MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline
Text: 1 Peter 2:1-12; Reader: Richard Wallman
We have begun a sermon series on the New Testament document known as 1st Peter, a letter written by the apostle Peter to Christians living in the five provinces of the Roman Empire located in today’s Turkey that was then collectively known as Asia Minor. Peter was writing to teach them how to live and think as Christians, for they were baby Christians, people new to the faith and they were living in a time of personal suffering as well as widespread persecution of the Christian community by the Roman authorities. Peter wrote to teach, strengthen and encourage them and the time of his writing was probably around or just before the rise of the Roman emperor Nero in 64 A.D., a man who ruthlessly persecuted the Christians in his empire.
In 2019, while cleaning the ancient streets of a city called Midyat in South-eastern Turkey, a hole in a street appeared, which collapsed into a tunnel. What they discovered when they went down to fill the hole were other caves and other tunnels. It was the place, starting for sure in the second century A.D., but also possibly earlier, maybe even shortly after Peter had written this letter. To that protective tunnel and cave system, up to 70,000 Christians would run when they heard the Romans were coming to arrest, persecute, and kill them. The Christians gathered there, hiding and protecting themselves from those trying to harm and kill them, specifically the Roman authorities.
Peter wanted the Christians to be never forget their identity in Christ: they were believers in and followers of the Messiah. Peter understood that embracing their identity would strengthen and give courage to those new Christians. They were relatively new Christians, babes in the faith, as it were, but Peter wanted them to mature spiritually for he knew it would be the only way for their faith to survive, in that a Christian who is suffering and persecuted but who is weak or immature in the faith might very well spiritually wither and die on the vine, as it were, while the one who is mature in the faith actually gets life from the vine, that is Jesus, during times of suffering or persecution and will actually grow spiritually stronger as a result. Now, with last Sunday’s sermon we finished at this spot:
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)
Does our church have immature Christians? Undoubtedly and that means we all get to help one another grow and mature together. Like a young, quite ugly, certainly plain brown caterpillar which spins or weaves its own cocoon, which it then enters into in order to undergo the process of metamorphosis for 8-12 days (depending on the type of caterpillar and butterfly), finally emerging from the cocoon as a beautiful butterfly, young Christians who are really quite defenseless against enemies can change and mature into beautiful and strong butterflies. Caterpillars are too young and immature and helpless to defend themselves against predators and enemies but butterflies can not only survive but thrive in the face of having enemies and predators. It is important that the babies grow, in order to go through the tough cocoon process so that they can emerge as beautiful and strong creatures.
I once heard of parents who had erected a glass cage in their son’s room. There they placed a tree branch and a caterpillar. They told to watch the caterpillar each day while it spun its cocoon, and then to keep on watching for 8-12 days after the caterpillar had crawled into its cocoon and a beautiful butterfly would then emerge. The young boy, though, by day 8, tired of watching and waiting, and impatient for the butterfly to hatch, took matters into his own hands, helping (in his mind) the caterpillar by cutting open the cocoon. Out flopped the caterpillar/not-yet fully developed butterfly, which promptly died because he had not finished the maturing metamorphosis process.
Babies must go through all the stages of development before they achieve maturity. But we need to help them along the way. As a church, we are told by Jesus to engage in discipleship, in making disciples, in teaching them how to live and think and to obey the commands Jesus has given. I have seen the physical maturing process in a fresh way with our three grandsons, all three years of age and younger as they have learned to crawl and walk and climb and talk and get into cupboards and mischief. It is all fantastic and filled with pain and crying when they get hurt or insulted, but the end results are always fantastic as growth and maturity takes place. Similarly, when baby Christians mature and grow, the results, though often filled with pain and misadventures, can see good results and maturity:
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in the deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14).
Maturity is the goal because suffering and persecution are inevitable, because shallow or weak or false teaching is everywhere out there. At the CBWC Assembly Setri, Karen, and I were at it, Friday afternoon was set aside for discussion and many people shared of their personal experiences of suffering that they blamed on the denomination for not affirming their lifestyles or the things they wanted to do. The topic was marriage and what the denomination would affirm and teach about it. On Saturday morning, many mature, loving, and caring delegates responded by sharing the better, Christ-honouring, biblically taught way to approach life as a follower of Jesus. It was such a revealing two days. Thankfully, mature Christians responded to the challenge of Ephesians 4:14 (“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in the deceitful scheming”). As a result, hope was presented to those hurting but self-centered, woe-is-me but much loved by God immature Christians, and our identity as Christ-followers in our denomination was affirmed by a strong majority of the delegates gathered there:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 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. (1 Peter 2:4,5)
Think of the Old Covenant priests at the tabernacle wearing their garments and preforming their duties of priesthood, intervening for others, mediating between humans and God. That is what you are to God, able to come into God’s presence with no hesitancy or fear of shame or rejection by God, all because of Jesus Christ.
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.” (1 Peter 2:6)
Peter is not writing about a stone on a beach, but a perfectly made cornerstone for a building. We, the church, are the building, able to stand strong when we place our feet on Jesus, as it were.
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,” 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. (1 Peter 2:7,8)
Do we treasure Jesus enough? Praise him continually? Are we aware of his presence throughout our day? If we can’t answer in the affirmative to those questions, what is needed is a determined effort to grow up, to become mature, and strong in the faith. We do this by offering our bodies, i.e. our lifestyles, to the Lord and to his glory.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1,2)
Not “conforming to the thought-patterns and teachings of this world but being transformed by the renewing of our mind” which will result in us knowing God’s will happen as we “crave pure spiritual milk”. You would be amazed by the number of Christians who do not feed their minds or bodies with so-called “pure spiritual milk”. TV viewing that pushes out bible study. Computer and phone watching that drives aside prayer. Chatting or arguing on social media instead of spending time with God. Going to youtube to listen to music, but none of what is being listened to is Christian – no hymns or worship songs. Viewing self-help Ted Talks, e.g., but ignoring the Ted Talks that Christians such as Billy Graham have given. If we are not interested in feeding our minds with Christian and biblical teachings and ways of thinking then we are proving that we simply don’t want to grow in the faith, and the result will be that when suffering or persecution comes, confusion or anger with God and maybe even a rejection of the faith.
