Church at Home – 13th of September 2020 – Psalm 1

Sincere thanks to David White for filling in for me while I take some time off due to illness. David will be preaching on Psalm 1 today, which you can read by clicking here: Psalm 1.

Rev. John.

In this psalm we have two different types of people. We have the righteous man at the beginning and we have the wicked at the end. Now who doesn’t want to be the righteous man at the beginning? About him we read that he is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season who’s leaf doesn’t wither. In all that he does he prospers. Who doesn’t want to be in a position where all he does prospers?

As for the wicked… I don’t think anyone wants to be forgotten or blown away like chaff. But there are only two types of people in this psalm; the righteous and the wicked.

If we look at the righteous man closely however we see that the bar is set very high.

This man does not walk in the council of the wicked. This can be simply not keeping bad company, not keeping the company of those who want to break into banks and shops, not keeping the company of those who want to get involved in hooliganism or cause trouble. On the other hand it could go right the way through to the other extreme of not taking business advice from someone who is not a Christian. Where do we draw the line?

This man does not stand in the way of sinners. When I read this I think of those Warner brothers cartoons with the character standing in a desert valley with a herd of wildebeest charging toward him. This is not what the psalmist meant. A better way to look at this is th think of Saul before he became the apostle Paul looking after the cloaks of those who were throwing the stones at Stephen. Saul might not have thrown any stones but he was part of the crime. He took part every bit asmuch as those who did throw the stones.

Now sits in the seat of scoffers. Again that can go from making a blasphemous film right the way over to laughing at a video clip of someone walking into a lamp post or parking a car by driving through the fence and dropping six feet into a vacant parking space. Again where do we draw the line.

If we go by the sermon on the mount we go for the strictest interpretation we can think of and then go a bit further.

And his delight is in reading the Law of the Lord. Yes we can enjoy reading Gods word. We can get encouragement from it, we can get comfort from it, we can get strength from it.

But do we always enjoy reading it?

If we have a lot of things on our plate and we are trying to do more than there is time for does it not then become a bit of a chore? Can it not become something that is eating into our precious time on days like that?

We then see that this man meditates on God’s law day and night. Do we do that? Do we do that when we are watching a film ore are we more interested in following the characters in the film? Do we do that when the tax returns need to be sent in? or are we too concerned with making sure that everything is correct? Do we do that when we have a long journey to go and a deadline to meet, like catching a plane?

Yes, things can push God’s word from its place as our number one priority. We are human. And if we say we are without sin we deceive ourselves. As Paul puts it in Romans 3:10 and he is actually quoting from Psalm 14 here “There is none righteous, no not one”

Who then is the man at the beginning of this psalm? If we step back and look at this psalm as a story what do we see? We see a story about a righteous man. We are told a few details about this righteous man. We then encounter a tree. After we encounter the tree we see some sinners or wicked people. At the end of the story the wicked people are judged.

 Does this not sound familiar? Like the story of the Garden of Eden.

In Genesis we are told about a righteous man, Adam. We learn a few things about him. We find out how he got his wife. We see him receiving the law. (He was not allowed to eat the forbidden fruit.) We then encounter a tree. Eve was tempted to eat the fruit from the tree and she gave some to Adam. We then see sinners or wicked people. At the end of the story the wicked are judged.

There is a difference between this psalm and the Garden of Eden. The writer of the Psalm might have had the Eden story in mind but in The Garden of Eden Adam became a sinner. In Psalm 1 the righteous man stays righteous. He is like a tree whose leaf does not wither. This Psalm might be based on the Garden of Eden story but it is talking about a different Adam. It’s talking about Jesus.

In Matthews Gospel Jesus tells a parable about a wedding. The king hosting the wedding banquet sends out invitations but the invited guests all have excuses and don’t come.

Mat 22:2  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, 

Mat 22:3  and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. 

Mat 22:4  Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ 

Mat 22:5  But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, 

Mat 22:6  while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. 

Mat 22:7  The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 

Mat 22:8  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 

Mat 22:9  Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ 

Mat 22:10  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. 

Mat 22:11  “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. Mat 22:12  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 

 “Friend, How did you get in without a wedding garment?” That is the point of the story. The kings servants invited people from the highways and byways to the wedding just as we have heard the gospel. The banquet is full of these people but one guest has found another way in. He had no wedding garment so he was thrown out. When we trust in Jesus we receive garments of righteousness.

If we want to be like the man in Psalm 1 then when God looks at us he must see the righteous man. If I am trusting in Jesus then I am wearing garments of righteousness. When God looks at me he does not see my sin, he sees the righteousness of Jesus. If you are trusting in Jesus then when God looks at you He does not see your sin He sees the righteousness of Jesus.

 We can appear in verse 5 in the congregation of the righteous if when God looks at us he sees Jesus.

Sing

Church at Home – Psalm 95 – 6th of September 2020

Sincere thanks to David White for filling in for me while I take some time off due to illness. David will be preaching on Psalm 95 today, which you can read by clicking here: Psalm 95.

Rev. John.

Psa 95:1  Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Psa 95:2  Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

If those words sound more familiar than the rest of the psalm, it could be because you have heard them used as a call to worship in a Church service.

Where else might this psalm have been used where might it have been used when it was first written? Scholars have suggested that it might have been used at a festival celebrating God’s enthronement. The people could have recited this on the way up to the temple. However in her commentary on psalm 95 Beth Tanner says that “little of the details of such a festival are recoverable”. What she is saying is that they are only guessing but they are guessing based on what they see in the psalm.

If we look at the psalm in that light we can see where they are coming from. If you were to visit a king in one of the countries that surrounded Israel at that time you would have had to get through the army then find a gate to get through the walls. It would have been a frightening experience. Once inside when you saw the kings garden and the lavishly decorated rooms you would experience a different set of emotions. You might be impressed by what you saw. You might feel privileged to be allowed in.

This psalm recreates those feelings; the terror while you approach the castle and the delight on seeing what is inside. It shows us what it is like when we go up to worship God and it warns us of the danger of putting God to the test

What is the psalm about?

It is primarily answering two questions.

Why would we want to come to God? And How can we come to God

A few years ago we went to England where we visited Windsor. On the street going up to the castle was a souvenir shop. In the door was an Irish Guard. He was made of plastic but there were two tourists having their photograph taken with him. We went up to the castle. When we got in We saw the nice gardens at the homes of the people who worked and lived in the castle and the church where some of the royal family got married. While walking around the castle I saw a tunnel. It could have been a drain or it could have been for ventilation. It was closed with iron bars. Beside it was an Irish Guard. This time he was real and surrounded by a large group of tourists.

The Guard at the castle was real, the guard at the shop was not. This is the first reason we are given in the psalm for wanting come to God. God is real. If we were to look around at the time this psalm was written and see all the pagan nations with all of the different gods that they worshiped. They are false gods but this psalm assures us that God is real.

Verse 3 tells us that He is the great God and on that level we are given nothing to compare him with. We are then told that He is the great king above all the gods. The kings of the pagan nations all followed and served false gods. God is above these false gods, the pagan kings serve them. God cannot be compared to anything in the created world. He is beyond compare.

