I noticed from our very first days in Angleton that there is a palpable state pride here in Texas that exceeds what I have felt from the people of any other state – and I love it! The people of Texas are an interesting mix. I am reading the book Lone Star, by T.R. Fehrenbach, which is considered by many to be the best history of Texas, and it relates how people from all these different backgrounds: American Indians, from Mexico, from the plantations of the Old South, from Tennessee and the midwest, and immigrants from Germany and Ireland — all came together to form this one great people now called “Texans.” And it IS a great state, and a great people. Cheryl & I are glad to be here.
But as great as it is to be a member of the Great State of Texas, there is an even greater citizenship — and that is to be “the people of God”!
Last week we saw how Jesus Christ is either the Cornerstone or the Stumbling Stone for every person. Now in :9-10 Peter continues, and he talks about those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Cornerstone, and he says: “BUT YOU …” and he begins to talk about us as the people of God:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
These verses tell us about how the followers of Jesus Christ have now become “The People of God”:
I. THE PROPHECIES OF GOD’S PEOPLE
First of all, it is important to note that every one of the descriptions of the People of God here in this text is a quote from the Old Testament:
— “A chosen race” is a quote from Isaiah 43:20
— “A royal priesthood” is from Exodus 19:6
— “A holy nation” is also from Exodus 19:6
— “a people for God’s own possession” from Exodus 19:5
— the two quotes in :10, about “not a people/but now you are the people of God,” and “not received mercy but now you have received mercy” are both from Hosea 1:10.
So the background of who we are as God’s people today, all comes from the Old Testament. Each of the terms we see here were first applied to Israel, but now has an even greater fulfillment in the church. But our understanding of what these different terms mean, comes from the Old Testament.
This is why God gave us the Old Testament to begin with: to give us a basic understanding of Who He is and what He is doing in the world. Everything in the New Testament has a foundation in the Old, which helps us to understand it. So we need to make sure that we don’t write off the Old Testament. You can’t really understand much of the New Testament, if you don’t have the background of the Old Testament.
Cheryl & I were watching a DVD series one time, and it just did not make sense. They kept referring to people and things that we didn’t know anything about. During the show we were just looking at each other like, “What is this about?!” Well, when the disk finished and we went to change over to the next one, we found out that we had put the disk in out of order! No wonder we didn’t understand it; we didn’t have the disk before it, that would have given us the background that that would have helped us understand the story the author was trying to convey to us.
And that is very much the way it is with the Old Testament too. If you just pick up a New Testament, you could easily find yourself asking: what is this about? WHO is this God? Why do we need a Christ? Well the answers to ALL of those questions come from the Old Testament.
So never denigrate or downplay the Old Testament, as if it were some “archaic” or “outdated” book. And I say that because there are popular Bible teachers today who are doing just that. One recently said that Christians today need to “unhitch” ourselves from the Old Testament scriptures. If we do that, we are going to lose 3/4 of our Bible! Those Old Testament scriptures are inspired by God, every one of them. We need to realize that when II Timothy 3:16 says “All scripture is inspired by God,” the “scripture” it was referring to there was the OLD Testament. The New Testament hadn’t even been put together yet when II Timothy was written. So the New Testament testifies that the Old Testament is the inspired word of God. And JESUS Himself testified to its inspiration. He said “Not one letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law until all is accomplished. He said David was “in the Spirit” when he wrote the Psalms. He said those Old Testament scriptures “testify of Me” (John 5:39)! The Old Testament was extremely important to Jesus.
So don’t neglect the Old Testament. Read it; study it: it teaches us the ABC’s that we build on in the New Testament, and we can’t fully understand the New Testament without the Old.
As we study today about what it means to be “The People of God,” we can look back at all these Old Testament quotes and they help us to understand who we are as God’s people. The Old Testament prophesied about the PEOPLE that the Messiah had come to create: the New Testament People of God.
