A People to Proclaim God's Glory
A People to Proclaim God's Glory
In these verses, Peter focuses on two important truths concerning the church. First, he reminds us of the church’s identity as God’s People. And then second, Peter reminds us of the church’s purpose as God’s People. Identity and purpose – that is Peter’s focus. In many ways, these verses are the climax of the first section of Peter’s letter. This first section began back in chapter 1, verse 3, and it reaches it climax here in vv9-10 of chapter 2. It is not so much that Peter gives us new teaching in these verses as it is that he summarizes what he has been teaching throughout this opening section. He does this, I think, to create emphasis. Before we move on to the next section of the letter, what are the things we absolutely have to understand? Our identity and our purpose as God’s people. Identity and purpose – those are the points that bring this first section of the letter to a climax. My plan this morning is to spend our time focusing on those two truths. Let’s begin by looking at what Peter says regarding the church’s identity as God’s people.
The Church’s Identity as God’s People
The first thing we should note is that Peter uses the language of OT Israel to describe the church. Look at v9 – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” Those four phrases all come from the OT, where God uses them to describe his people Israel. But Peter uses them here to describe the church. This is a surprising, maybe we could even say astonishing move on Peter’s part. He takes the most precious truths concerning OT Israel and he applies them to the church, which is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. In order to appreciate this point, let’s look more closely at each of those four phrases in v9. What we want to do here is understand the OT background of each phrase, and then understand how it applies to the church through Christ.
First, Peter calls the church a chosen race. This phrase recalls God’s election of Israel to be his covenant people. From the beginning of the nation’s existence, God emphasized that he had chosen Israel, not the other way around. They did not chose him or love him first; he set his love on them, and that was how they came to be his people. Listen to how Moses described it in Deuteronomy 10 – “The LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” Moses’ point was that God had chosen Abraham and his offspring to be God’s covenant people, and they were to never forget that truth. Peter’s point is God’s people are no longer Abraham’s physical descendants, but those who are connected to Christ, the true offspring of Abraham. God’s chosen race now consists of those who put their faith in Christ, the chosen and precious Cornerstone. That’s Peter point with this first phrase.
Second phrase – Peter describes the church as a royal priesthood. This phrase recalls Exodus 19. In that chapter, the nation has just been delivered from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, and they are now camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Before God gives Israel his law, he calls Moses up on the mountain, and God tells Moses that Israel will be a kingdom of priests. Their role as this kingdom of priests would be to mediate God’s blessings to all the nations of the earth. Remember, God had said that he would bless all the nations of the earth through Abraham and his descendants. In Exodus 19, God establishes Israel as his kingdom of priests in order to accomplish precisely that purpose – to be a blessing to the nations. Peter’s point is that the church is now God’s kingdom of priests, and it is through the church’s proclamation of the gospel that God will bring his blessing to all the nations. Because we are under the lordship of God’s True King, Jesus Christ, the church is now God’s royal priesthood.
Third phrase – Peter calls the church a holy nation. Again, this recalls Exodus 19. In that passage, Israel was to be set apart to God, separate from the pagan nations. They were to be holy as God’s people, a community, a nation that shared God’s character. Peter’s point is that the church is now God’s set apart people; the church is now the community that displays God’s holy character in the world. What was true of Israel is now applied to the church.
Finally, Peter calls the church a people for God’s own possession. This phrase recalls Isaiah 43, where God made Israel a people for himself. From all the nations of the earth, God says that he made Israel his possession. Peter’s point is that through Christ, the church is now God’s possession. We don’t look to one particular ethnic group in order to find God’s people. God’s people now consist of those from every tribe, tongue, and nation, all gathered together through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now, we can see more clearly what Peter is driving at in v9. Through Christ, the church has become the new people of God. What was once said of OT Israel is now applied to the church. And this is possible only because of Jesus Christ. In Christ, God has fulfilled and is fulfilling all his promises to his people. Christ is the true Israel, the obedient Son of God. Christ embodies and fulfills what God’s people in the OT were intended to embody and fulfill. Where Israel failed as God’s holy nation and chosen race, Christ succeeded. Christ obeyed where Israel disobeyed. He followed where Israel went astray. He trusted God’s Word where Israel refused to listen. This means that God’s people are no longer defined by ethnicity or physical descent from Abraham; they are defined by Christ, who was himself the true offspring and descendant of Abraham. Those who are in Christ are now counted as God’s people, because Christ is the fulfillment of what God has always intended for his people. Peter’s point then is this – the church possesses a distinct identity; we belong to God, and we do so because of Jesus Christ.