We are then told in verses 4 and 5 that he owns this world. He owns it because he made it. This not just telling us that he is the creator. It is telling us that he is bigger then creation. The false gods that the nations served each had their own sphere of influence. Some claimed to be in control of the sea some controlled the rivers some were in control of different nations. They were all inside creation. God made it all. He is bigger than creation.

Why would we want to come to God? Because there is nothing that compares to him.

How can we come to such a powerful God? The answer is found in at the beginning of the psalm. “Let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation.”

Who is the Rock of our salvation? 

As the Children of Israel were crossing the wilderness on their exodus from Egypt they got thirsty. God told Moses to strike a rock. When Moses struck the rock water came out.

Commenting on this story Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians

1Co 10:3  and all ate the same spiritual food,

1Co 10:4  and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Jesus is the rock of our salvation.

The psalmist gives us another reason for wanting to come to God. We are told that God is our God. We are the flock under his care. He wants a personal relationship with us. He wants to lead us as a shepherd leads his sheep. He wants to be our shepherd. He wants to guide us so that we don’t get lost. Had the children of Israel allowed God to lead them in to the promised land they could have been building their houses and their nation instead they were left wandering around the wilderness for 40 years.

How can we come to God to be led by Him?

If we are the flock under His care then he is the shepherd. Jesus said in John 10:11

“I am the good Shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Jesus laid down his life for us.

Jesus is the good shepherd.

The last reason we see in this psalm for coming to God is a bit different from the others. We are told about the punishment the Israelites received for putting God to the test. We are given reasons to be fearful. If we turn to proverbs chapter 9 and verse 10 we read “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”

If the fear of the Lord drives to God then it has achieved its purpose.

We are also in this section told how we can come to God. Look at the last verse. God judged the Israelites by refusing to let them enter into his rest. God is the one who can grant rest. If we turn to Matthew 11:28 Jesus says

Mat 11:28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Why would want to come to God? Because He is real

Why would want to come to God? Because He wants a personal relationship with us

Why would want to come to God? The fear of the Lord should drive us to Him

How can we come to God?

Through Jesus the Rock of our salvation.

Through Jesus the Good shepherd.

Through Jesus the one who can give us rest.

Amen

Sing

Church at Home – 30th of August 2020 – 1 Peter 3:8-12

Read

In today’s passage Peter gives some instruction for all Christians, no matter what their situation. This is guidance on how to live the Christian life. How do we walk this road following Jesus in a world that hates him and his followers?

Let’s remind ourselves of how Peter’s journey began.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.

(Matthew 4:18-20, NIV)

That was the day that Peter was called. A fisherman by trade, he was at work when Jesus came along and called him. He became a disciple of Jesus and left everything to follow him. Did you notice how Jesus called him? “Come, follow me,” and invitation and instruction. Christ’s disciples are invited to follow him, to trust in him and go where he leads them, to listen to his instructions and, in faith, to obey them. Then Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Christians have a new identity and role, a mission. Jesus would make them fishers of people, catching people up out of this dark world to being them into Christ’s kingdom. Call and mission. They go hand in hand.

Notice what Jesus doesn’t do. Jesus does not walk up to these fishermen, explain some theological concept to them to get them to understand, and then say goodbye and move along leaving them to their fishing. Their lives unchanged except for a new opinion on how to be right with God.

Jesus called them to a new life, a new mission. This is what it means to be a Christian. It’s not about having the right ideas. It’s also not about doing the right things either, and I hope you’ll see that today because I’m going to be talking about doing good and how Christians should live. Being a Christian is about faith in Jesus Christ, and true faith involves following in obedience. It involves living the life that God calls us to and empowers us to live.

Part of the new identity that we receive when we come to faith in Christ is a new purpose. Being a Christian is not just about getting to heaven. We look forward to heaven of course, but what about now? We believe that God is in control of all things and what that means is that we are here right now because that is how God has ordained things. Whatever your life situation is, wherever you are, God is in control, you belong to God, he has redeemed you, he is working in you to transform you and he can work through you to achieve his purposes. God can take a fisherman like Peter and turn him into a great apostle and missionary. God can work through all of us.

What we’re looking at today is the topic of Christian ethics: how to live a good life. Peter has been giving instruction on this in the areas of how to relate to government, how to relate to employers, how to relate to your spouse. Now as he begins to wrap up, he writes the word “Finally” and he comes back up to a bigger scale and gives general instructions for all of us.

Peter says to “be like-minded”. We must live this life together. God himself has brought us together and so we must maintain that unity in mission. How do we work together? How do we ensure that we’re all of the same mind? Focus on Jesus and following where he leads. If the followers are to be united, they need to keep their eyes on the leader. This is why it’s so important for each of us to practice the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. It’s why, if you have kids, it is so important for you to tech them to read the Bible for themselves. Sit down with your children and read with them. Teach them how to pray. Talk to them about God. We must all follow the Leader, and if we do that, we’ll be united.

Sometimes we’ll have to take time to discern where Jesus is leading us but there are some things that are plain and true always. We are called always to be sympathetic, loving, compassionate and humble. No jostling for position. No hatred or hard-heartedness towards each other.

Peter tells us in verse 9:

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

There’s a cycle of evil in this world. They did this to us, so we’ll do that to them. They said something about me, so I’ll get them back. And it goes on and on and on and on, until we forget who started it or why, and it doesn’t really matter anymore anyway, because the hatred has taken over. Personal grudges become family feuds and it can continue for generations. Sometimes it’s overt and explodes in violence, sometimes it’s a cold-hearted contempt that simmers for years. It can happen on the small scale and the big scale. This kind of thing turns whole nations and races against each other.

Grace is the only thing that breaks this cycle. The grace to not return evil for evil, but to interrupt that cycle by blessing the one who hates you. If you’re a Christian, then you are called to this. Whoever started it, it stops with you. Because you belong to Jesus, and not to this world. You belong to the one who prayed for the forgiveness of the people killing him. You belong to the one who gave his life as an atonement for your sin. You belong to Jesus because of God’s amazing grace, and so grace is the way you must live.

Peter then quotes from Psalm 34:

For,

‘Whoever would love life and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

(1 Peter 3:10-12, NIV)

If you want a life that is lovely and good, listen to the one who made you and do what is right. Be honest. Turn from evil, don’t give into it. Seek peace.

This isn’t a guarantee that life will be rosy if you just do x, y and z. These are general principles, like the book of Proverbs. And this is a reminder that the life that God calls us to is a good one. He leads us to green pastures. He longs to bless us.

This isn’t a prosperity gospel, or some guarantee that life will be great. Peter was writing to people enduring persecution and hatred. This isn’t a list of things that you must do to be saved. We are saved by putting our faith in Jesus and his sacrifice in our place on the cross.

This is certain though: God sees and listens to the prayers of his children. He is with you in your struggles and he will give you the strength to go on.

The life of following Jesus can be hard sometimes. We sometimes must fight against ourselves and the temptation to give in to evil and hatred. Sometimes we’ll be mocked, excluded, or hated. But Jesus leads us to blessing. Even if we endure suffering in this world we belong to God, we know God and he will never let his children go.

