Sunday, May 15, 2011

1 Peter 2:1-25

"Got Milk?"
MasterPiece Church

Lord, you have given the Bible to be the revelation of your great love for us, and of your power and will to save us. Grant that our study of it might not be made in vain by the callousness or carelessness of our hearts, but that we might wisely hear your words, note, learn, and inwardly digest them, so that we might become mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus. Amen.

It was the first time that Todd was in charge -- really in charge -- all by himself -- after the birth of their first born. Rebekah was shopping with two of her friends and he was THE parent on duty -- which was okay with him.

He didn’t really understand why Rebekah was always so worn out. It wasn’t that big a deal -- all she had to do was take care of Emma and the house -- and Emma slept most of the day. As a matter of fact he managed to build two sets of shelves for the laundry room during the the first hour that Rebekah was gone.

But then he heard the cry. Emma was awake and hungry. He brushed the dust off his shirt and picked-up the two-month old. That stopped the crying -- for 15 seconds.

He headed toward the frig to grab the milk that Rebekah had pumped earlier in the day. Emma was screaming. How could a person of that size make such a noise?

With his free hand Todd unscrewed the top of the bottle and slipped the whole thing into the microwave -- which of course, everyone knows you’re not supposed to do with baby milk. But this was an emergency and the baby was crying and he pushed the 30-second button on the consul. And as the glass tray started to turn he heard the clunk.

And by the time he got over to the oven and popped open the door -- the bottle -- which had apparently been destabilized because it was resting on a hard piece of pizza crumb -- left over from his breakfast... The bottle was on its side and empty. Milk covered the base of the oven.

Hungry Emma continued to make her wishes known. He grabbed a rag and tossed it into the microwave oven -- pivoted like a basketball star and pulled open the frig door to get another bottle.

But there was no back-up. Nothing in the frig for a baby. In his teasing voice he desperately offered her orange juice.

More crying.

He started singing the A-B-C song to her -- the only children’s song he remembered. He tickled her toes. He gently bounced her. He talked and negotiated. I’ll double your allowance once you turn 5 if you stop crying now. I’ll send you to Harvard once you get out of high school. I’ll give you a million dollars to buy a house.

Nothing seemed to make a difference. It was as though Emma had a one track mind -- a mind for milk -- nothing, absolutely nothing could refocus her attention.

Just then, Todd heard the garage door open. And in walked Rebekah and her two shopping friends. Was it mother’s intuition that lead her home early? Or was Emma’s screaming reaching all the way to the mall?

It didn’t matter -- everyone, especially Emma, breathed a sign of relief. Milk had arrived. Precious, indispensable milk.

In 1 Peter 2 the apostle suggests that we need to pursue the nourishment of spiritual milk with the same focus and fervor as the newborn goes for mother’s milk. The focus is so singular and so strong that if anything gets between the baby and milk everything else falls apart. There is no way to divert attention.

1 Peter 2:2 -- “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, 3 now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”

I love the NLT here and how they maintain the metaphor -- “cry out...for this nourishment” Or your translation might say “desire.” Go for it -- don’t let anything get in the way. The word here is sometimes translated as lust after.

Now, the apostle Paul sometimes uses “milk” as a metaphor for the -- how should we put it? -- less difficult Christian truths -- elementary basics. But that is not what Peter is saying here.

The milk metaphor, here, is divine encounter with God and his Word. Now that you’ve had a taste for it... now that you have experienced a bit of God’s kindness -- don’t you want to grow into the full experience of salvation?

Peter Pan didn’t ever want to grow up. He got stuck and was paralyzed by the fear of adulthood and responsibility.

And that can happen to us spiritually as well. We get a little taste of God’s kindness -- we make a commitment to Christ -- we find a sense of relief and direction. But then, somewhere along the line, we get distracted or afraid -- we’re not sure that we want to do the things that will form us and grow us into the spiritually mature people that God wants us to become.

Growing up isn’t easy. And sometimes we prefer a Peter Pan approach. But the apostle Peter says, it’s time to move on and grow up. And we -- you need to pursue the nourishment of spiritual milk with the same focus and fervor as the newborn lusting for mother’s milk.

This is the key point: Healthy growing Christians crave spiritual nourishment with the same focus and fervor as the newborn lusting for mother’s milk.

Now, of course, we inevitably have to ask the HOW question. And that’s what Peter is attempting to explain to the first century believers living in the area we now call Turkey. And remember, he is trying to beef them up so that they are strong and capable of dealing with the cultural push-back that was starting to surface. Sometimes it was leading to persecution.

