Good morning, everyone. Happy mothers’ day as well. I so appreciate all of the moms in my life, seeing them labor tirelessly day after day to raise their children well. It’s difficult work, and not without tears—oh so many tears, from everyone involved in a child’s life—but incredible joy as well. Isn’t that the way of our world, that many of the most blessed things in life are often the hardest? It’s because you’re pushing back darkness, mending brokenness.
My mom, whenever I do something dangerous, or I don’t know what stationary is or I don’t have good table manners, my mom always looks at Anne-Elise and says, “Anne-Elise, I tried. I promise I tried.” It’s hard work, mothering, and it doesn’t always go your way. So pray for moms today, and my prayers are especially with all of you today who are reminded on mothers’ day of loss and hopes unrealized.
Go with me to 1 Peter 2, starting in v.1. We’ve been in 1 Peter now for the past couple of weeks, and seen how he’s writing to encourage a church that is separated from each other and disrupted. There is uncertainty in their future, and Peter writes to remind them that God is not surprised by anything that happened to them, and nothing is able to stop him or even slow him down in the work he’s doing and the glorious future he is bringing ever closer. Setting our eyes on that right end, we can rejoice even now. God is still ransoming us, making us holy, and growing us into people who are able to love and provide for the people around us.
The passage for today is so full of meaning, I’m actually going to preach on part of it again next week. So if you feel like I’ve missed something vitally important, give me ’til next week, and we’ll talk more about it. Today we’re going to talk very specifically about some of the lies we are prone to believe in times of trouble, and the truth that’s able to push back the darkness in our minds and emotions and bring us into his glorious light.
Go with me, to 1 Peter chapter 2, starting in v.1. [1 Peter 2:1-10] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Father God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know you truth will set us free. Amen.
Y’all are going to think I planned this much better than I did, but very appropriate to mothers’ day, the first point from our text today is that you are beloved children. You are beloved children.
Peter begins this image of Christians as God’s children in chapter one, v.23, which we covered last week, when he writes, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable through the living and abiding word of God.” Peter continues that image in our passage today, v.2, of God as a nursing mother, and the truth he gives us in his word as milk fed to those who have been born again, so that we might grow and develop as we await his salvation in the last day.
What a tender, beautiful image this is. And in this time in our lives with all of the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding this virus, it might be easier for us to understand why pastor Peter would be saying this to his congregation that is also scattered and disrupted, because there is a lie that grows in the minds of people who have suffered loss, pain, and uncertainty. It’s the lie that God doesn’t really love you, or if he does love you, he doesn’t really care, or he’s far away. Peter is trying to push back the lie, and allow his people to see the truth: that God cares for you as much as a mother cares for her infant child.
I was talking with my brother the other day about how we’ve both come to an even greater appreciation of our wives through this stay-at-home order. His wife is stay-at-home, and Anne-Elise has been taking the afternoons to let me work. (Jess is basically homeschooling him for us in the mornings.) My brother and I were both already in the camp of parenting being a full-time job worthy of admiration and honor, but if I had ever doubted, being at home all day with a four-year-old (turning five this week) has given me a chance to see first-hand what’s involved with keeping a home in order while also caring for and enriching the life of a child, so props to all of the parents, teachers, and childcare workers out there. You do vitally important, difficult work.
With an infant child, even more than our four-year-old, they are completely unable to meet any of their needs themselves. They have no power. They can’t even sleep or burp on their own. So a good parent, when the child calls, you go. It’s a humbling feeling that you’re the only person who is keeping this child alive and thriving. And you can imagine the especial burden on the mother in times before bottles, formula, and pumping (still in many ways today). In the night, the child cries, and she’s the one to go. All day, every day, it’s literally life-or-death; for years, the whole family is dependent upon the mother to care and show concern for her child’s cries.
So, Peter writes, if you are born again in Christ, God cares for you like a nursing mother. When you cry out to him, he’s not distant. He doesn’t ignore you. He comes to you speaking words to provide for your needs, like milk for an infant. In the middle of the night, when you can’t sleep, he’s awake with you listening, feeding, rocking. If you scream and shout for years on end, he’s not going to abandon you. He knows you need him. He knows you’re dependent on him, even if you fight him, so he’ll come to you every time you cry until your tears turn to rest or play, for as long as it takes to see you grow.
I know many of you won’t believe this, and I’m not mad about that, I’m mainly just sad alongside you. You’ve had times when you were in need and God was absent, at least he seemed absent. You cried out to him, and he didn’t come. But just like children, sometimes we take for granted the things our parents do for us; they’re hard to see. It’s not that something’s wrong with the child who takes his parents for granted, I even think there are ways in which children need to take parents for granted from time to time in order to wholly and healthfully develop, ways in which knowledge of everything we’ve done and given up for them would just confuse and embarrass them. But for those of you who are hurting, feeling like God is far away, I promise you he’s not. I pray you would cry out again for the Lord, come back to church, look and see, the thousand different ways God has been speaking to you words of truth, like milk to an infant child.
