were predicted in the Old Testament. And what is the lynchpin for the destiny of each? What we do with Jesus the Christ determines everything about our eternal fate. Peter first quotes Isaiah 28:16.

A. The Honored Cornerstone and His People (2 Peter 2:6)

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.”  

Peter refers to this same idea of cornerstone in Acts 4 when standing before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, after healing a man in the temple. There he highlighted that the Jewish authorities had rejected Jesus as Messiah. He says it this way in Acts 4:11–12.

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

No other name. Everyone’s destiny, regardless of ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, hangs on one question: What will you do with Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the King of—not only the Jews—but the whole universe?

An aside here: Note what Peter doesn’t say: “I, Peter, am the rock on which Christ will build his church”—something that Roman Catholics will assert about Peter’s profession of faith in Mark 8 and elsewhere. No, Jesus is the stone, the bedrock on which the whole of the new temple of God stands, not Peter himself.

And note, too, what Peter says: The builders who have rejected Jesus are the Jewish authorities gathered there in Jerusalem. And that’s the text he goes to, quoting Psalm 118:22 and then Isaiah 8:14 in verses 7–8:

B. The Shamed (2 Peter 2:7–8)

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,”

 and

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

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

How did Peter know that these texts were referring to Jesus? Well, Jesus quoted Psalm 118:22, referring to himself and the Jewish authorities rejecting him in the gospels (Matthew 21, Mark 12, Luke 20). The next passage that Peter uses, Isaiah 8:14, is the same one that Paul uses in Romans 9:33 to show that the majority of the Jewish people were destined to reject Jesus.

So what is our passage teaching? Plainly it’s that the destinies of all people are wrapped up in Jesus and what we do with him, what we believe about him, and that those who reject him ultimately do so because this was their destiny.

Now, we believe that God foreordains all that comes to pass in his mysterious providence, including the salvation of individuals—that those who believe are found in the eternal purposes of God to be elect and chosen by him before the foundation of the world. And, that those who are not believers are not because God has not elected them. God is sovereign over all to the uttermost, including individual salvation.

The Bethlehem Elder Affirmation of Faith says it this way:

3.3 We believe that God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace which was given through His Son Christ Jesus before the world began. By this act God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in His Son Christ Jesus.

Certainly this text points to the individual destinies of all who reject Jesus, as they were destined, literally “appointed” to do. This is a statement of God’s sovereignty over human salvation—a comfort to Peter’s audience who is suffering at the hands of the surrounding culture. Their persecutors will not get the last word, nor will any who reject Jesus, including any here who hear this gospel. You are not master of your destiny; no, you are at the mercy of Jesus! 

But praise God … Jesus is merciful. He lived a perfect life, died the death we deserved, didn’t stay dead but was raised up, and now reigns in heaven—breaking death and paving a pathway for all who will place their trust in him, so that those who believe will also be forgiven of their sins and be granted the right standing with God the Father that Jesus himself has—and rise on the day when Jesus comes again.

This gospel call is the only way one can be saved from the judgment of God. So, you can be saved today and be found to be chosen before the foundation of the world in the love and foreknowledge of God.

We at Bethlehem believe that we cannot know the mind of God about who is elect and who is not, so we can say to everyone—Christian or not—keep believing or believe for the first time the Good News about Jesus.

Now, while this is certainly about individual destinies, I do think that the usage of these Old Testament texts by Paul in Romans 9, by Peter in Acts 4, and by Jesus himself in the Gospels are all talking about the Jewish leaders and the majority of the Jewish nation rejecting Jesus, which is significant background for where Peter goes next in verses 9–10.

In addition to the Gentile persecutors of Peter’s audience rejecting Jesus, the Jewish authorities and the majority of the Jewish nation rejected Jesus. So if God foretold in the Old Testament that Israel would reject the Messiah, and this is then applied to all who reject Jesus in 1 Peter 2:6–8, what about the texts that speak to Israel being restored? Consider where Peter goes next, and how he says that God labels these Christians and us in verse 9.

2) The Chosen Nation (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. 

Of Israel—God’s chosen race to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession—many or most of them turned their back on Jesus. The Jewish authorities killed him. But they couldn’t keep him down.

