REJECTED AND YET CHOSEN.

1 Peter 2:4

As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him

The Lord Jesus Christ is the most significant person who ever walked this earth.  He made it! (Colossians 1:15-16).  He made people to be in God’s image (Genesis 1:26) and chose to be born in a human body too, but was then rejected by the people He had called to belong to Him (John 1:10-11) .  Even so, 2000 years since He was physically seen, He is still spoken about all over the world and those who believe in Him are given the right to become children of God (John 1:12-13). He is unique; not one among many equal religious founders; not a historical figure to be analysed, but the Chief Executive of all creation (Hebrews 1:1-2) to be loved, worshipped and obeyed.

Jesus is God’s choice of Saviour for the world (1 Peter 1:20) , and very ‘precious’ to Him (Isaiah 43:4).  The word ‘precious’ means valuable and costly and highly honoured – Peter also uses it in His letter to refer to faith, the blood of Christ, Christian character and God’s promises.  Here, Peter uses Psalm 118:22-24 to liken Jesus Christ to a very precious stone (a keystone or capstone), holding a building together.  Its unusual shape disqualifies it for any other role and is therefore rejected by builders looking for a simple block for a wall.  But when placed in its designed place, it gives every other stone a reason for being there.  Of course, buildings are inanimate, but Jesus is described as a ‘living stone’, meaning that He is alive and gives life, meaning and relationship to all other stones (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus is both the foundation of God’s living holy building, the church, and its capstone (Ephesians 2:19-22).

If we are to be accepted by God, we must come to Jesus (John 14:6).  Without a personal relationship with Jesus, we have no part in God’s holy building, the church.  Alas, many will not come to Jesus; they will slander, ridicule or ignore Him.  They cannot see how precious He is to God or how precious He is to believers. They reject Him and the eternal life He offers.  But Jesus predicted His rejection (Mark 8:31) also using the words of Psalm 118:22-23 to say, “Haven’t you read this scripture: ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-11). Those words made a big impression on Peter (whose name means ‘stone’), and he repeats them in this letter.

But when we come to Him, when we receive Jesus, we share both His preciousness to God and the world’s rejection. In choosing to unite with Jesus we also unite with Father God who chose Jesus to be the Saviour of the world – even before He created it (1 Peter 1:20) ! So, the Lord Jesus Christ is very precious to Father God, and should be precious to all those who love Him. But many may have never understood what He has done, or why He is so precious. However, if the Holy Spirit assures you that you belong to God (Romans 8:16), then do not be discouraged if other people at work or home reject you; remember that Father God has chosen to accept you because you trust in Jesus.

Father God. I am so grateful that You chose Jesus Christ to be my Saviour; and that His death was the only perfect and sufficient sacrifice for my sins, and for the sins of the whole world. Forgive me for not holding Him more preciously in my heart. Help me, when others reject me because I love Jesus; and reassure me that You have chosen me as Your own precious child. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Temporary Residents

1 Peter 1:17
Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.

Human beings like to be settled.  Even travelling communities want to meet up with like-minded people so that they can preserve a sense of identity and feel that they ‘belong’.  Naturally we are drawn to those who are like ourselves, but we also become like the people we associate with.  Father God sees all the people we meet; who we want to be like, and those who are influencing us – more than we might choose.  He has called us to a holy life (1 Peter 1:16), and so He watches to see how we deal with the worldly people we live among.

  One day, His observation will be the basis of His assessment of our lives (Matthew 12:36) .  Unlike the politics of the world, God sees impartially.  He clearly identifies righteousness and wickedness, and He will reward according to what He sees (Matthew 16:27).Peter was writing to Christians who had been physically scattered away from their homeland by persecution (1 Peter 1:1-2) .  Living and working in towns and villages where pagan worship was a communal activity, and not participating, would stigmatise the followers of Jesus. The easiest thing would be for them to ‘settle down’ and become like everybody else around.  But they are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  That challenge is the background to the call in this verse – to reverently fear the Lord (Psalm 2:11) .  To fear Him is more than awe; it is to live knowing His eye is upon us – hating the prospect of displeasing Him and hungry for His reward for those who obey (Psalm 34:9).  

