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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hagar and the God Who Hears (Genesis 21.9-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 26, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Forty Days and Forty Nights" (Callahan)
Hymn of Praise: "The Old Rugged Cross" (OLD RUGGED CROSS)
Hymn of Praise: "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" (Guitar arr.) (ST. CHRISTOPHER)

The Word in Music: "This Lonesome Valley" (Susan Slade, flute) (Price/Besig)
Offering of Music: "Grace in the Wilderness" (Heaslip/Redman)

Hymn of Sending: "All I Have is Christ" (Jordan Kauflin)
Postlude: "O God, Thou Faithful God" (Karg-Elert)

Hagar and the God Who Hears
Text: Genesis 21:9-21

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

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a “season” of the church calendar that tells God’s story throughout the year. The traditional text to study is that of Jesus being tested in the desert before beginning his public ministry that led to the cross on what we now call Good Friday. And that will be a text we look at next Sunday as we see more connections between God’s story in the Old Testament and God’s story in the New. But today, and in the other weeks leading up to Easter, we will be looking at Lenten themes in Genesis.

Last December we saw the many parallels between Abraham and Sarah’s story of waiting for God’s promise for a people and the birth of a child and the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph and God’s people and the birth of the Messiah in the baby Jesus. Between now and Easter we will pick Abraham and Isaac’s story back up from Genesis 21-22, and we’ll see themes parallel to those in Jesus’ life as we look at themes of wilderness, testing, obedience, and God’s faithfulness.

Today we start in the camp with Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac, who is now two or three years old, but we quickly move to the important story of Hagar and Ishmael, the son she had with Abraham before the birth of Isaac. There is a lot going on story-wise, but I want to focus in on one important theme that runs throughout the Old Testament, and emerges strongly in the New Testament, and that is God’s heart for the world. 

Mocking (vv. 9-14)

This part of this story starts out with what could be a scene out of any ordinary family. An older brother – in this case, 15 year old Ishmael – is making fun of his toddler baby brother, Isaac. While this may have been the tipping point to ignite a family crisis, there is a lot of history behind this. Abraham is the old patriarch of the family, the one to whom God has spoken and made the covenant promises. After years and years of not being able to have children with his wife, Sarah, they followed local custom and had Hagar, Sarah’s serving girl, have a child with Abraham. That was Ishmael. And if you’ve read Genesis, you may remember an earlier incident where Sarah became jealous of Hagar and drover her away. As she fled, Hagar encountered the Lord, who told her to return to Sarah and also promised her many descendants. Hagar returned calling God “The God Who Sees,” both because God saw her condition and because she lived to tell about it.

After Ishmael was born to Abraham, he raised him as his heir and included him in the covenant through circumcision when the boy was 13. When God promised a son through Sarah, Abraham laughed and showed his love for Ishmael, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” (Genesis 17:18) So yes, Isaac was the covenant child of promise who finally came through a miraculous birth. But there was some family tension there, particularly with Sarah, mother of the newborn Isaac.

So, when Ishmael was mocking the toddler – who knows how, maybe saying that he shouldn’t be the true heir; maybe saying his mother was old. Actually, the Ancient Greek Old Testament says that Ishmael was only “playing” with Isaac. Regardless, it was too much for Sarah and pushed her over the edge. Look at verse 10 – Sarah refused to recognize Ishmael as a son of Abraham and she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.” She refused to even name them, refused to “share” any hint of inheritance, family, promise, or blessing. So that was Sarah’s tipping point and response. “Send them away so that I don’t have to deal with them or hear them mock me or my son again.”

Notice two other responses in these early verses. In verse 11, we read briefly, but poignantly of Abraham’s response. He is a man caught in the middle – “the matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.” Which son? Was he distressed that Isaac was being teased? Was he distressed that Sarah wanted him to disown and banish Ishmael, the only son he had known for 13 years and the one he had marked as a child of the covenant? I think the text is intentionally vague and reflects the confusion in Abraham’s own heart and mind.