A. The People and Their Purpose (1 Peter 2:9) 

And now, Peter says, his non-Jewish and Jewish readers who believe in Jesus are part of that chosen race and royal priesthood; they are a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. All who believe in Jesus—Jew and Gentile, including Peter himself are part of this chosen, precious race, this holy, new nation. 

Why use these labels, these descriptions for Israel for non-Jewish people? Let’s look at the two major texts that Peter is drawing from here: Exodus 19:5–6 and Isaiah 43:19–2.

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.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”—Exodus 19:5–6

In Exodus 19, Israel had been brought out of Egypt by God and was going to be a whole a nation of priests. A nation that would offer spiritual sacrifices to God (verse 5) and also stand between God and the world. Not only the Levites—the priestly clan!—but the whole nation. Yes, they were to have a sort of disposition of outreach to the nations around them. Not as we conceive of it: go and tell. But rather: come and see. Deuteronomy 4 and 1 Kings 4—the law of God pointing the nations to the glory of God and Solomon’s wisdom leading pagan royalty to praise God—points this out; Israel was intended to bless the nations by displaying the glory of God!

So the exodus from Egypt happened so that Israel would be made into a great nation to bless the nations. Sound familiar? Sounds like the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. 

What about Isaiah 43:19–21? 

     Behold, I am doing a new thing;
          now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
     I will make a way in the wilderness
          and rivers in the desert.
     The wild beasts will honor me,
          the jackals and the ostriches,
     for I give water in the wilderness,
          rivers in the desert,
     to give drink to my chosen people,
          the people whom I formed for myself
     that they might declare my praise.

In Isaiah 43, we see the prophesy about Israel being brought back into the land after the exile to Babylon. Just like Adam & Eve before them, they were exiled from God’s presence due to their sin. They did not act as holy priests before the nations as they were charged to do. So God exiled them. But there was coming a time when God would unexile them, a new exodus out of slavery and into their land.

So the exodus from Babylon would happen so that Israel would proclaim God’s excellencies to the surrounding nations. They would be made a great nation again so that they might be a blessing to the nations. Sound familiar? Sounds like the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. 

Karen Jobes in her excellent commentary on 1 Peter says this:

Israel’s deliverance from exile in Babylon is the typological forerunner of the greater deliverance achieved by Jesus Christ, deliverance of God’s people out of darkness into light. Peter here makes the radical claim that those who believe in Jesus Christ—whether Jew, Gentile, Greek, Roman, Cappadocian, Bithynian, or whatever—though from many races, constitute a new race of those who have been born again into the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.[1]

Now, this does not mean that the New Testament teaches that Israel was replaced by the Gentiles, or that there’s no hope or future for the Jewish people. Read Romans 10–11. But it does mean that this new nation, this new people, this inheritor of these titles for Israel only does so by the fact that they are connected to the cornerstone: Christ.

I also do think it means that the Apostle Peter sees the mission of Israel—to proclaim the excellencies of him who saved them—as fulfilled in Jesus coming and freeing us from the bondage of sin, so that we might proclaim his excellencies. Jesus came and fulfilled the law and did what Israel did not: He displayed the glory of God in full, proclaiming his excellencies and calling many out of darkness into light that they, too, might proclaim the glory of God and point many to Jesus. 

So, if there’s hope for those who are descendants of Abraham by the flesh, Peter’s own ethnicity—the Jewish people—and if there’s hope for any ethnicity, or any of us no matter where we come from, it’s only in Christ. 

This is a striking contrast to who they were before coming to Christ, which is what Peter asserts in verse 10.

B. Their Past and Their Present (1 Peter 2:10)

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.

Once you were not the people of God, but now you are. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have. Here, Peter strongly alludes to the prophet Hosea’s two children, one named “No Mercy,” and one named “Not My People.” Remember Hosea? He was the prophet that was told to marry a prostitute, Gomer—a woman he knew would leave him—as a picture of what God endured with unfaithful Israel.

Hosea was told to name his children with Gomer “No Mercy” and “Not My People” as a picture of God’s rejection of Israel. But that was not the final scene in the story of God’s relationship with Israel; he promised restoration of the nation in Hosea 2, where he speaks about Israel returning to him. Hosea 2:19–23:

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.