This verse is an instruction to Christians everywhere about how to see themselves.  We are not migrants acclimatising to a new culture: we are aliens, foreigners and travellers with Creator God as our Father, Jesus as our Saviour and the Holy Spirit as our counsellor. This world is not ‘home’ for the Christian; we are only temporary residents here.  But we have a heavenly ‘passport’ when, through faith in Jesus, we become children of God and citizens of heaven (John 1:12).  And so, our time on earth is temporary, but it is an important preparation for our eternity with Christ.

Our work on earth is not permanent either. Even the largest business empire will mean nothing when Jesus returns. That is not to say that our work, or ministry, is unimportant; but God will judge how much we did it as a way of serving Him, rather than ourselves. Those who invest their energies in earthly things will get earth’s reward (Matthew 6:2): those who invest their life in heaven’s kingdom, will receive Christ’s reward (Colossians 3:24) . To be ‘at home’ with a sinful world is to alienate ourselves from heaven; but true Christians must hold lightly onto this world (with its riches, power and pleasures) because they know that their citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20-21).

Father God. Thank You for watching over my life to protect and guide me. But I am also glad to know that, every day, You are assessing the holiness of my walk with You. Please forgive me for the times I have wilfully disobeyed You or carelessly embraced the sinful world. Please help me to live and work as a temporary resident on earth: give me the confident expectation that You will reward my trust in You. Help me to seek Your rule in my life as a matter of top importance and to do what is right, while I wait for my inheritance in Your eternal kingdom. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

FULLY UNDERSTOOD AND FULL OF PEACE

1 Peter 1:1-2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces … who 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: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Followers of Jesus Christ often feel like exiles in the world and are sometimes despised by friends and family, colleagues and community.  But God knows each believer very well.  They are fully loved by God, and included into His family.  He not only knows where they are and how they are doing, now, but He also knew, ages ago, that He had chosen them to belong to Him.  We may not know how the twin Scriptural truths – that God chooses us, and that we must choose Him – work together, but it is wonderfully reassuring to know that He longs for us to receive His grace, and be filled with His peace.  And that He has already provided all that is necessary to make it happen.

Peter is clear that all three persons of the Godhead are involved in our relationship with Him.  God the Father’s foreknowledge includes His electing grace (Romans 8:29); God the Holy Spirit’s work includes making people holy, acceptable and united with Him (Romans 15:16); and the atoning work of God the Son includes His blood purifying believers from all sin (1 John 1:7) .  The purpose of all that God does is that believers might not only belong to Him but also obey the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 9:13), by the help of the Spirit, to glorify the Father.

The way that we come to God is to let Him clean us from our sins, believing that Jesus shed His blood as a sacrifice for us. In verse 2, ‘sprinkling’ does not refer to baptism but to Exodus 24:3-8 where Moses sprinkled the blood of the sacrificed animals onto the people, to seal their promise to obey the Lord. That ‘sprinkling’ inaugurated the Old Covenant.  Jesus said that His own blood would inaugurate the New Covenant (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 12:24) in which we would follow Jesus.  Of course, our promise to obey the Lord is never strong enough by itself. We need the blood of Jesus Christ to make us right with God – and then the work of the Holy Spirit to help us to live in a way that pleases Him.  

Living with the ‘Jesus-difference’ is not easy, especially when people feel alone and unsupported.  Peter’s words to struggling Christians will help us too.  The gospel message calls us to submit to God’s grace – to cover our sins and release us in service.  There is no other way to be at peace with Him except to obey His call to be a part of His family by believing in Jesus. God’s grace atoning for our sins, and His peace to sooth our troubled consciences, are unlimited. As we do, so a new confidence to live like Jesus will form in our lives… and our colleagues at work will notice. As they notice, they may ask why we are different. That is the time to explain that cooperating with Jesus has made all the difference to you, and that can be true for them too!

Dear Lord God. Thank You that I have never been out of Your sight, and that You have waited for me to respond to You. Forgive me for the times I have been resistant to Your call, trying to hide my own sins and struggling on in my own strength. I am glad that You do not expect me to be better by myself, but that You have paid for my sins and given Your Holy Spirit to all who welcome Jesus. May I keep on receiving your grace and peace; and have the courage to explain Your kindness – to my friends and colleagues. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

GOD SENDS ENCOURAGEMENT.

