RPM, Volume 16, Number 10, March 2 to March 8, 2014

Out of Darkness

1 Peter 2:9,10

By D. Marion Clark

1 Peter 2:9,10
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. 10 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.

I opened the last chapter describing the watershed interaction between Jesus and his disciples, which culminated in Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. In a similar manner God and his people, the Israelites, had a watershed experience in which their relationship entered into deeper significance. It is the occasion of God imparting the Commandments to Moses. Before God called Moses up onto Mt. Sinai, he first set the context for what he was to do. It is recorded in Exodus 19:3-6:

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'"

It was on this basis — being the unique people of God — that the exodus from Egypt took place, the commandments and laws were given, and, indeed, all of Israel's history evolved as it did. Israel was not just another nation with another religion. It was the only nation with which God made a covenant. It was the nation uniquely possessed by the one true God.

Note the emphasis of their special status. They are God's treasured possession. The whole earth is God's possession, but Israel is his treasure. Note what this treasure will be: first, a kingdom of priests. The tribe of Levi was set apart by God from the other tribes to be his special representatives. Then, from within that tribe, the family of Aaron was set aside to be the priests who could serve in the presence of God in his holy temple. Israel was to the other nations, what the Levites and priests were to Israel - a group given special access to God via a special relationship.

That Israel was to be a holy nation also denotes the special relationship to God. A synonym for holy is consecrated; Israel was a nation consecrated to God, i.e. set apart from the rest for God. That is what holy means — to be set apart. The Levitical system of laws illustrate this principal. Any object used for the temple, or priest, to serve in the temple had to go through a ritual of consecration — being made holy or being set apart for God.

Why did God give Israel, the descendants of Abraham such special status? What had they done to earn his favor? Nothing. They had not been so spiritual or wise to choose God and earn his blessing; indeed, they had done nothing to be chosen by him. Yet God did choose the people of Israel and did so out of his own desire. Moses reminds the people of this in Deuteronomy 7:7,8:

7 The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

It was out of his love that the Lord set his love upon Israel.

Now, there was a purpose in granting Israel her special status. She was to glorify God. Consider some of the verses about this.

Sing for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel (Isaiah 44:23).
For as a belt is bound around a man's waist, so I bound the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah to me, declares the Lord, to be my people for my renown and praise and honor (Jeremiah 13:11).
…who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses' right hand, who divided the waters before them to gain for himself everlasting renown…This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name (Isaiah 63:12,14).

Israel was God's chosen vessel through which to display his glory, to make his name known. His glory was displayed primarily through his work of redemption — the deliverance from Egypt and settling her in the land of Canaan, and the deliverance from her enemies throughout her history, culminating in her deliverance from Babylon. But she also displayed God's glory by being the priests who declared his glory.

Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
2 The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
3 He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God (Psalm 98:1-3).

…because I provide water in the desert
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
21 the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise (Isaiah 43:20,21).

The New Chosen

The centuries roll by. The prophecies of the Messiah are finally fulfilled when Jesus of Nazareth appears. He dies to bring atonement for the sins of his people. He rises in victory over death and then ascends in glory into the heavens. He brings a greater redemption than any ever known before, more glorious than the redemption from Egypt and more far-reaching, for this redemption is not restricted to a single people but to peoples of all nations. The kingdom is not restricted to one geographical district, but covers the earth. And the Spirit of God rests not on one people group, but on individuals from many different people groups, making a new people of God — the church of Jesus Christ.

Peter, whose confession of Jesus as the Messiah set the basis for the church, now says to these people: you are a chosen people, [you are] a royal priesthood, [you are] a holy nation, a people belonging to God. He begins the sentence with, "But you are." He has just been speaking of people who reject Jesus, thus stumbling over him, for which they were destined. "But," he goes on to say, "that is not your destiny. You are…" and then he bestows on them these titles and descriptions reserved for Israel, God's people.

All that was said of Israel using these terms applies as well to members of the church. The church makes up the chosen people of God, whether they be Jew or Gentile. The church members make up the priesthood of God, consecrated by him that they may offer acceptable sacrifices to him. The church is his treasured possession.

See how Peter is encouraging these small bands of believers scattered throughout an unsympathetic and even hostile territory. "You are no less than the special people of God on whom his favor rests. Though the whole earth is his, you are his treasured possession. Though there are many religions and many priests, your worship alone is accepted by God, because you alone has he consecrated."

If the church's status is the same as was Israel's, so is the purpose for which it was formed — to glorify God. As Peter says, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Just as the redemption of Israel from slavery to Egypt was cause for God's glory to be proclaimed, so is the redemption of his people from sin the cause for his people to declare his praises. Indeed, the redemption is greater. The Israelites were called out of physical slavery and into a new geographical area; these people were called out of the spiritual darkness of sin and into the light of eternal salvation. It is a greater redemption because of what the new chosen people are delivered from and what they are entering into. But this redemption is greater for another reason as well — who the redeemed are.

In verse 10 Peter uses language that he drew from the story of Hosea. Remember the story I told about Hosea and Gomer? Hosea was told by God to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him, and so he picked Gomer. They had three children. Here were their names: the first son was called Jezreel as a reminder of a massacre that took place there; the next child, a daughter, was called Lo-Ruhamah, which means "not loved" and the third child, another son, was called Lo-Ammi, which means "not my people." These are not typical names you find in a book of names for your baby!

God had a harsh message to deliver for which these names were a sign. He was about to act in a manner against his covenant people that showed wrath, not love, and which regarded Israel as though not belonging to him. But like a parent who regrets having to be harsh, he immediately assures them, Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them…[and] In the place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God' (Hosea 1:7, 10).