Now, just to clarify, it is not that the church replaces Israel, like one piece swapped out for another. And it is not that the Jewish people have been kicked out of God’s purposes. Rather, Peter’s point is that the church, both Jew and Gentile together, becomes God’s New People through the work of Christ. Everything is focused on Jesus Christ at this point. It’s not replacement, but fulfillment. Let me show you what I mean from one particular OT passage, Isaiah 43, which Laura read earlier in the service. In Isaiah 43, the Israelites are in exile in Babylon. They have been kicked out of the Promised Land because they broke God’s covenant. While they are in exile, God says that one day, he will bring about another exodus. Just as he delivered his people from Egypt in the past, so also he will deliver his people again in the future. He promised them a second exodus, a greater deliverance. When we enter the NT, we learn in the Gospels that Jesus’ death and resurrection is that greater exodus, that greater deliverance. The worst exile for God’s people was not the exile in Babylon, but their exile in sin. That’s what really separated them from God – not geography, but sin! The promised deliverance of Isaiah 43 is fulfilled not primarily in a physical exodus, but in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus delivers God’s people from their exile in sin. Everyone who trusts in Christ experiences Isaiah’s promised deliverance and becomes part of God’s chosen people, his holy nation, his church. That is just one example of how through Christ, the church has become the new people of God; not by replacing Israel, but by experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promises through Christ himself.
This is Peter’s climactic point in v9 – through Christ, the church has become God’s New People. That is our identity; that is what defines us. Now, this is such an incredibly important point that I want to make three observations here as means of application. What should stand out to us as we reflect on our identity as God’s people? Three observations:
First, we should marvel at the greatness of Jesus Christ. Think about what is at work in Peter’s point. Think about this – Christ has fulfilled all of the purposes for God’s people, and Christ is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to his people. All of the purposes and promises of God reach their climax in Christ. Think about God’s purposes and promises like a series of intricate, complex train tracks. They wind through the cities and the countryside of the Old Testament, over hills of distress and heartbreak, through tunnels of uncertainty, ever twisting and turning around all the triumphs and failures of Israel. All those OT tracks come together in Christ; they all reach their terminal point in this man, Jesus. The infinite, eternal plan of God finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. What greatness and glory this man possesses! What awe we should feel as we stand in the presence of the One who fulfills the purposes and promises of God! We shouldn’t be able to go away from this passage without being overwhelmed at the greatness of Jesus Christ.
Second, we note that our existence as God’s people owes entirely to God’s grace. I’ll never get tired of preaching this point; I hope you don’t get tired of hearing it! We exist as God’s people not because of our works or our worth, but because of God’s grace! We belong to God because he first loved us. We belong to God because he had mercy on us. All of those phrases in v9 emphasize God’s action to make us his people. We didn’t make ourselves God’s people; he pursued us, he saved us, he made us his people. And that is good news! If it were up to us, we would never have come to God. We would have been content to spend our days rebelling against him and loving self, all the while trying to convince ourselves that everything was right with the world! But God, in his grace, has made us his own. He loved us, even when we were his enemies. We should marvel at such grace.
Third, we should note that our identity as God’s people is the foundation for living as God’s people. In the next section of the letter, Peter will go on to talk about how to live as God’s people in the world – how to submit ourselves to authority, how to suffer for doing what is right, how to endure suffering when we don’t deserve it – all very important topics, and very relevant for us as Christians. But before he gets to those instructions, what does he remind us of? Our identity as God’s people. That’s the foundation. Before we can live as God’s people, we must embrace and believe and hold on to who we are as God’s people. God’s grace must come before our obedience; identity before instruction. That’s the point here. I think Peter gives us this reminder because he knows that our identity is the key to perseverance and endurance as Christians.
The Church’s Purpose as God’s People
After reminding us of our identity as God’s people, Peter comes to his second point – the church’s purpose as God’s people. Look again at v9, where Peter writes, “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.” With that final phrase in v9, Peter reminds the church of its purpose. Why does the church exist? To proclaim God’s excellencies. That’s why we have been made God’s people – so that we might bring glory to God.
But what does it mean to glorify God? What does it mean to proclaim God’s excellencies? We use that kind of glory language a lot, but are we sure what it means? We need to be sure, because it’s the purpose for our existence. Here’s my attempt to explain what it means to glorify God. The foundational truth of the Bible is that God is the most glorious being in the universe. He is goodness and beauty and righteousness in himself. Nothing compares to the splendor and majesty of God! But the reality of our experience is that the world does not see God as glorious. The world does not see God as good and beautiful and righteous. And that’s a problem! What is God’s plan to deal with that problem? The church, his redeemed people! As we exist together as God’s people, we display to the world more of what God is like. We display more of his glory and greatness through our worship, through our ministry to the hurting and lost, and through our love for one another. It is through the church that God reveals his glory to a world that desperately needs to see that glory. This is what it means to proclaim God’s excellencies – we use our lives to help others see more and more what God is like.
Now, sometimes when people hear this point, they think to themselves, “Wow, that is awfully selfish of God! He sounds like an egomaniac, creating people for himself just so he can get glory.” Maybe you’ve thought that before. Let me clarify why this purpose does not make God an egomaniac. If you or I insisted on getting glory from everyone, that would be a problem. Why? Because we are not inherently glorious! There is nothing in me that demands or deserves universal worship. But God is inherently glorious. He is perfect within himself; he is deserving of universal worship. When he creates us for the purpose of receiving glory, there is nothing wrong with that because he deserves it! Egomaniacs are delusional; they think more highly of themselves than they should. God is not delusional; he deserves all praise and glory because he is inherently awesome and majestic and glorious.