And look at verse 12 – God speaks to Abraham as well. This is, perhaps, the hardest perspective to understand, for God tells Abraham to listen to his wife. The hard part is that Sarah clearly seems to be responding out of jealousy, hurt, and anger. But that doesn’t mean that God is. If anything, we learn later in Genesis, that God is able to take what human beings mean for harm and bring blessing out of it. So don’t be distressed that God seems to be condoning Sarah’s behavior; I don’t think that is the case. Rather, God is consistent with everything we have already read in Genesis. He upholds the covenant with Abraham – “Remember, Abraham, Isaac is the child I promised you; it is right to guard and love this gift I’ve given you.” But God is not done… “I will take care of Ishmael; I will make a nation of him, because he is also your descendant and I have blessed you.” It’s not unlike the original story in the Garden: God has a plan; we depart from it; God is not worried or undone, but pursues humanity anyway. Isaac was God’s plan, and God will bless him; Ishmael was Abraham’s backup (or disobedience, if you will), and God will bless and pursue him as well.

The end result of this scene, however Abraham ended up understanding it, was that he gave Hagar and Ishmael some provisions and sent them away. 

The Place of Abandonment and Loss (vv. 14b-16)

All that really is backdrop to the heart of today’s text, which begins halfway through verse 14 with Hagar’s perspective. At that point, she “departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.” She was expelled… kicked out. And she wandered about. She wasn’t journeying across wilderness to get somewhere; she was simply wandering around lost in spirit and purpose. She and Ishmael continued to wander until the water was all used up and then she sat down for them both to die. Her last pleading prayer, if you want to call it that, was weeping out loud, not wanting to see her son die in front of her. Such loss! And for what reason? She had not sinned extravagantly against God or Abraham. Her son had made fun of Isaac, but come on, he’s a 15 year old boy; is that cause for this?

The bottom line is that I think Abraham and Sarah did not see a place in the covenant family for Hagar and Ishmael. I think there WAS a place, but in their human sinfulness, they could not see it and drove her out.

And I’m torn this morning. Do I point us to the failings of Abraham and Sarah and challenge us about all those we keep or drive away from the Church through our own behavior, attitudes, or indifference? Or do I acknowledge that some of you feel like Hagar this morning, wandering around in your own wild place and feeling like your reserves are just about used up. Maybe your weeping prayer is to not have to see the end.

And let me not fail to acknowledge that we are surrounded – in this neighborhood, in our greater community, and in the world – with example after example of Hagars and Ishmaels, who are wandering, lost, and in need of God’s help. 

God Hears and Provides (vv. 17-21)

Look at verse 17. Here is the Good News! “God heard the lad crying.” Keep reading… “The angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.’”

This is the heart of this story – this is the Gospel. God has heard the voice of those crying where they are. And where are they? They are outside the camp, outside the family, seemingly outside the covenant and everything else that God has named holy. And it’s not even clear that Hagar or Ishmael were praying or calling out to God. They were simply crying and at the end of their rope. AND GOD HEARD THEM.

Don’t miss that! That is a vital part of the Gospel that we cannot miss. The Gospel isn’t the story of good people finding their way to God; it is the story of a good God finding His way to lost people. That includes Hagar, Ishmael, Abraham, Sarah, the struggling family we don’t yet know down the street, the end-of-your-rope folks sitting in here today, every one of you, and me. The good God hears you where you are.

Remember, too, Hagar’s earlier experience with God. She had already experienced God as the One who Sees. And now, God is the One who Hears.

And God is the One who Provides. This will become so very clear in the next chapter, which we will study over the four weeks leading up to Easter. There, Abraham is told to sacrifice Isaac to the Lord and in the end God provides a Lamb in his place. We will come up to Easter and see that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God is the One who Provides – over and above what we need.

