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Sermon for May 07, 2023 – 5th Sunday of Easter

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5024 | Describing the Indescribable
Greg Williams

Have you ever tried to describe a moment so wonderful that it defies your best efforts? How do you describe the feeling of watching the sunset over the mountains or the moment you held your child for the first time? Trying to share the things that fill us with such awe that can leave us at a loss for words.

Sharing the gospel can be like that too. We struggle with the task of sharing such a momentous message. We convince ourselves that if only we were filled with God’s grace and power if we could work miracles or were gifted with Spirit-guided wisdom so impactful that no one could argue against us: Maybe then, people would listen when we proclaim the Gospel.

In the book of Acts, we’re told that Stephen had all these things going for him. He performed wonders and described a spectacular vision of Jesus at the Father’s side.

Luke shares with us Stephen’s final impassioned message. It’s filled with relevant references and helpful comparisons for his listeners and concludes with a convicting call for accountability. The response of those who heard Stephen’s skilled oratory was one of anger, rage, and violence. At this point it might seem like the story of Stephen was included as a cautionary tale about a man who chose poorly his moment to become confrontational and inflammatory.

But this is no cautionary tale, Luke makes this clear when he begins and ends the account of Stephen by stressing that Stephen was Spirit-led. This is a story of encouragement, meant to remind us of how to share the Gospel both powerfully and graciously.

Before he was dragged out of the city to be stoned, Stephen described his vision of Christ’s glory:

Look… I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.
Acts 7:56

This was neither eloquent nor deep in theological exposition – this was a simple declaration of the Gospel so powerful that those present gnashed their teeth and blocked their ears!

Stephen was not the problem; the problem was who he was talking about – Jesus.

In the midst of being stoned to death, Stephen shows his godly love for his assailants by asking God to forgive them – imitating Jesus to the very end.

People will oppose us when we preach Jesus. Nevertheless, let’s be like Stephen, Spirit-led even unto death.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 • Acts 7:55-60 • 1 Peter 2:2-10 • John 14:1-14

Our theme mid-way through the Easter season is entering into the wonderful light of God. In Psalm 31, King David commits his spirit to God, and, knowing it is safe in the divine hands, professes the unfailing love of God. In John 14 we witness Jesus reassuring Thomas that he already knows the way into the Father’s house – through Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. Stephen has a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God at the end of Acts 7, and even as he is stoned to death, he commits his spirit into Jesus’ hands and asks God to forgive his murderers. In our sermon passage for today we are told that the only stumbling block on the path to faith is Jesus himself – and Peter reassures us that, by the Holy Spirit, we have not stumbled, but rather we have left the darkness and entered into God’s wonderful light.

The Only Barrier

1 Peter 2:2-10 (NIV)

In The Farside, the cartoonist Gary Larson pictures a pair of trappers trying to catch a frog in the middle of the night. One trapper shines a light into the eyes of the frog saying to his companion “See Frank? Keep the light in their eyes and you can bag them without any trouble at all.” Meanwhile Frank is standing next to him staring straight up into the light coming down from what you’d assume is a UFO above him. The comic humorously highlights the power that light has in the midst of darkness.

In our sermon passage today, Peter recalls to his readers how we too have been caught staring into a light we could not escape from. But unlike Frank or the frog, we have been caught by something good – we’ve been brought out of the darkness and into the wonderful light of God. And we remain in his light, not because we’re paralyzed or blinded, but because we have tasted the goodness of God.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:2-5 NIV)

Craving the Goodness of God

Much has been made over the years as what counts as pure spiritual milk; lists of spiritual disciplines have been created with in depth analyses of which ones count as milk versus which ones are more… meaty. Is theological discourse pure spiritual milk? Are Bible studies? What about spiritual retreats? Any such conversation misses the point Peter is trying to convey; we have taken a simple analogy and ran beyond sight of its original context.

Peter here is speaking in the context of the believer’s new life in Christ. Babes crave milk because it’s what they need for growth, and Peter is telling us that as Christians, we should crave what we need for our spiritual growth. What that looks like is dependent upon our own spiritual needs in any given moment, but in every case the answer will be whatever draws us deeper into a relationship with God. Peter is asking us to remember that we ought to be craving a deeper spiritual life, and if we’re not, that’s a warning sign that our spiritual diet might be lacking.

We know that a life in tune with God is a good thing, and so we can use that truth as a North Star for our spiritual lives. If we do find ourselves craving things that are not healthy for us, we can remind ourselves of the goodness of God, and the memory will draw us back to healthier spiritual cravings.

Peter continues by telling us that we are being transformed into a spiritual house for the Lord. Here our attention is drawn to what happens when a healthy group of believers pursue the goodness of the Lord. When we indulge our spiritual cravings as a community we are built into a spiritual house in service to God. By being in tune with the Lord, and acting on our spiritual cravings while in community, we will find ourselves fulfilling our spiritual purpose to praise and worship God as was always intended!