II. THE PRIVILEGE OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Now let us note specifically what great privileges God has called us to as His people. When you make Jesus your “Cornerstone” like we talked about last week, then you become one of “the people of God.” This is a high privilege, and these verses use several words to describe the privileged position we have as the people of God. We could spend all day just looking at these terms, but let’s just do a brief overview of them:
A. :9 says you are “a chosen race”
Who are “God’s chosen people”? Most people would probably answer: “The Jews.” And that was true. In Genesis 12 God called Abraham and told him that He would make of him a great nation and that the whole world would be blessed through them. Much of the Old Testament is about how God chose Israel — the descendants of Abraham — to bring God’s word to the world, and to provide the Messiah who would save the world, and He did. Matthew opens by saying that Jesus Christ was “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” God chose Israel for His special purpose.
But NOW Peter says to us as New Testament Christians, “YOU are a chosen race.” Now YOU are the ones God has chosen to reach and touch the world. Galatians 3 speaks about this:
— It says in :9 “So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham.”
—: 28 says “There is neither Jew nor Greek … for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
— And :29 says: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
God makes it very clear there in Galatians: if you are in Jesus Christ, then YOU are now the “chosen people” of God, and heirs to everything that God promised Abraham!
So who are “God’s chosen people”? WE ARE, as His church. YOU are — if you are in Christ Jesus! You are of God’s chosen people, which is a great privilege — as well as a great responsibility, as we shall see.
B. “a royal priesthood”
This is a quote from Exodus 19:6. God had told Israel there, just before He gave them the 10 Commandments, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests.”
This is just what John says in Revelation 1:6, that God has made us “a kingdom of priests”!
This tells us that ALL of God’s people now are priests. In the Old Testament, only the priests had the privilege of access to God, and all the people had to come to them to bring their sacrifices and to seek God. But now through Jesus, God says we are ALL “a kingdom of priests.” Everyone in His Kingdom is a priest. As we saw a couple of weeks ago, the “sacrifices” God wants us to offer Him as His priests are the “sacrifices of praise” and thanksgiving like Hebrews 13 talks about. Every morning, just as the priest would make it his first order of business to “put in order” the morning sacrifice, so now we as God’s priests are to make it our first order of business in the morning to “order our prayer” to God like Psalm 5:3 talks about.
This is our privilege as God’s people, to offer sacrifices directly to God as His priests. We don’t have to “go through” anybody:
— Ephesians 3:12 says “we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.”
— Hebrews 4:16 says “Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace.” We are His “chosen people.” We are His “royal priests”! We all now have direct access to God through Jesus Christ.
If you know Jesus as our Savior, you don’t need to wait for a priest; you don’t need to “go through the preacher” or a deacon or anyone else. Every single one of us has direct, privileged access to God through Jesus Christ.
Carl Sandburg tells the story of how when Abraham Lincoln was President, his sons Tad & Willie had taken some rags and made a doll whom they named “Jack.” But one day the boys told the White House gardener that Jack was going to be shot at sunrise for sleeping on guard duty. (It’s funny what kids pick up!) The gardener suggested they might get a presidential pardon for Jack. So Tad & Willy immediately ran upstairs, right into the office of the President, where he was working and signing papers, and told Lincoln about Jack. Lincoln put down his papers and wrote a short letter:
“The doll Jack is pardoned.
By order of the President.
Signed: Abraham Lincoln.”
Now you and I might have been hesitant to run into the office of the President of the United States — and especially over something as trite as the plight of a DOLL! Here Lincoln was, working in the White House, during THE single most crucial time in all the history of the United States. But those boys had confident access, to go right into the office of the President — because he was their father! — and bring their slightest request to Him.
And the Bible says that is the access that you & I have to God as well. If you are in Jesus Christ, you are a “royal priest”! You have personal access to God! You have the ability not only to offer Him sacrifices of praise and worship, but you can also bring your slightest request to Him, and know that you will find acceptance before His throne.
I hope you know that I will be happy to pray with any of you as you need it; sometimes it is encouraging to be prayed for by a brother or sister Christian. But listen: you do not NEED me or anyone else to be a go-between in between you and God. You can go to Him yourself. YOU ARE A PRIEST! One of the great privileges we have as God’s people, is to be “a royal priesthood”!