What happens through Jesus is prefigured in what happens with Abraham and Isaac. And what happens with Abraham and Isaac is prefigured here in the wild places with two outsiders and outcasts. The Lord hears and sees and provides. God says to Hagar in verse 18, “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” And God led her to a well and they were able to get water. And they survived and thrived and grew a family in that land. Oh, and did I mention? Ishmael’s name means “God hears.”

Now this is not a prosperity gospel word to you who feel like Hagar. I am not saying that God will cause you to win the lottery, give you all you ask for, or anything like that. But God hears and sees you and will provide out of wisdom, mercy, and grace. What that looks like specifically for you, I don’t know; but I do know the character of God and the testimony of scripture… that there is no place you can go, wander, or hide where you are beyond the reach of God’s love. Nowhere. 

People Who See and Hear

In terms of interpreting this story and where it leaves off, we are left with an interesting dilemma. It is true that Abraham and Sarah continue on and are blessed to become the parents of God’s chosen people. And we have seen that God saw and heard and provided for Hagar and Ishmael in the wild places. But we are also left with the apparent selfishness of Abraham and Sarah and the resulting breach between them and Hagar and Ishmael. Is God done with them? Is seeing, hearing, and providing for isolated people the end of God’s story?

It is not. Remember again that God’s covenant with Abraham was not just to bless his family and descendants, but through them to bless the whole world. And this was a reflection of God’s love of all the peoples of the world.

The story of the New Testament and what God brought about through Jesus Christ was to fulfill all that was intended in that original covenant. Now Hagar is to be reconciled with Sarah through Jesus. Ishmael is to be reconciled with Isaac through Jesus.

Is that too theological for you? Here’s what this means…

God’s intent has never been for His people to be self-contained and oblivious to the rest of the world. Jesus said that he did not come to take his followers OUT OF the world. Rather, like him, we are to be IN the world (just not OF it), because God loves the world. The role of the Church is not to be the fortress of holy perfection but the sending station of those whose heart reflects the heart of God. In other words, we are sent outside these walls to be a people who hear and see those who are struggling, lost, and alone and we are to be a people who provide the hope of Christ.

The Church is the covenant people of God, blessed to be a blessing. And the New Testament model for that is found in Galatians 3:28-29 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”

One might read today’s text and assume that church folks are Abrahams and Sarahs and our neighbors are Hagars and Ishmaels. And to be sure, there is a tendency in the Church to hole up and purify and shut out folks not like us.

But listen – I am preaching to Hagars and Ishmaels this morning because I assume the rightness of our mission. I assume that if we are really being the Church God intends that we are so actively engaged in the lives of our neighbors and the world that we will welcome the lost and hurting and outsider IN. And I am assuming that we understand ourselves to be such a gathering of those who have or are lost, wandering, struggling, or afraid that rather than fleeing the camp, you may find this place exactly where you want and need to be this morning.

I am presuming that if we really are a lighthouse to the lost and a searchlight for the struggling that there will never be a week where Hagar and Ishmael are not seated somewhere near you. And there will never be a week that we do not leave here intent on being a people that see and hear hopelessness and a people that provide the hope of Christ.

So whether you need to be reminded of the God you serve or whether you need a word of hope this morning, hear the Good News:

God sees you and hears you; God loves you and has provided for you, most completely in and through His Son, Jesus Christ. That is news we celebrate and share lavishly here and it is news we don’t hoard and keep to ourselves, but carry out with us to the world God loves. Amen.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Holy Nation (1 Peter 2.1-10, v.9)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 19, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Praise to the Lord" (Manz)
Song of Praise: "Praise to the Lord, Hallelujah" (LOBE DEN HERREN; chorus, Nockels)
Hymn of Praise: "We Come, O Christ to You" (DARWALL)

The Word in Music (Worship Team): "Chosen Generation" (Tomlin, Giglio)
Song of Confession: "Shine into Our Night" (Sczebel)
Offering of Music: "Joyful, Joyful/Jesu, Joy" (piano) (arr. Bobby White)

Hymn of Sending: "We are Called to Be God's People" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Postlude: "Choral Song" (Samuel Wesley)

Holy Nation
Text: 1 Peter 2:1-10 (v. 9)

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

We have been studying 1 Peter 2 for a number of weeks now, and today is our last week looking there at our Christian identity – that is, who GOD says we are if we trust and follow Jesus Christ.

