1 Peter 2:4-10 – Why go to church?
Sermon preached at Christ Church Duesseldorf, 14th October 2018
The noise of the alarm clock cut through Mark’s head like a hot knife through butter.
As he groggily poured his coffee, the first thought that came into his mind was “I shouldn’t have stayed up so late last night”. And then “why do I get up so early on a Sunday morning? Everyone else in the world has a lie in- I get up to go to church. What’s the point? Why should I go to church this morning? After all, I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, do I? Once a month is OK- I can worship God at home”.
It was 5pm on Friday afternoon, and Clare was just pulling on her coat, when her boss, Isobel, said to her “Doing anything interesting this weekend?”
It was on the tip of Clare’s tongue to say that she was going to church. But then she remembered that her colleagues already thought she was a bit odd- and good relationships are so important at work, aren’t they? And then Isobel was an outspoken atheist and a feminist, and believed that religion was oppressive and had no place in the workplace. Of course, Clare thought, she could still be a Christian in private- but there was no need to be fanatical about it. After all, it wasn’t as if she went to some big, hip church with great coffee, and lots of young people, and a praise band. It was just a few people who met on hard chairs in a hall down a side street, with a single piano. And they drank instant. It was really a bit embarrassing. What was the point?
So what is the point of being part of a church? Or to put it another way, what are the privileges of God’s people? And what is the purpose of God for his people?
This letter, 1 Peter, was written to Christians who got up very early- they met before sunrise on a Sunday. We know that from historical accounts of Christians in the same part of the world. They met before dawn because many of them were slaves- the most despised, rejected group in society- and they had to get to their work. So Peter is writing to them- and us- to tell us who we are. He tells us about the privileges that we have. And he tells about God’s purpose for us. So look at 1 Peter 2:4-10 please, where we learn that we are God’s building and God’s people.
- We are God’s building – v4-8
Peter tells us first that God is building a house – v5 NIV
In the last year, it’s been fascinating to watch the building of the new entrance hall at the Messe up the road- at the moment, it is a building site, but when finished, it will be a very impressive building. Well, this is what we see when we look at the church. We are looking at a building site, and like most building sites, to the untrained eye it looks a bit of a mess. But the church is God’s building site, and he is at work, indeed this is the great work that God is doing in the world- building his house. Not a house built of steel and concrete, or brick and stone, but a spiritual house built of living stones- that is, of people. So when we gather as Christians, we are not just gathering as individuals. We are gathering as God’s house- and a house isn’t just a random pile of stones, it is a structure, that has been designed to stand as a unity.
God is building his house- and he is building it for a very special purpose. He’s building it so that there can be priests who offer him sacrifices. So this house has a religious function- it is a temple. And the people who are the stones are also priests, who are there to worship God. So, when we gather as Christians, we are gathering as priests. All of us, not just people who are ordained; the Bible teaches something called “the priesthood of all believers”. That is, all of us have the same privilege that Old Testament priests had- we can draw near to God, and come into his presence, and offer him not animal sacrifices, but “spiritual” sacrifices. Now, I hope you’re wondering “What sacrifices? What are they?” Hold on to that question- we’ll come back and find out the answer in a few minutes. For the moment, just understand that we are all priests, who make sacrifices to God.
What an encouragement this is for us! Christians often feel very lonely and isolated. The first people to read this were little groups of believers, scattered across what we now call Turkey. In what they believed and how they lived, they were completely out of step with the pagan culture around them. Maybe you can imagine how they felt- maybe you are the only Christian in your family or your workplace. But we are not isolated and alone. We are joined to other believers around the world and throughout time in the great house that God is building, the universal, catholic church.
Christians can also suffer from an inferiority complex. The first Christians had no special buildings; they met in each others houses, as the underground churches in Iran and China do today. The pagans among whom the lived had the most magnificent temples- vast beautiful buildings, with thousands of priests, carrying out splendid, elaborate rituals. The Christians had no temples and no priests- and must have sometimes felt very inferior. That’s why Peter says to them: “You are a temple and you are all priests- you have nothing to be ashamed of!” Our culture has made great achievements in science and technology- and it tells Christians that we are insignificant, that we are on the wrong side of history. But the Bible tells us that we are part of something magnificent- God has chosen us to be stones in his house.
And Christians often feel discouraged. We look at the church, and it seems such a mess. It seems so fragile and weak, about to collapse at any moment. But we forget that we are looking at a building site- God hasn’t finished yet. One day he will, and the house will be complete, and vast multitude that no one can number will gather round God’s throne to worship Christ. But until then, God is building his house, his church. We don’t have to build it, that’s not our job, that burden is taken off our shoulders. God is the builder- and his work can’t fail and fall down. So how and when is God building his house? Go back to verse 4.