Pray

Sovereign Lord, we pray that you would help us to be a light for grace in this dark world. Help us all to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, to take the time to feed ourselves on your holy word and to seek you in prayer. Fill us with your Holy Spirit and work in us and through us.

Lord, today would have normally been a united service where all the congregations in our group would meet together in Corglass. We miss those times of gathering together in greater numbers and without any need to be distant from one another. We miss the singing. We pray, Lord, for a swift end to this pandemic and the return of those things that we miss so dearly about our worship together.

But Lord, we thank you that we can still worship you, whether at home or in smaller numbers in a meeting house. You are still with us in power. Protect us and our loved ones we pray.

We pray for a decrease in the number of COVID-19 cases in our country, for the healing of the sick and for comfort for those who mourn.

We pray for our children returning to school. We ask that you protect them and their teachers, but also that they would enjoy the experience of learning and seeing their friends again.

We pray for justice and peace in America, an end to civil unrest and the injustice that gives rise to it.

We pray also for those we know now as we take a moment of silence.

We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home – 23rd of August 2020 – 1 Peter 3:1-7

Read

Good morning everyone. This morning we will be reading from 1 Peter 3:1-7.

The Greco-Roman world that Peter and the original readers of this letter lived in was different in many ways. This was a society where government and religion were deeply entwined and the emperor, was worshipped. This was an economy in which slavery played a huge role in the normal functioning of society. And it was very much a man’s world. A patriarchal society. In that world, where it was a given that the wife would be the same religion as the husband, what happens when a married woman comes to faith in Jesus? She’s born again. She has a new God-given identity. She’s a beloved daughter of the King. She’s an heir to eternal life in Jesus Christ. How should she live with her pagan husband? Should she continue to live with him at all?

Because of the change that faith in Jesus brings about there are these points of conflict when the world interacts with the church. How should we handle these moments of culture-clash? We looked at how Christians should respond to government and how Christian slaves should conduct themselves in relation to their masters last week. To sum it up, we respond with grace, goodness, and courage. We submit. That doesn’t mean that we can’t speak out against injustice, but however we respond to the world it must be a gracious response. We can’t abandon grace, because we depend on grace. We have received the grace of God and so we must be gracious.

We are called to submit. Now, that sounds like a terrible word to our ears because we’ve got it into our heads that being submissive means being less. We think that submission is for lesser people and we want to be equal at least, so there is no place for submission. But being submissive doesn’t mean being a lesser person. Jesus submitted. God himself! He submitted to the incarnation, God Almighty taking on human frailty. He submitted to his parents. Luke’s gospel says that when Jesus was a child, he was obedient to his parents (Luke 2:51). Imagine God doing chores. Was he any less God during that time? No! Jesus also submitted to the cross and suffered for our salvation. The cross is the heart of our faith. If you want to know about God – God the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, Creator and Sustainer of the universe – our religion says to look at the cross. A naked man dying a horrible death at the hands of the state. Was he any less God? No!

Submission doesn’t mean being less. So, when Peter tells wives to be submissive to their husbands, he’s not telling them to be less, or that they are less. He’s instructing them on how to work within the patriarchal culture of the day so that God is glorified through their goodness. They are not to react to the false religion of their husbands by fighting them or leaving them, but with grace. And they do this so that God will be glorified in their gracious response and the man may be won over to Christ. This submission isn’t just resignation it is mission, it is tactical. We disrupt evil and shine light in the darkness by being gracious people in a grace-less world.

Note also that Peter says that the wives are to be submissive to their own husbands. Not to husbands in general or men in general. The Bible does not teach that women must be submissive to men in general. Peter’s words are instructions for wives on how to be faithful, missional Christians in the context of the existing relationships that they have.

In the inevitable culture-clashes that come with living in this world while belonging to heaven we must ensure that grace is our response. Grace and goodness and courage are how we must stand out. Although this was a quite different culture, it does seem like some things never change. The women of Peter’s day had their own beauty industry to deal with. This society had unrealistic beauty standards just like modern Ireland does. Back in the ancient Greco-Roman world elaborate hairstyles were the big thing and so women spent a lot of time and effort on making their hair very fancy. Peter instructs these Christian women to instead focus on cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit. He’s not talking about being some mousey little character that never speaks up. Gentleness is not weakness; it is strength under control. A quiet spirit doesn’t mean someone who never speaks up, but someone who is at peace, someone whose trust in God is evident by their ability to rest in God’s care.

What about the men?

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
(1 Peter 3:7)

It’s a smaller statement but it’s packed! Firstly, Peter says that husbands are to act “in the same way”. This is continuing what Peter began in the previous chapter. First, he called on all Christians to submit to the governing authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17), then he called on slaves to submit to their masters (1 Peter 2:18-21), then at the beginning of today’s passage he says “in the same way” when instructing wives to submit to their husbands, and here he continues his instruction to husbands with that phrase again, “in the same way”.

A healthy marriage is not one partner bullying and bossing someone around (that’s abuse, and you need to get to safety if you are being bullied or abused in your relationship). It’s a partnership and that involves mutual submission and deferring to each other. Peter’s reference to the woman as the weaker partner isn’t any commentary on the worth or character of women, but the simple reality that women are usually smaller, less physically strong and face disadvantages in a patriarchal society. This isn’t to be exploited by men so that they can bully or intimidate their wives – that is a terrible sin! – a good Christian husband will treat his wife with respect. Husbands and wives, men and women, are on an equal footing before God. Peter reminds the husbands that their wives are also heirs – just as they themselves are – of the gracious gift of life that comes to us through Jesus. It’s not just the sons who are heirs, but the daughters too. Men and women are equally blessed by God’s grace. Peter warns husbands that if they do not treat their wives with respect their prayers will be hindered. Husbands, God may not listen to your prayers if you do not treat your wife with respect.

Whether it’s in our interactions with governing authorities, employers, or in the home, Christians are called to always be gracious. Doing so shows our gentleness and our quiet spirit. It shows that we trust the one who is truly in charge. It shows that, unlike the world, we do not believe that submission and service is demeaning because our best revelation of God comes through his own submission. Jesus stooped down to be amongst us and even die for us. We’ve been shown the strength of gentleness and submission. We needn’t fear that submission makes us any less because God almighty walked this path.

Pray

Lord help us to trust you enough so that we’re not always trying to assert ourselves. Let us be happy to yield to each other out of love and respect. Help us, Lord, to think more highly of others than of ourselves. Give us that faith and contentment in you that we need for this.

Lord, our country continues to suffer through increasing cases of a deadly virus. Please help us to adhere to the government guidelines, both as an act of submission to governing authorities and also as an act of love and submission to our neighbours. Help us to be careful for each other’s sake.

Bless those who are fighting on the front lines against this virus and to provide the services we need. Heal them, protect them, bless them we pray.

We pray for a reduction in cases and for the defeat of this virus so that we can do the things that we so miss once again. We look forward with hope to the day when we will gather again and sing your praises.

In Jesus’ name we pray,

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home – 16th August – 1 Peter 2:13-25

Imagine if someone told the so-called “ugly duckling” the truth. That it was in fact not a duck at all, but a swan. You know the children’s story. I’ve mentioned it before in relation to this letter. The “ugly duckling” gets bullied by the other ducklings for being different, but when he grows up, he discovers that he is a beautiful, graceful swan, not a duck. 