We’ve seen that Peter sets this teaching in the broader context of who Jesus is and what God is doing, using the imagery of God as master builder and architect. God has a plan, outlined on the foundation of His Word, spoken through Apostles and Prophets; on that foundation, at the time of God’s choosing, He has set His chosen one, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as the cornerstone. That living stone is measured with justice and level with righteousness. And on that foundation and cornerstone, God is building His Church – YOU are that Church, and at that point the names or identities begin to flow.

You are a spiritual house made of the living stones of those who trust in Jesus Christ, made alive just as Jesus is alive. You are a holy and royal priesthood, those who respond to God’s grace with obedience, praise, and public witness. You are a chosen race, adopted into God’s family in Christ and attached through him to God’s people in the world and all the promises and mission given to them in scripture.

And today we will see that you are a holy nation, another way of expressing your connection with God’s people of old, but with a little bit different focus than the identity of chosen people. The main thing to take away from today’s discussion of holy nation is that Jesus is our King. 

Holy Nation in the OT – God, the Law, and Human Kings

It is interesting to look at the different names and metaphors God uses to describe His people. And interestingly, most of these names in 1 Peter 2 are found in just a few verses in Exodus 19. You heard those verses in the call to worship today. Listen to them one more time, from Exodus 19:4-6…
4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 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.’
This is right there at the foot of Mt. Sinai, after God has delivered His people out of slavery in Egypt and right before He gives the Ten Commandments (ch. 20). Much as Peter is doing for us in 1 Peter 2, God is saying through Moses: “I have delivered you; I have made a covenant with you; here is your identity – who you are; if you listen to me and follow me, you will know it!” If you pick up on a conditional part of these verses, it’s not that the people have to obey God to be delivered; God has already done that work. They don’t have to obey God to be in covenant relationship; God has already made the covenant with Abraham. It’s not even the case that they have to obey to earn the roles God has designed for them; that is already God’s intent. They have to obey in order to inhabit those identities. It’s like my house and driveway analogy from last week. God has built the house and given it to them; their choice is to remain in the driveway through disobedience, or move in through obedience.

So early on, God describes them as a “holy nation.” Interestingly, at this point, God is their King and His Word is their Law. And mostly, they will be described in scripture as a ‘people’ or the sense of them as a nation will primarily be to describe them as a people group… until, they notice that all the other nations have a king, and they ask for one. This leads into the whole middle period of the Old Testament, where they demand to have a human king, and with a few rare exceptions (David, Solomon, Josiah), that goes very badly. 

Holy Nation in the NT – Christ is King

Coming into the New Testament, the same shift happens in terms of a King and holy nation that happens regarding priests and sacrifice. It is all picked up and transformed in Jesus Christ.

You may remember that this was not unexpected. There was a huge expectation for God to send His Messiah or “Anointed One.” And the whole “triumphal entry” we remember on Palm Sunday was one popular expression of that expectation. God’s people, in Jesus’ day, were looking for God to send another great king to restore the kingdom of old. But they were expecting a King David type – one of the good kings and the greatest king in their history. But Jesus spoke of a different kind of kingdom.

Jesus actually spent most of his teaching time talking about the Kingdom of God. But this was a spiritual Kingdom that cared for the poor and sick, that expanded to include the outsiders, and that, like the expectation of old, listened to and honored the intent of God’s Word and Law at the heart level.