C. “a holy nation”
This is also a quote from Exodus 19:6. As God’s people, Israel was called to be “holy.” The word “holy” means to be “set apart.” Israel was not to live the way the nations around them lived. They were to be “holy” — “set apart”, different — for God. In fact, that was the point of many of the commands God gave Israel in the Law — they were NOT to do the things the nations around them were doing:
— In Leviticus 18 God gave many of the moral commands of the Old Testament: that His people were not to be involved in incest, or adultery, or homosexuality, or offer their children as a sacrifice to the false god Molech. He said in :24 “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you became defiled.”.
And He told them in Leviticus 20:23 “You shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.”
God was telling them: you are not to do what these sinful nations around you are doing. You are to be different from them. You are to be holy.
— Deuteronomy 12:30 God told His people: “beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?’”. God told Israel: DO NOT look around to see what the world is doing in worship, and imitate that (that has a lot of application for us today!). He says you are NOT to do the same things that all the nations so. You are to “set apart,” a “holy” nation.
— In probably THE key verse of the book of Leviticus, in 11:44 God told Israel, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And He repeated this command throughout the book. They were not to be like the nations around them. They were to be a “holy nation” — holy because God is holy.
And so when now God says to us as His people, YOU are “a holy nation,” He is saying that like Israel in the Old Testament, we are NOT to be like the world around us. We are to be “holy” — “set apart” as God’s people.
Many of us as God’s people need to hear this word today. For a generation or so, for some reason Christians have gotten the idea that we should be as much like the world as we can be; that somehow this will be good for the Church, and for evangelism. And many Christians are almost making a “sport” out of how close to the “cliff” of sin we can get without falling off, and how much like the world we can be.
But God tells us here: NO! We are specifically called by God NOT to be like the world. He has called us to be His holy people: “a holy nation.” Not a “worldly nation;” a holy nation!
D. “a people for God’s own possession”
This word means one’s “own, special” possession. The Bible word is “peri-poieo”, and the word “peri” means “around” — to me it gives the picture of God putting His arms AROUND us and saying, “These are MY special people who belong to Me. These are MINE”!”
The first 5 grand babies Cheryl & I had were all girls, and when we would have them over to our house Cheryl would have all these little doll babies for them, with little cribs and so on. But one of our little grand babies had this one doll that she determined was HERS! She would put her arms around that doll, and heaven help the sister or cousin who tried to play with it. That was HER baby! That was her special possession!
Well God tells us that we are HIS OWN SPECIAL POSSESSION! He has put His arms around us, and we belong to Him. When we were saved, He sent His Holy Spirit inside of us, and when He came, the Spirit did several things: He washed us from our past sins; He regenerated us and made us new; and Ephesians 1 and other passages tell us that He also “sealed” us — put His “seal of ownership” on our hearts, as belonging to God. Now no one and no-thing can break that seal and take us away from God. We are HIS. We are His own possession!
E. Then the last two in :10 are really a single quote from the Book of Hosea: “now you are the people of God … now you have received mercy.”
In Hosea, God’s chosen people Israel had not been faithful to Him for generations. So to symbolize that, God told Hosea to name his children, “Lo-Ami,” which means “not My people,” and “Lo-ruhamma”, “NOT received mercy” because His people had turned away from God and His mercy.
But now, in Christ, as we have seen, we have been made His people, and we need to understand that it is only because we have received MERCY in Jesus Christ that we ARE His people. This is important. We are NOT the people of God, with all the benefits we have talked about today, because we somehow “earned” or “deserved” it. We are only the people of God by His mercy.
This goes back to what we talked about last week: how people often talk about the “hypocrites in the church” and so on. Let’s just make sure that we all understand that we are not here in church because we claim to be such good people; we are here in church because we all claim to be SINNERS— but admitting that we are sinners we have asked God to have MERCY on us in Jesus Christ. God’s MERCY is what we all need.
One time I was reading about the reputation that Virginia General Robert E. Lee had for fair dealing with all of his men in the Civil War. At one point in the War Lee told one of his men not to worry; he said, “I’ll see that you get justice.” The man said, “That’s what I’m afraid of!”