In v.1, we see, again, what’s expected of children. “Put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Children, stop fighting. Stop trying to get your way. Don’t be jealous, don’t lie about your sister to get her in trouble. And Peter is saying this for the same reason we tell children all of these things—because your squabbles are small. You’re fighting over a thing that has almost no value compared to what your parent is willing to give you; you won’t even care about it when you grow up. All these things we typically fight over, what use are they to the resurrected? And if you fight with your family, church, how can you possibly expect to live at peace in the world outside of your walls? Peacemaking starts in the home, in the church. As Warren writes, “Daily habits of peace or habits of discord spill into our city, creating cultures of peace or cultures of discord.” The way we act in our homes, in our churches, among our family, determines what we actually contribute to the world.
Maybe it’s time you end the squabble and come back to church. Maybe it’s time to call that friend you don’t talk to anymore, or that family member. To end gossip, correct a lie you told about someone else, a deceit you played, and make amends. Children, this is your family. If you don’t pursue peace here, how do you expect to find it in the world? You are beloved children. You can rest in that. You can find peace in that; find peace, and share it.
Don’t believe the lie that God is far away, that he doesn’t care for you, that if you need something you have to fight and squabble and get it yourself. Our God is like a nursing mother, always near, always ready to answer and give us what we need.
The second thing I want you to see in our text today is this: you are a temple. So you are beloved children, and you are a temple. The lie Peter is pushing against here is a lie that you’re nothing special, that the God isn’t pleased with you. Peter writes that, though other may reject you, god has chosen you carefully, to do his work.
I’m looking at vs.4-8, where Peter cites passage after passage in the Old Testament talking about the people of God as a temple, which I know is not as cozy an analogy as the babies on mothers’ day, but this is good, too, I promise.
The importance of the temple of God in the scriptures would be hard to overstate. The temple was the physical manifestation of Israel’s relationship with God. The highest point of the people of Israel was under Solomon, when the temple was built, and the ark was carried in, and the glory of the Lord rested on the temple in the cloud. That was the people of God at peace, that was the promises of God being fulfilled and everything being right in the world. The lowest point of the people of God was when the temple was plundered and destroyed.
That was the beginning of the exile, an exile that only ended when the temple was rebuilt in the time of Nehemiah. So as Peter writes to the “elect exiles” as we talked about two weeks ago, he’s talking to a people who have lost the ability to worship God the way they always have, because they’ve been driven by persecution and unrest out of Jerusalem, out of the temple, away from the feasts that formed the first worship services, away from anything they knew how to do to worship and please God. They were at a loss for how to worship, because they were without a temple. Around the time Peter was writing this, that temple was destroyed. It was a devastating event for Jerusalem. The whole nation, then, was forced to redefine what it meant, what it looked like to worship God.
I’ve never understood this passage more than I have during this stay-at-home order. There was a moment, early on, when we first cancelled services, as I was thinking through that first week when our lives were changing drastically by the hour, I thought about the biblical word for church, which literally means “gathering,” and I sat stunned for a moment, considering what we would do so long as the stay-at-home was in effect, just thinking, what is a church that can’t gather together? We are without everything that we normally do to worship and please God.
There has been no communion, no gathering together, no spending time with our homeless brothers and sisters, no coming together to study the scriptures, no having each other over to eat and spend time together. How can we possibly be a church when we can’t gather together?
For his people, Peter points them to scripture and tells them, you may be separated from each other and from the temple, but even if the temple is torn down, God’s presence will not depart from you, and there is nothing able to separate you from him. You, his people, are the place God dwells, he tells them. God has built you himself, so no one is able to tear you down. Christ is the foundation, and he is immovable.
So we are a church who cannot gather together, but we are still the church, because the church is not a place, it’s a people. And though dire necessity keeps us apart, and I want more than anything to gather together again, still I’m not afraid of being without all the normal things I do to worship God, because I know that my God is with me. I can know he’s pleased with me, even when I can’t worship him in my normal way. He is building with us, even now, walls and houses that can’t be broken or torn down. Even if the city falls, and we’re all disbursed, and the whole world says he’s abandoned us because of our sins, still the temple of his Church will stand, and we can know that he is with us.