Jesus did prove himself to be the long-awaited King, but he did so through sacrifice and death, and through victory over sin and evil. We talked in previous weeks about how the New Testament Church is joined to Old Testament Israel as God’s people. We are likewise joined to ancient Israel as God’s “holy nation” – but not as ethnic Hebrews, an identifiable political state, or looking for an earthly king. Rather, those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ are a holy nation because we look to Jesus as our King. In fact, that allegiance is above any earthly allegiance, as scripture names him the “King of kings” (Revelation 17:14,16).

As we try to understand “holy nation,” the key question for us to ask as Christians is what it means for Jesus to be our Lord and King. What does it mean to submit to Jesus in every aspect of our lives, individually and together? Another way of talking about Jesus as King and us as his nation is to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of the Church. 

What “Holy Nation” is Not

I want to take a moment to offer some clarification around what “holy nation” is not. Simply said, it should not be equated with the United States. It IS appropriate to want to be a more godly nation, to embody and experience Judeo-Christian values and godly truth in our laws and life together. It is appropriate to caution and warn and work against ungodliness in our culture. But we must be careful not to confuse those aspirations or even pride in our heritage with the idea that the United States is the modern-day equivalent of ancient Israel under the kings. In fact, that would not only be a poor understanding of New Testament and Christian theology, but a poor choice in the sense that even ancient Israel went against God's expressed Word to them in establishing a human monarchy, and the subsequent history demonstrated that folly.

By all means, let’s desire and work to be salt and light in our culture and nation, but let us not make the mistake of claiming or pursuing something that scripture actually warns against. Jesus is our King and the living Church embodying the Kingdom of God out in the world is what “holy nation” means in the context of scripture. 

Being a “Holy Nation”

So how do we do that?

Let’s go back to that key question and think through life and living and ministry and mission in light of it.

What does it mean to submit to Jesus in every aspect of our lives, individually and together?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is King or Lord of your life as you are a husband, wife, parent, or child? Or in your singleness?
  • What does it mean to submit in terms of your work or school – responsibilities, integrity, purpose, witness?
  • What does it mean to look to Jesus as King or Lord of your life in the midst of sickness, unemployment, discouragement, or loss?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is Lord of the Church as we try to be the living Church to our neighbors and neighborhood?
  • Is there any aspect of life that is not subject to Jesus Christ as Lord and King? Probably… what would it look like to surrender that to him?
As we ask those questions together, and seek God’s answer and help, we are being and becoming the “holy nation” God intends for us. Where Israel had a few strong, yet still imperfect kings, and a whole bunch of bad kings, you have a perfect Lord and King, who not only reigns in power and strength, but rules in truth and grace, and loves you enough to lay it all down for you, even his own life.

That’s our King; that’s our Lord. And you, the Church, are his holy nation. Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chosen Race (1 Peter 2.9-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 12, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Hallelujah, Sing to Jesus" (Phillips)
Song of Praise: "Come Praise and Glorify" (Chester, Kauflin)
Song of Community: "This is Your House" (Dawson/Austell)
Song of Praise: "I Will Change Your Name" (Butler)

The Word in Music (Choir): "Great and Awesome God" (Mark Hayes)
Song of Confession: "Shine into Our Night" (Sczebel)
Offering of Music: "My Jesus, I Love Thee" (Brendlinger

Hymn of Sending: "We are God's People" (SYMPHONY)
Postlude: "Finale" (Busarow)

Chosen Race
Text: 1 Peter 2:1-10 (vv. 9-10)

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

We have been studying 1 Peter 2 for a number of weeks now. As a quick recap, let me remind you that our series is focusing on Christian identity – that is, who we are if we say we trust and follow Jesus Christ. More accurately, I should say who GOD says we are if we trust and follow Jesus Christ.

Drawing on other scripture, Peter develops building imagery to set this into a broader context of who Jesus is and what God is doing. Here’s the imagery again: like a master architect and builder, God has a plan, outlined on the foundation of His Word, spoken through Apostles and Prophets; on that foundation, at the time of God’s choosing, He has set His chosen one, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as the cornerstone. That living stone is measured with justice and level with righteousness. And on that foundation and cornerstone, God is building His Church – a spiritual house made of the living stones of those who trust in Jesus Christ, made alive just as Jesus is alive. So the Church is alive; it is the people following after God in the world. You are the Church!

