July 12, 2020
Jason Meyer (Downtown Campus) | 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. 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 2:9–10
What a profoundly glorious and bittersweet moment this is for us. Today there are people in the pews for the first time at the Downtown Campus since March 8. It is glorious to see so many of you that I have longed to see, and I celebrate that you are here and I don’t just have to have a “eye-locked stare” at the camera, because you are here and I can see you!
But it is bittersweet because some of you are still at home and I can’t see you. It is like a wave of joy and a wave of sorrow hitting us from both sides. And those who are here—we did not envision this day as mask-wearing and social distancing when we began to dream about this day back in March.
But today, we have something stupendous in our text that unites us. We exist to declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We once were nothing—without God and without hope in the world. Now we are God’s people. We are defined by his mercy. It is true—equally true—whether you are here or at home. COVID-19 can prevent us from doing many things, but it cannot keep us from doing the main thing we were made for: Glorifying God for his mercy!
This text should supercharge our understanding of ourselves and our understanding of God and how those two truths come together in glorious ways. We will see (1) our identity, (2) our purpose, and (3) the contrast between our past and our present.
1) Our Identity (1 Peter 2:9)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.
Peter paints a bright four-part picture of our identity with the bright-borrowed colors and concepts from two primary Old Testament texts: Isaiah 43 and Exodus 19.
The first part of the picture comes directly from Isaiah 43.
... to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.—Isaiah 43:20–21
The apostle Peter’s phrase “chosen race” comes directly from Isa 43:20. The Greek translation of Isa. 43:20 that Peter uses here includes the phrase “my chosen race” (to genos mou to eklekton). Peter picks up this phrase when he writes “you are a chosen race” (genos eklekton).
The word “race” (genos) describes a people—a people who are joined together by the fact that they are descended from a common lineage or genealogy (genos). In terms of Isaiah 43, the people are joined together and defined by being descendants of Abraham. As a people, they also were joined together by a common deliverance: They were delivered by God from exile in Egypt. Now God says through Isaiah that they will be joined together in solidarity by a new deliverance—a new Exodus—this time a deliverance from exile in Babylon.
So here is the question: How can Peter take that text (Isaiah 43) and that title (chosen race) and apply it to Christians who are both Jews and Gentiles? Here is the answer: Israel’s deliverance (exodus from exile in Babylon) is a prophetic picture—a foreshadowing of a greater deliverance that would come for God’s people. Not deliverance from a foreign power called Babylon through another ruler called Cyrus, but the greatest possible deliverance (sin and death and hell) by the greatest ruler possible (Jesus Christ). This is a deliverance from darkness to light, from Satan’s kingdom to God’s kingdom, from damnation to salvation.
That means the church consists of people who do not share the same physical lineage. We do not share a common ethnic heritage, but a common story of deliverance. We are joined together by the fact that we have all experienced salvation together.
The church became an entirely new race, a third way. No longer divided as Jew or non-Jew, but as Christian. This fact alone was able to overcome one of the greatest historical ethnic divisions or hostilities. The biggest issue in the early church was this historical hostility between Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles), those who had Abraham in their family tree on ancestry.com and those who did not.
That is why the New Testament talks about Gentiles not joining the family tree but the family of faith. Believers have Abraham as their father because they have the faith of Abraham, not the ancestry of Abraham.
Can they boast about this family of faith? No. Faith was not a moral achievement or individual accomplishment. That is why the context of Isaiah is powerfully relevant. The people of Israel are in exile in Babylon. Their situation is compared to a drought. They are captives, and they are portrayed as powerless. There is nothing they can do to make it rain. God needs to pour out his Spirit to make them his people—just like the dry bones of Ezekiel 37.
But God promises that is exactly what he will do. Why? Did they earn it? No way. God chose them. He has mercy on whomever he has mercy. He will bring them back from exile not because they are so worthy, but because he is so merciful. And what will they do in response to such a rescue? Make much of their merit? Of course not! They make much of his mercy. They complete the purpose of why he made them and saved them: “Declare my praise” (Isaiah 43:21)
This fits so well with the reminder at the beginning of the letter that they are elect exiles. They did not switch from citizenship on earth to citizenship in heaven because they journeyed to the heavenly embassy. No, heaven came down to them.
Why can they take no credit for receiving salvation? Didn’t they have a hand in choosing? Couldn’t they say that the difference between them and non-believers was simply something in them—that they were more spiritually sensitive or wise—like a good spiritual stock investor, they put their chips on Jesus in heaven’s stock exchange, while others made a foolish choice?
