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Sunday, November 13, 2011

God's Possession (1 Peter 2.5-12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
November 13, 2011
Some Music Used
Prelude : "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing" (Manz)

Song of Praise: "Come, All Christians, Be Committed" (arr. Austell)
Song of Praise: "Tame My Life" (Tomlin, Giglio)
The Word in Music: "Something for Thee" (John Palmer Smith)
Offering of Music: "O Word of God Incarnate" (Bobby White, piano) (arr. White)

Hymn of Sending: "We Give Thee But Thine Own" (arr. Austell)
Postlude: "Contrasts" (Diemer)

God's Possession
Text: 1 Peter 2:5-12

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are looking at a wonderful “identity passage.” I call it that because it offers us a number of vivid descriptions of WHO WE ARE in Christ. I’m just going to focus in on one of those, but just listen to all the ways you are described in 1 Peter 2, if you have believed and trusted in Jesus Christ.

You are… living stones, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, and though once not, you are now the people of God. In the midst of that, in verses 6-8, comes the description of Jesus Christ as both the cornerstone and the stumbling stone. All of that is so rich… it makes me want to come back and revisit all those things in more depth, and maybe we’ll do that early next year.

But for today, I want to focus more narrowly on one of those identities: God’s own possession. I do so because today is what we call Consecration Sunday. It is the follow-up to last week’s stewardship focus, and where we might typically focus on OUR possessions as we contemplate stewardship and giving to God, I found it very interesting that this passage speaks of us as GOD’s possessions.

God’s Possessions (v. 9a)

Peter is quoting Exodus 19:5-6, which was originally God’s Word through Moses to His people at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Since we have recently talked so much about the covenant in the Old Testament, listen to those verses:
5 ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
There, “my own possession” literally means “my special treasure.” That’s what God said to the people of His covenant in Exodus and that’s what God is saying to followers of Jesus through Peter. Peter is writing to all who would trust in Jesus, whom indeed he recognizes in this same passage as a “stone of stumbling.” Peter is writing the new “people of God,” whom God is drawing from all nations through His Son, Jesus. And Peter is intentionally connecting this new gathering-in-Jesus with what was said to the people of Israel in Exodus.

It is covenantal language – binding, promise language, like marriage vows: “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, ‘til death do us part.” It is also interesting to note the different ways that phrase has been translated. Sometimes it’s “God’s own possession” (NASB); sometimes “people belonging to God” (NIV); and my favorite, the King James “a peculiar people.” So, I’d definitely take off any negative connotation of personal possession, as if God’s intent for us is harmful or to make us less than human. What is closer to the meaning there is that in Christ we are so identified with God and God’s family that we should bear the imprint of it. It should be noticeable. Someone should be able to look at you and think, “She’s a Christian” or “He must be one of those Jesus people.” And while it’s not here in the New Testament Greek of Peter, I would also hold on to the Hebrew connotation of the original that we are also God’s “special treasure.”

It puts a different spin on stewardship and giving of our own time and “special treasure” to God, doesn’t it… that we ourselves are God’s special treasure? Let’s look on and see what Peter has to say about it. 

For His Public Glory – “proclaiming the excellencies” (v. 9b)

The remainder of verse 9 describes the purpose of belonging to God. I should note that this also describes the purpose of being a “chosen race… royal priesthood, and holy nation” – so know that this purpose is tied in deeply to our identity as Christians – our identity in Christ. You are a “people for God’s own possession,” His special treasure, SO THAT you may “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (v. 9b)

What does that mean? It simply means that our purpose in belonging to God is to declare God’s greatness. And look how it is doubly, triply rooted in our identity. Not only are we to “proclaim His excellencies” as chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, and God’s own possession/special treasure, but it’s even there in the message we proclaim – the excellencies of Him “who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” God has so radically saved us that He has re-named us… but far deeper than that, God has re-identified us. Verse 10 goes on to describe that even more: you were once not a people, but now are the people of God. You once had not received mercy, but now you have. Darkness to light, non-people to people, judgment to mercy – God has done amazing things for those who believe. And our purpose is to point others to the God who does all these excellent things.

And this is to be public. We very much treat religion today as a private matter, but God is clear from Genesis to Revelation that what He is accomplishing in us is not a private matter, but a public one. In fact, it is God’s design that this transformation of people be part of His revelation and witness to the world. The remainder of the text goes on to describe that in a particular way.

Consecrated and Consecrating

While one might read our purpose – to “proclaim the excellencies [of God]” and think that is mainly a verbal thing, the remainder of our text makes it clear that the proclamation in view here is action-oriented. Verses 11-12 are focused on behavior as witness to the world. So, Peter urges us, the former “aliens and strangers” – that is the ones who were not a people, but who now are (and who were also redeemed from darkness to light and from judgment to mercy) – to keep sexually and morally pure from “fleshly lusts.” He challenges us to “keep your behavior excellent” out in the world so that because of these good deeds, others might come to glorify or honor God.

The word that describes behavior that is distinct from the world around us for the sake of honoring God is “consecrated.” It means set apart or holy, but we often think of that as separated AWAY from the world rather than distinct WITHIN it. But it is the latter that is being described here. From the beginning God has set apart His people – by laws, by covenant sign, by behavior. The purpose is not to shelter them away and keep them pure and aloof, but as a witness to the surrounding world of the character and nature of God.

Let me say that another way. We are to be a reflection of the holiness of God. But God, as perfectly holy, is not hidden away from humanity. Rather, in holiness God has come among us in Jesus Christ, to live and be one of us, but to do so with complete distinctness as the perfectly obedient one, to redeem and draw humanity unto Himself.

Whether we talk about consecrating gifts of money for the mission and work of this church or talk about consecrating our lives in service to God, we are talking about openly belonging to God for His public glory. So, the mission and ministry of this church is not for ourselves, but for the world around us, to point to God. Our mission and ministry as Christians is not to get blessed by God, but to give ourselves in service to God for the blessing of others.

I invite you today to consecrate all you are and all you have, tangibly expressed and renewed through pledges and covenants, as God’s own possession, set apart as distinct for God’s public glory. Amen.

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