REALIZING WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST, 1 Peter 2:9 – 10, August 18, 2020
Reflection | Previously, Peter quoted various Old Testament passages to unpack his picture of Jesus as “the living Stone – rejected by human but chosen by God.” The gist of his argument was Christ as the Messiah serves as one of either two types of stones for all people. Some recognize Jesus as the cornerstone to our salvation – the foundation upon which God constructs a full, abundant and everlasting life for humanity. Others, in their disbelief, confront Jesus as the stumbling stone – the unavoidable and inevitable obstacle in any effort to build a life on our own terms apart from God.
As mentioned last time, when Peter speaks of those who stumble because of their rejection of the Gospel as this is “what they were destined for,” he does not mean that God ordains some to disobey Him and to reject Christ. By God’s own design, human freedom is a variable in the midst of God’s divine sovereignty. No, Peter is stressing God knew there would be those who would rebel against Him and stumble as a result.
Let us keep in mind, stumbling does not mean one remains headed in the wrong direction. Sometimes stumbling is exactly what we need to pay more attention to where we are going and to change course. Peter writes to us of such things from experience. Peter himself had his moments of stumbling when he questioned, later rebuked and then even denied knowing Jesus. And yet, even though Peter often fell flat on his face, Jesus picked him back up and then Peter got back on track in following Christ.
However, with our passage for today, Peter moves beyond such considerations. Beginning with a “But,” Peter reassures those to whom he writes that they are not those who are stumbling over Christ in their disobedience, they “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (verse 9). Peter is drawing from a string of titles that the Lord previously declared over the children of Israel in Exodus 19:5-6.
Applying these descriptors to the many Gentile believers within these communities of faith scattered through Asia Minor, Peter is underscoring their inclusion as joint beneficiaries alongside their Jewish brothers and sisters in God’s longstanding promises of mercy and grace. All of the designations Peter lists here are corporate nouns expressed in the singular tense. In other words, we who are many, a diverse collection of people are unified in one body – as Christ’s Body.
Together we are “a chosen people” or as some other translations read, “a chosen race.” “Race” is not a valid translation for the word Peter uses here as race is a relatively modern social construct originating from anthropologists and philosophers in the 18th century, who used geographical location and observable physical traits like skin color, facial features, and hair type to place people into different groupings – ultimately creating a hierarchy within such groupings. Peter has no concept of race in this modern sense. Peter is talking about how we are a chosen family or offspring not on the basis of ethnicity or nationality, but solely on the basis of sharing a single spiritual Father – a Father to whom we belong thanks to our Brother, Jesus Christ. Paul expands on this assertion in his letter to the Galatians (see 3:28).
Together we are “a royal priesthood.” In the days of Israel, there was no such thing as a royal priest. A sharp line of demarcation had been established between royalty and the priesthood. The kings of Israel, before the nation split in two, came from the tribe of Judah. The priestly line were the descendants of Aaron, from the tribe of Levi. One of the kings of Judah named Uzziah tried to challenge this separation once, as he, a king, presumed to act like a priest by offering incense in the Temple. Things did not go well for him (see 2 Chronicles 26).
We who are in Christ are called a royal priesthood because our status is not based on the old order – either the line of Judah or Levi. As the letter to the Hebrews discusses in some detail, Jesus is the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is the mysterious figure who briefly appears in Genesis 14 to bless Abraham. Melchizedek is described as both the King of Salem and a priest of the God Most High.
As a royal priesthood, we are subjects and servants of Christ’s kingship and priesthood – which means our sacrifices and service are to be an extension of His rule and His blessing.
Peter addressed this earlier in verse 5, when he wrote of us “offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in Christ.” To understand ourselves as the royal priesthood of Jesus is to see our everyday existence in a new perspective.
As mediators of the love and grace of Christ, we can no longer live our lives in a fragmented manner. Putting on our best for worship on Sunday but then treating Monday through Saturday as our days off from representing the goodness and truth of Jesus to others. Living like royalty, operating out of a priestly orientation that is ours in Christ means engaging all aspects of life in sacramental way – viewing every relational moment as a possibility for holy communion.