God is building his house as people come to Christ – v4 ESV
Peter says “as you come to him”, that is to Christ, “you are being built into a spiritual house”. He means “as you come to Christ by faith- when you put your faith in him”. Peter says that we come to him as a “living stone”. The world thinks that Jesus is dead; we believe that he is risen from the dead and alive, and so we choose to take our stand on that stone. We come to him because we see him as God sees him. The world sees Jesus as worthless, and so rejects him and throws him away; and we know that if we come to him, they will reject us too. But in God’s sight- which is what it literally says here- he is chosen and precious. And by faith we look at Jesus through God’s eyes, and see him as infinitely precious and valuable. It is worth losing our good name, and the esteem of the world, if only we can gain him.
So we come to Christ, and as we do so God builds us into his house, his church. It doesn’t say that we become Christians, and then decide whether or not we will join a church. So let’s have no nonsense about “I can be a Christian without being part of a church”. God won’t let us be Lone Ranger Christians like that- if we come to Christ, then he puts in place in his house. If we are not part of the church, then we can’t have come to Christ, we can’t be Christians.
So we are God’s house, and the whole thing rests on Christ, the cornerstone- as Peter shows us in three passages from the Old Testament.
Christ is the chosen cornerstone – v6 NIV
The “cornerstone” was the first stone to be laid in the foundation when a building was being built. It had to be carefully chosen and shaped and placed, because the foundations and walls were aligned on the cornerstone. Peter is quoting from Isaiah 28:16, which was written at a time when God’s people had been reduced to a little remnant surrounded by powerful enemies. They were scared, and beginning to panic. So God told them not to be frightened: in Jerusalem, he himself would lay a chosen, precious cornerstone. And on that foundation, he would re-build his people. And if the remnant would trust what he was doing, they would not be ashamed and disgraced. So God’s church, that’s us, mustn’t panic or feel ashamed when we face hostility and contempt from our culture. If we believe in Christ, the stone God has chosen and regards as precious, if we are built on him and our lives are aligned to him, then God regards us as precious too. Whatever the world thinks of us, God highly values us, and he will honour us, as it says at the beginning of v7. We have nothing to be ashamed of. So Christ is the precious cornerstone. But…
Christ is also the rejected stumbling stone – v7-8 CSB
Some people reject Jesus and throw him out, like builders might throw out and old piece of rubble they think is good for nothing. Or, as Peter says, they stumble and trip over Jesus himself, as someone might trip over a rock in the path. Quoting Isaiah 8:14, he says that for some Jesus is a stone of stumbling, or a “stone of offense”- they find Jesus offensive. And so they stumble because they don’t want to obey the word- the word of the Gospel that tells us to believe in Jesus and accept his rule over our lives. What are the consequences of that? First of all dishonour. Quoting Psalm 118:22, whereas men rejected Jesus, God has given him the place of honour and supreme authority- he has made Jesus literally the “head”, the cornerstone. So if we reject him now, we will one day be shamed, when we see our terrible mistake, and see the victorious Jesus placed in authority over us as our king and judge. And second, the consequences will be destruction. Isaiah 8:15 goes on to say that those who trip over God’s stone will be “broken”- like someone falling over a rock, and cracking their head open and being killed. Destruction awaits those will not believe in Christ the cornerstone. That’s a hard thing for us to see- people rejecting Christ. But even then, Peter says, we mustn’t panic, because this is what they were destined for. It was part of God’s plan that some people reject Jesus
So what is God’s purpose for his people? God’s purpose is Christ’s honour- and our honour
God has placed Christ as the cornerstone, and done everything so that Christ will be honoured as chosen and precious. And everything we do as a church should have as its purpose to honour Christ, and show how valuable he is to us. We honour him by standing on him, and building our church on him, and aligning everything we do to him. But also, God wants us to be without shame. He wants us to know that if we are built on Christ, then in his sight we are chosen and precious like Christ. God has given us the immense honour of being stones in his house. What a privilege it is to be part of a church!
- We are God’s people – v9-10
God is calling a people- v9c-10 CSB
Three times in these two verses, Peter says that his readers are a people, so that’s obviously the main thing on his mind- we are a people. Just as God is building his house, so he is calling his people. Just as he once called the Israelites to be his people, now he calls people from every nation to be his people. So “calling” in v9 goes with “coming” in v4- God calls people to Christ by the Gospel, and all those who are called come, and become God’s people.