Why didn’t anyone tell him, back in those horrible days when he was being abused and called ugly, that there was nothing wrong with him? That the things that make him different are just part of what he is and that one day he would mature and be a great swan. 

Wouldn’t that change the story? Wouldn’t that help that little cygnet to endure and even rejoice in the ways that he is different. Wouldn’t it give him hope and strength? 

Peter, writing this letter to Christians all over the Roman province of Asia Minor (the land that makes up most of the country of Turkey today) is a bit like someone taking that bullied little swan aside and telling him what he is and what he will grow to be in the future. 

These Christians were once pagans like their neighbours. They heard the gospel, believed in Jesus and were saved. Born again. A new identity. A new purpose. A new hope. But because of their differences they were being persecuted. They were suffering for their faith. So, when Peter the apostle writes to encourage them, he doesn’t just tell them to cheer up, he reminds them of their identity. Peter reminds them what they are. 

These are not just some people with new ideas that make them strange where they once used to fit in. They are, as Peter says in his greeting, “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood” (1 Peter 1:2). 

That is the identity of every Christian. You included, if you belong to Jesus. If you’ve put your trust in Jesus and his sacrifice for your salvation and accepted him as Lord, then what Peter says of the first readers of this letter is also true of you. 

While we have this new heavenly identity we still must live in this world. This sin-broken world. Part of living in this world, and living out our faith, and being different is enduring the world’s negative reaction. Just like that little swan, we will suffer for the ways that we stand out. And yet we must stand out. We must be different. We must live out the identity we’ve been given. Or else what use are we? We’d be like salt that’s lost its saltiness or a lamp that’s been covered? How can the world see the different way that Christ calls us to if we don’t live it? 

Suffering for the faith is to be expected. We may suffer persecution, or we may suffer through temptation, but there will be suffering or struggle in the Christian life. It’s a struggle to swim against the current. So, as well as telling Christians the amazing truth of what we are and the hope that we have, Peter also instructs us on how to live this life going against the flow and enduring the suffering that comes with it. And that’s really what we’re getting into today in this passage. How to confront the darkness. How to react to evil. 

Imagine that young swan is told that he is in fact a swan. How should he react the next time he’s taunted for being different? Should he shout back? Should he declare that he is a magnificent swan and how dare these silly ducks try to bully him? Should he become mean as a reaction to the meanness he’s suffered? No. Christians must respond with grace and goodness. We fight the darkness not by becoming like it but by shining our light. 

Peter says in verse 16: 

“Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” 

(1 Peter 2:16, NIV) 

Free people and God’s slaves. Same thing. We are truly free people because we belong to God our Creator and live to serve him. We’ve been liberated from the darkness of this world that has power over others. But we must use our freedom for good and not as an excuse for evil.  

The two examples Peter gives here of how Christians should react to the world are submission to authority (namely the emperor and governors) and submission of slaves to their masters.

The emperor at this time wasn’t just obeyed, he was worshipped. So, these Christians, freed from this idolatry by the gospel, with their eyes now opened to the ugliness of that worship, how should they act? They must not worship the emperor, but they must still obey the law and submit to authority. We must too. We must keep the law, even the laws we don’t like, so long as they do not contradict God’s law. We are to show ourselves to be good citizens who benefit our society. 

Peter’s words on slavery can be a bit alarming to modern ears. I could go into how slavery in the Greco-Roman world, was very different from modern slavery, which it was, but slavery is still bad, and some people say that this text is an example of the Bible justifying slavery. The slaves are told to submit to their masters out of fear and consciousness of God. It says nothing about slavery being good. As I said earlier, this passage is about how to confront the darkness. How to react to evil. 

Jesus gave similar instructions. For example, Jesus said: 

 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 

(Matthew 5:39, NIV) 

We are to react with grace and courage and goodness in response to evil. Being told to turn the other cheek when someone strikes you does not justify the act of striking. Nobody thinks for a second that Jesus is saying that slapping people on the cheek is okay. In the same way a slave being told to submit to their master is not justification for slavery. This passage does not attempt to justify slavery. It is instruction for those who suffer on how to respond to evil. How should Christians respond to evil? In the same way that Christ responded. 

Christ endured his suffering. He never responded to cruelty with cruelty. He never returned hatred for hatred. Even as he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying him. Jesus responded with grace, and if we are followers of Jesus then that is how we must respond too. 

Jesus entrusted himself to God, and so we must do the same. We respond with grace because we know that God is sovereign over all. It is better to reflect the grace of God that we have been shown than to reflect the hatred of the world that we experience.  

Pray 

Sovereign Lord, may we entrust ourselves to you knowing that you are in control. You are Lord of all. We pray that you would help us to live lives of faith, which enable us to be gracious even in the face of hatred and opposition. 

We pray for our government and all those all over the world who have been entrusted with authority. We pray that they would lead with wisdom, justice and a love for those in their care. 

We pray for the safety of the people of Ireland as we are seeing a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. Help us to care for each other by exercising caution and abiding by the guidelines issued by our government. 

We pray for the protection of the vulnerable. We pray for comfort for those who mourn and healing for those who are sick. We pray for strength, skill and protection for those leading the fight against this virus. 

We pray also for those we know personally now as we take a moment of silence. 

In Jesus’ name we pray. 
Amen.

Sing

Church at Home – 9th August 2020 – 1 Peter 2:11-12

We continue in our journey through 1 Peter this morning. This was circular letter that the apostle Peter wrote to be passed around to the congregations of the church in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, all places in the Roman province called Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.

There are two big themes in this letter. Peter introduces these themes in the opening verses, and these are the themes of identity and persecution. Peter has been telling these Christians who they are. They’re God’s elect exiles, according to the very first verse of the letter. He tells them in the next verse that they “have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood”. Peter goes on to write about the living hope that they have because of Jesus and his resurrection. He reminds them of the inheritance they have: eternal life, something this world cannot take away from them.

This is all about identity. Christians have been made into something new by God. We are different. In the verses preceding today’s text – I preached on them last week – Peter shows us that we are a temple and priests. We are a temple, a dwelling place for God himself. God makes himself present in this world through us who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and working through us. We are priests, we know God and make him known to the world.

This is huge stuff! It’s not that we are some people with an outlook or philosophy or hobby. We have a sacred identity graciously given to us by God. We are different.

Peter’s letter can be seen as a sort of guidebook for foreigners in a hostile world. We are the foreigners. The church is a colony of heaven here in this world. Because of the identity and calling that we have as Christians we will encounter opposition and even persecution from the world. That’s the other big theme: the suffering or the struggle that Christians have in this world as we strive to be loyal to our heavenly identity and calling. Peter was writing to people who were being persecuted by their neighbours. These Christians used to be pagans like them, but now they have changed, and they live differently.

So, this is a letter about Christian identity and the struggles that Christians will face as they live out this identity in this world. Although we are different we have a mission from God to make him known in this world. We can’t isolate ourselves in a Christian bubble. We are foreigners, but we’re not like a closed off isolated community, neither are we like tourists. We are more like ambassadors. Although we are different, we still live in this world with a mission from God to make him known.