I want to encourage you, church, during this time, if you’ve been feeling at a loss for what to do, how to worship, God is still with you, and he still delights in you. Even if everyone else in the world and in your life rejects you, God has still chosen you to build his kingdom. You may not see what he’s doing in your life right now to build, but if we believe this passage, we have to know that he is building now, even with us, even as we’re sprawled across the city. Keep praying, keep reading your Bibles, and all the things you’ve been finding to do; and I hope you, like I am, are longing to come back together, but only because I long to see you. The Lord has been with us the whole time. He never left. He never even stopped building with us.
So you’re beloved children, you’re a temple, and lastly this, you’re all priests. You’re all priests. The lie Peter is pushing against here is that holiness is mediated; this is what I mean. You don’t need me to worship God, and you don’t need this church to worship. This sermon is terrible for my job security, but hear me out.
The Bible is very clear, over and over again, that worship is to be in community, that you need a worshipping community around you to live this Christian life. And I don’t think I need to argue very hard with this church about why pastors are beneficial, because you’re coming off a stint without one, but over and over again, we see that God is personal in his relationship with his new testament church. It’s another part of what we mean when we pray “our Father,” that we have unmediated access to the king and creator of the world.
I remember as a child, on several occasions, visiting my dad at work, and my dad is the provost of a college, which is the person at the college who hires and fires everyone; he’s the final judge, too, of student discipline, the one who would decide a dispute between a student and a professor. If you get expelled or suspended, he’s the one who has expelled or suspended you. And I remember when I was in high school, looking at that point like I might be a student at the college, coming to the front desk at the office and asking to see Dr. Brian. I remember several people sitting in the room, waiting, kind of nervously reading magazines (this is before cell phones) and the person at the front desk got out a calendar and asked me why I might want a meeting with Dr. Brian, if next week would work.
I didn’t even answer her question, I just said, I’m his son. The room visibly changed. The students sitting in the room looked up at me from their magazines. The secretary asked, “You’re Dr. Brian’s son.” I said, yes; she closed the calendar; around that time, my dad walks around the corner, and greeted me, “Hey, bud,” gave me a hug. He had seen me walk in from his window. He introduced me to the secretary, and then we walked past her desk, everyone else still waiting.
Our relationship to God is not mediated. We don’t need a priest or a pastor to get the attention of our father for us, to schedule us in, to go through the proper channels. Christ’s coming to earth was our father coming off his throne because he was watching and waiting for us coming up the road, and he walks to the gate and greets us with a hug. He’s our father. We have the kind of access to him that a child always has to his father. It doesn’t matter that he’s the king, that he’s in charge, that he’s the judge, that he’s creator and upholder of our world. He loves us; he’s adopted us, so there’s nothing between us now that can stop us from seeing him, talking to him, taking his time and attention.
So when you pray, you don’t need to know the right words, or do the right things. You can be sad or angry or upset with him. You can confess your sins to him, and you can worship him. because he is the king, but he’s also your father. Peter says that every last one of you, every person who believes, is a priest. We’re able to walk wherever we want among his temple, his people. There are no more restrictions based on gender or role. You don’t have to wait in line to make your sacrifice and have your sins forgiven, and you don’t need anyone to enter the holy of holies on your behalf. We’re all priests now.
This doesn’t negate the health and the benefit of coming to church, it just changes the nature of what we do in church. The new testament church is not a temple to which we have come to meet with God. We are the temple, remember? When we gather it’s to celebrate what God is already building. It’s more like a wedding than anything.
The pastor is not in charge. He is not the holiest person who is closest with God and has the best relationship with him. The pastor is like the person in the family chosen to put together the reunion. The aunt who hosts the wedding reception at her house. He’s another member of the family, one who shepherds and gathers, mediates conflict, plans gatherings to facilitate the celebration of the family.
The reason we’re coming together is because we’re family, and we want to celebrate the love we share, and most importantly, the love of Christ for his bride, the church.
So when we have to be separate, like right now, we don’t stop being family. We can still worship God, read his word, pray to him, walk right up to him, past the divide of heaven and earth, and he’s been waiting and watching for us. Then when we can come together again to celebrate, we’ll be glad to see all of the family we’ve missed. You’re all priests.
Church, there’s a lot left in this passage that I could talk about, but we will return to it next week. For now, I just want to invite you, if you have been feeling like God is far away, that he doesn’t care for you, cry out to God. He hears you. He’s never far. He’ll come to you and nourish you. And if you’re feeling displaced, like you don’t know what to do to worship him, keep seeking after him, know that he is building his kingdom with you even now, because no one can stop him. Look, and see. And if you feel as though anything stands in the way of you and God, call me, email me, let me pray for you as a servant of this church family, or just pray directly to God to ask him to adopt you, so there is nothing that is able to stand between you and your father. Pray with me now.