The previous verse simply will not let you even harbor such thoughts. Those who reject Jesus do so not because they are more foolish, but because they are just as foolish as everyone in the world. The difference is God. He did not intervene. God appointed them—not in the sense of having to work some fresh evil in their hearts—he just left them to themselves. He did not do what he did for Christians. Why are God’s people in marvelous light and others in dreadful darkness? God intervened. He set his saving love on them. He said, “I want them in my family.” He chose some and passed over others. The people who disobey the message do so because they were not chosen to be part of God’s people. They were appointed to destruction.
So God’s people did not earn their way into his family. We are his people by his own choosing. What does this do to our pride? It destroys pride and thus purifies our praise. We do not take any credit for our salvation. We give all the glory and honor and praise to God.
Peter’s painting of the next three images comes from Exodus 19:2–6 and the covenant with Israel.
There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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.”
B) Royal Priesthood
The idea of a priest has everything to do with relationship. The priest has a mediating role. They have a special role in connecting other people to God. An Israelite could come with a sacrifice and, through the ministry of the priest, have it offered it up to God on their behalf, and God would accept that sacrifice. The ministry of a priest was to mediate the relationship between God and his people.
But the people of God were also supposed to have a similar function with the rest of the world. The world could come to know God through the ministry of Israel making him known. Israel was called to be set apart from the nations of the world by its absolute allegiance to God. Israel was not called to be separate in order to curse the nations, but in order to be a channel of blessing to the nations, to proclaim God’s plan to bless the nations through the seed of Abraham.
Israel failed because of their disobedience. Instead of being holy like God is holy, they became like the nations around them and were judged like the nations around them.
But the church is different. In the new covenant, God takes out the heart of stone and puts in the heart of flesh and causes them to walk in his ways. The church does not need earthly priests anymore to take the sacrifices of others to God because we all have the same High Priest who made the singular sacrifice that brought us to God forever. Now we are priests making spiritual sacrifices. And we fulfill the function of making the saving knowledge of God known through the gospel to this lost world.
This priesthood is “royal” because Christians are priests to God, who is the King of the Universe. There is no higher representation we could give—we are citizens of heaven and priests of the heavenly King. Don’t settle for thinking of yourself and your calling as less than royal. You cannot have a secular, earthly mindset. You have a calling that brings heaven’s King to bear on earth.
This follows right on the heels of what Peter said in 2:4–5. We are the spiritual priests making the spiritual sacrifices as God’s house or temple.
Remember that under the terms of the old covenant, the people of Israel became the nation of Israel. They were utterly unique in that they were directly ruled by God. In the new covenant, the church is a holy nation (called to be holy as God is holy—a family resemblance). When did Israel become a nation? See Exodus 19–24. God established the covenant at Sinai, which formed ancient Israel as a holy nation on the blood of a sacrifice (Exodus 24). God established the new covenant in Christ by the sacrifice symbolized at the Last Supper: “And he said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’” (Mark 14:24).
A people for his own possession.—1 Peter 2:9
There is a subtle shift in syntax here. Peter has been saying you are … a chosen a race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Now he says “a people” and he adds a participial phrase that is directional: a people for (eis) his (that is God’s) own possession.
What Peter has done here is simply magnificent. He has creatively caused the pictures of Exodus 19 and Isaiah 43 to collide together. The old covenant called Israel “God’s special possession.” The word in Hebrew refers to a prized possession in the king’s collection. If a king had a treasure store, he also had a few objects that were the pride and joy of the collection. The Scripture is saying that even though all the world and all the nations belong to God, God’s people are the pride and joy—the most treasured of all that he owns.
The beauty of this verse is not simply the declaration that God owns us. He owns everything. The beauty is that God treasures us. It is like we sing this: “Those he saves are his delight. He will hold me fast.” Everyone knows and feels that there is a difference between being owned and being treasured.
I said that this phrase was a glorious collision of Exodus 19 (special possession) and Isaiah 43. How do we know that?
to give drink to my chosen people,
... to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.—Isaiah 43:20–21
The verb “I formed for myself” (periepoiēsamēn) in Isaiah 43:21 is the exact same verbal form of the noun “possession” (peripoiēsis). We can also see Peter had Isaiah 43 in mind because of the very next verse.
... to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
that they might declare my praise.—Isaiah 43:20–21
That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The grammar here shows us that this is a purpose statement. All these pictures of what God has made us show us now what God made us for: “That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Why did God do all of this to make us his people? Our purpose is proclamation.