Now, we don’t have time to pick through each and every idea here in chapter 2 -- that’s your job for later -- but I have summarized his message using three headings.

The first is this -- ELIMINATE. Eliminate evil.

If you are going to grow-up -- if you are going to become a mature, convinced, and convincing follower of Christ Jesus... there are things from which you will need to distance yourself -- to get rid of.

Vs. 1 -- “So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.”

I find the reference to unkind speech to be interesting.

It is impossible to grow into the kindness of God if the way that you talk is harsh and demanding -- unkind. There is a basic incompatibility. So if you are going to grow you will need to eliminate it from your life -- or more precisely allow God to eliminate it.

And I think that this is one of the more difficult concepts for us -- because we tend to separate behaviors and words. So we are inclined to believe that if we don’t cheat someone --we can still get away with saying unkind things to them or about them -- and that’s not such a bad thing.

We’re casual with our words and the standards that we apply to what we say -- or how we say it. Yes, it is good to address disagreements -- and at times to do so strongly. But that is different than being unkind in our speech.

This is perhaps the greatest sin of early 21st century America -- the dehumanizing and cutting way that we talk about those with whom we have serious disagreements -- or even minor disagreements. The social consequence can be violent in nature such as what we experienced in Tucson a few months ago.

Now, having said all that, I don’t think that Peter is as concerned with the social consequences as he is with the personal consequence. That is, he isn’t so much talking about how we damage others but how evil behavior and unkind words damage our own relationships with God. Through our unkind words we are hurting ourselves in that we are rejecting the kindness of God.

Think of it this way, God designed us and our relational capacity so that we run on grace -- grace he supplies. But if instead we put muck into the engine -- sure it runs -- sort’a -- but not well and not for long. When we fill our tanks with deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy and hurtful words -- we’re clogging the pistons -- dragging ourselves down. We're stunting our growth and progress.

At that point we begin to assume substandard performance is normal or we start blaming God for the poor design or sometimes we just grind to a halt and we’re totally perplexed as to why our lives are so crummy.

So the first thing to do is clean out the tank -- eliminate all words and actions that are contrary to God and his way of doing things -- his system.

Secondly, we are called to EMBRACE -- that is, embrace our new identity.

I’m guessing that 1 Peter 2 has more metaphors than any other in the Bible -- well at least the New Testament. Peter really lays it on thick in his attempt to try to get the believers to think of themselves in a completely new way.

And he does this because he knows that they can’t grow or survive in a hostile environment if their self-perceptions are rooted in old thinking.

Look at vs. 4 -- and we won’t go into detail on all of these because we could spend a week or more on each of them.

4 “Now you are coming to him as to a living stone.” (Talk about an oxymoronism!)

In case it is not clear at first glance. Christ Jesus is the living stone.

Peter says, “Even though this stone was rejected by humans...” (And remember -- rejection was a common experience for these believers in Asia minor -- that theme is kind of driving this letter...) “Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable.”

Then he adds, vs. 5 “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.”

Christ is the living stone whose life was laid down as a sacrifice -- building a new temple of praise to God. And through your connection with him -- you, too, are a living stone being built into that same temple.

Your purpose in life isn’t to get ahead or to make a statement or to have a good experience of it all -- you exist as an individual to be a part of this living, breathing temple that God is building.

Christians don’t go to the temple to worship because we are the temple. That is why we exist. That is your identity.

Then Peter adds even more OT temple language -- perhaps mixing the metaphors a little bit -- but that’s okay because it makes for a powerful statement. And he applies it to us -- to you. He says,

“What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.”

Part of the new identity which every Christian is called to embrace is that of priest -- a part of the priesthood -- sacrificing and interceding on behalf of others. Sharing in the sacrifice of Christ.

Priests in the OT are not people of extraordinary character but of extraordinary mission. They facilitate the relationship with God for others. They help them make offerings and sacrifices. They help them enter into the presence of the Lord.

And that is a part of our calling -- your calling as priests -- to draw others into a relationship with God -- praying for them, encouraging them to trust Christ -- sacrificing on their behalf.

Vs 6 -- “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.’”

Anyone remember where in the OT this reference to the cornerstone is found? (Psalm 118:22).

Paul uses it, too, for example at the end of Ephesians 2, right after he describes the church as a fusion of misfits drawn together into a masterpiece -- hence MasterPiece Church -- he goes on to elaborate on the masterpiece and to say that it is a holy temple -- and that Christ is the cornerstone -- and we’re all part of this temple where God lives.

