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TEXT: I Peter 2:4-10
SUBJECT: I Peter #5: The True Temple
The Church of Jesus Christ has always been threatened by the world, but the world does not always take the same form. In some times and places, the world tries to break us; in others, it prefers to seduce us. But whatever tactic it takes: the world is always dead set against the Church and will do all it can to be compromise, corrupt, or consume us.
You don't have to read very far in the Bible to verify what I'm saying. As early as Genesis 3, God informs us of the hostility. To the serpent who led Eve astray, He said--
I will put enmity
between you and the
and between your seed and
He shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise His heel.
As you read on in your Bible, you see the prophecy fulfilled time and again. First with Cain and Abel, then with Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, it never ends!
Sometimes the enmity was personal; sometimes it was political, sometimes it was moral, sometimes religious. But whatever form it took, it was always there: the Church of Jesus Christ has always been threatened by the world.
When you come to the New Testament, and, in particular, to the Church after the Ascension of Christ, who was her worst enemy, and what did they do to get rid of her?
Some people would say the Roman Empire was the Church's first and deadliest enemy. After all, didn't it come down on her with at least ten separate persecutions, Christians being thrown to the lions, cut to pieces by the gladiators, and so on? This is true: the Empire hated the Church and killed people for refusing to say--
Caesar is Lord.
But, as true as this is, the Roman persecutions did not occur until near the end of the 1st Century. Read the Book of Acts and you'll see that the Romans were more often cast as the Church's defenders rather than her persecutors.
The Church's first enemy, in fact, was Israel. Not all Israelites, of course, but the majority who did not believe in Jesus Christ.
The first great persecutor of the Church was Saul of Tarsus, and he did his evil work in the name of Judaism; he did it for the peace and purity of Israel and its traditional religion. In truth, he did it to hasten the coming of Messiah--not believing the Messiah had already come and would soon call him to build the Church he had long tried to demolish.
Some of the enmity was seen in violent persecution, stoning Stephen, for example, beating Peter and John, scattering the church in Jerusalem, and all the terrible things Paul suffered at their hands. To a softer people (like me), this tactic would have been highly effective. But to the first Christians, it had the opposite effect; Peter, John and others--
Rejoiced, because they were counted worthy to suffer for His name's sake.
And so, without ever giving up Plan A, they implemented a new plan which was far more subtle--and nearly worked!
Israel offered the Church a rich and beautiful heritage. All the Jewish believers in Christ had to do was to keep the Law a little better than they did, and even Gentiles were welcome if they submitted to circumcision, took a ritual bath, observed a few holidays, and stopped eating bacon for breakfast!
In return for these easy stipulations, the Church would receive a Temple, a priesthood, a history, and be incorporated into the People of God. For many Christians in the 1st Century, this seemed like a very good deal. And some of them were men of real standing in the Church, including Barnabas, and even the Apostle Peter!
Peter, Paul says, was--
Carried away with this hypocrisy...
Trying to remain true to the New Covenant, while keeping one foot in the Old Covenant, the Covenant that had never changed a man's heart or given the knowledge of God or resulted in the forgiveness of sin.
Paul was horrified by what was happening in the Church and let the Judaizing party have it! And no one got it harder than Peter. Who--thank the Lord--was humble enough to see the error of his way and return to--
A better covenant, established on better promises.
Peter not only admitted he was wrong, he did everything he could to counteract his folly. This is what he does in today's text, I Peter 2:4-10.
COMING TO HIM
He starts by saying what his readers and done, and were still doing, v.4--
Coming to Him.
The Him, of course, is our Lord Jesus. We know that because He is the nearest antecedent, in v.3. These people had come to Christ some time in the past, but they didn't move on from Him. They kept coming to Christ, every day they feasted on His goodness. The people came to Christ--Peter adds--
As to a living stone.
The stone Peter has in mind is a cut stone, one of the stones that Solomon had quarried and shaped for his magnificent Temple. But there's a difference between the stones Solomon used and Christ.
Unlike the inanimate stones Solomon used, Jesus is alive. Not just 'alive' in the sense we are, but alive by the Resurrection! He's the stone who overcame death and is no longer subject to it or any of its ravaging effects. The author of Hebrews says His is--
The power of an endless life.