Peter takes these words and applies them to the church: 10 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. To Jewish believers, these words could be the fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy. Though once rejected by God, now through Christ they have been shown mercy and made his people again. To Gentile believers, these words could be a greater fulfillment of the prophecy. Hosea 1:10 says, Yet the Israelites will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or counted. God's people would become a vast number. How? God's original covenant with Abraham was not merely to make him a great nation, but to be a blessing: all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3). There would come a day when the blessing of God's special favor would be extended beyond the physical Israel to embrace people of every people group and form a spiritual Israel.

The Gentiles were never a people belonging to God. They had never known his saving mercy. They had always been on the outside. And now they are in; they are his people; they know now his mercy and have been brought into his wonderful light. Who, more than they, have cause to declare the praises of God?

Our Praise

Who more than we have cause to declare God's praises? For God has redeemed us; he has called us out of darkness and into his wonderful light. He has chosen us and made us his priests so that we may come into his presence and offer to him acceptable sacrifices. He has consecrated us and shown us mercy.

Let me ask you a question: Do you know the great redemption that God has made? Do you? I am not asking if you are able to explain redemption or even if you are able to give a testimony of being saved. I am asking if you know in the depths of your being the awesome miracle that has been wrought in you and the glorious salvation that is yours.

Let me explain. Most of us who were not adults during WWII cannot truly appreciate how terrible and glorious that war was. We were not there. We can read about it, watch documentaries and movies about it, and even talk to veterans. But we cannot experience what was actually at stake. We know the outcome; those fighting the battles did not. For them, it was a real possibility they could lose. It was a real possibility for those in Nazi concentration camps and prison camps that they would never be freed. It was a real possibility for millions of people that they would be killed or be subjected to enemy nations. The future of the free world was at stake; the existence of whole people groups was unsure. The consequences of who would win were enormous and the power of the enemy was enough to make the outcome uncertain. We who were not there can appreciate the war to a degree and be thankful to our fathers and mothers, but, still, we have to be reminded of the war to think about it, and even then, watching Star Wars will bring out just as well the same feelings of tension. Darth Vader is as real to us as Hitler.

We are in a similar position regarding the redemption of God. When Peter exclaims, 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, we respond with "that's nice." If we are honest, we respond, "I don't feel that." Those of you raised in a Christian home may not be able to recall a time you've felt excluded from God. When did you not belong? When did you move from a state of not knowing God's mercy to suddenly receiving it? You, teenagers, if you've always been basically good — you haven't been mean, you haven't gotten into drugs, you haven't had sex — you may be grateful for being redeemed, but in reality it hasn't made much difference in your life. The same is true for you adults. Maybe you can remember a period of not being saved, but after all the years of a respectable life, the concept of God's power and mercy being worked for you and in you is not so real as to move you in any great way. You may be willing, but you do not feel compelled to declare the praises of God who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light. You don't recall that darkness being so dark and the light does not seem so bright anymore. That's why you have difficulty entering into the joy of worship and in bearing witness to the glory of God to your neighbors. You haven't been able to grasp, or to keep it in your grasp, the glorious work of God done for you.

Tom Brokaw wrote a bestseller, The Greatest Generation, about the men and women who fought in WWII. Because of their heroic actions under such grave and momentous circumstances, the world as we know it was saved. Could our generation that is characterized by selfishness and passivity do the same? That generation has could cause to raise question, but I venture to contest that we could. Inner character, of course, is important to act with courage in battle, but just as important is understanding the seriousness of the threat or the greatness of the cause; in other words, knowing what is a stake. That's what separates us from the wartime generation. They knew the threat. They knew what was at stake.

Have you grasped what all is really at stake? Redemption is not about you having a better life with Jesus than without. It is not about the quality of your life improving — you will have a better marriage or you will avoid a lot of trouble or even that you will be a better person. Without the redemption made by Jesus, you were damned; you were under the wrath of God headed for eternal suffering. You may have felt safe, but you were no safer than a Jew who felt safe in Holland just before the Nazis invaded. You may have felt close to God, but you in reality were as distant from him as the most terrible sinner. And there was nothing you could do about it, nothing. You could not plead your case; you could not appeal for mercy; you could not fight. You were utterly without hope.

That was the threat against you from which Christ's redemption saved you. But he did not merely save you from a threat, he brought you into a glorious hope beyond what you could imagine. You are not merely saved from God's damnation; you are now his treasured possession. You are not merely preserved from death; you are given new birth into a living hope. You have before you the glory, honor and praise that God himself will bestow on you. You are part of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will some day come in all of his glory to gather all of his people together, and cast away forever all sin, all wickedness, even death itself.

Open your eyes to your dark destiny without Christ; open them to the brilliant destiny you have with him. When you see these things, you will be compelled to declare his praises in worship and in witness. If you struggle with weary worship and with timid witness, your problem is not lack of ability or discipline so much as it is that you have not opened your eyes wide to the greatness of God's redemption.

It may even be that you have not opened your eyes at all. You may have still to know God's redemption. Your very blessings of being raised in a Christian home, of attending an evangelical church, of having Christian friends may have lured you into a false contentment and assurance that you are under no real threat. If you have never been gripped by the gospel, if you have never been shamed by your sins and humbled by the mercy of God, then you probably have not experienced his redemption. Passing a quiz on the gospel facts does not show that you really know God's redemption anymore than passing a history quiz on WWII shows you really appreciate what that war was about and the cost involved.

This is not a word of warning that you had better declare God's praise; this is a word of exhortation for you to open your eyes and see the redemption of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light so that his praises may pour forth out of you in joy.

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