Snapshots: Day 88

Snapshots: Day 88

The Snapshot: “So he consecrated Aaron … and his sons.” (Lev 8:30) Why priests? Why all these intricate instructions about what they wear and what they do? Perhaps it was to build a bridge between Israel and God, a communication bridge that said, ‘God is holy, and you are not; stay at a distance otherwise you might die. Do not be casual about your relationship with God’. Perhaps it was that there would be those whose lives were to act as constant reminders of this holy God. Perhaps they were to be temporary stand-ins until Jesus came as God’s real priest who drew each of us into his priesthood (joining him in showing that God is holy, acting as reminders of God’s presence in His world, and showing the way to Him. A holy priesthood? (1 Pet 2:9) That is you and me.

Further Consideration: I have, in the snapshot above, suggested that the priesthood acted as a division between God and the people, and I believe that is true, but there is another side to this particular coin: their role was also to bring the people to God. Admittedly the people could not come close, for only the priests could minister in the Holy Place, and the high priest only once a year in the Holiest Place (or Holy of Holies), the innermost room where the presence of God was said to dwell. Nevertheless the role of the priesthood was to teach the Law and be there to oversee the sacrifices, encouraging the people to come to God in the ways stated in the Law.

I have asked the question, why all the intricate instructions about what to wear and what to do? The first simple thought is that having established such paraphernalia, it would be unlikely that anyone else would seek to invade and become part of the priesthood, who were outside the priestly family of Levi. Anyone wearing less than these clothes would never be accepted by the people. Thus the clothes marked them out as special. Similarly all the rules relating to their activities separated them from the ordinary. Summarizing this, these things reinforced or emphasized this barrier / bridge that we have spoken about and made it a very obvious part of the Jewish life and community. It was only in later centuries in the life of Israel was all this diluted so that the priests became worldly in outlook and in Jesus’ time the Sadducees with their limited and liberal theological views held control of the priesthood with a Sadducee eventually judging Jesus.

Now when Peter says we, “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” (1 Pet 2:9) he reminds us that our lives are holy, reflecting a holy God, but that we are also there to act as His intermediaries in this world. We are to convey the heart and will of God and teach whoever will be taught. What a privilege!

52. Finale – the Church on God’s Heart

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

52. Finale – the Church on God’s Heart

1 Cor 12:27   Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Heb 10:5-7  when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,  but a body you prepared for me;  with burnt offerings and sin offerings  you were not pleased.  Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll –  I have come to do your will, my God.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The End? I have pondered on continuing this series into a further part, all about the body of Christ, but I have done that in other series’ and the feeling I have is that enough has been said here – more than a few times! In Part 1 we considered some of the ways the Church can fall short of God’s heart for it. In Part 2 we considered why we are a different people and in Part 3 we went on to consider aspects of being a Christian believer. In Part 4 we considered the need to have a clear vision of who and what we are called to be. Then in Part 5 we went right back to square one and sought to think what are the very basics of ‘church’? In Part 6 we looked at the whole subject of local church leadership and the wider subject of ministries. In this part we have sought to look again at basic or fundamental ingredients of the church that make it unique – the vision we have, the power that has been imparted to us, faith being the very life-style, and obedience the key to being led and guided by God to become all that He has on His heart for us.

Who for? Could we say more? Of course we could but we have to stop somewhere and the more we say the more what we have already said will be diluted. May I simply invite you to go back over this series and ask the Lord to make the issues raised here really come alive for you. I am sure some might have thought, why is he saying all this? Surely this is for leaders not just the ordinary person in the church?  Well no, we all need to be aware of what the Bible says about who we are supposed to be, and if we sense our expression of church falls short, then prayer is the first response, calling out to the Lord to touch the hearts of those who lead us, as well as the rest of the people in my part of what we call the local church? Perhaps there are things, maybe whole areas, where we as individuals need to seek the Lord.

Special People: So what we can we pick out to highlight and bring a final focus as we wind up this series? Let’s consider Peter’s declaration but we’ll look at it in the Message version: you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.”   Isn’t that awesome! We’re chosen, we’re God special people; that’s what we said in the earliest studies. We’ve got a job to do, not just filling up pews on a Sunday morning but acting as priests and you know what they did in the Old Testament period – stood between God and the people to introduce them to each other! They were holy, special, utterly different, His instruments to speak out for Him, introduce others to Him in the right way, to be a testimony to His life-transforming goodness. Once I was a nobody, now I am a somebody, once I was far off from Him, separated by my sin, but now I am forgiven, cleansed and brought near, adopted as a child of God.  So much there to meditate further on and to praise God for!  But it’s all about identity and purpose.