Peter urges his readers:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

(1 Peter 2:11-12, NIV)

Part of the struggle that we face as we live in this world is the internal struggle against sinful desires. We are surrounded by temptation to conform to the ways of this world. To hate. To lie. To lust. To be selfish, or greedy, or proud. These things are presented as not only permissible, but normal. The truth is that these desires, however common they might be, are waging war against your souls. We can’t take this lightly. The world pressures us to conform, to be “normal”, to fit in, but the church must remain different. We can’t be this alternative community that we’re called to be if there’s nothing alternative about us. Jesus called his disciples the light of the world and the salt of the earth:

‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

(Matthew 5:13-16, NIV)

If a light is not any different than the darkness is it really light anymore? Is it any use at all? If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it? If so-called Christians are indistinguishable from non-Christians, then are they truly Christians? If the church is no different from the world then how can it be the church?

Peter says that these Christians are to live such good lives that even their accusers will end up glorifying God (v. 12), echoing what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16. The idea is that the people living in darkness will see our light and come out of the darkness and into the light. We are a missional community and being missional does not always mean standing up and preaching or going door-to-door to talk about Jesus (although it does mean that sometimes). The most powerful evidence that you can give for the truth of what you claim to believe is to live a good and faithful life. To be good even when it costs you – especially when it costs you. Talk is cheap. Let the world see that you believe by living accordingly

To be a Christian is to be different. The church is not of this world. And yet, we are still in this world. That brings with is struggle, but also responsibility. There is a struggle to maintain our distinctiveness in the face of temptation to conform and persecution. Our responsibility is be a holy presence here in this broken world as an act of love for even the people who might hate us. We love them by showing them a different way to live. A good way of life. A life of grace and holiness.

I have my passport here. I’m not going anywhere but this passage got me thinking about what it’s like to be in a foreign country and to be a foreigner. When you go abroad on a trip sometimes, you’ll be asked what the purpose of your stay in that country is. We are here in this world as foreigners. We belong to another world. We belong to heaven. What is the purpose of our trip here? To glorify God with the lives we live. To be like light in the darkness. To be different in good ways.

Let us all hear today Peter’s urging to maintain our distinctiveness, to be the foreigners that God has made us to be. Abstain from sinful desires and, even in the face of persecution, to live such good lives that we glorify God.

Pray

Lord God we pray that you would help us to serve the people of this world by being light and salt, by being faithful to our calling to be different. Help us to abstain from sinful desire and to live good and faithful lives.

We pray for the people of Beirut in the aftermath of that dreadful explosion. We pray for healing for the injured. We pray for comfort for the mourning. We pray for shelter and help for those who are displaced. We pray for the hospitals, help them to manage this disaster. We pray that aid would come to Beirut to help the people there.

We pray for our country as we are currently experiencing a sharp rise in cases of COVID-19. Help us to contain the spread of the virus. Help those who are infected to recover. Be with all those who are grieving the illness or the death of a loved-one. Protect us all Lord and help us to be safe.

We pray for the people in our lives who need help. We take a moment of silence to pray for them now.

We pray all these things in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home – 2nd August 2020 – 1 Peter 2:4-10

Please click here to read today’s passage of Scripture.

Lego and toys like that seem to never go out of style. I played with them when I was growing up and now my son plays with them. No matter how technologically advanced things get, no matter how many fancy toys we have, it seems that children will always love to just sit on the floor and build something. They will make buildings, animals, machines. They’ll construct towns or make little imaginative plays for themselves. When Timothy makes something out of his Duplo or Lego bricks, he will hold it up and declare to Sarah and me what it is and enthusiastically show us what it can do, what it’s for. 

Peter says something remarkable about the church again in this passage. This letter opened with Peter telling Christians that they were chosen by God the Father, made holy by God the Holy Spirit, and sprinkled with the atoning, cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, God the Son. We have been made into something new by God. Here in today’s passage we learn more about what we are and what our purpose is. 

We’ve learned that something new has been made of us. In fact, God is making something new of us. Peter says that as we come to “the living Stone” we “are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood” (v. 5). Verse 9 says “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” You have been called out of darkness and into God’s wonderful light. Verse 10: “you are the people of God” and recipients of his mercy. 

When Peter writes that these Christians are being built into a “spiritual house” he’s referencing the temple. Paul also called the church a temple. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16: 

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives among you? 

(1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV) 

The two big concepts that sum up what Peter is saying about the church here are temple and priesthood and to fully understand the gravity of what Peter is saying to these people we need to understand what is meant by these two words. I don’t have time this morning to cover this in great depth but, biblically speaking, what is a temple? What is a priest? 

The temple in Jerusalem was a unique building. This place was where heaven and earth intersected. There were purifying rituals, sacrifices, curtains, and barriers to keep sin out and keep this unique place holy so that a holy God could dwell in the midst of sinful humanity here in this broken world. It was where God’s presence touched down here in this world so he could dwell amongst his people in this one place. 

The priests were descended from Aaron, Moses’ brother the first high priest. Again, this was very much about the presence of God. The priests went into the temple to stand before the Lord, to be in his presence and then to go out from the presence of God and pronounce his blessings on the people. 

All of this changed with Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross that was the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of God’s people. Sin would no longer stand between us and God. No need for barriers or sacrifices anymore. When Jesus died the great curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). In Christ there is nothing to separate us from the presence of God.  

At Pentecost, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, as Peter and the other disciples were waiting in a room in Jerusalem the Holy Spirit came and filled the house and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. 

What does that all mean? It means there is no longer any need for a special building to be in God’s presence. God is present himself in each Christian. God the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Not a special building somewhere in the world, but in you and me. It means that we are the temple. We are the place where God is present. We are where heaven and earth intersect. 

It means that no matter where you are God is present with you, within you. It means that our church buildings are not “God’s house”, we are God’s house. It means that if we cannot come to the meeting house on Sunday then we still can come into God’s presence wherever we are. 

Christians are the temple of God. We are priests too. We stand in God’s presence and represent God to the world, we pronounce his blessings, we declare the good news. 

Peter supports what he’s written with references to Old Testament prophecy. He quotes Isaiah and Psalm 118. Jesus is the stone that God put in Zion, the stone that this new temple would be built on. He was rejected by the religious authorities, handed over to be crucified. But he is precious to God and to us who believe. 

Jesus is the foundation of our faith. You cannot have Christianity without Christ. That might seem obvious, but it’s very easy for people to get distracted and lose their way. The church is not about buildings, it’s not about tradition, it’s not about community, it’s not living a morally upright life, it’s not about culture. The church is about Jesus Christ, or it is simply not the church. Jesus Christ is our cornerstone, or we are simply not the house of God. Those other things are good, and they have their place, but they are not the cornerstone, they are not what we are built on. 