I think we need to turn the screw a little bit so that our understanding of our calling is a little clearer. Do we proclaim his excellencies with our worship or evangelism or lifestyle? The answer is yes. Peter has just said that we have been completely been remade as a new creation so that now everything that we do proclaims the excellencies of the One who did that work. With our lips and our lives, we proclaim who God is and what he has done.
Think about the type of proclamation Peter has in mind. It is not the kind that says, “Hey, I just wanted to tell you that we ran out of hand sanitizer.” That is informational and hopefully helpful. But it is not the kind of proclamation in view here.
We are not just called to say in the same type of informational way, “Hey I just wanted to let you know that Jesus can save you from hell.” Obviously that is informational and helpful. But it focuses more on the accuracy of the statement than the excellency of it. Jesus saves! Redeemed how I love to proclaim it. I feel like I am inwardly exploding with the excellency and sweetness of it. Try to taste something amazing and life-changing with absolutely no emotion or expression or proclamation. When you have tasted the best thing ever—you cannot stop exclaiming about it: “Oh, this is so good. Wow. Can you believe it? O, it is worship in my mouth.”
Jesus saved us. We were transferred from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the beloved Son in order to feast on God and be satisfied with the river of his delights—the unsearchable riches, the incomparable excellencies. Steadfast love that is better than life. My soul will be satisfied as with the riches of foods; with singing lips my soul will praise you.
I think the key is found not just in the word excellency, but also in the word marvelous. We are not indifferent to God when we see all that he is and all he has done. We are also not indifferent to the light we have now instead of the darkness. He highlights how wonderful the light is. He calls us into “marvelous light.” Marvelous light means that the light is a delight to us. It is not just a concept or a location for explanation. Saving faith must have an element of delight or it is not real. There is a reason that the Bible talks about the “joy of our salvation” (Psalm 51) or “joy of faith” (Philippians 1:25).
You have to feel the terrible nature of being in outer darkness—cold and alone— before you can truly feel the radiance—the wonder of warmth and light. You do not just discuss warmth and light—you bask in it and soak it in and declare it to be “marvelous!” We are called to taste that the Lord is good and feel that his light is marvelous.
God made us his own in order that we would be a people of pure praise.
God gets the praise for all of this because he is the only One who could do it. We take no credit for it. The move from darkness to light is something that only God can do. We were in darkness. God rescued us by calling us out. The word calling is so rich in meaning—packed with glory. God did not just transfer us from darkness to light by picking us up and moving us. Peter emphasizes God’s call. This is the language of new creation. In the new covenant, we are not only a new nation but a new creation. We were darkness. Then God called. He said, “Let there be light.”
Paul emphasizes the very same point in 2 Corinthians 4:3–6.
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Do not merely imagine that this marvelous light is a place or atmosphere in some ethereal realm. This has happened inside of us. That is Paul’s point. This call, “Let there be light,” was an internal, effectual, new creation call. We are born again—created anew so that now we are children of light who bask in marvelous light.
But Peter is not done glorying in this marvelous light and the excellency of his saving power and love. He forces us to see what we were so that we can praise God for what we are now. It should come as no surprise that he wants to borrow the colors of the Old Testament again.
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.
Peter goes right to Hosea 2:23. It is a striking story—even an unsettling story—of rebellion and mercy. The story does not end the way we feel like it should. We are pictured as a rebellious people—unfaithful. Using the marriage metaphor, we are compared to people who constantly are unfaithful to a spouse—continually and brazenly breaking promises of faithfulness again and again. We deserve to be shunned and cast out for our infidelity to God. But God does something that can only be called shocking. When we deserve to be shunned, he embraces. When we deserve to be cast out and disowned, he receives us and claims us as his own. When we deserved nothing but severe judgment, we receive stupendous mercy.
We are as far away from the idea of meriting this mercy as you can get. But just to show you that this is exactly how Christians read Hosea, let me take you to Paul to get the echo effect. Listen to Romans 9:22–26.
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”
Paul’s whole point has been to highlight the absolute freedom of God to show mercy on whomever he chooses. Then consider Romans 9:15–16.
For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
We have to see the darkness of what we were in order to truly savor what we are now because of God’s mercy. I once was fatherless. A stranger. Darkness. Deadness. Deafness. Without God and without hope. It was stark and as dark as could be. We did not just need a little help. We were not a people. We were objects of wrath, not mercy.
Here is the Christian story: What we were on our own. And what we are now because of God’s mercy. But God. But now. Look at who we are. We are now a people—not just any people—one among many. We are the people of the living God. We are the people of mercy.