God’s will – the Kingdom: But when we try to look at the big picture, the whole of the Bible from beginning to end we see, behind this fallen world, God’s plan of redemption, a plan brought to its half-way climax by the death and resurrection of His Son. But it is only half way (all right, please don’t be pedantic, I am not being precise, just figurative). There was the beginning – even before Creation – when the Godhead determined this plan of salvation, a necessity if Creation was to eventually function as it could with human beings with free will being brought back to the original possibility – a relationship with God Himself, in complete peace and harmony with Him. Then there was the end – eternity stretching away beyond our understanding where man and God exist for ever in perfect harmony. But in between the beginning and the end, there would be the Fall, the establishing of a new way for man and woman to live outside the presence of God and yet still able to call upon Him. That was how it continued for hundreds of years through the period of the Patriarchs, the period of Israel – through the Exodus and the Exile and eventual domination by the power of Rome. Into this environment stepped the Son of God to reveal the glory of God and die in our place, thus satisfying justice. And out of this – came the church! The Church, all the believers in Christ down through what has been so far two thousand years, testifying to the love and goodness of God and all the while exercising the will of God otherwise known as the kingdom or rule of God.

The Purpose of ‘the Kingdom’: To what aim, all of this? To speak into each and every generation down through the ages to turn the eyes of self-centred and godless mankind to God, to see the plan and purpose of God and realise and experience the love of God. Sadly down through the ages we haven’t done very well have we? Every now and then God has injected life through the means of revivals around the world, through the outpouring of His Spirit again at Azusa Street last century, later through the Pentecostal Churches in general, then through the Charismatic renewal and various other outpourings of His love and power. Without doubt this last century has seen the outpouring of God’s Spirit in a measure never seen in such quality in the previous eighteen hundred years. And the recipient of all this blessing? The Church. And why? Surely to empower the Church to cope with the horrors shown in Revelation of the Last Days. And how are we doing? Not very well. In the West numbers decline and although there are signs of occasional new life through new groups, overall the end result is not good. The world continues to become more and more ungodly and even though there are some strong voices, they tend to be relatively few and far between and our impact in our individual cultures appears very little.

And Jesus? Jesus remains unchanged. He is still the Son of God seated at his Father’s right hand, continuing to rule in the midst of his enemies on the earth, moving ever nearer that time when , “when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” (1 Cor 15:24) And when he comes – “will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Where will he be looking for it? In the Church. Will he find it? That is down to you and me. Will all these reflections be just theoretical or theological ponderings, or will we let the Spirit of God move us to bring our lives back to the Lord, with open hearts that are crying out for Him to take us and use us? The End! Or the Beginning?

25. Aliens/Strangers

Meditations in 1 Peter : 25:  Aliens and Strangers

1 Pet 2:11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

A hundred years ago the word ‘aliens’ would not have been familiar but in the space age and sci-fi age, as well as the age of falling national boundaries, ‘aliens’ is a word we easily understand. An alien is simply someone from somewhere else, from another planet or another country, someone who is quite different from us. That latter phrase is quite significant and important. People who live in the next town or the next county aren’t aliens. No, aliens are those who come from a completely different place and from a completely different culture and who probably have a completely different way of thinking from us.

Now Peter has just been talking about us being a chosen people, a people of the light, a people who have received God’s mercy and who have become God’s people, but now he adds anther description which should speak volumes to us if we are willing to think about it for a minute of two. We are, he says, “aliens and strangers in the world.” Now before we move fully into that we have to note something associated with this. When we think about the world being the planet on which we live, we should be those who appreciate it and enjoy it more than most, because we see it as a gift from God to us. Sadly Christians in the middle of last century had adopted a platonic view of the world and saw spirit as all important and material things as worldly. Now that is an ancient philosopher’s assessment of life, not the Bible’s. The Bible sees the world as God’s wonderful provision for us; He made it and He gave us the capabilities to enjoy it. If we make that the most important thing in life we loose sense of perspective, but it is important because it is God’s gift and we should appreciate it as such.

But there is another sense to the word ‘world’.  The apostle John wrote, Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16) It was misunderstanding this verse that pushed many Christians into a platonic way of thinking. When these apostles used the word ‘world’ in this sort of context they were referring to the godless mentality of mankind, the human race that does not know God. Hence man without God is driven by sin and the ‘cravings’ that John speaks about simply refer to the man who is driven by his senses and those linked to what he can see with his eyes, drive him. He is quite self-centred and so boasts about what he has and does, in an attempt to make something meaningful out of himself. This godless ‘world’ is self-centred and sense-driven.