That’s exactly the attitude WE should have with God. Folks, we don’t want justice from God! The Bible says we have all sinned; and the wages of our sin is death! We have all fallen short of God’s glory, and what we “deserve” is to be separated from His glory forever. We don’t want “justice” from God; we don’t want what we’re “due.” What we are “due” from God is punishment; what we are due from God is hell! As Shakespeare said in “The Merchant of Venice”: “In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation. We do pray for MERCY”!
MERCY is what we need from God. And thankfully, mercy is what He gives us in Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2 says we were all “dead in our trespasses and sins.” But then it says, “BUT GOD, being rich in MERCY … made us alive together with Christ.” We all fell short of God’s glory, short of heaven. Justice would have sent us all to hell. “BUT GOD” had MERCY on us in Jesus. If you will hear that message, and admit that you are sinner, and that you need His mercy, and if you will ask Him to have mercy on you, He WILL! And then you will become one of God’s people, with all the benefits (and responsibilities) we’ve talked about today. And it can be said of YOU, like it does in :10, that you “have received mercy,” and you are now one of “The People of God” with all of its benefits and responsibilities.
III. THE PURPOSE OF GOD’S PEOPLE
One big question is, WHY has God done all of this for us? The Bible tells us He had a very specific purpose in mind, for calling us to be His people. We see it in them middle of :9, where He uses the words, “SO THAT.” “SO THAT” is what grammarians call a “purpose clause.” It means “this is the purpose;” THIS is the reason WHY God has done what He has done with us.
So what IS that purpose? :9 says: “SO THAT (pointing to the purpose) you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God has called us SO THAT we can “proclaim His excellencies.” He has called us for the purpose of PRAISING HIM here in this world.
We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, when we saw that God has made us “living stones” as part of His new “Temple,” FOR the purpose of offering up spiritual sacrifices to Him — sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Now here we see this again. WHY has God called us as His special people: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession”? It is “SO THAT” we may proclaim His excellencies — so that we will praise Him. That is what He made us for.
— That’s why we get up first thing every morning to sing to God and give Him thanks and praise: because this is our purpose in life. This is what He made us for, and it is the most important thing we have to do every day. He saved us “SO THAT” we will get up and praise Him every day.
— That’s why we gather as a church to worship Him together every week. Worship is the most important thing we do as a church. As His “living temple” we lift up our songs of praise every Sunday; this is what He made us to do: “SO THAT we will proclaim His excellencies.”
— This is what God has put us in this world for: SO THAT we might praise HIM among the peoples of the world and point people to Him. As we saw. He hasn’t called us to be like the world; He has called us to point people in the world to Him.
— And this is what we will do for all eternity: in heaven we will proclaim His excellencies forever, singing like Revelation 5:12 says: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Forever in heaven we will fulfill our purpose of proclaiming God’s excellent greatness!
But it’s not just in heaven that we are called to praise Him like that — we are start it NOW! THIS is why God has called us as His people: to share His praise with the world, until He calls us to glory to praise Him there forever!
Sadly, too many of us who are supposed to be God’s people, are missing Gods purpose for our lives. We have all seen people who were out directing traffic to a ball game, or to a special site or event, and it’s good to have them out there, pointing the way. I have often thought: that is a hot, tough job (or a COLD tough job in the winter). But what if that person got out there, and was pointing cars to the event, and they thought, you know, this is really uncomfortable out here. I need to get an umbrella to make some shade. So they do that. And that wasn’t good enough, so then they get a chair to sit in. And then they get a drink. And then a recliner. And then a television! And pretty soon, they’d totally lost what they were supposed to be out there for in the first place: they weren’t pointing people to the site any more, they’d gotten too caught up in looking after their own comfort!
And sadly, that is exactly the picture of many of us as God’s people today. As churches and as individuals, so many of us have become so immersed in the search for our own comfort and pleasure, that we’ve totally have lost what God really created us to be doing in the first place —which is to proclaim His excellencies in this world, and to point people to Him!
So God gives us a great reminder here — we need this reminder — me, you, our church as a whole, Christians everywhere — If you are a child of God, then don’t forget what God has called you for. This is not all about us. It’s about how God had mercy on us, and called us to be His special people — FOR THE PURPOSE of proclaiming His excellencies, and to point people to Him. May we never forget what He’s called us for, as “The People of God.”