Peter is thus drawing a contrast between the Temple in Jerusalem with its dead stones to God's True Temple whose foundation is the Living Son of the Living God! Peter got his theology straight from the Master Himself, who dismissed the center of Israel's worship and put Himself in its place--
Destroy this Temple, and in three days, God will raise it up.
The Temple of God is not made of bricks and mortar! It's alive, and Jesus Christ is its--
What kind of stone is He? Vv.6-7 give two estimates. To the disobedient, He's worthless, something to be despised and rejected. But what is worthless to man is, to God--
Elect and precious.
When it came time to build His New and True Temple, God didn't just grab the first stone He saw; He chose it, and it was the right one, the only Stone that could bear the weight! And the Stone was not only chosen, but it was precious, infinitely dear to God, with a value beyond all measuring.
Connected to Him by faith, we--who are also living stones--become precious to God. The love and honor that no one but Jesus deserves is shared with His undeserving people! As Paul wrote, we become--
Accepted in the Beloved.
Working off this, the Puritan observed--
God could no more send the believer in Christ to Hell than He could send Christ to Hell!
WE ARE THE TEMPLE
The bottom line is: The Temple of God is His people! This means God is with us--and not with us in the general sense--the way He is with everyone and everything everywhere. He dwells with His Church in a special way, allowing us to see His glory and making everything we do for Him into--
A sweet smelling savor, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to the Lord.
Knowing we're the Temple of God has a wonderfully sanctifying effect on us. A bit later, Peter's going to urge us to all kinds of hard things, from living godly lives in an ungodly world to respecting wicked leaders of the country to working hard for bad employers , and even suffering for Christ's sake with a good attitude.
But before he tells us to do holy things, he tells us we are holy; we're the fulfillment of what the Temple was only a Type, that is the dwelling place of God in the world!
Could God have chosen others for the privilege? He could have. His choice is always gracious and never a debt owed to us. But He hasn't chosen others: He's chosen us. As for the others, they have an appointment with death and damnation. A fate we deserve as richly as they do, but God has saved us from it!
THE ISRAEL OF GOD
Peter has said his piece, but knowing how slow we are on the uptake, he repeats himself in vv.9-10, again using the language of the Old Covenant.
We are--Peter says--
A chosen generation. Chosen by whom? Chosen by God. Whom did He choose? Those who believe in Christ, without respect to their family or background. Why did He choose us and not others? Because He set His love on us other than on others, and this He did, as Deuteronomy 7:8 says--
Because the Lord loved you.
God loves us because He loves us. Our salvation is secured, not by our love for Him (which is never complete and always subject to decay), but by His love for us, a love as infinite, eternal and unchangeable as He is!
We are also a royal priesthood. The priesthood was once reserved for the physical heirs of Aaron. No more! Now, all of God's people can approach Him, worship and serve Him for themselves. And because we are serving the King, we share in His Divine Royalty.
We're a Holy Nation, a people set aside by God and kept for His service. We're His own special people, the people He has set His love upon and whose love will never let go of.
Though we don't know why God chose us instead of others, we do know what He's chosen us for--
To proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
This brings us back to Abraham, the man chosen out of the world to bring God's blessings to the world. He was not only chosen for this high calling; he was also equipped for it. As we are.
In writing all these things, I can imagine fireworks going off in Peter's head: all the promises made to Israel, but not inherited because of their unbelief, will be inherited by the believing Church.
A ragtag of Jews and Gentiles, masters and slaves, fools and wise, and all the rest, who used to be divided by hate and suspicion and far, but have now become--
The people of God, a people who had not obtained mercy, but who now have obtained mercy.
If all that Peter has said of us is true, we are an immensely blessed people; that being the case, let us be thankful and repent of every ungrateful, discontented, or envious thought or word or deed!
If we are--collectively--the Temple and People of God, let us cherish one another and do what we can to help and encourage all who belong to Christ, including the ones who get on your nerves.
If we are called to proclaim God's praises to people in darkness, let's get the bushel off our lamps and let them shine for all to see, to the praise and glory of God!
Amen. Praise the Lord.
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