Monday, May 19, 2014

Sermon on 1 Peter 2:2-10, for the 5th Sunday of Easter, "Royal Priesthood"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Last week’s sermon highlighted the personal love and individual care that we have in Jesus, our Good Shepherd; in whom I lack nothing. This Biblical reality is very comforting for us as Christians, but it is also very easy for us to hear, because it fits well with American individualism. But if we limit ourselves to a personal, individual description of the faith, we put blinders on ourselves to the vast importance and beautiful descriptions of our corporate life together as Christians. Perhaps harder for us to hear is that God intended us for community and interdependence. The Christian is part of something much greater than themselves, and greater than their individual relationship with God; we are the body of Christ. Or as Peter describes it in our reading today—a spiritual house, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, etc. All are plural descriptions of the church, not singular. How does this instruct us to live out our calling together in a Christ-like way?
Peter’s descriptions of the church lose all their meaning if we turn them from the plural to the singular. A single stone—living or not—cannot make a house. A priesthood itself requires many people, and the very role of priests is to intercede for, or sacrifice for others. A single person cannot be a nation. But when many individuals are brought together or are united into one body or house, they serve a greater purpose and good than any could individually on their own.
So who is this chosen race, this royal priesthood, holy nation, a people for God’s possession? The last verse says, “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.” Before you had no identity as a people—now you have an identity as God’s people. And your identity is those who have received God’s mercy. Gathered by God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. The royal priesthood, therefore, is the whole community of believers in Christ Jesus, chosen and precious to God, just as Jesus Christ was chosen and precious to God as the chief cornerstone of the building.
A cornerstone was the first stone to be laid in a building, and at the corner, it aligns the first two walls. At the base of the building, it provides a foundation. Jesus is both the foundation of the church, as well as the Truth that draws everything into alignment. The church that builds on and aligns itself to Him stands true. Any building that does not have Christ as cornerstone is no more than a dead replica—bearing only outward resemblance as a dead body might to a living body—but without breath and life. Because the church that Peter describes is not a bricks and mortar building, but made of “living stones”—both Christ and us. So the church of God is not made or defined by a building or a sign that says “church”; it is not a hierarchy or an institution; it’s not a denomination or a non-denomination. The church can exist within or without any of these, but it is not the same as these things. Rather the church is believers—living stones—integrated together on Christ Jesus, our living cornerstone. Or in last week’s metaphor, the sheep of God’s pasture; the flock gathered around Jesus their Good Shepherd.
The contrast to living is obviously “dead.” So as “living stones” we are not just a passive wall of rock, locked in by other bricks and mortar, with nothing to do but rest. Rather we are an active, breathing organism. Our purpose and direction comes from Christ our living cornerstone, so that all our action and service reflects not us as individuals or lone agents, but reflects Christ and His purpose for the church. As living stones, your life and service is both within these walls and outside these walls. As you have opportunity to do good, you are to do good for everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). First we serve our fellow Christians who are in need, but cannot stop there, but go and serve all as we have opportunity. And whenever we do so, whatever we do for the least of these, we do for Christ.
You see, primary to being Christ-like members of this royal priesthood, is that we do not live only for ourselves (individualism)—but we live outside ourselves and for others. As one pastor put it, “the life of faith in Christ and the life of love for the neighbor.” The mercy of God that calls and gathers us, pulls us out of ourselves and our self-interest and into the life of Jesus Christ and the needs of our neighbor.
So what is this about a “royal priesthood”? It combines two images—one of royalty, which makes us think of ruling, of kings, queens, princes and princesses—and one that is priestly, which makes us think of sacrifices and intercession. So how are Christians a royal priesthood, and what is Christ-like about this communal calling of ours? Or perhaps its simpler to ask, how is Jesus both Priest and King, and how does that relate to our calling?
First of all, Jesus is our Great High Priest who sacrificed Himself for our sins once for all, to put an end to the old sacrifices, and once and for all to pay the penalty for our sin as a pure and perfect substitute. Jesus did this high priestly work when He died on the cross—where He was both rejected by men but also chosen and precious in God’s sight. He was and is rejected by men for all sorts of reasons—because they don’t want to believe in their own sinfulness and need for a Savior; because they don’t believe He is the Son of God; or because the manner of His death is offensive to us. But for God, this was the way in which He was most glorified—in the perfect love that sacrificed Himself for sinners, to bring us back to God in mercy.
And so on this Cornerstone, God builds a church of priests, a holy priesthood, to do the priestly and Christ-like thing of making sacrifices. What kind of sacrifices? Not animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, which have ended, but the New Testament calls on us to offer our bodies as “living sacrifices.” Our lives are dedicated as a priesthood to God. The New Testament describes our Christian sacrifices as being our good works that we do in service to our neighbor; as our praises that we lift to sing and proclaim the excellencies of what God has done; and our charitable offerings given for the sake of God’s kingdom and the need of our neighbor. The countless ways that you can serve your neighbor are shown by the need of your neighbor and the ways in which you can fill that need. We should always be opening our eyes to discover those needs. The sacrifices of praise that we offer show that Christians, as God’s royal priesthood, have the honor of telling forth what God has done for us—calling us out of darkness into light. This is good news to celebrate in worshipping Him, and to share by telling others, so they can receive that joy and salvation also. Giving offerings is sacrificial of our time, talent, or treasure, as we use what God has entrusted to us, not merely for our own good, but for the good of others.
