The Church: Blessed Beyond Belief

1 Peter 2:4-10 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”

8 and

“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

INTRODUCTION
What is the greatest gift you have ever received (something someone actually got for you)? Near the top of my list are a pair of skis, MSU NCAA basketball tournament tickets, stretchy jeans, a getaway with my wife (from my wife) and a few others. But let’s take it a step further. What’s the greatest gift you can imagine someone else getting for you? A cruise around the world? Superbowl tickets? A ’65 Mustang Shelby? An original painting from an old master? Something else?

Any of these would make for a remarkable gift. But none of them, however, would be in the least bit helpful should persecution come our way. A Shelby wouldn’t bring one iota of comfort to someone exiled from their home and family on account of their faith. The most exquisite master painting wouldn’t do a bit of good if someone’s children were taken away because they refuse to quit preaching the gospel.

And none of them would impress us in the least in the presence of God. All the glory of all the pomp and circumstance of the greatest Superbowl matchup in history would seem utterly insignificant compared to a glimpse of the hem of God’s heavenly robe in his heavenly court. The most exotic and luxurious cruise that’s ever been chartered would seem altogether dull compared to gazing at the backside of God for a fraction of a second.

On the other hand, and the point of this passage is that Christians have already been given and promised gifts that will help in times of great trouble and will last and impress even into eternity. The greatest gifts this world has to offer are like trash (Paul says) compared to the smallest gift in Christ Jesus.

This passage is so full of everlasting, glorious blessings that it is hard to even know how to preach it. To go one-by-one through them could take days. But to barely skim over them wouldn’t do any of them justice. Consequently, I decided to land in the middle. We’re going to start up high (beyond the view of any of them), zoom in just a bit on all of them, and then zoom in closely on just one. My hope is that this approach would whet your appetite enough to press further into some of them on your own.

Please pray with me that the joy of our salvation and all the blessings that it entails would overwhelm us with gratitude and gladness and hope and longing and help, even in times of trouble.

BLESSINGS BEYOND BELIEF
We need to have our eyes wide open to the presence and nature of sin. It is important think about its dangers and deadly effects. Demons too are real and we ignore their prowling and attempts at devouring us to our own peril. Likewise, we must understand the reality and terror of hell. It’s important to spend time thinking about all that the bible says about the eternal conscious torment that God inflicts upon the unrepentant.

The fact is, the bible teaches some harsh truths. It teaches things we might want to forget or ignore. It teaches things that are disturbing and unsettling beyond belief. But…it also teaches of blessings that are beyond belief. The bible doesn’t shy away from describing the pits of hell or the heights of heaven.

This morning, we get to consider the latter. We get to look at a few of the more remarkable blessings that belong to all of the people of God, beginning at our conversion and ending…NEVER!

As I mentioned earlier, to do so as helpfully as possible, we’re going to consider them through three different zoom settings. We’ll start way up high, zoom in just a bit on all the blessings mentioned by Peter in these few verses, and then get uptight on just one of the blessings.

Way up high.

As the old adage goes, sometimes we can lose sight of the forest for the trees. Simply, this means that occasionally we focus so tightly on the details of a thing that we miss the obvious.

For instance, many years ago I was on a mission trip in the Middle East. Several of us were giving away New Testaments on a college campus. Our trip leaders taught us a simple phrase, “İncil hediye”. The phrase means “New Testament gift”. Our aim, of course was to make sure that the students knew that we were offering to give (not sell) them a copy of the New Testament.

Fairly nervous I approached a young woman and rattled off my newly learned phrase. Confused, she commented, “I don’t understand.” So I tried again, “Incil hediye.” Still not understanding, she asked, “What are you saying?”. With both of us increasingly flustered this went around a few more times before she finally said, “I’m speaking English. What are you trying to say?”.

I was so focused on trying to get my pronunciation right that I completely missed the fact that the woman had been responding to my attempts at speaking her language in my own. I had missed the forest for the trees.

There is a real danger in doing this when it comes to the blessings of God. Because God designed each of us differently, and because each of us have gotten to where we are via different paths, each of us are more naturally attracted to certain gifts of God. The lonely may focus on God’s gift of intimate presence. The broken may focus on God’s gift of healing. The sad may focus on God’s gift of comfort. The poor may focus on God’s gift of provision. The weak may focus on God’s gift of strength. The vulnerable may focus on God’s gift of protection.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. That’s part of how God presents his gifts to his people (he often presents the gifts that our circumstances cause us to most desire). Desiring God’s specific gifts only becomes a problem if/when it keeps us from seeing the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is the simple fact that God’s real blessing is himself!