Now Peter says we are aliens and strangers to this ‘world’. We are culturally different, we think differently and we behave differently because we are different because we have a different origin. The world has been born but we, we have noted earlier in this letter, have been born again, or born twice. They were born of natural flesh; we have been born of God’s Spirit. They are energized by natural physical desires; we have natural physical desires but are now energized by the Spirit of God within us. They work to please themselves and seek to get fulfilment from personal achievement and have goals that are purely material; we seek God, to please Him who loves us, and get a sense of fulfilment by being children of God living out God’s design-purposes for us and have goals that are first to please Him and, second, that end in heaven and eternity. They seek to emulate pop stars or football stars; we seek to be like Jesus. In all of these ways we are utterly different.

This is why Peter concludes with a very practical appeal: to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” The ‘world’, we have just noted, works on the basis of desires for self-pleasing, self-aggrandisement. Because they have no boundaries because they have rejected God as the arbiter of what is right or wrong, they go into things that are clearly wrong, things that are against God’s design for human beings, things that are therefore ‘sinful’. These are things that are alien to us and so if they are allowed in our lives they will be warring against the Spirit of God who dwells within us.

Because of everything else we said above, about who we are today, such things will be alien to us. It’s like having an eyelash in our eye; it will be irritating until it is removed, or perhaps it is like having a small stone in your shoe which, again, is uncomfortable until removed. If we allow the things that the ‘world’ do, to be in our lives they will cause discomfort and upset. Is this why some of us feel a lack of peace in our lives? Is it because we are allowing attitudes or practices or behaviour in our lives that are alien to the presence of God in us? These are very real issues for us and we ignore them at our peril.

23. A Chosen People

Meditations in 1 Peter : 23:  A Chosen People

1 Pet 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Families have a lot to answer for. We very often are what our families have made us.  Here are some parents who are negative about education and so they convey it to their child who happens to be very bright but now with a very low motivation to learn. We could multiply illustrations of how families constrain the individual. But we might say the same things about a nation. National characteristics are a strange thing. When we British think about ourselves we think about the ‘stiff upper lip’, meaning we are known to be unemotional. We tend to be down on ourselves and we go on about the weather. All nations have national characteristics. Being a member of a club or group or gang imposes certain characteristics and expectations.

Peter has just been speaking about those who stumble at Christ, people who are destined for destruction, but now he turns away from them and turns to who we are, we the church, we the Christians as he starts out, “But you…” Then he goes on to give a list of corporate descriptions of who we are. Yes, note that these are all group descriptions. We are what we are because we belong to a group, a special group.

First of all he notes that we are “a chosen people” and we have been chosen, the Bible tells us, by God. The Greek word for ‘church’ is ekklesia which means “called out ones”. God has called us out and chosen us, the ones who would respond well to His Son, Jesus.

But then Peter calls us “a royal priesthood”. Do you remember, he’s already called us that in verse 5: built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”? And we said when we considered that that the role of priest was to bring the people to God in the acceptable manner. But note that we aren’t just a priesthood; we are a royal priesthood because we are sons and daughters of the King who is God. We are those who have been born of God to reveal the Lord to the rest of the world, to seek to bring them to Him in the same way we came – on bended knee.

But we are also “a holy nation.” Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God and Paul wrote, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son. (Col 1:13). Speaking of a nation speaks of a corporate people living together under a ruler and as our ruler is holy, so we too are holy. We are distinct, pure, good; those are dimensions of holiness.

Furthermore we are “a people belonging to God.” We belong to God because He has purchased us with the blood of His Son, purchased out of the bondage of sin, purchased from being under the sway of Satan and purchased from a destiny of destruction. He has the rights to us today, not sin or Satan or the world. They no longer have any claim on us, only God does.

But then he clarifies our calling, the purpose of our calling, the outcome of our calling, if you like:that you may declare the praises of him who called you.” We are to be a people who praise God. You praise someone when they have done something well, and God has certainly done very well in the way He has redeemed us. We declare His praises by the words we use but also by the lives we live.

Part of that is the corporate dimension, the way we live together. Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (Jn 17:23). Throughout the Old Testament there were clear signs that Israel were to be a light to the rest of the world to reveal God to the world. Now we, the Church, are to do the same. God has called us out of darkness into the glorious light of the kingdom of His Son, and this is indeed something that we should be shouting about. Tragically so often we let the enemy subdue us and we forget how wonderful all that He has done for us is. We need to take hold of these things afresh.

He, we have already noted, has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. This is a cause for great rejoicing. Look and listen carefully to the lives of the people who live around us who do not know Jesus, and recognise the darkness in which they struggle. Life is hard and life is difficult and they anguish and suffer and struggle – and we take it all for granted!  We must not! We must see the awfulness of their darkness and realise afresh the wonder of living in the light. Then perhaps we may become again a praising people and as we do so we will reveal the Lord to the world and many will be drawn to Him. May it be so!