Jesus causes many people to stumble, they reject him. That was the case back at the time Peter wrote this letter. People could accept religion, but when it comes to following a crucified messiah that was just too much for them. The cross of Christ offended them. It’s still offensive today. People want Jesus the wise man, Jesus the guru, Jesus the teacher. But Jesus the Saviour they reject by trying to save themselves. The cross confronts us with our own sin and need of salvation. It shows us that we were in so much trouble that the Son of God needed to sacrifice himself to atone for our sins. This offends people.  

It comes down to Jesus. Will we accept him for who he is, who he claimed to be? Those who can accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour have been called, as Peter says in verse 9, out of darkness and into the wonderful light of God. We are the people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, a holy priesthood. Each individual Christian is a little intersection of heaven and earth. 

This passage has no imperatives. It doesn’t tell us to do anything. But what it does do is make it clear what Christians are and what defines us. What is the cornerstone of your faith? How you answer that question will let you know what you are. What do you think of Jesus Christ? Do you accept him as your Lord, your Saviour, your cornerstone? Will you? 

Page Break 

Pray 

Lord God help us to come to you, to be in your presence. Help us during these times of separation and isolation, to still work together as the church, the temple of God, no matter where we are. Help us to pray for one another, to look out for one another, to encourage one another. Help us to be priests, to declare your blessings to the world. Help us to declare your praises. 

We pray for the ongoing work in this country and around the world to fight against the spread of COVID-19 and to fight against the virus itself. 

We pray for the church that you would help us to remain faithful In difficult times. Help us to know you are near and to see the light at the end of this darkness. 

We pray for struggling businesses and for all who are anxious as this country faces into another recession. 

We pray for the people that we know who are undergoing struggle or hardship now. We pray that you would give them hope, comfort and strength. We pray that we as your people might be able to minister to them in some way. 

We ask all these things in Jesus’ name. 

Amen. 

Sing

Church at Home – 26th July 2020 – 1 Peter 2:1-3

Hello everyone, thanks for joining me again. Let’s continue through our series on 1 Peter. Today we’re looking at just three verses: 1 Peter 2:1-3, but it’s important that we take some time to just focus on what these three verses have to say.

We encounter that key word ‘therefore’ again at the beginning of this passage. It connects up what has already been said with what is about to be said. So far in this letter Peter has told these Christians what hey are. They are not what the world says they are. They are not what their own fears and doubts say they are. They have an identity that has been given to them by God. They have been chosen by the Father, sanctified by the Spirit, cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ the Son. This is the solid foundation of their reality. They are who and what God has made them to be. They have the hope that God himself has given them. Jesus is alive. He is risen. He lives and reigns and that means that his sacrificial death on the cross to atone for the sins of his people worked. Jesus is who he claimed to be and we can trust all that he has told us. This is the truth of their reality. A living hope no matter how dark things may seem. A treasure than no persecution or earthly hardship can take away from them, not even death.

Then last week we had our first ‘therefore’ in chapter one verse 13. Therefore, because of the God-given identity that they have and the God-given living hope that they have, they must be who they are. They are holy so they must live holy lives. They have a living hope, so they must not dwell in their hardships, but be hopeful. The must be who they are. A God-given identity and a God-given hope, that’s their new reality and they must live in that reality and not in the empty ways of this world. Because they have been changed.

So now, in this second ‘therefore’ we see how this must be played out in the lives of each individual believer. What should we do because of this new identity, hope and calling? What should I do?

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
(1 Peter 2:1-3, NIV)

There are things that we must stop, and there are things that we must do. Not in order to be saved, but because we have been saved. Not in order to achieve a new identity, not to make something of ourselves, but because God has given us a new identity, he has made something of us. Not so that we can attain a new hope, but because we have a living hope. And these are the ways that this new identity and hope shows itself in us. If we truly are chosen by the Father, sanctified by the Spirit, cleansed by the blood of the Son, we will be different. We will stop doing some things. I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m not saying that it will happen over night or that there won’t be ups and downs in this journey. Don’t be surprised if there are seasons in your life when you just keep stumbling and falling into sin, but someone who has been changed by God will, over time, exhibit the fruit of that transformation in their lives.

We must rid ourselves of malice, wickedness, ill will. This has no place in a Christian’s heart and if you want to live the Christian life then it must go. You must rid yourself of it. Root it out like an invasive weed whenever you spot it sprouting in you.

We must do the same for deceit. If we are to grow and help each other to grow, then we must be real with each other. We must be honest. Not trying to trick, fool, or manipulate anyone. Hypocrisy is a form of deceit. The word ‘hypocrite’ means play-actor. It originally referred to actors in ancient Greece who would put on different masks as they performed different roles.

Are you wearing a mask? Pretending to be something you’re not? Now I’m not talking about people who sometimes feel like impostors because they are failing to live up to expectations, because things have not been ideal. A hypocrite is not someone who tries and fails, or feels like a failure sometimes, that’s just a normal person. A hypocrite is someone who’s not even trying, they’re just acting because they want others to treat them a certain way. Just wearing the mask. Pretending to be pious or loving when they don’t really care.

We must get be continually ridding ourselves of envy or jealousy. We must not let our desires cause us to resent one another. Envy or jealousy is a type or rivalry and it has no place in the family of God. We must get rid of slander. It’s the product of rivalry and hatred and it’s the fuel for more rivalry and hatred. We can get stuck in a downward spiral of rivalry, animosity, speaking ill of others and then the hatred grows and grows and there is no community, there is no love.

Malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander. These are things we need to put off, weeds we need to pull up and throw away. They have no place in the life of the church or the individual Christian. So, what then do we need to take up? If those things were weeds that we need to get rid of, what are the flowers we need to cultivate?

The worldly tendency here is to think that we have some great work to do to reform our character. We have our work cut out for us, time to roll up our sleeves, knuckle down, and work hard to become better people. But what does Peter say?

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
(1 Peter 1:2-3, NIV)

The illustration Peter gives us is not some image of industriousness. It’s not the self-made man that we are to imitate, but the newborn baby. I’ve got one at home and let me tell you if she has one passion in life right now, one thing that she will absolutely let you know that she loves and needs and wants, it is milk.

What’s the milk in this analogy? Peter says, “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (v. 3). These people heard the gospel and in doing so they had a taste of the goodness of God. What they are called to do now – what we are all called to do – to grow is to crave God himself with the intensity of a hungry newborn baby looking for a feed.

Growth as a Christian is found not in the taking up of many different activities, not even good works or religious practices, but hungering after God and pursuing with all your intensity God himself. These other things will fall into place, don’t let them be the main thing you crave. Crave God himself. He gives the growth. Let God himself be your passion. Draw near to God and enjoy his goodness as he makes you grow.

How do you work up a craving for God? We can forget how good something is and we lose our craving for it. We can tell something’s not right, but we don’t know what exactly. We need to be reminded of that good thing that we miss and how good it is. Peter says that these Christians have already tasted that the Lord is good. He’s reminding them of that taste that they had. He’s reminding them of the gospel that was preached to them. If you are not craving God, but you know things aren’t right. You’re not growing. You’ve lost your desire for God. Remind yourself of that taste of God’s goodness you’ve already had, maybe long ago. Remind yourself of the gospel.

