You Are God’s People

Assembled at the foot of Mt. Sinai were Israelites, freshly escaped from centuries of captivity in Egypt, along with many other people. This motley group, this “mixed multitude” was about to be brought into a covenant relationship with God. They would be made his people, his nation. The New Testament church is no less a unit, a body, a people chosen by God to be his own as 1 Peter 2:4–10 points out.

You are God’s people. You are his people because he chose you. Hosea had warned Judah that because of their sins they were becoming Lo Ammi (not my people), Hosea 1:9. That sin culminated in the rejection of the Cornerstone, 1 Peter 2:4,8. Hosea foretold the coming Day of the Lord, in which the people would become Ammi (my people) once again, Hosea 2:23. Peter tells you that you have become God’s people, God’s “folk,” in Jesus Christ. But the idea of the people of God is older than Hosea. In a real sense you can trace it back to the Garden of Eden. It becomes explicit in the promise to Abraham, that the Lord will make him into a great nation. That unfolds as the Lord delivers his descendants, a slave people, from Egypt, and covenants with them at Sinai to be their God and they to be his people.In the New Testament this people takes on a new form, it is called the church, and it is connected directly to the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ. The term “church” ecclesia, [from which we get our word, ecclesiastic], can mean any assembly, Acts 19:41, but usually refers to the body of believers, both on the local and broader levels, Acts 8:1; 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 8:3—note the geographic breadth of Saul’s persecution. Church applies to God’s people on the local, regional, national, and even universal level. It’s roots lie in the Old Testament assembly (qahal) of God’s people in his presence, Numbers 14:5; see Exodus 19. You have come to the heavenly assembly, Hebrews 12:22–24. You belong to God because he has chosen you, Ephesians 1:3–6; Isaiah 43:10, 20, 21; 44:1, 2.

You are God’s people because you have received mercy.You once stood outside God’s favor and love. By nature you are an enemy of God. Hosea not only had a son named Lo-Ammi (not my people), he also had a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah (no mercy), whose name was later reversed. In order to understand what it is to be the people of God, you have to recognize your sin, your inability. Whether or not you use the term, you have to recognize the idea of total depravity—even if it is expressed simply in the cry of the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Your position is all due to God’s undeserved favor. The initiative in the four titles of verse 9 is all God’s. The credit and glory belongs to him as well. The mercy you receive is yours in Christ.

You are Christ’s people because he has built you as his church. Notice the close connection in verses 4–8 between the Cornerstone, the term that Peter uses to describe Christ, and the church. Jesus told the author of this letter, after he made his great confession of faith, that he, Christ, would build his church. Here the church is not a collection of lose river rock, but rather, living stones, formed into a building, a living temple. Christ is connected to his church, whether as cornerstone and building, or as head united to his body (Colossians 1 & 2). Cyprian, born around 200 A.D., understood this biblical truth when he said that one cannot have God as his Father without having the church as his mother. It was to the apostles, as the pillars of the church, that Christ gave the Great Commission. He has entrusted the church with the task of preaching the gospel. He has given to the church the sacraments. Notice the text box in the bulletin, emphasizing the importance of church membership as we come to the Lord’s Table. The session has asked me to preach several sermons on coming to the Table in a way that glorifies God. This message is part of that, emphasizing how important the church is in Scripture. We need to hear that in our individualistic age. Your session is trying to grow in being faithful to the Lord. We are willing to work with people—the idea of the importance of church membership is strange even in some parts of American Christianity. But we need to be guided by the Word. “When Peter, as spokesman of the twelve, had confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Lord replied: ‘I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church’ (Matthew 16:18). . . . Christ keeps building His church throughout the ages. Every time a living member is added to the church this is done through His activity. The ablest minister of the gospel that ever lived was no more than a means by which it pleased the Lord Christ to build His church. It was the Lord, not Peter, nor his fellow apostles, who added daily to the church at Jerusalem such as were being saved (Acts 2:47).” (R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ, p. 38).

If you are God’s chosen people, what should you do? How should you live? Be the people you are! Your are God’s chosen people. Live out your calling. You are a royal priesthood. As priests you bring your worship and service to God, Revelation 1:6; 5:10. Be alert for opportunities to serve your Lord by serving those around you. Diaconal ministry (which is really the work of the whole church) is an essential part of the church’s ministry, Matthew 25:31–36. As God’s priests you are royalty. In C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series children fight as kings and queens. You have become a holy nation. Christians may appear to be a scattered, fragmented people. But you are not only a nation, but one that is holy, set apart to God. That unity must come expression. You are a light and witness to the world around you. You are God’s special people, belonging to him. That gives you confidence and boldness in serving him. You live in a culture that is becoming increasingly intolerant of those who belong to Christ. Be prepared! “Christian witness that is limited to private religious experience cannot chal­lenge secularism. Chris­tians in community must show the world, not merely family values, but the bond of the love of Christ. In­creasingly the ordered fel­lowship of the church be­comes the sign of grace for the warring factions of a disor­dered world.” (Ed­mund P. Clowney, The Church, p. 16).

Offer spiritual sacrifices. In 1 Peter 2:5, not only are you a building (apparently a temple), but you are also a priesthood. You offer spiritual sacrifices. Spiritual does not mean “not physical,” but rather, characterized by the Holy Spirit. Those spiritual sacrifices certainly include worship. On a day when others are asking what football game is the one to watch, or how can I spend the last day of my weekend, you are doing something profoundly counter-cultural. You have gathered to build up one another with songs and hymns, you have assembled to praise your God, you sit to hear him speak in his Word. And that helps change the way you live your daily life. Don’t underestimate the impact of the work of the Holy Spirit through the daily lives of people who are committed to serving God!

Proclaim the praises of your God. God called you from darkness to light. Therefore, praise God! Praise him by your words. He made you his people so that you could praise him. Praise him by your life. The privileges and titles of verse 9 carry responsibility with them. Remember that God has chosen you to reflect him. Live as a royal priesthood, offering yourselves as a thank offering to God. You are a holy nation. Remember that you are set apart to God–and your life has to look like it (see verses 11–12). But the process of growth in holiness is both individual and corporate. You need other believers, and they need you. Because you are a people treasured by God he uses you to bring honor his name throughout the world.

As you worship today, understand how important the church is—Jesus gave his life for her! Give thanks for what God has made you—his chosen people. And now reflect that throughout this week.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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