Last week we looked at the first of several identities or names given in this passage for Christians. The first was “holy and royal priesthood.” Priests were responsible for sacrifice and praise for the people of God and that role has only shifted in the NT because ALL believers are now responsible for sacrificial obedience and praise after the example of Christ. Yet our priestly work is no longer salvific; Jesus’ work has accomplished salvation once and for all. Now our priestly work is the “thank you response” to what God has done.

Today we look at another name or identity, named in one short phrase in verse 9: “you are a chosen race.” 

Chosen Race in the Old Testament

The sound of “chosen race” may ring negatively to your ears. It may have the sound of Nazism and “superior race” to it, so I want to be careful to direct you to the biblical context and usage of this term, which is altogether different.

The idea of it is rooted in the covenant, which is something we studied in some detail last Fall, both in worship and at least one of the adult Sunday school classes. In the covenant God made with Abraham, God pledged Himself to Abraham and his descendants, an unconditional covenant to be their God with God’s own reputation and name at stake if God ever broke that promise. In that covenant, God said to Abraham about his descendants, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” (Genesis 17:7) So that’s the “chosen race” in the Old Testament – the descendants of Abraham, eventually called the people of Israel.

So how is that any different? Was Israel, according to the Bible, another “chosen race” and one claiming divine choosing to boot? Well, yes and no. We have to look at what God chose them to do. It was not to set them over and above the other people of the world, but to be a blessing to the other people of the world. God chose them, as it were, to be a ministering people, set apart for the work of worshiping God and witnessing to the world. Now that’s an entirely different kind of chosen race. More often, in fact, we use the words “chosen people” to describe Israel.

But listen to this – Peter’s use of “chosen race” is not new; you can find that language as early as the Torah, the Law of Israel. We used a passage from Deuteronomy as the call to worship, and it gives you a good sense of what being God’s chosen people involved. Listen to it again.

12 “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the Lord’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 “Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. 15 “Yet on your fathers did the Lord set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. 16 “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. 17 “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God….” (Deuteronomy 10:12-17a)

What does being God’s chosen people mean? What does God require? …fear of the Lord… whole-life obedience and worship (said several different ways!). Notice, too, the intimacy as well as the biblical principle that God “chastens those whom He loves”: the Lord “set His affection to love them” … but “stiffen your neck no longer” … words of a truly loving Heavenly Father.

And verse 16 contains one of the great images of the Old Testament scriptures: “circumcise your heart.” Circumcision was an outward sign of participation in God’s covenant, and here God is inviting His chosen people to internalize that covenant relationship, just what Jesus would later do in the Sermon on the Mount. Don’t just obey externally, but internally, at the heart level.

There is much here and it’s important for you and for me PRECISELY because when we move into the New Testament, we find out that we haven’t moved on to “plan B,” but that God is welcoming in the Gentiles as “chosen people.” 

Chosen Race in the New Testament

So that’s just what Peter is talking about, that ALL who trust in Jesus Christ are now God’s “chosen race” or “chosen people.” It is no longer just an ethnic people of God, but a spiritual people of God. And again, it’s not that we now are on a new track, but we are joined to Israel going all the way back to Abraham.

So, because of Jesus and if you trust in him, those words from Deuteronomy are now your words, because you are “children of Abraham.” What does God require of you? … fear of the Lord… whole-life obedience and worship… heart-level obedience and participation in what God is doing in the world. And even still, you are not a chosen race to be superior to those who don’t know Christ, but for the sake of those who don’t know Christ. You are sent to serve, love, and witness, that even more might belong to Him.