Though we were sinners, Christ died for us, to redeem us. We have been chosen by the Father. We have been made holy by the Spirit. We have been cleansed of all our sins by the blood of the Son. We have been given a living hope because Christ who died rose again and lives and reigns forever. Our saviour and our Lord. God’s goodness and love is that great. Though I am a sinner, I have been made a son and heir of God Almighty and nothing in this world can take that away.

Pray

Lord God today we want to pray especially for the weary. This year has been a bad year for many people. It has been a year of suffering. A year of illness. A year of mourning. A year of fear and anxiety. A year of loneliness and separation from loved ones. A year of financial hardship and uncertainty. This is a year when we long to return to the simple joys of being amongst other people. Still the hard times seem to continue. We get tired of waiting to return to what we miss. We wonder when these strange days will end and we can breath again. Help us all to hope. Help us to believe that after darkness comes light, after weeping comes rejoicing.

Help us all to continue to show love and compassion to one another. Help us to be careful, for the sake of one another. Help us to remain hopeful. Lord, send your comfort, your strength, and your rescue.

In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home – 19th of July 2020 – 1 Peter 1:13-25

Good morning! Thanks for joining me again today as we continue through 1 Peter. This morning we’re hearing from 1 Peter 1:13-25. Let’s read it together now.

Please click here to read 1 Peter 1:13-25.

Verse 13 begins with “Therefore”. Whenever you come across that word ‘therefore’ in the Bible – or really in any piece of literature that you’re trying to understand, but it’s especially important in the Bible – let that word stand out to you. Don’t just breeze past it. Don’t skim it. Take notice of it. What is that word doing? It’s taking the things that have already been said and showing us the consequences

So, what has already been said? Remember when we started this letter. We looked at just the opening two verses and those two verses said something huge. Peter showed these Christians who they are. He reminded them that they are have been chosen by the Father, they have been made holy – set apart – by the work of God the Holy Spirit and atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s who they are. Their neighbours might abuse them, slander them, ridicule them, but this is the truth of their identity. They might be feeling like failures and misfits and like they don’t really matter, but this is who they truly are. Chosen by the Father, sanctified by the Spirit, cleansed by the Son. That’s the truth of who they are, and us too. You need to know who you are.

So that’s how Peter opens this letter: by telling them who they are. Not what they should do, or what they should be, but who and what they are already. Then Peter tells them about the hope that they have. He’s not talking about the hope that they should have, or the hope that they should aspire to, but the hope that they have. Last week’s sermon covered this. Verses 3 to 12. Peter tells them that they have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. A living hope because Jesus is alive. They have an inheritance, Peter says, that can never perish. No matter what this world throws at them they have this hope because of what God has done.

None of this relies on them being good enough or having the right attitudes. Christians are what they are because of what God has done. Christians have the hope that they have because of what God has already done.

Therefore, because of this God-given identity that they have, because of this God-given hope that they have, here is how they should respond:

Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

(1 Peter 1:13, NIV)

What Peter’s talking about here is the mental discipline of not dwelling in your present hardships in but looking forward to the grace of God that is surely coming. Yes, be aware of your hardships, don’t ignore them or dismiss them. Pray about them, grieve over them, lament, but don’t dwell in them. Remember that these things are not the end of your story. You’ve already been shown the end of your story. It is grace and glory. It’s the glorious completion of God’s work in us. We can’t forget how this story ends.

Peter tells them in the following verses to put away their old, evil ways and live out their new life, being holy like God their Father is holy. They are to live in “reverent fear”, it says in verse 17, not terrified, but having a deep respect and awe for the holy God who they call Father, knowing that he judges fairly and has set them free at a great price – the blood of Christ.

Peter emphasises that the faith and hope these people have for their salvation isn’t in anything fallible but in God Himself, it was God who raised Christ from the dead and it is God who has redeemed them through his suffering. The hope they have is rock solid and cannot be done away with no matter what they may suffer.

Then Peter encourages them to love one another. Christians must love one another. Christians are born again to a new life through faith in Christ, having heard the gospel, the imperishable word of God. We are united by the word of God and the saving blood of Christ into one family with God Almighty as our Father. This family is united by something stronger and more permanent than anything on earth. People say blood is thicker than water, but when you’re united by God then that is an even stronger bond. The church is a family, one that works together to love each other and help each other to grow in their walk with God. 

Do you feel that way about your church? If not, then why not? We are a family, if something is wrong maybe you can help fix it, get involved, love, share, grow and help others to grow.

You have been given new life, the thing with life is that you have to live it. Embrace your new identity in Christ – ‘you’ singular, as a child of God; and ‘you’ plural, as a family brought together by Christ’s blood shed for you.

Maybe you’re wondering something. The opening of this letter is all about what a wonderful thing God has done. We have this new identity because of what God has done. We have this living hope because of what God has done. And now Peter is telling us the things that we must do. He’s telling us to set our hope and to be holy. Why tell people who have been made holy, to be holy? Why tell those who have a living hope to be hopeful?

I want you to imagine a prison. Someone walks into this prison, a visitor. He speaks to the prisoners about how they should get out more, enjoy the fresh air. He talks to them about travelling and how they should see the world and broaden their minds. He challenges them to spend more time with their families.

That would be cruel wouldn’t it? He’s telling them to do something that they cannot do. They’re either going to react with hatred for him for his cruelty, or they’re going to feel guilty about not being able to do these good things that he’s telling them they should do, or they’ll spend their lives trying and failing again and again at living up to this impossible standard.

People think that the Bible is like that. They think it’s a book of rules, Do this. Don’t do that. Impossibly high standards that provoke guilt or hatred. And they would be right if the Bible was just instructions, but it’s not.

The Bible gives us the indicatives before it gives us the imperatives. It tells us who and what we are before it tells us how we ought to live.

What Peter is doing here is encouraging his reader to be who they are. Be who you are. Be who God has already made you to be.

Imagine a prison again. Only it’s no longer a working prison. There’s no guards, no gates, no locks, no doors, no bars. It’s completely open and you can just walk out. But people are still there acting as if they’re locked up, sitting in their cells with the doors wide open. What Peter is doing here is like someone going into that prison and telling those people, “You are free! So, be free!”

“You are holy! So, be holy!”

“You have a living hope! So be hopeful!”

You have been set free from futile and evil ways that only lead to death. You’ve been freed by the blood of Jesus Christ shed for you. So be free! Free from the chains of sin! Free from futile ways. So be free!

That’s what this is about: be who you are. Be who God has made you to be.

Pray

Lord God, we thank you that we can worship you today, whether that’s at home or in a meeting house. We pray that you would keep us safe as we continue to weather the storm of this virus.

We pray today for those who mourn the loss of loved ones. We pray for those who are sick We pray for those who are taking care of others. Lord, bring your peace, your comfort, and your healing.

We pray for those who are stressed out and filled with anxiety. We pray for those who are depressed and feeling isolated. Lord God would you lift them up and hold them. Give them strength to push on towards better days.

We pray for those trying to keep their businesses afloat during these difficult times and those who fear losing their jobs. Help them. Help us to keep going.

We pray also for help and strength for those for whom life was already hard before any of this began and now find it unbearable.

We pray that things would improve soon. We pray for the death of this virus. We pray for vaccines and treatments and new ways of doing things that will stamp this disease out in our community.