God calls us out of darkness, into his light. This is the darkness of ignorance, because people don’t know God. It is the darkness of gloom and despair, of people who are without hope. And it is a moral darkness, of lives driven by lusts and evil desires. And that darkness is gathering and growing deeper here in Europe even as we speak. But as Christians, as God’s people, we are called to come out of that into the marvellous light of truth and hope and holiness. As God called the people of Israel out of Egypt, he calls us out of darkness into light.
God calls us together, to be a people. Once we weren’t a people- we were just individuals going about our own business, following our own agendas. We were nobodies. But by his calling, by the Gospel, he makes us into a people. We belong to Christ- and so we belong to one another. We are united as a people. Once we hadn’t received mercy- each and every one of us was God’s enemy, under God’s judgement. But now we have received mercy- through Jesus God has forgiven us, and showered mercy on us, and made his enemies into his people. So what sort of people is God calling?
God is calling a distinct people- v9ab CSB
Peter wants us to know that as God’s people we are distinct and separate and set apart. Look at how he defines us. We are a “race”- a race is a group of people who are distinct because they share the same ancestors. Christians have been born again, so whoever our ancestors are, whatever race or family we come from, we now have a new family and new race. And that new identity is more important than our old. We are a “priesthood”- a priesthood is an order of people who are distinct because of what they do. They have been set apart from their normal occupations, the things that take up most people’s time, and set apart to serve God. And that is what all Christians are- we are all priests dedicated to God’s service. We are a “nation”- a nation is a distinct political unit with its own customs and laws. So Christians are distinct because we are a nation under the rule of Christ our king, and his commands take precedence over all other commands and laws for us. And we are a “people”, an ethnic group- a people are distinct because of their special customs, because of the way they live. So Christians are to be distinct from other people in the way that they live. God is calling a distinct people, who must show that distinctiveness in the way that they live. And…
God is calling a dignified people- v9ab CSB
Peter wants us to know that as well as being distinct and set apart, we are a people who have been given great dignity and immense privilege by God. Look at how he describes us. We are “chosen”, not because of anything we have done, but because of God’s mercy. Just as in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were the chosen people, so now those who God calls to Christ are the chosen people, and we inherit Israel’s privileges. We are “royal”. In other places in the Bible, it says that the church is the bride of Christ. You know that in England, when a commoner marries into the royal family, she becomes a princess, as Kate Middleton did? Well, when we become Christians, common sinners like us marry into the royal family of the universe. We gain the same royal status as Jesus Christ, the bridegroom. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We are “holy”- in God’s sight, we are clean and pure and beautiful and acceptable to him. We can come into the royal presence without fear- again, we have nothing to be ashamed of. And we are God’s own, treasured, precious possession. As he loved the people of Israel among all the peoples of the earth, so he loves and delights in us with a special, unique love.
It is said that, before he was king, HM King George VI, was a very shy and diffident young man. So before any great occasion his mother, Queen Mary, would whisper to him “Remember who you are- remember you are a prince”. Brothers and sisters, whatever situation we face, but especially when we meet together, God wants us to remember who we are. He wants us to remember the great distinction and dignity to which he has called us. But why has God done this? What is his purpose?
God’s purpose is his praise- v9b CSB
God’s great, supreme purpose is to have a people who praise him. Remember that in v5 we asked what the spiritual sacrifices were? And I said that we would find the answer in a few minutes? Well, here it is: Peter means the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving that God’s people offer to him when they gather. Peter says that God has chosen and called us so that we might “proclaim his praises” or literally “declare his excellencies”. God’s “excellencies” are all the excellent, wonderful, praiseworthy things that’s done, especially in showing us mercy through Christ. So our praise should have content: we don’t just sing “Praise him, praise him, praise him”, over and over again. We sing and speak about what God has done that makes him worthy of praise. That’s why we normally start our meetings with a hymn of praise, and we often finish them with a hymn of thanksgiving.
This is the purpose of the church, this is why we are here. As Kingsley said in the first talk at the weekend away, the reason we make disciples, followers of Jesus, is that God’s plan is to call out of darkness and gather around his Son a people who will praise him. So by making disciples, we are joining in with what God is doing. The reason we want more people to come to church is not so that the church will survive- God will look after that. We want more people to come to church so that God will be praised as he deserves. This is the point of getting up on a Sunday morning and coming to church: not to have our individual needs met. But to offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. Our purpose is his praise. Because his purpose is his praise. What a privilege- to be part of God’s people and God’s purposes!
You are God’s house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.