1 Peter 1:1.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia.

Peter had been a failure, but Jesus made him into a pastoral leader.  In this letter, Peter writes to Christians who needed encouragement, just as Jesus had encouraged him in the past (Matthew 16:18).  Many believers had been scattered because of persecution; living as refugees away from home and family, adjusting to a different Christless culture in, what is now, Northern Turkey.  Although they were scattered, they were not abandoned: although they might not feel ‘at home’ where they lived, they still belonged to God, part of His family and precious to Him.

Peter starts by explaining that they can trust what he says – because he is an accredited apostle of Jesus Christ.  Jesus personally commissioned him to be one of the ‘founding apostles’ – to go in Christ’s Name to teach the truth about Jesus and help lead the church (Matthew 28:19-20).  Previously, however, Peter often misunderstood Jesus, made some big mistakes (Matthew 16:21-23), and catastrophically denied that he even knew Jesus (Matthew 26:69-75) .  But, after the resurrection, Jesus reassured Peter of His loving forgiveness and recommissioned him to feed the church with truth (John 21:15-19).  

Peter understood the pressure of isolation, failure and persecution; but also, the grace of Christ to forgive and restore him.  So, he also wanted to reassure the scattered believers that that they were God’s chosen people who were very special to Him.  That encouraging truth is one of the themes of this letter (1 Peter 1:1; 1:3; 2:4; 2:9).  And as Christ’s representatives in their towns and workplaces, they were encouraged to know His calling to announce the gospel of grace and forgiveness (1 Peter 2:9-10), and to live in such a way that validated the gospel (1 Peter 2:11-12).

In our age, with so many ‘spiritual voices’ around us, we also will go astray, misinterpreting the Old Testament and misunderstanding the gospel of what Jesus said and did.  We need apostolic teaching (Acts 2:42) to define godly belief and behaviour.  While family tradition and church cultures may be helpful, every generation must check what they believe against the Apostles’ teaching.  A hunger to do this indicates spiritual health, like a baby who eagerly drinks its milk (2 Peter 2:2) . That is especially true when working away from home, feeling alone or experiencing opposition because you love Jesus. You may feel distant, but like Peter’s original letters, God has carefully arranged for His Word to reach you where you are – urging you to trust His love and stay close to Him, and teaching you how to live to please Him.  Let this apostolic letter help you live confidently as His precious person, wherever you may be today.  In that way you will be a light in a confused world where flickering lights promise what they can never fulfil, and darkness futilely threatens to extinguish eternal truth.Dear Lord God. Thank You for appointing Apostles with the authority to tell me what is true about Jesus. Please forgive me for the times I have listened to other supposedly spiritual voices, to my own desires and the world’s demands. Please give me a renewed hunger to be a good disciple of Jesus by eagerly learning what You have to teach me; and with Your Spirit’s help, grow in confidence to live and serve You as a Christian, even if others reject You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

HONOURING GOSPEL WORKERS.

1 Corinthians 16:10-11.

When Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. No one, then, should treat him with contempt. Send him on his way in peace so that he may return to me. I am expecting him along with the brothers.

Paul’s visit to Corinth would be delayed (1 Corinthians 16:5-9), so he was going to send Timothy to teach and encourage the church until the apostle could visit. However, in a culture where age meant wisdom, Paul’s young apprentice might be ignored or treated with contempt, even though he had the apostle’s authority.
 
Paul was direct, and instructed the church to honour him and welcome him in such a way that he would not be afraid. Fear was Timothy’s weak point (2 Timothy 1:7) . He may have looked or sounded very young, but he needed the strength of the Lord to rebuke those who despised him (1 Timothy 4:11-12) while at the same time growing in his own faith (1 Timothy 4:15-16), and so being an example to the churches.
 
Was it unkind, then, to put Timothy into that potentially hostile situation? No. The young man would soon receive the baton of leadership from Paul (2 Timothy 4:1-8) . He had to step up and trust the Lord more than he feared opposition. The only way to train Timothy for that was to place him into the situation he feared. At the same time the church needed to get used to Timothy’s teaching and rebuke as he explained the Scriptures to them (2 Timothy 3:16-17). They needed to grow up too and stop bullying young ministers. But Paul also sent Erastus so that Timothy would have some support (Acts 19:22)
 
Some churches have a habit of patronising or demeaning their ministers. They somehow think that they are superior to the person God has sent to explain His Word; they know better. Where it occurs it is a bad habit which cannot enable the ministry to grow, and may well stop God’s servant from being effective there. Paul would say, “Stop it.” Let the person God has called share the gospel freely and teach the truth without being afraid of the church. Money given for their support is not to be turned into a weapon, threatening to withdraw it if genuine gospel ministry disturbs some of the power holders. Honour gospel workers and ensure that they do not live in fear of those they serve (Hebrews 13:17).