We pray all this in Jesus’ name.

Amen.

Sing

Church at Home – 12th of July 2020 – 1 Peter 1:3-12

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Click here if you would like to read the sermon text.

Good morning everyone, thank you for joining me again. As you know, we’ve temporarily asked that people only attend services in the meeting house where they are a member of the congregation. Even with this restriction in place we still can’t fit everyone in. So, I am continuing to put these messages and some other resources online.

Last week we began this series on 1 Peter and covered just the first two verses. But these verses are important. Peter in just those two verses, reminded the people he was writing to – a selection of churches scattered around what is now modern-day Turkey – who they are and what a remarkable thing has already happened to them to make them Christians. They were chosen by the Father, sanctified by the Sprit, cleansed by the blood of Jesus, the Son, to live lives of obedience to God. If a person is a Christian, it’s not just one of those things, it’s not ordinary, it is the result of the extraordinary work of all three persons of the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Today, we’ll be continuing in the first chapter and looking at verses three to 12. In these verses Peter reminds these Christians that because of this extraordinary thing God has done, and is doing in them, they have new life.  

Let’s read 1 Peter 1:3-12 now.

In verse three Peter talks about the new birth that God the Father has given Christians. A fresh start and a new identity. Imagine starting again with God, your old sins, your regrets and mistakes washed away, a new identity given to you, all is forgiven. You can start over, but not just to repeat the same mistakes again, you are born again and empowered by God’s Spirit to live out your new identity, to become what you were always destined to be. Not only does God call you to be a new person, he makes you a new person, a person who knows the joy of walking with their God, of experiencing life as it was meant to be. 

Christians have a real, living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is for us the proof of what God is doing in us and what he will bring to completion, he will make all things new, giving them real life, setting things right. Proof that death is not the end, that God has a better plan. 

The hope that Christians have is not in some ideology or philosophy that someone came up with long ago. It is a hope which comes, as Peter writes at the end of verse 3, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 

Our hope is grounded in in a real historical event that happened in this world. When the Apostles like Peter went out to spread the Good News about Jesus, they preached about something that had just happened. People didn’t like what they were saying. They persecuted them, but they wouldn’t shut up, they beat them, but they wouldn’t shut up, they killed them, but the message carried on and spread around the world. Christ died to rescue sinners and he is risen, he is alive

Nothing can tarnish this new hope or inheritance Christians have as a result of their faith in Christ, nothing can take away their identity as children of God, nothing can take away this blessing, it is kept safe for them in heaven. Even if those who persecute the church should do their worst and kill them they cannot destroy their inheritance and in the end the Christians will be brought fourth again in glory when God makes all things new. This amazing gift from God came for free from a God who didn’t owe us anything but punishment for our sins. And that’s why Peter begins verse 3 with praise: 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  

(1 Peter 1:3a, NIV) 

This gift is all from God’s mercy and grace, we didn’t earn it and we don’t have to pay for it, we couldn’t ever earn it or afford it anyway. If you are a Christian, rejoice in the hope that God has given you, be encouraged that it is safe and that your hope is not in something vague but in a real event that happened and that you follow a living Saviour. If you are not a Christian the invitation is there, to know God, to trust in what Jesus did and follow him, to be set free by the amazing love of God to be born again as the person you were always meant to be, to know true life, true love, true hope, true peace, true joy… even in the midst of trials 

These Christians are suffering for their faith. Peter compares these trials to gold being tested in a furnace. When Christians go through trials, when we suffer even lightly because of our faith – because we want to honour God and live this new life – that faith grows. Your faith is proven true and becomes stronger and purer when you cling to it in the face of trials. Gold is refined in a furnace, you don’t get stronger or fitter by lying on the couch all day, and it is just like that with faith. Your faith grows in the hard times. Nobody was ever pampered into being strong. Even gold will perish but your faith secures for you an eternal salvation and results in praise and glory and honour for God and for you. 
 
These people know what is truly important – knowing God and the salvation Christ has won for them – they have been liberated from the slavery of sin and the punishment of death and they know that nobody can take that blessing away from them. Therefore, they rejoice even though they are grieved by various trials. Peter calls their joy “inexpressible and glorious” in verse 8 – this is a righteous joy; they are celebrating what is truly worth celebrating. These Christians have their priorities right when it comes to hope and joy. 

What is your hope and joy in? Our priorities can often get shuffled around by all the distractions of this world, so we should all ask ourselves “Do I have my priorities right?” Are you miserable and stressed out about lesser things while forgetting the things that are most important? 

This is a short letter but Peter paints some very vivid pictures for us in the next few verses (verses 10 to 12). Peter writes of the Old Testament prophets who prophesied about the coming Messiah, his suffering and the glory that would follow. These prophets spoke of the grace that was to come to these people saved by the Messiah. These prophets were so captivated by what had been revealed to them about this work of God that they longed and searched intently to find out the details. Christians can look back at the cross and see more details than the prophets knew, they can tell more of the wonderful story of what God has done, a story that involves us personally. 

Even angels, Peter says in verse 12, long to look into these things. Think about that for a moment. Angels long to see what God has done and is doing in you. Angels can see and behold God, his beauty unhidden, they worship him constantly, and yet what has happened and is happening and will happen to you, because of Jesus, has captured their attention so much! The word translated “long” here, used to described the angel’s longing to look into salvation, that word means “desire” and it is even sometimes translated “lust”, although the word in itself has neither good nor bad connotations. Picture that, angels craning their necks desiring to see the details of salvation, longing to see what God is doing with Christians, with you. This is because our gracious and merciful God is glorified by what he is doing in us. The transformation that takes place in a Christian is glorifying to God. It’s an understatement to say that this is a big deal! 

All who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour have been given new life, a new relationship with God as their Father and a new and sure hope. That’s what we need in times of suffering: not just wishful thinking, but a sure hope. Something solid. In Christ we have that solid ground. An unshakable refuge in uncertain times. 

Jesus said it himself. John 10:27-30 

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” 

(John 10:27-30, NIV) 

No matter what happens you are Christ’s. He lives and reigns and because of what Jesus has done you have new life and an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. If you belong to Christ, then nothing in this world can take you out of his hand. 

This was true of Peter, it was true of the Christians that he was writing to as they endured their trials, and it is true for us today. 

Pray

Lord as we are separated from each other today, some at home and some sitting far apart in a church building, we pray for a spiritual unity and a great sense of our fellowship with one another in Christ. We thank you that no matter where we are, we can worship you. We can read your word. We can pray to you, and we know that you are always with us.

Help us all to be as careful as we can be out of love for one another. Protect us from infection and keep us in good health. We pray for those who are especially vulnerable that you would relive their anxiety with the knowledge of your love and faithfulness to them

We pray for those working to fight against COVID-19 in hospitals and care homes and labs all over the country and the world. Protect them and bless their work. We pray for protection for those who are made vulnerable by their jobs.

We pray for an end to this pandemic, for powerful treatments, vaccinations and wisdom to reduce the spread and effectiveness of the Coronavirus.

We pray that in times of stress and uncertainty, people would seek assurance in you.

In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen.

Sing