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. (1 Peter 2:9)
Never forget that you have an identity in Christ, as a “Christ-follower”, a servant of the Lord, a member of a royal priesthood and a holy nation, God’s special possession. The Christians that Peter was writing to knew that they had been called out of a dark and pagan world and lifestyle and were now living in the light of Jesus.
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. (1 Peter 2:10)
The Christians to whom Peter was originally writing knew that. Do we? And are we thankful that we have now received mercy and are the people of God? We have been made so by the willing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us, wherein he paid the penalty for our sins. Just like someone else, another player, pays the penalty when a goaltender in ice hockey sins and takes a penalty – the goaltender stays on the ice for the duration of the penalty while another innocent player goes to the penalty box and serves the penalty, paying the price for the goalie’s indiscretion, we have Jesus doing that for us with our sins.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18,19)
The hockey player paying the price and serving the penalty for the goalie need to be “innocent” of sin, so to speak, before going into the box. Jesus was innocent and served our sin-penalty for us. Peter reminded the newish Christians of Asia Minor that their parents in their early pagan idolatry lived empty lives devoid of obvious purpose, but Jesus changed all that for them, as he does for us. Peter encourages lifestyles that will produce good results for his readers, one of which is that we will then be strong witnesses to non-Christians. God wishes to be glorified through us, so let’s do good deeds, not to win salvation for ourselves but to win other people’s souls that they would be blessed and God will be glorified.
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11,12)
We are “God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for us”. That is how Eugene Peterson put it for us in his paraphrase of the Bible entitled The Message. But, for this to happen, we need to believe that the Lord has transformed us and that we can witness for him as a result. The four pillars of Christian self-esteem, I once read, are, “I am acceptable.” “I am valuable.” “I am capable.” “I am forgivable.” Repeat those phrases after me: “I am acceptable”, “I am valuable”, “I am capable”, “I am forgivable”. We can believe those things only if know our identity is as Christ-followers.
You can find on youtube, a talk by the now-late mental conditioning coach to college and professional athletes, Trevor Moawad, in which he tells about his father went to a Toastmasters lunch in which people took turns rising and giving speeches about themselves, an exercise that builds public speaking skills and gives the speaker confidence in answering questions. Trevor Moawad’s father told him about one man who rose to speak that day. The man speaking was one of the most successful magazine entrepreneurs in the world and he told how he got there. When he was in high school in the Midwest USA, he was failing out of high school and struggling to grow up. He was raised by a single mom who did her best. That teenage boy promised his mother he’d take the SAT, the Scholastic Assessment Test offered to students to help them know if they had the smarts to attend university. Universities and colleges in the USA standardly demand the result of a person’s SAT before determining whether or not they will admit them to their school. That young man didn’t expect to get a good score on his SAT but he had a promise to keep to his mom that he would take the test. Marked out of 1600 points, the SAT is a standardized test, one half being on math, and the other on reading and writing. The average or mean score is 1060 out of 1600. A score of 1250 equals 81%, 1350 is 90%, 1450 is 96%. The teen’s score came back. He had gotten a 1480 out of 1600 on the SAT, an average of 97%. The guy had expected to fail, as he had on almost every test he had ever taken in high school. He was stunned by his score. His mother, knowing her kid, asked him, “Did you cheat?” He swore to her he didn’t cheat. He admitted that he had tried to cheat but he could not figure out any way to cheat. The SAT was cheat-proof. With that 1480 SAT score, the boy realized that things could change in his life. That summer he stopped hanging out with the ne’er-do-well friends he had always hung out with beforehand, and he started reading and studying, preparing himself for his last year of high school and then university or college beyond that. When school started, other students and his teachers took notice. They all started treating him differently. He graduated with honours, attended community college, then Wichita State University in Kansas, and eventually an Ivy League School. He became rich and successful as a magazine entrepreneur. But that’s not the end of the story. 12 years later this man got a letter in the mail from the SAT testing Board in Princeton, New Jersey who did periodic checks on old SAT exams. He wasn’t interested in opening the letter the day he received it but the next day his wife begged him to open it, which he did. It turns out, that man was one of 13 people in his SAT writing year, who had been sent the wrong SAT results. His actual score had been a 740. He had failed the exam. Back then, he didn’t think he was smart and he lived accordingly. But, being incorrectly told that he had achieved a 1480 SAT score, his opinion of himself changed. His potential and his true identity had changed! He really was smart, after all. What changed his life-story was that he embraced his new identity, as a smart guy who scored 1480 on his SAT. That new identity changed everything about his attitude and lifestyle as a result and a new, improved man emerged. Identity matters!
What is your identity? A failure? A disappointment? It shouldn’t be! As Peter writes, “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…You are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Claim your identity. Let’s personalize those phrases and say them out loud: “I am chosen by God”, “I am a royal priest”, “I am part of a holy nation”, “I am God’s special possession”, “I am living in God’s wonderful light”, “I have received mercy”.
So, brothers and sisters, if necessary, grow up in your faith. It is not difficult or impossible to do, but it does require an identity change, and a commitment to living out your identity as a follow of Christ. Mature in your faith by living a life that will reflect who you truly are, and you will survive any difficulties, pressures, disappointments, suffering, and persecution you may face. Like water off a duck’s back, those things roll off of mature Christians. May God bless you as you do so.