None of God’s blessings come to us apart from God. We will never truly delight in God’s intimate presence, or healing, or comfort, or provision, or strength, or protection apart from God. To want these things for their own sake means we will receive neither them nor God. But to want God for his own sake means that we will eternally and fully receive both him and all of his gifts.

Indeed, only when God is our greatest treasure can we gain the satisfaction that our souls so desire. This is because we were made by him and for him and, therefore, he alone (not the intimacy or healing or comfort or provision or strength or protection we think we need) can truly satisfy.

But again, the good news Peter is declaring to his readers is that all of God is available to all of God’s people through Jesus Christ. This means that Jesus has achieved blessing beyond belief, everlasting communion with God for the people of God. Let’s not miss sight of this as we consider the specific blessings Peter mentions in this passage. And let’s not miss sight of this in our own lives as we seek to experience these blessings for ourselves. God is the true blessing.

With that, lets zoom in a bit to see the blessings of God mentioned by Peter in our passage.

Zoomed in a bit.

I counted the blessings of vs. 4-10 several times and came up with a slightly different number each time (depending on how I organized things). Peter’s point, and my point, therefore, is not a number (13), but the reality of the myriad blessings of God. Before we looks specifically and closely at one of these, then, let’s quickly consider all of them at once.

Peter declares that the elect exiles, those reading his letter, can find help in their suffering by reminding themselves of God’s ever presence and ever-present gifts. That is, Peter wants them to remember that:

  1. They have been made into living stones like Jesus, the Living Stone (2:5). God’s gift to these scattered believers is the reality that have been made alive in Christ. Without him they were dead in their trespasses and sins. In him they were granted new, eternal life.
  2. As living stones they are being used together to built up a spiritual house (2:5). God’s dwelling is no longer primarily in a building made of stones. It is now in believers themselves that God makes his spiritual home.
  3. They are being made into a holy priesthood (5:5). Again, in Christ, no longer is the priesthood reserved for a particular group (the Jews) within a particular tribe (the Levites). And, in Christ, no longer is access to God restricted to one particular person within that particular tribe (the high priest) at a particular time (Yom Kippur). The gift of God to his people is that they all have access to him all the time through Jesus Christ.
  4. They are able to offer spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God (2:5). I mentioned the amazing grace associated with this blessing last week. God grants us the gift of accepting our imperfect offerings when they are offered through faith in Jesus. God’s gift is his joy in our faithful (but not truly righteous) surrendering of ourselves to him.
  5. In Christ, they will never be put to shame (2:6). No one who builds their life upon Jesus will ever, ultimately, be let down or disappointed or have their hope crushed. The amazing and sustaining gift of God is that in his Son, there is no lasting shame. Jesus took it all upon himself.
  6. They have received honor (2:7). Instead of shame, God’s people receive honor. When Christ returns every scoff that had been directed at his people will be grieved, every insult abandoned, and every abuse regretted. And instead even those who rejected Christ will pay honor to Christians. More remarkably still, God will honor those whose faith was in his Son. What a gift!
  7. They are a chosen race (2:9). Deuteronomy 7:6 speaks of Abraham’s decedents as a people (a race) chosen by God. Peter’s great claim, and God’s great gift, is that God has engrafted by faith all who would trust in Jesus (not just Abraham’s relatives).
  8. They are a royal priesthood (2:9). The Lord God, Yahweh, is the sovereign King of all creation. The great gift and great help in times of trouble here, is the fact that he grants his people not only entrance into his kingdom, but also into his family. In Christ we become royalty, priests who reign with Christ!
  9. They are a holy nation (2:9). I love this gift. It is both a declaration and a promise. Christians already are a holy people, set apart by God’s declaration. And Christians are being made holy according to God’s promise to make our faithful effort fruitful. This gift is great help and great joy.
  10. They are a people for God’s own possession (2:10). Previously Peter’s readers were not a people (they were primarily unrelated gentiles), but God gave them the gift of becoming one. And previously they were in the possession of the evil one, but God made them his own at the cost of the blood of his Son.
  11. They had been called out of darkness into marvelous light (2:10). All people, because of inherited sin, are born in darkness. We cannot naturally see the goodness and glory of God. But God called (elected) a people for himself (his chosen race) to rescue out of darkness and into marvelous light. This gift, this ability to see, is what keeps Christians faithful even when the gospel’s enemies seek to plunge us back into darkness (as did the Peter’s reader’s exilers).
  12. They had received mercy (2:10). All of these previous gifts are owing to the mercy of God. God’s gift to his people is to look down on them with compassion in their sinful, dark, and deadly state. Where God’s justice would demand crushing sinners, his mercy brings sympathy and help. The knowledge that their salvation was entirely dependent on God’s mercy, was great strength to persevere because it guaranteed that they would indeed persevere.
  13. They were given the privilege of proclaiming the excellencies of God (2:10). And all of these previous gifts, Peter says (“that you may proclaim…” v.9), are to the end of proclaiming the excellencies of God…which is what we’re going to zoom in on in a bit.

Grace, there’s more still. Each of them has an already and not yet component. That is, Peter’s readers have already received each of these gifts in part, but, as great as these gifts are, they have not yet been given in full. As much as Peter’s readers have experienced the sweet reality of each of them, they had yet to receive them fully and the full joy that comes with them at the return of Jesus.

These were some of the gifts God had given his people at the time of Peter’s writing, and they are the gifts promised to his people—you and I—even today!

I’m about to unpack just one of these blessings in the hopes that if I can help you see the glory of it, you will be utterly amazed (and helped in your times of trouble) as you contemplate the reality that (as awesome as it is up close) it is merely a small fraction of what God is for, and gives to, his people.

With that, let’s consider the blessing—the gift of God—of being able to proclaim the excellencies of God.

Up close.

Of this entire list, perhaps the one that stands out the most is this last one. If I told you I had a great gift for you, a new house, you’d likely be impressed and grateful. If, on the other hand, I told you I had a great gift for you, the privilege of being able to go around for an entire day telling people about how great a singer I am, it’d probably not have the same effect.

There are several reasons this second gift wouldn’t seem like much of a gift. First, I’m not actually that great of a singer. In fact, I’m really bad. To spend a day telling people otherwise would be spending a day lying. Second, my singing is of no benefit to anyone. Likely, it’d only make their day worse. And third, there is no benefit to you at all in telling others about my bad singing. Whatever it is, it isn’t a gift.

At best my “gift” would be a reputation-crushing burden. Not only would people be disappointed in my singing, they’d be disappointed in you for suggesting otherwise. All-in-all, there is no blessing for you in lying to others about something that won’t benefit them and will only burden you.

How, then, is this different in God. Why would the charge of declaring Dave’s singing excellencies not be a gift at all, but the charge to declare God’s excellencies be the greatest gift of all?

The answer is simple. Where I am unimpressive, God is infinitely glorious. Where telling others about my singing does them no good, telling others about the excellencies of God is their greatest need—it’s what they were made for. And while telling others about me is a waste of your time, declaring the greatness of God is your highest privilege.

All of God’s gifts are given to his people in order that we might see and delight in God’s excellencies, and then (Peter says), declare them to the entire world. The ability to see, and then the charge of sharing the excellencies of God are the greatest gifts of all because God is uniquely excellent, greater than we could ever imagine, infinitely glorious. He is what we were made for. He alone can satisfy our souls.

What’s more, we cannot oversell the excellencies of God. No matter how grand our description, God is more grand still. He is the giver of great gifts. He is the holder of the universe. He is the savior of mankind. He is the source of all joy and goodness and beauty and wonder and power and peace and blessing. Because of who God is, there is no greater blessing than the ability to see his glory and the charge to share it with others.

What a gift. What a list of gifts, right? This list alone contains blessing beyond belief. And yet, this is a small fraction of the blessings promised by God for his people. And yet, as we saw a few minutes ago, even a full list of God’s blessings pales in comparison to the great reality that God offers all of these things in him. We get God. God blesses us with God.

AS YOU COME TO HIM
Before I conclude, I want to draw your attention (as I did last week) to a simple, but easily missable point in Peter’s words. While the blessings of Jesus, the living cornerstone, are glorious and numerous beyond belief, they do not belong to everyone.

Hopefully, if you were listening at all, your soul was stirred as you heard of the great gifts of God. Hopefully, your appetite hasn’t been shriveled up by the things of the world to the point where a Facebook “like” jolts you more than these things. And, therefore, hopefully you’re wondering how you can gain access to these blessings. Peter does not leave his readers (including us) hanging. He tells us explicitly. All of these blessings (and countless more—indeed, God himself) come to us as we come to Jesus. These blessings belong to those who build their entire lives upon him, the Living Cornerstone.

Once again, then, turn to him today. Come to Jesus and be saved from the terrible, eternal wrath of God which is rightly upon us all for our sin. And come to Jesus and be eternally blessed beyond belief through the righteousness and for the glory of Jesus, the living cornerstone. Amen.

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