Almighty God. Thank You for sending Your servants all over the world with Your Word. Forgive me when I have not honoured them as I should nor supported them as I might. Show me how to encourage the church to love those who labour among them, and honour them as Christ’s representative. In His Name. Amen.

ON THE MOVE WITHOUT FEAR.

1 Corinthians 16:5-9.

After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you for a while, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.

Paul was used to travelling. Before he met the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he went all over Israel and to different countries, trying to eradicate the Christians and their faith (Acts 26:11) . After having met Jesus and been commissioned by Him, Paul kept moving with the gospel message wherever the Holy Spirit led him. His preaching led people to put their trust in Jesus, and churches were formed. But how would they be taught and encouraged to live as believers amongst people who were hostile to them?
 
Initially, Paul visited them and grew his team of trusted colleagues who were sent to teach and supervise the young churches. But as a true pastor-teacher, Paul loved the people who had come to Christ under his ministry, whom he had nurtured in the faith. He had a special affection for the churches in Ephesus and Corinth where he had spent the longest periods of time, and also faced significant opposition.
 
His first visit to Corinth stirred up much hostility, and he was afraid. So the Lord used a vision to tell him, “‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.” (Acts 18:9-11). The same situation was now occurring in Ephesus and Paul hoped the Corinthians would understand his motives for delaying his next visit to them, assuring them that he wanted to spend significant time with them also.
 
How do you decide the priority of two or more equally important assignments? Many people will choose the easiest, the one with least difficulty. But that is not often God’s way. He often seems to test our faith by taking us right up to a solid wall before revealing that there is a door. He takes us up to the last second before showing His way. He allows opposition as we engage with people about Jesus, and yet He guards His people as they release the gospel. He knows how to move us, placing us where He can use us. We may have plans to move but He can use us well where we are. Don’t take the easy way out. The Lord will give you the wisdom and courage to stay or move, according to His will.

Sovereign Lord. Thank You that all things are under Your command. Forgive me for wanting to take the easy way out, to give in to fear and fail to see that those who oppose me are most in need of Your salvation. Please help me to accept the challenges You set before me and not be afraid, as I trust You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

READY TO GIVE.

1 Corinthians 16:1-4.

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

Looking back on this letter to Corinth, Paul needed to rebuke and correct the believers about their wrong doctrine. Their selfish pride had led to a misunderstanding of the gospel, disunity, immorality, abuse of the Lord’s Supper and misuse of spiritual gifts. They were living for the moment without the perspective of eternity. They did not realise that this life is the prelude to resurrection and being united with Christ for ever.
 
Paul finally challenged them to give to other believers they had never met. The church in Jerusalem was suffering from a famine (Acts 11:28) and from ongoing persecution (Acts 8:1). Under those circumstances food was in short supply and expensive. The church had been scattered and breadwinners may have had to move away. Paul understood their plight; indeed one of his first ministry responsibilities was to courier a gift from Antioch to Jerusalem (Acts 11:29).
 
Giving is a personal and practical decision. In view of the Corinthian’s dysfunctional church life, Paul gave specific practical instructions. The money was to be given by each believer when they met for worship each Sunday. The amount should be a generous proportion of their income for that week (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) as a part of their worship. The implication is that it would be given into a weekly collection and kept secure until Titus arrived. He would be a trustee, helping them to account for what had been given and to courier the money to Jerusalem with Paul (2 Corinthians 8:16-21) . Paul did not want any collection made when he visited, to avoid any suggestion that he was personally profiting from the gifts.
 
Giving is the greatest antidote to selfishness. Social action is not the gospel (the good news of salvation) but it validates the gospel. It reflects the transformed mind of the giver and is welcomed as a fellowship offering by the receiver (Leviticus 7:28-34; 10:14). Many gifts are never made because the would-be giver lacks the motivation and discipline. Paul’s practical instructions are still wise. When did you last review your giving to the Lord? How do you decide who to give to? What financial discipline do you have in place to ensure that you regularly remove money for the Lord’s use, from your personal fund, before it can be spent on other things? Practical decisions are essential to enable the Lord’s work.
 