And so we are always a beacon of hope in darkness. We do not proclaim a story of moral achievement. We do proclaim a story of personal ascent and personal power and personal rescue and resiliency. We point to God’s mercy and his might. All that we are we are because of him. We take no credit for it. At all. Our worship should have the poison of pride removed and be purified. “Not to us … not to us, but to your name give glory” (Psalm 115:1).
For application, I simply want to tell you a story of the early church and what life looked like as they were exiled in the Roman Empire. Then I am going to call you to make that your story as well.
Here are people throughout the Roman Empire who are composed of many “races” or “ethnicities”: Jew, Gentile, Roman, Cappadocian, Asian, Bythinian (and the list could go on and on). And all the natural divisions could not divide them because they were united into something much greater. They together experienced salvation in Jesus and had an eternal hope as heaven’s citizens through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. They were a new “born again” humanity. Now the only division that made an eternal difference was Christian or non-Christian. Forgiven or unforgiven. Alive in Christ or dead in sin. Christians are a new race and a new nation with a new citizenship and calling.
How did the world receive that claim? Listen to one commentator talking about the experience of the early church.
The understanding of Christians that they formed a new race among humanity was precisely one of the points for which they were criticized and persecuted by first-century pagan society. The Roman writer Suetonius refers to Christians as a separate class: “Punishment was inflicted on the Christians [Christiani], a class [genus] of men given to a new and mischievous superstition (Nero 16; Rolfe 1939). This perception, as Colwell (1939: 58; also Frend 1967) observes, led to practices and attitudes—whether justified or not—that alienated Christians from the people of the empire. From the conception of Christians as a distinct race came the accusation that believers in Christ were “haters of mankind.” The very goals of Peter’s letter—that believers form internal bonds within the Christian community and repudiate certain attitudes and practices of their society—also gave rise to the charge that Christians were antisocial. (However, see comments on 2:11–17.) Christians were perceived to repudiate pleasures (e.g., the theater, the races, the gladiatorial combats), break home and family ties, ruin business, abandon pagan religious ritual, and avoid civic duties (Colwell 1939: 61; Frend 1967). This very concept of the new race caused much of the popular opposition to Christianity in the first few centuries.
But there is more.
Just as the understanding of Christians as forming a new race brought potential alienation from popular society, the potential conflict of loyalties brought charges of treason and poor citizenship upon Christians of the Roman Empire. Jesus’ instruction to “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17 TNIV) presents the issue of deciding which is which. First-century Christians were often persecuted and executed not because they worshipped Jesus—in a polytheistic society, what is one more god?—but because of the higher claim of the gospel that only in Christ is the One, True God to be worshipped. Because the prosperity and welfare of the empire were believed to depend on religious forces, the Christian’s exclusive allegiance to Jesus as God was naturally viewed as detrimental to the rest of society. From that perspective, Christians were bad citizens of the empire, and this made them subject to accusations of treason. The self-understanding of the early church as a holy nation is attested by the force brought against them by the Roman state.”
This is the call of this text. We find ourselves in a nation called America, which has its own history with the word “race.” Our nation took this word and used it for false unity: wrongly unifying various European ethnic groups into one racial group (“white”). These European ethnic groups united into one in order to establish control over those from other ethnic groups like “blacks.” Race was a social construct in our nation’s vocabulary that was used to justify slavery and oppression.
Imagine if the church in America had been there to say, “No, we will not accept this social invention and this oppression and national vocabulary for race because God has already spoken. The church is a new nation and a new race— not a social invention, but a divine creation that comes from salvation.
Be the church—a new race, new nation, a new citizenship, a new calling: God’s possession fulfilling God’s purpose to proclaim God’s excellencies. Racial reconciliation recovers God’s vocabulary for race—the church as a new race, a divine creation. This was accomplished at the cross and now needs to be applied throughout the church. Therefore, we will not be a people who fall prey to the polarization of this fallen world but unite as a people of praise. We will not give way to racial polarization (black, white, Asian, Hispanic), political polarization (Republican/Democrat), economic polarization (rich, middle class, poor), gender polarization (male and female). Our two ordinances remind us of this truth. We are all baptized into the singular name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And our covenant ceremony (our July 4th moment as a new nation) is called Communion. Let us celebrate the sacrifice that made us one as a new race and a new nation.
 Ibid., p. 162
Main Point: God made us his own in order that we would be a people of pure praise.
Pray for a grace to be the church that God has called us to be as a people of praise.