Remember, too, that in 1 Peter 2, “chosen race” comes in a string of names – “chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, people for God’s own possession” – which all end with something we’ve already talked about: proclaiming “the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (v. 9)

See how it all connects and is of one piece? Peter would say, “That’s the house God is building!” We are living stones for a spiritual house, not only built on the foundation of God’s Word and the cornerstone of God’s Son, but on the first generations of living stones of God’s people. And now we are God’s people!

And God’s purpose in all this? … that the whole world might know the love of God in Jesus Christ. That is your mission; that is your calling; and that is your identity. 

Christian Identity

Let me say a final word about identity. The concept of identity or name is so important, spiritually, because it gets at the difference between church as an activity, set of programs, or civic organization and the church as a living expression of what God is doing in the world. It’s like the difference between one of my children thinking, “I’m going to piano lessons” and “I’m a musician! I’m musical!”

As long as church is what you go do, it is one of many things competing for time and attention. It may be one of the more important things, but it suffers from all the limitations of anything you DO. When you get tired, you leave it alone; when you get frustrated or disillusioned you give it some space; when the schedule fills up, something has to give. But if church becomes WHO YOU ARE, then you carry it with you into every place and space of your life. And it doesn’t have to be a Good Shepherd “activity” – but every word, action, and thought you have. You become the Church mobilized for the glory of God.

Interesting thing… that’s actually the way God says it already is! We just, many of us, haven’t caught on yet. Dig into this chapter, this 1 Peter 2:1-10. There is real meat here spiritually. There is much to learn and much to BE. We’ll be here a few more weeks yet, and I pray that God will continue to stretch us and remind us of who He intends us to be as we trust and follow after Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Holy and Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2.5b,9)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
February 5, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name" (Hopson)
Song of Praise: "Raise Up the Crown/All Hail the Power" (CORONATION, Tomlin)
Song of Community: "This is Your House" (Dawson/Austell)
Song of Praise: "Come Praise and Glorify" (Chester, Kauflin)

Offering of Music (Choir): "In Remembrance" (Rick Bean)
Hymn of Sending: "Church of God, Elect and Glorious" (NETTLETON; Seddon)
Postlude: "Postlude on 'Nettleton'" (Albert Travis)

Holy and Royal Priesthood
Text: 1 Peter 2:1-10 (vv. 5b,9)

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Who is Jesus? He is the cornerstone of God’s plan – God’s design – for human history. He is the one chosen and set by God on the foundation of God’s Word, spoken through Apostles and Prophets, and perfectly measured and level according to God’s justice and righteousness. All who believe understand him to be this cornerstone, but those who do not find him rather to be something and someone to stumble over, one who offends.

On this rock, the Son of the Living God, God has and is building His Church. And those who are God’s Church are not just part of a plan or schematic somewhere, but are LIKE Jesus. You are “living stones” being built into a “spiritual house” of God’s purpose and design. We talked last week about what it means to be the living Church – following Jesus and sent out into the world in His name. We talked about the difference between only huddling together behind church walls and being prepared and sent out beyond those walls to the world God loves.

In doing so, we have moved from talking about who Jesus is to talking about who you are if you trust and follow Jesus. This is what is meant by your “Christian identity.” And “living stones” and “spiritual house” are just the beginning of what it means to belong to Jesus. Today we will look at another identity named in this passage in 1 Peter: holy and royal priesthood. 

Priesthood of All Believers

In scripture, there were two primary roles for priests: to offer sacrifices and to lead in praise. And the particular function of priests was to serve as intermediaries for the people. It wasn’t that the people couldn’t praise God or even make a sacrifice. But the priests were the ones authorized to offer the sacrifices that the Lord required. This is all detailed in Leviticus (or in a lunch with Kathy Larson!). It was an interesting arrangement, for as it developed and even carried into the church, in many ways the priests worshiped for God’s people. Even in the contemporary church, we continue to struggle, I think, with thinking the professional ministers will somehow do the Lord’s work for us.