Gracious Father. Thank You for all You have given to me: Your love, salvation and the promise of eternity with You. I am sorry for not being diligent about giving away a generous proportion of what You have given to me. Please help me to decide to be a giver, and then to take practical steps to give my time and energy, possessions and money. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

VICTORY THROUGH CHRIST.

1 Corinthians 15:55-58.

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

We are used to the idea that death will always win in the end. It is everybody’s observation, but there is also a hunger for eternity. The old hymn by Rev Henry F. Lyte says, “Change and decay in all around I see – O Thou who changest not, abide with me.” He knew sadness, disappointment and sickness but also knew the living Jesus. Christ’s resurrection is the best attested fact of ancient history, and overwhelmingly proves that death is not the end.
 
Death is the end point of a godless cascade. Breaking God’s law releases the sting of sin like a swarm of hornets. Eventually, death overtakes us. But Paul asks, when death meets resurrection, where is its victory? The curse of death over humanity and creation was broken by Christ’s rising from death (Galatians 3:13). And sin, which has a fatal poison, has been forgiven. One day that will be demonstrated when all of Christ’s church arises with new bodies suitable for a sinless and deathless eternity.
 
That is the Christian’s hope (confident expectation, not wishful thinking). It also has implications. Because the Lord will win in the end, and we will reign with Him, we should not let anything stop us being confident in the Lord now. We must not let yesterday’s sin or our bodily weakness keep us in the shadows. If we have fallen, we must stand up. If we have been swept downstream on a tide of sin, we must repent and stand firm in Him.
 
Our obligation to work for the Lord does not come from the need to earn salvation; we cannot ever do that (Ephesians 2:8-9). It comes from the certainty of our own resurrection and the reward we will receive. C T Studd, the British 19thC cricketer and missionary pioneer wrote, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” He understood the word ‘fully’ in these verses: ‘always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord’ – that means all the time, with all you have and holding nothing back. Because we will be raised, even death is no threat to stop our work for the Lord. Don’t hold back from serving Him because He has withheld nothing from you (Romans 8:32).

Lord God of eternity. Thank You for the resurrection of Jesus which assures believers that death is not the end. Forgive me for holding back from working with You because of my weakness or failings. Please help me to see that there is no reason why I should not give myself fully to the work of the Lord. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

LETTING GO OF GOD’S WORD WHILE HOLDING RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS.

Mark 7:5-8

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’ He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘”These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’

It is easy to make others look silly when they don’t conform to an accepted social standard. But Jesus agreed with Isaiah’s prophecy that hypocrisy was endemic (people might say they obeyed God, but really had no intention of doing so). In demanding adherence to complex regulations about ceremonial washing (Mark 7:1-4) , they cherished what God did not want; and despised what He commanded.  Rather than holding tight to what God said, they let it slip though their fingers.  They loved to obey human principles rather than God’s Word (Colossians 2:20).  They did not love what matters to God – a sure sign of the ‘heart trouble’ that would prove eternally fatal!

The religious people had put blinkers on their eyes – like horses controlled by another they could not see their own slavery (Psalm 32:9) .  They did not understand why Jesus did not play their religious games.  But that is because they were so preoccupied with doing what they thought was right, that they had no time or interest to understand what God wanted from them.  So Jesus quoted the prophecy in Isaiah 29:13 to expose their hyposcrisy.

Jesus grasped the core of the problem: who should say what is acceptable? Clearly, God has the right to make the rules. But because we find His standard so high, we make ourselves feel better by inventing rules we can keep.  Every Christless religion does this, and even Christians can be tempted to do the same. Terrible!  Especially as Jesus takes the provocative step of declaring their worship to be unacceptable.

This should not only spur our own consciences, but also educate our evangelism and discipleship.  The Gospel does not set out to make people behave nicely, but to change their hearts.  Every Gospel bearer should make a high priority of living out what God says: that (according to Romans 12:1) is real worship.  As most of us live unthinkingly on a moral-autopilot, it is always good to ask the key questions, “Why am I doing what I do?”, and, “Is this what God wants me to do?”

Almighty God. Thank You for giving me my personality through which to express my love for You. Forgive me when I use that personality to generate what You do not require while letting go of what You have commanded. Please help me to take the time to see truth in Your Word and reflect that in my prayers – as I ask for Your help, without which I cannot obey Your Word and so worship You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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