Paul could have said, with Peter, that we are the living stones in the building.

Vs. 7 -- “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.’
8 And, ‘He is the stone that makes peple 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.
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people.”
(Here again is that OT language, originally applied to Israel -- describing their relationship with God -- “chosen” -- chosen to reveal to the rest of the world God’s hesed -- his lovingkindness -- his grace, his hospitality and salvation.)
I really like the way that the KJV renders this --
“You are a peculiar people.” You stand out.

‘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.
10 ‘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.’”

Then he layers on another metaphor that was originally used to describe Jewish Israel.

Vs. 11 -- “Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ (aliens and strangers) to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.”

That is, you are not a full resident of the world -- but an alien living in the world. So don’t get too comfortable with the way the world operates.

Live out of your alien values.

Eugene Peterson puts it, “We are a colony of heaven living in a nation of death.”

That means, we function according to heavenly values -- in spite of the values all around us that are rooted in a culture of death.

So... Vs. 12 -- “Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.”

Notice the last proviso -- “when he judges the world.” Just because you are doing the right thing -- that does not mean that people will recognize it as such -- as least now. But ultimately -- people will see you for who you are and praise God for it.

Therefore, Embrace your new identity if you are going to grow into such people.

Then thirdly, EMULATE -- emulate Christ.

To emulate is to imitate or to rival with some degree of success.

In vss. 13-16 Peter talks about respecting human authority -- which, when you think about it is what Christ did. He did not attempt to overthrow the Roman government -- even though it was an evil totalitarian regime.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t ever stand up for justice and the small guy being squashed by power brokers. That is not the point.

He is saying, don’t use their evil as an excuse to do evil.

Vs. 17 -- “Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king.”

We show respect by not doing evil.

In vss. 18-19 Peter applies this idea to the institution of Roman slavery. And that is a finely nuanced discussion which we do not have time for this morning. But I will say that anyone who uses these verses as a justification for the existence of the institution of slavery is totally missing what Peter is saying.

The apostle is pointing to Christ and how he suffered evil while he was doing perfect good -- and he stood his ground. He did not retaliate against his oppressors.

And likewise we grow -- we come to maturity -- through the Christ-like suffering we endure -- not just endure but do good through.

You will not grow in your faith if you become controlling or oppressive. There is no such thing as legitimate terrorism done for a good cause. And terrorism isn’t just a global political phenomena. There are personal terrorists in offices and schools and neighborhoods who harass and sabotage -- bully -- torture -- for what they see to be a good cause.

Vs. 21 -- “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.”

That is emulate him.
vs. 22 -- “He never sinned,
nor ever deceived anyone.
23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
and live for what is right.”

This is the basis for the new identity and the freedom that we have from sin.

“By his wounds
you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
the Guardian of your souls.”

We grow strong and healthy under the watchful eye of the good shepherd -- yet another wonderful OT metaphor -- one which Jesus also used in our gospel passage this morning.

Just another way of saying: Healthy growing Christians crave spiritual nourishment with the same focus and fervor as the newborn lusting for mother’s milk.

They will be as driven as a hungry newborn to emulate Christ, to embrace their new identity in him, and to eliminate everything from their lives that might even possibly get in the way of that relationship.

You’re all familiar with the Got Milk? advertising campaign. It originated with the California Milk Processor Board in California in 1993.

They were altruistically concerned that the public wasn’t taking full advantage of the benefits of cow’s milk -- ah, yah. So they wanted to nudge us a bit with a provocative and edgy question. Got milk?

And it has become one of the most famous commodity brand campaigns in the US. It worked especially well in California -- and moderately well in the rest of the country.

1 Peter 2 is the apostle Peter’s "Got Milk" campaign. And he’s trying to get us to answer that question with a resounding “I am thirsting for spiritual growth and depth in my life. I want to grow up in Christ -- even though things aren’t perfect in my life -- not exactly going the way I want... I’m not really appreciated the way I should be. But I’m really really thirsty.”

And the good news is that God has got milk and that milk is not a limited commodity. The only potential hindrance is our unwillingness to go for it.

“Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”

Let’s pray:

Kind and gracious Father. We are thirsty and in need. We want to grow. We want to become the mature, convinced, and convincing followers that you’ve called us to be. Work in our lives. Refresh us with your Holy Spirit to make it so. Amen.

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