But there is another way to answer this objection that is actually more compelling. When God says that our purpose is to glorify him, what is he actually doing? Like we just said, he’s getting what he deserves, praise and worship. But in another sense, he is giving us what is best for us as well. Human beings are made to see and respond to God’s glory; we’re made to be satisfied with God and with God alone. We are by nature glory-seekers. There is in every person this insatiable longing to see and be satisfied by glory, by greatness. This is the reason why we are awed by majestic mountains and impressed by amazing athletic achievements. It’s the reason we are moved to tears by well-written poems and perfectly composed music. It’s the reason we’re satisfied by the experience of relationship between a husband and wife, or parent and child, or friend and friend. But it’s also the reason why some people drown themselves in sin and wickedness; they are desperate for glory, they can’t find anything that satisfies, so they turn to anything that will numb the desire. We are made to experience glory.
But none of those experiences I just described ultimately satisfies. They all leave us wanting on some level. The only glory that will truly satisfy the human heart is the glory of God. Only when we see and savor God himself will we find true and lasting satisfaction. When God says that our purpose is to glorify him, he’s not only getting what he deserves; he is also working to satisfy us with himself. You see it? As we use our lives to glorify God, we come to see and experience more of the very thing we long for – real glory. When God says our purpose is to proclaim his excellencies, he is not an egomaniac; he’s not a selfish glory hound. He’s actually putting us on the pathway to lasting satisfaction, through seeing and proclaiming his glory.
Now, back to v9. The natural question at this point is this – how do we do proclaim God’s excellencies? How do we declare God’s greatness? Look at what Peter says in the text – “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” That last line about darkness and light is a reference to the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God saves us from darkness and brings us into the marvelous light of his presence. Peter is saying that the way we proclaim God’s excellencies is by making much of the gospel! How do we put God’s glory and greatness on display for the world to see? By making much of the gospel, by making much of Christ! This is because God’s glory is seen most clearly in the gospel. The gospel reveals to us the glory of God himself. It is in the gospel that we see both God’s justice and his mercy, both his wrath and his grace, both his patience and his faithfulness, both his holiness and his love. As we behold and proclaim the crucified but risen Christ, we behold and proclaim the very glory of God! This means that our purpose as the church is to proclaim God’s glory by making much of Christ and his gospel. That’s the reason we exist.
But what does this look like practically? What does it look like to fulfill our purpose as God’s people? In one sense, there is not one specific answer to that question. There is not one specific way that we make much of Christ. It could happen any number of ways. It happens as we gather together as a church and worship Christ. It happens as we sing songs that are rich with the truths of Scripture. It happens as we encourage one another to be in the Word, to know God, and to trust his character. It happens as we serve others in love and good deeds. It happens as we sacrificially love our families and our friends, even when they cannot return the sacrifice. It happens as we speak against evil and injustice. It happens as we disciple that new Christian. It happens as we work to share the good news of Christ with that co-worker or neighbor. There is not one specific way to answer the question. There is not one specific program that enables us to fulfill our purpose.
What ties all of those activities together are two simple things, really – a heart that is captured by the glory of Christ, and a heart to make that glory known to others. That’s the answer to the question of how we proclaim God’s excellencies. If we are captured by God’s glory, and if our heart is to make that glory known to others, we won’t be to stop ourselves from proclaiming God’s excellencies! The way to fulfill our purpose is not to identify certain kinds of activities. The way to fulfill our purpose is to be a certain kind of person – a person who is completely captured by God’s glory and who is completely committed to making that glory known.
Are you that kind of person? Are you captured by God’s glory? Is your heart’s desire to make that glory known to others? Those are the ingredients of a person who proclaims God’s excellencies. If those things are not true of you, don’t despair. Look to Christ, and pray that God would give you fresh eyes to see his greatness and glory! How long has it been since you meditated on the glory of the gospel – that the holy God would save sinful people through the death and resurrection of his own Son! How long has it been since you read the Gospels and stared into the face of Jesus Christ, the one who possessed unbelievable power and yet humbled himself to the point of death on the cross? How long has it been since you prayed that God would give you a greater love for him, a greater love for his glory, a greater love for his Word? If your heart is not captured by God’s glory, don’t despair; look to Christ. And keep looking to him, keep meditating on the truths of the gospel until your heart is captured! Keep praying for God to give you fresh eyes to see Christ as great and glorious!
Oh, that is my desire for this church – that Midtown Baptist would be full of people who are completely captured by the glory of God and whose one, single desire is to make him known! Oh God, would you come and make us that kind of people! Would you rescue us from our small lives that exist only for ourselves, and would you deliver us to your grand purpose of making much of Christ! May we get to the end of lives and be able to say that we spent everything we had to make Christ known!
That’s brings us to the end of our passage. Peter closes this text by reminding us once again of the depth of God’s excellencies. In case we’ve forgotten how amazing God’s grace is, Peter reminds us with his closing words in v10. Look at what he writes, “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.” This is how amazing God’s grace is – that we would go from having nothing and deserving wrath to having everything through the infinite worth of Christ. Through Christ, we who were not God’s people have become his people. We who had no mercy have now received mercy. That’s why we sing “All I Have is Christ”, because without him, we have nothing. But with him, we have everything!