Together we are “a holy nation.” A nation is a community of people formed and held together by the same values, laws, customs, and governance. “Holy” means “to be set apart” or “to consecrate.” All people are a part of some physical nation on earth. Peter is not referring to any specific earthly nation here. He is referencing how we, as God’s people, have been formed through our relationship with Christ into a community that transcends all geographical boundaries and all cultures, ethnic groups, or ages of time. Even as we each come from different nationalities on this earth, we have been set apart by God as first and foremost, citizens of Heaven. While we remain “in the world,” our ultimate allegiance is to remain loyal and obedient to the values, laws, customs, and governance of the Kingdom of God.
Finally, together we are “God’s special possession.” This simple phrase must not be misunderstood. It is not just that the Lord has taken ownership of us. We rightly belong to Him. We were created by God to be in concert with Him – to live, move, and to have our being in our Creator. In Christ, God repossesses us so that we can at last experience all that He is, all that He has for us, the full, abundant, and everlasting life for which we were created.
For Peter, the recognition of all that we are, our identity in Christ, can lead to only one response: “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” No longer in the dark, out of our identity in Christ, we discover our purpose – through the power of the Spirit at work in us, we are to shine, to radiate the glory and the goodness of Jesus into a world marked by the shadow of death.
Almost as if he anticipates we might still need a reason to fulfill this purpose, Peter adds, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received” (verse 10). These are not Peter’s own words but rather his nod to Hosea 2:23. The overriding theme and witness of the Old Testament prophet Hosea is of God’s willingness to forgive and to rescue even in the midst of our unfaithfulness and wrong-doing.
Peter challenges us to remember where we once were – who we once were. Once we were those who stumbled over Christ out of our arrogance and willful disobedience. While we were yet prodigal sons and daughters, our Father came looking for us in Jesus. God in Christ carried us through sin, death, and hell in order to bring us back home. Remembering this, how can we not do likewise for others – to become conduits of the ongoing redemptive work of the Spirit?
God’s choice for humanity is not based on anything we do or offer – not our goodness, not our faith, and not our service. God’s choice for humanity is rooted exclusively in God’s mercy, grace, and love. Therefore, while being chosen implies privilege, it is not the privilege of claiming superiority. Rather ours is the privilege of responsibility – to love everyone as Christ loves us. We are a chosen people but not an exclusive people. We are called to invite others to join the family, to make everyone feel at home when they are among us, and still, to remain gracious towards and at peace with those who choose not to follow Christ. This is what living a life lived in praise to the glory of God looks like.
Consider & Discuss | Christians often look at their relation to God as consumers, delighting in what God does for them. How does viewing ourselves as God’s royal priesthood change this point of view? What was the role of the Old Testaments priest? How does looking to Jesus as our Great High Priest better inform our understanding of this role? What specific postures or actions does bearing a priestly mindset inspire in you? What might the spiritual sacrifices God is calling you to make look like in everyday life?
Is praise your default response to the Spirit of God? Why or why not? When you praise the Lord, is it primarily about reflecting God’s glory expressed through service to others or for your own benefit – feeling better about yourself, feeling energized and alive and having nothing to do with anyone else? How can our whole life become an expression of worship and praise? How might you be able to praise the Lord through your workplace, school, or daily routines?
Prayer Focus | Gracious and Loving Father, thank you for giving us the Light of Your Son, Jesus Christ, to lead us out of the darkness of our sin and death. Thank you for the privilege of choosing us when we did not choose You. Continually stir in us a profound awe at being made part of Your Kingdom — as a royal priesthood, as a holy nation, as Your precious possession – a child belonging to You. Your amazing grace is further demonstrated in Your desire to use us for Your purposes. Through Your Spirit, empower us to praise You rightly not merely with prayers or songs but with lives offered in sacrifice for others to the glory of Your Name. Amen.