Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Sermon: 1 Peter 2: 11-25 Aliens?

They come in various shapes and sizes and types of life form. They might be friendly, coming in peace; or they might be hostile and dangerous. And they are the feature of many’s a science fiction blockbuster movie. What are they? Aliens. Whether it’s the friendly sort like ET (The Extra-Terrestrial), or the threatening aliens in something like Independence Day, we’re used to the idea of aliens. They are, quite simply, beings who don’t belong, who aren’t from this earth.

I wonder, do you believe in aliens? Do you think that there is intelligent life on other planets? Fairly often, these kinds of surveys are organised, and in one recent one, almost two thirds of people in the UK say that they believe in aliens (of whatever sort they may exist in). Now, whether they’re right or not, I don’t know. But according to the Bible, there is such a thing as an alien, lots of aliens actually, and they are already here. You might be sitting beside one. In fact, you might even be one.

You see, that’s the word that Peter uses to describe the Christians who are reading his letter. Do you see it there in verse 11? ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world...’ Peter is saying that Christians are aliens and strangers in the world. We’re people who don’t quite fit in; different to everyone else; outsiders. We belong to another world, another kingdom, and so we’re seen as alien and strangers.

Now, maybe that seems strange to you, but this is the whole point of Peter’s letter. It’s the reason that he’s writing to Christians - as we see in 1:1. ‘Peter... to God’s elect, strangers in the world...’ Peter is saying that to be a Christian is to be an elect stranger; an elect exile; an elect alien.

Up to this point in the letter, he’s been showing how we are chosen (see 2:9) - how God has chosen us and made us his people and blessed us in so many ways; but from here on he focuses on what it will mean for us to be aliens and strangers in the world. How will we live out our chosenness of God? How will we live in a different and distinct way?

We get the summary statement in verses 11-12, which he then unpacks through the rest of the letter. Here’s what he says: ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’

Because we are aliens and strangers, we are to do two things - one negative, and one positive. The negative: ‘abstain from sinful desires.’ The positive: ‘Live such good lives among the pagans.’

Sometimes in sci-fi films, the aliens are coming to wage war on the earth. And we, as aliens, are in a war - but not against other people, rather our war is against our sinful desires. The particular sinful desires each of us face and fight will be different; but each of us is to fight against them, to abstain from them, to not participate in them. And how do you fight it? You remind yourself of who you are and whose you are - I am God’s chosen child, and have received mercy from him. I am no longer in darkness, but in his wonderful light.

That’s the negative - abstain from sinful desires. And the positive is to ‘Live such good lives among the pagans.’ We’re not to withdraw from society, or become a closed-up community. We’re to be engaged in society, to be out and about among our neighbours and colleagues - living good lives that are seen by them, noticeably different from them - like salt and light, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.

And even if people accuse us of doing wrong, and speak harshly about us, one day they will glorify God - either as they are won to Jesus as God visits them in grace, or as they testify on the day of judgement when God visits them in judgement.

But what will that look like? Peter gives us some case studies, some worked out examples, to show us how to live these good lives among the pagans. The first is in relation to the state.

‘Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.’ (13-14)

So whether there is a king, or parliamentary democracy, or a president, or however the country is organised and ruled, Peter says that we’re to submit ‘for the Lord’s sake.’ The government is there to punish wrongdoing and commend rightdoing, so there should be nothing to fear for the Christian. It is God’s will for us to obey the state, by doing what is right. In this way, we silence the ignorant talk of foolish people.

Our ultimate loyalty is to God, not to the state. And so, sometimes, there may be things that are legal that are not good; things that the law allows that God doesn’t, and so our loyalty is to God and what he says is good. Do you see that in verse 16? ‘Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.’

And what does God want for his people? For us to show proper respect to all: ‘Love the brotherhood of the believers, fear God, honour the king.’ (17)

From verse 18, Peter turns from our relationship to the state to our relationship to our boss. In the particular culture, the reference is to slaves and masters, but it translates into our working life. So what will it look like to live as an alien in your workplace? ‘Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.’ (18)

At that time, there were obviously different standards in terms of behaviour; slaves were seen as property rather than people; and there weren’t the fair employment and working conditions that we’re used to today. But even now, maybe even in your workplace, there will be good managers and bosses as well as harsh ones. How will we react to them when they mistreat us, or overlook us, or seem to have it in for us?

Peter suggests the way of submission. ‘For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.’ (19=20)

If you’re punished for wrongdoing, then you deserve it. But if you’re punished when you’re done nothing wrong, then how do you react? Rather than running to the papers or the Nolan Show, Peter suggests that you bear it, endure it, because you are conscious of God. God sees, and knows, and commends this type of suffering when it is borne for him, by his chosen aliens.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, surely not! I know my rights, and I’m not going to be trodden down by anyone! I’ll not let anyone get the better of me. Quietly suffering? Surely not! You wouldn’t catch me being weak like that.

And in that attitude, we entirely miss the call of God, and the path of Christ. When our world is all about ‘me first’ and ‘my rights’ we’re to stand out and be different, because we belong to Christ Jesus. Do you see how Peter sets out the alternative in verse 21: ‘To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.’

Whatever sufferings we may go through, and however unfair and unjust they seem, none are as unjust as the sufferings of Jesus. Had Jesus insisted on his rights, none of us would stand. But the way of Jesus is the way of the cross - suffering now, and glory later. It’s because Jesus both suffered for us and has given us an example that we hear God’s call to follow in this way, giving up our rights.

To bring out the example of Jesus, Peter quotes directly from Isaiah 53 (in verse 22), but then also paraphrases it in the rest of the chapter. So when Jesus was insulted, he didn’t retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to the just judge, the one who will bring vindication in the end, and right the wrongs we have suffered.

That’s the example we’re to follow, the path we’re to tread. And we’ll find the grace to follow precisely because Jesus suffered for us. For the second time in his letter (1:18-19 and now 2:24-25) Peter focuses in on the cross and reminds us of all that Jesus has done for us.

Paraphrasing Isaiah, he says that Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree. And what was the purpose? ‘So that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.’ Doesn’t that sound very similar to the summary of verses 11-12 - abstaining from sin and living good lives among the pagans? At the cross we find not just the example of Jesus, but also the motivation of grace in his sacrifice for us. We had been going astray like sheep, but now we’ve returned to the Shepherd.

To see aliens, just look around you. We’re to stand out as we abstain from sinful desires and live good lives - the power comes from the cross of Christ, as we also seek to follow his example.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 23rd June 2019.

No comments:

Post a Comment