“The Church: The People of God”

SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY

26TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

NOVEMBER 18, 2018

Title: “The Church: The People of God”

Text: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 RSV).

 

Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 2:1-12.

Gary Wilburn, the pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles told a story about a German pastor. “In 1636, amid the darkness of the Thirty Years’ War, a German pastor, Martin Rinkart, is said to have buried five thousand of his parishioners in one year, an average of fifteen a day. His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster. In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote this table grace for his children: “Now thank we all our God. With heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things had done. In whom His world rejoices.Who, from our mother’s arms Hath led us on our way. With countless gift of love. And still is ours today.”

This is the story of a man who knew thanksgiving comes from the love of God, not from outward circumstances.  Thanksgiving comes from the fact that God loves us. Because God loves us, he chose us a his church, his own people. Our thanks and gratitude goes to God. So let us learn together about how chosen we are as a church, and God’s people.

 

Our Savior, who was also a master carpenter, continues the process of building his church. The church is not a building, a structure made of brick, steel, stone, wood, or glass.  The church is not a place, a location, site, or address. The church that Jesus Christ is building is composed of people, living stones who are established in a spiritual temple so they can offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. These people are born again believers who have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who have been baptized and have publicly proclaimed their faith in him as the One who died for their sins and conquered death and the grave.  These people are learning, studying, and listening people who are seeking to be his true disciples. They are worshiping people who bow before God in recognition of his supreme worth and their dependence on him for life and all things pertaining to their existence. The church Jesus is building is made of praying people who not only talk to God, but who listen when God speaks to them. They are a sharing people who give because they have received from God’s gracious hand.  They are also a serving people who follow the example of the ultimate Servant. They are a people who give thanks and show gratitude to God.

What does it means to be the church today? What is Jesus Christ trying to do in the world through the church that he organized and has perpetuated to this day?

We must understand who we are if we are to be all that God intends for us to be and to accomplish all that he has planned for us. The biblical writers spoke of the church in a variety of ways. In fact, the New Testament contains at least eighty different images to describe the nature, function, and ministry of the church.  If we survey these many varied images and functions of the church, we will be greatly aided in understanding what our Lord wants us to be.

One of the dominant New Testament figures of the church is “the people of God.”  Peter used this term to instruct and encourage the Lord’s disciples, who had been scattered abroad as a result of persecution and other factors. This morning we will look at his description of the church as the new Israel.  Peter speaks to the church as God spoke through Moses to the people of Israel when the covenant was established with them at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-6).

In 1 Peter 2:9, it says, “You are a chosen race.” This is not a mere compliment.  It is a divine commission. On the day of Pentecost, God identified the 120 disciples who were gathered together in an upper room as the new Israel, the people through whom he would work to carry on his redemptive ministry in the world.

The sound of a rushing, mighty wind that came from heaven proclaimed the breath and life of God as abiding within this body of believers.  As God had taken the dust of the earth and breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life and he became a living soul, so God was breathing his Spirit into these new disciples that they might become the living body Christ. The tongues of fire that lighted on the heads of the members of this infant church were the shekinah of the Old Testament, the glory of God’s presence on them.

In these miraculous events, God was announcing to the Jewish nation and to the Jewish exiles who had returned for the Feast of Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah, the Son of God, the new chosen people through whom God would do his work.  God never limited his blessings to those who were Abraham’s successors by biological descent. Through believing in Jesus, even Gentiles could be God’s chosen people.

Jesus said to his disciples on one occasion, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whenever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (John 15:16).  Jesus had already declared, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (verse 8). God had called Abraham and later the nation of Israel to be his chosen people that they might be a fruitful missionary force in the world.  The nation of Israel failed to bring forth the fruit that our Lord desired, so he extended his call to all people. At this point in history, the church is his chosen people.

One becomes a member of the family of God not by biological descent but by a spiritual birth into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 3:34, 1 Peter 1:23)

You are “a royal priesthood.” This is also not a mere compliment, it is a divine commission.  Through Moses God had told the people of Israel, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6).  A priest is a go-between. A priest is also a bridge builder. Looking at this passage, one would see that it does not teach an exclusive priestly clergy.  Instead, it proclaims the priesthood of every believer and the responsibility of every believer to help unbelievers come to know God as they come to know him in and through Jesus Christ.  As the people of God, we are to perform the function of a holy priesthood. We are to be instrument for bringing the message of God’s grace and love to a needy world. We are to be the kind of people through whom an unsaved world will be drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ because of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our midst and through our efforts.  We have a responsibility to God and to the unbelieving world to be the meeting place where God can come into contact with them and where they can get acquainted with God.

You are “a holy nation.” This is not a mere compliment.  It is a divine command. To Israel God had said, “For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am Holy” (Leviticus 11:45)

Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus declaring the divine choice of the church as the people of God: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).

The word holy is not a familiar word in the vocabulary of modern people.  To the Hebrews it meant to be separate, distinct. It was used in reference to that which belonged to the Deity and to denote something different from the common and profane.  By his holiness God proclaims his difference from humanity. This can be illustrated by the fact that God’s house is different from other houses, that God’s day is different from other days, that God’s ways are different from human ways.  In calling us to a life of holiness and proclaiming us to be a holy nation, God is calling us to be different from ordinary people. We are not to be secular or materialistic.

The members of the church are called to a holy life, to a life different from that of the world, because they have voluntarily chosen to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives and to live by the the law of love.  We are to be different in the way we speak, labor, study, and serve. Because of the presence of the living Lord in our lives, all Christians, whether salespeople, doctors, mechanics, athletes, business people, students, spouses, and others, should be different from non-Christians.

To the degree that we are truly holy people, we will find ourselves to be “blameless” before God (Ephesians 1:4) To be holy does not mean that we will be cantankerous or peculiar or self righteous.  Instead, it means just the opposite: we will be so filled with love, grace, and the wisdom of God that we could not conceal our presence even if we are tired.

You are “God’s own people.”  It is a fact and a divine commission.  For Christians to claim that they are God’s people is something infinitely more than an egotistical boast.  Falsely proclaiming to be God’s people is blasphemy. To be God’s people is to be totally his possession.

The church is God’s personal possession.  That means that he is God, Lord, and owner.  His authority is recognized and his will is respected and appreciated.  We can measure the degree to which we are indeed his people to the degree to which we dedicate ourselves to the doing of his will and to the obedience of his commandments.

The church is God’s purchased possession (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19).  Paul declared in Ephesians that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor; without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (5:25-27).  The church has been purchase by a loving God at a great cost.

The church is God’s precious possession (John 3:16).  This tremendous verse proclaims the greatness of God’s love for a lost world reveals to us how extensive God’s love is for those who respond to his grace and mercy.  Paul rejoiced in this love and tried to describe it in his epistle to the Romans (8:31-32).

God calls us to be a royal priesthood so that we declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. God has called us to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people in order that those who are without mercy may now receive mercy, that all outsiders might become insiders.  If you are an outsider, please realize that the great God of heaven is like the switch that makes it possible for the very life and love and grace of God to come into your life.

To use another metaphor, if your life is desolate and unfruitful, then God is like the stream that flows through an irrigation ditch.  Faith opens the gate to let the life-giving water flow out onto the dry soil to produce life and growth and beauty and fruitfulness. Let us thank God for loving us.  Let us thank God for making us part of his church. Let us thank God for making us a special people. God bless you.