But the great rediscovery of the Protestant Reformation is just what is described in Hebrews and applied here in this passage. That rediscovery is that Jesus was the last and greatest high priest and the sacrifice he offered was made once and for all. In doing so, he united all believers with himself such that we join him as he presents us before the Father and as he offers perfect worship on our behalf. That’s all the theme of the book of Hebrews.

What Peter describes in this chapter is what the Protestant Reformers would later call the “priesthood of all believers.” That is to say that we no longer have a human mediator, but our mediator is Jesus himself. And because of that, we are each priests. Each of us offers ourselves through Christ as a sacrifice. Each of us offers worship through Christ to God.

And that’s just what Peter has been working on in these verses. Jesus is the cornerstone and we are being built on him, according to God’s plan, and we are like him – living stones like he is a living stone; a spiritual house with him as cornerstone. And now, in verse 5, we hear more about what is going on with this spiritual house of living stones. This house – the Church – is for a “holy priesthood” – that’s you and me, led by Jesus himself.

Just as each of his followers are living stones like him, so each of his followers functions as a priest after his example and through being united with him before the Father. So let’s look at these verses and what it is that priests do. 

Priests Offer Sacrifices (v. 5b)

First, priests offer sacrifices. The priests of old offered five different kinds of sacrifices, required by God, on behalf of the people of God. Since Jesus has offered the final sacrifice (of himself) once and for all, now sacrifice takes on a different meaning. Now, as a holy priesthood attached to Jesus and after the example of Jesus, we are to “offer up SPIRITUAL sacrifices.” So what are spiritual sacrifices?

The worship actions remain much as they were in the Old Testament. We are still to love, obey, yield, praise, serve, and worship God with our words, thoughts, and actions. But rather than being offerings intended to make us right with God or save us, we are responding to God’s gracious salvation through Jesus Christ. It’s kind of like the prayer I always pray before I preach: “Let my human words line up with your Holy Word.” In the same way, a spiritual sacrifice is us saying and living the prayer, “Let my human worship line up with your Holy Spirit.”

Inevitably, you may think, these offerings back to God may fall short. But look at the end of verse 5. Our spiritual sacrifices are “acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Jesus has not only made the once and for all saving sacrifice, but he presents us and our grateful response-offerings acceptably before God the Father.

This is what it means to be part of God’s Church, built on Christ and sharing in his identity. We are a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices because of him and with his help. 

Priests that Proclaim God’s Excellence (v. 9b)

Peter goes on to explicitly add praise as another way we are to function as priests of the Lord. Listen, the name of priest is one of several in verse 9: “You are a chosen race, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession….” And then Peter goes on to say what it is that we are to do as followers of Jesus. We are to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.” In other words, we are to declare God’s great worth, to testify to God’s goodness, out of our own experience of salvation.

Remember the baseline image: we are living stones being built into a spiritual house on the cornerstone of Jesus. We are the Church, not huddled behind church walls, but sent beyond them as a living Church, priests charged with living and speaking our faith to the glory of God. That’s God’s plan; that’s God’s design. That is how God goes about blessing and redeeming the world – through His Church, which was founded on Jesus and the Good News about Him.

All of that amounts to a significantly different picture of Church and Christianity than many of us have known. Church is not so much about being gathered in as in being sent out. Church is not so much about what we build but about what God is building. Church is not where we save ourselves, but is what it means to be saved and led by Jesus. 

A Holy and Royal Priesthood

The verse we used as our call to worship today captures all of this role and identity of priests very concisely. Listen very carefully to it again: “Through Jesus, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

It kind of reads like the Great Commandment, doesn’t it. Love God; love others. If you trust in Jesus Christ, then you are part of what God is building in the world. And as those saved by Jesus and being molded into the character of Jesus, you are priests whose work is to serve, obey, yield, praise, and point people to the living God. It’s not just my job, or Joanie’s, or your spouse or parent’s job – it is the work of all believers, in grateful response to God’s love for us.

What pleases God? …praise from thankful lips… doing good…. sharing. In Christ, you are a holy priesthood. Amen.