     “And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord,
          I will answer the heavens,
          and they shall answer the earth,
     and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil,
          and they shall answer Jezreel,
          and I will sow her for myself in the land.
     And I will have mercy on No Mercy,
          and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’;
          and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ ”

Peter uses this text that is about the restoration of Israel and applies it to the world and the church, as he did the texts from Exodus and Isaiah in verses 7–8. Texts from the Old Testament that were applied to Israel rejecting God are now applied to all who reject Jesus in verses 7– 8; texts from the Old Testament that were applied to Israel being restored to God are now applied to all who accept Jesus.

What does this mean for us as individuals? Do you remember what it was like to be cut off from Christ, without hope in the world? Do you remember what it was like to not know the mercy of God in Christ? Your past is past, but it should still shock you.

Do you know what the famous preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones’ daughter said about him when asked why her father’s ministry was so well known, so effective? “He never recovered from the fact that God saved him.”

Have you recovered from God saving you? I hope not. Remember and don’t recover: It is no longer time for talking and behaving and thinking like the nations do. No, you are now connected to the Cornerstone, so you are a people together, a new nation. You are connected to the Cornerstone, just as God had mercy on Christ by not leaving him in the grave, so, too, God will have mercy on you in Christ by not leaving you in the grave.

What does this mean for us corporately? Consider a contrast: Hamilton is a hit Broadway musical that has been a cultural phenomenon the last few years; it was written to glorify both the man Alexander Hamilton and the form of government we have. Go to Washington D.C. today, and you see the monuments, the history, the pomp, the glory of America in our 244 years of history.

But we must realize together that America in all its greatness and praise is a footnote at the end of history, a drop in the bucket compared to the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Why does God call us out? So that we might proclaim his excellencies—his glory—to the earthly nations who are not yet part of our nation. Who does God label you as, Christian? “A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you might proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Conclusion – Four Applications 

How do we do this, “proclaim his excellencies”? The most obvious answer is in the next two verses, which will be next week’s sermon. But for us today, what do these five verses teach us in our cultural moment, in an election year, where tons of labels are thrown around, with lots of voices vying for our time? How does this text matter for us in our earthly nation, where our destinies are connected to the Cornerstone, our identity is a new nation, our mission is to proclaim to the nations (and our nation) the excellencies of God? Here’s four applications that are for us, in our cultural moment in America.

First, don’t call unholy that which God has called holy. Or to say it another way, who are you to criticize another master’s servant? Or to say it yet another way, why label a brother a sister with some label and forget that they are called by God? Even Paul, in the letter to the Corinthians labeled them “carnal” and “worldly” and still called them brothers and sisters. He had a fundamental way of relating to them as family that ran deeper than their behavior, and he reminded them of who they were: God’s people, called out of darkness and into light.

Second, remember that the labels that God gives you are not only labels, but your very identity. Reject other labels that people seek to place on you and don’t let them be what defines you. You are not your own, you are bought with a price, so glorify God with your body, and your social media, and your voting, and your neighboring, and even your thoughts about yourself and labels for others. 

Third, don’t trade in your relational capital to make only temporal change. Every post on social media and every interaction with neighbors and family spends your ability to say hard things. You can choose to say something hard in this election year about politics and candidates—we have freedom to do so. Let me encourage you: Do so mostly about matters that the Scriptures speak clearly to, like the value of all life—every age, every ethnicity—and do so less about disputable things. And use some of that capital to say hard things about the gospel and the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into light. That alone will be the hope for your friends, your neighbors, your family.

Are you not elect exiles together according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood? Go talk to your family. How can we speak out about the division in our world if we’re not unified? 

Fourth, as we come to the Communion Table, consider well the body of Christ, a spiritual house with himself as the cornerstone. This spiritual, heavenly nation—gathered here and elsewhere every Lord’s Day—is eternal and more fundamental to our identity than our earthly nation.

For those who partake, do so as those of the same family, around the same Table, the one nation of God, proclaiming his excellencies in his death until he comes. 

Now hear the words of invocation from 1 Corinthians 11 as we remember together and fellowship with Christ:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.—1 Corinthians 11:23–26

I’ll pray for the Bread and the Cup, and at any time during this song of reflection, let’s partake together and proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into light.

_____

[1] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 159.

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