Priests are also “intercessors.” They come to God in prayer or petition for someone else. This happens weekly in our church’s prayer chain, as well as in all of your collective prayers as a congregation, as you lift up prayers and concerns for others. It also happens when Christians advocate or seek justice for the voiceless or the helpless. This happens when Christians speak up for or serve those who cannot defend themselves—like the poor, children who are abused or neglected, orphans, widows, the mentally ill, those who are unable to get justice on their own in the courts, the unborn children, those who are infirm or disabled, and so on. To be their voice or to seek justice on their behalf, is a priestly, and a Christ-like thing.
What about the “royal” part of being Christ’s royal priesthood? Scripture informs us that sin and death once reigned over us, but now through the abundance of grace in Christ Jesus, we will reign in life through Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:17ff). We have gone from being subjects of sin and death, without a hope and future, to those who will reign together with Christ Jesus! Not that any of us become independent kings or sovereigns—remember again that these descriptions emphasize our communal life in Christ. But rather we rule as those who have been elevated to the status of sons and daughters of the king. We start to fulfill that dominion that God intended for us to exercise over creation, when He first put Adam and Eve in the garden.
So what is the nature of our reign and our rule? Is it of seizing power or lording our authority over others? Jesus explicitly rejected this idea of power, but told His disciples instead that the first should be last, and the servant is the greatest of all, because the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45). This is often mistaken for weakness, but rather, by Christ’s example we should understand it as putting others’ needs before our own, and leading by example. Thus it is a kingly or queenly and Christ-like thing when Christians show bold, but humble leadership. And it is a Christ-like thing when we sacrifice for others—which shows that kingly and priestly are not separate, but overlapping definitions of who we are in the royal priesthood.
Perhaps this high and noble calling as God’s royal priesthood sounds wonderful and good to you, but you feel impossibly condemned, that you cannot or have not lived it out. Maybe it only makes you more aware of your own self-centeredness, and it seems too great for you to live so sacrificially and self-giving toward others. And truly, if your trust was in your own strength, that would all be true. We were not meant to do it alone. But the Holy Spirit turns your faith outward, from your own self-centeredness to Jesus Christ, your hope and your cornerstone, the living stone on which we are all built, from whom comes all our strength.
As we began by understanding that we are God’s people because we have received His mercy, so also we end by understanding the same. Our identity begins and ends in Him. It is only by the mercy and love of God for us in Christ Jesus, that we have been given this chosen and precious calling as His royal priesthood. And God who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). You are God’s chosen people and His royal priesthood because He has called you by name, and He has said that this is what you are. And you are! By God’s grace, by the mercy of Christ Jesus, and the power of His name. He has not left you short-handed or short-supplied for anything that He has called you to do, and surrounds you with the Christian community of fellow believers to build you up in mutual love, support, and encouragement toward one another. So much more could be said about our life together as believers.
Whatever your faults, sins, and failings are in service or in love, confess them and commit them to your Lord and Savior. His death is more than sufficient for all your sins and failings, and His love and grace is all-sufficient for your needs, your life, and your calling. So live with joy and proclaim His excellencies, and know that whoever believes in Him will never be put to shame. In the Name of our Great High Priest and King of Kings, Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. According to 1 Peter 2, how is the church of God “constructed”, or what is it made of? What is it’s cornerstone? As the first stone to be laid, and connecting two walls, it is both foundational and gives alignment to the other stones built on top of it. This communicates Jesus’ prominence, His direction for the church, and His necessity as the church’s foundation.
  2. Where does this idea of the “cornerstone” come up in the Old Testament, and how is it prophetic of Jesus? Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 118:21-24. What does Peter mean by Jesus being the living stone that was “rejected by men?” How has God made Jesus “chosen and precious”, despite this rejection by men?
  3. Peter adds another description into the mix, calling the church “a holy priesthood” or a “royal priesthood.”. What is the origin in the Bible of this term? Exodus 19:5-6. In the Old Testament, it applies to the people of Israel—to whom is it applied in the New Testament? 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:10.
  4. The title: “royal priesthood” combines two different pictures, that of king, and priest. In what way is the Christian church “kingly”? What kind of “reign” do Christians experience by faith? Romans 5:17, 22; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 5:10. In what is the Christian church “priestly?” What priestly work is ours to fulfill? 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 3:15; 1 Peter 2:9; Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 25:40.
  5. What is Christ-like about this life of the royal priesthood? How is everything that Christ has done foundational for the shape of our Christian life? How does Christ keep the church in alignment to Him? Ephesians 2:20; Acts 2:42. How does our identity and our status as a royal priesthood originate in God’s mercy? 1 Peter 2:10

No comments: