The Mission of God’s People 3: Representing God to the World

Intro: A few months ago, Susan and I were walking in our neighbourhood and, as we crossed a pedestrian bridge over a ravine, we met three young teenage boys walking toward us. As they walked, they were being typical teenage boys and they were goofing around. A little ways behind them were 3 teenage girls observing their goofy behaviour and one of them pulled out her phone and began videoing the goofy antics of the boys without them even knowing it.

Cell Phone by rob-hampson-494775-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

And here is what I thought when I saw that: When I grew up, before cell phones and social media, you could be goofy, you could make mistakes and screw up, and it was all part of growing up. But now, your goofiness and your mistakes could be recorded by someone else without you knowing it, and if they put it on the internet, it is on there forever. That is immense pressure on the younger generations today. And those of us who are older never had that pressure.

This pressure becomes far more serious for young people today because their lives are lived, in large part, online. So when you are rejected, shamed or ridiculed online, you are being rejected, shamed and ridiculed in the neighbourhood where you live, where your friends live, where everyone in your school lives, where everyone in your church lives, and so everyone knows and your social life is ruined.

Results from research conducted in the United States last year indicate that 59% of American teens have been cyberbullied in some way. This could take the form of offensive name-calling, spreading false rumours about them, physical threats, having explicit images sent to them or of them without consent, and cyber stalking. Other studies have shown that cyber bullying can lead to depression and, in some cases, because of the shame and psychological pain people experience, cause them to commit suicide, as happened with Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons.

It is not my intention with what I write in this post to replace in any way the strategies that schools, the RCMP and other organizations have put in place to try to deal with cyber-bullying. But I believe that there is a heart issue that happens when cyber-bullying or any kind of bullying happens, and that heart issue applies not just to teenagers but to people of all ages. Something breaks in our heart when the people around us reject us, condemn us and shame us and then we no longer feel safe and our identity is shaken to the core. 

My goal is to point you toward Jesus so you can have the inner resiliency that He gives to us. And that inner resiliency from Jesus will help you to reject the lies of your outer condemner, or maybe it’s your inner condemner because sometimes we condemn ourselves. And with that inner resiliency, Jesus will also help you to anchor yourself in a new identity, a new and positive image of yourself that cannot be shaken. 

Part I – The Rejected Ones

To guide us toward Jesus and the inner resiliency that He gives us, we are going to be looking today at 1 Peter 2:4-10. And the writer of this letter begins in this way:

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. 

I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. (1 Pet. 1:1)

So, one of Jesus’ first followers, Peter, it the author of this letter and he tells us that he is an apostle, that is, one who has been sent from Jesus with authority as His representative. And Peter tells us that he is writing to followers of Jesus in a particular geographic region. The place names listed by Peter may not mean much to us today, but the region he is describing is Asia Minor, or present-day Turkey, and back in the first century, this was an area where most people did not worship the one, true God. There was a broad array that of Greek and Roman gods were worshipped and, prominent among them was worship of the Roman emperor as a god. If you wanted to go far in society or have a prominent place or position in that part of the world, you would declare, “Caesar is Lord!” and you would worship him. 

If, on the other hand, you were one of the minority in that society who was a Christian, that is, someone who said, “Jesus is Lord!” and you worshiped Him, you would be rejected by your peers, your neighbourhood and your society and under threat of real persecution.  

To these rejected ones, Peter write, starting at chapter 2, verse 4:

You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor. 

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say, 

“I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor,  and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 

Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him. But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them. 

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-10)

So let’s unpack this reading to see what God has for us here.

Part II – The New Temple and the New Priests

The first thing that we need to be aware of is that there is a  backstory to what Peter has written. In ancient times, in order to appease their god, people around the world would build temples as special places of worship for their god, and they would set aside priests to serve as intermediaries between them and their god.  

These temples would be beautiful buildings with ornate carvings to give honour and glory to the god that they represented. But these temples were also places where people kept their treasure. The idea was that the god would protect the treasure and no one would dare steal the treasure for fear of incurring the wrath of the god.

And the people would employ priests who would serve as intermediaries between the people and their god and theses priests would continually offer up sacrifices on behalf of the people in order to keep the god happy. If the god was happy, then the people would get safe passage for their merchant ships crossing the Mediterranean Sea, they would get rain on their crops and their livestock would be fertile, their city would be protected from the plague and their enemies would be kept at bay.  

The Jewish people also had a Temple in Jerusalem, but the purpose of that Temple was much different than the temples in Asia Minor. The purpose of the Jerusalem Temple was to assure God’s people that He was present among them. The priests of the Jerusalem Temple offered sacrifices, but those sacrifices were not for appeasing God because He already had a plan to make things right between Him and all people. The purpose of the sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple was to assure the people of their forgiveness and the new life that they had through the God-who-saves.

In the first half of the first century, God put his plan into place. God the Son came into this world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He came and taught people about the unconditional love and forgiveness from God that was available to all people through Him and He demonstrated how He was going to make all things right in the end by healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, making the lame walk and raising people from the dead.

He was the one, perfect human being. And yet, Jesus was despised and rejected by His peers, He was stripped naked and spit on as He hung on the cross to die. People called Him names and said things about Him that were not true. If they would have had cell phones back then, people probably would have taken pictures of Him as he hung naked on the cross and shared them on social media somehow. 

And yet, through that shame and rejection, Jesus did a wonderful thing for us. For Jesus paid the full cost of forgiveness for all sins for all people for all time. Why is that important? Because sometimes, we are the bully who speaks a careless word that cuts far deeper than we will ever know. Sometimes we are the one who puts others down in order to elevate ourselves. Sometimes we are the one who shares a post because we think it is right, and then later we find out how very wrong we really were.

Forgiveness is also important for the one being bullied because sometimes we get lost in false guilt and shame. And the forgiveness that Jesus gives is our promise that He is always with us, that He always loves us and that we are forever safe with Him.

Whether we are the bully or the one being bullied, Jesus’ rejection and shame is our guarantee of God unconditional acceptance of us. Jesus tore down all barriers between God and humanity and opened the door for us to have a loving relationship with the living God. Through Jesus, we are washed clean of all our sin and brought into the family of God as a dearly loved child of God. Jesus’ great shame has become the foundation of our unconditional acceptance. 

In ancient times, a lot of buildings were built with stone. When you are using stone to build a building, the most important stone was the cornerstone. It was the first stone placed in a foundation and it had to be perfect for all the rest of the stones in the building would be lined up with this one. It also had to be the strongest stone, for it would bear the largest portion of the weight of the building. So builders were very careful to make sure that they used the best stone for the cornerstone. Any poor quality stones would be rejected and thrown away.

Though Jesus was the stone that was rejected by humanity as He hung on the cross, through His resurrection, Jesus is now the cornerstone of all creation. Everything that is good and beautiful and true lines up with Jesus’ goodness, beauty and perfection. If you want to see how things should really be, look at Jesus as he fought against the injustice of hypocritical religion that emphasized outward appearances and ignored the darkness in our own souls. Look at Jesus as He celebrated every sinner’s return to the open arms of their heavenly Father. Look at Jesus as he touched the unclean lepers, as He hung out with the social outcast sinners and as He taught, healed, forgave and saved people.

For Jesus is not only the Saviour of the world for now. Jesus is the Saviour of the world forever. For one day, Jesus is going to come back to this world to make us and all things right. On that day, every wounded heart will be healed, every sorrowing spirit will be lifted up, all evil will be purged and all things will be restored and renewed. Our dead, dusty bodies will be recreated anew and reconnected with our spirit and we will be more alive and more fully human than we ever were before. Jesus“…will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:4)

Part III – The Invitation

Jesus is the cornerstone of all creation and Jesus is inviting you to let Him be the cornerstone of your life. He is inviting you to receive His free and full forgiveness. He is inviting you to receive and new life with Him that begins now and will last forever. And life with Jesus is exponentially richer, fuller and more purposeful than life could ever be without Him.

You are God’s forgiven and unconditionally accepted child because of Jesus, and because you are God’s forgiven and unconditionally accepted child, Jesus is inviting you to line up your life in alignment with His so He can pour more of His goodness, His beauty and His truth into your life. He is inviting you to let Him be your foundation stone so He can bear the weight of all your burdens in life.

In a very real way, it does not matter what other people think about you, it does not matter what other people say about you, behind your back, on social media or to your face, Jesus gave Himself for you so that the bedrock of your life could be the new identity that Jesus gives you as a beloved, forgiven child of God. That is who you are.

And, with Jesus, your identity grows to become even more than that for Jesus is building you and everyone else who looks to Him in faith, into a new temple, a new house of worship and a place of safety, where people can know that the treasure of their life is always safe with God, where people can carry around with them the presence of God to share with our friends, our neighbours, our schoolmates and our co-workers.

And not only are each of you the temple of God, you are also God’s priests in this world. Jesus has made you into holy priests who serve as intermediaries between God and the people who do not yet know Him. This means that you are God’s representative in your home, your school, your workplace and your neighbourhood and you serve the people around you with the selfless, gracious, accepting love of God. And you also represent the people around you before God, lifting them up in prayer for their salvation and healing, their troubles and challenges, their griefs and sorrows, and their needs for today, tomorrow and beyond.

With Jesus, you are not only accepted and love by God and given a new identity as a beloved, forgiven child of God, you have also been given a key role in the mission of God’s people. You carry the presence of God into a dark and dying world and you serve the world with His love as His priest.

Conclusion: I grew up in a simpler time, but there were still words that were hurled in thoughtlessness or cruelty. And there was a little poem back then that children were taught to say to deal the verbal bullying of that time. Maybe you have heard it. It goes like this “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”  

And what I learned over the years is that that poem is not true. The truth is that words do hurt, words do harm. 

But I have also discovered that there is a deeper love that heals the heart that has been wounded by hurtful words. The unconditional love of Jesus not only heals us, it also gives us a foundation for life that will align our lives with all that is good, beautiful and true, that will take all of our burdens from us in exchange for the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. It is a love that enables us to carry the presence of God and his love with us wherever we go, even into the presence of those who call us names and shame us. It is a love that makes us priests, representatives of God who share his love with the world around us.

So my encouragement to you, whether you are a teenager, or the parent of a teenager, or a senior citizen, is to rest in the love of Jesus. Let His love heal your heart and give you a new purpose as His representative in the place where He has put you. Amen.

(This message was shared on May 12, 2019 at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC. For more info about WGLC, click here. 

PS There is no post # 2 in the Mission of God’s people series.)

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