Our takeaway from this passage is simple, when you feel the urge to further your spiritual life with God, do not put it off – instead seek the means to fulfill your Spirit-led cravings for time with God. We do this because of that first taste of God’s goodness, a sign to us that God has prepared great things for us – as Peter explains in the next verses…

For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. 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.”” (1 Peter 2:6-10 NIV)

The Blinding Light of Christ

To explain why we can have confidence in the incredible work of transformation Jesus is performing in us, Peter draws from Isaiah and the Psalms to contrast the reactions of those who crave God’s spiritual life vs. the reaction of those who reject that craving. It is the response to Jesus that distinguishes the two groups. One views him as precious and beautiful, while the other rejects him as not fit for purpose – Jesus becomes a stumbling block for them.

This idea that Jesus is a stumbling block to those who do not believe is a core part of the worldview that Peter is calling on believers to adopt. It places Jesus firmly at the centre of our understanding of the world, a place he must remain in for us to be able to praise God effectively as we ought.

Christians who engage in apologetics must heed this passage to avoid getting lost in the weeds when offering the reason for our faith. Jesus is the stumbling block over which those who do not believe must stumble to reject the love and light of God. There is no sin, no lifestyle and no worldview that can lead someone to reject the Gospel – rejection of the Gospel requires a rejection of Jesus. He should be the only stumbling block on the road to faith. Everything else is a red herring – a distraction used to avoid looking into the light for fear of what it might reveal.

We know that the light of God is a wonderful thing, but that is because we have tasted the goodness of God. Those who reject the gospel without having had that taste are like toddlers refusing to even try something, despite their parents assuring them it’s delicious!

For those rejecting Jesus, his light in the darkness is like the shock of a light switched on in the depth of the night. Most of us have experienced that discomfort. The light is at once overwhelming and painful. The very thing that lets us see – light – for a brief period takes our sight away as we lose our night vision and our irises contract to filter out the excess light. To reject Christ is to experience his startling light and shut tight our eyes, refusing to open them again.

A People Defined by Mercy

So then, if Jesus is the chief (and only) stumbling block, what does this mean for those who did not stumble but instead accepted the gracious goodness of God that we have been given?

Peter tells us that we have been called out of the darkness and into the wonderful light of God. In his light we are no longer at risk of stumbling, and we are no longer alone. Instead, we are now part of a group of people defined by God’s mercy and grace.

Peter has been sharing with us the consequences of being a child of God. First, we will begin to crave the good spiritual life God has prepared for us. And then as we draw closer to God, we will be built into the community of royal priests in service to God, praising and worshiping him as we were always intended to do. But if we fear that we are not up to such an esteemed task, he has good news for us. The fact that we have been able to accept Christ rather than stumble over him is enough to be sure that we have become part of God’s chosen and precious people.

This passage is one of great encouragement, it is a declaration of the new life God has created for us in Jesus. A life of worship and praise, a life in community where we fulfil our created purpose. We have looked into the blinding light of Jesus Christ and come away knowing that he is good.

Now that we are out of the darkness and in his wonderful light, let us enjoy the incredible new life we have been given.

The Chosen w/ Cherith Nordling W1

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May 7 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
1 Peter 2:2-10, “The Chosen”

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Program Transcript

The Chosen w Cherith Nordling W1

Anthony: Let me read the first passage of the month. It’s 1 Peter 2:2-10. It comes from the Common English Bible, and it is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fifth Sunday in Easter, which is May 7.

Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good. Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. You yourselves are being built like living stones into a Spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up Spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed. So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Cherith, there’s a drama series out there called The Chosen, and it seems to stand in solidarity with this passage in 1 Peter that reminds us of our chosen-ness. Hallelujah. Praise God. However, I wonder if it actually tells us more about the chooser, our triune God revealed in Jesus.

What do we learn from this passage about the God who chooses?

Cherith: I love that you are reflecting on The Chosen, because it’s always the question of who is the chosen in any given moment in that series, and that the ones who are chosen usually don’t know it and don’t understand it. I think there’s just a humility and a beauty to be recognized there. And just the tenderness of Jesus, the chooser and God’s chosen in that series. It’s just been a really beautiful thing to see.

I think that in relation to this text—because 1 Peter is so much about a community that’s suffering and that frankly don’t want to be, and they don’t think that they should be, at least some of them, based on whatever they thought “choosing” actually meant. And I think in this context, what we’re really seeing is this language from the Old Testament, that we have this royal priesthood and holy nation, who really are to live out the life and character of God in the world.

And when we finally get to see that in Jesus, as the cornerstone, that is a participation in the fellowship of our suffering in which God joins us, through a people who both enter into the land, not just to eradicate what is the business of a broken world, but to enter into the space of a broken world and to let the world see the God who loves them and will redeem them in the midst of that, not out of that, and at least not yet out of that, in a sense of renewal.

I’m just always fascinated by this letter and so curious about the fact that it rings so true to our current day, which is that we live in Christian communities—if we do instead of just going to church. But our Christianity and our understanding of life with God, or as being children chosen by God, is somehow to believe that there’s an exemption from the very thing that is the sacrifice, is what it means to be the holy people of God.

That is, Hebrews 13, with the sacrifice, that’s the fruit of the lips of those who proclaim and declare his name and that both are actually acting for the good and sharing with others who are suffering, and that’s the sacrifice of God. Or Romans 12, that you together, your bodies, as one living sacrifice become holy and pleasing because you are living for the sake of the other because this is the character of God. And when that breaks down in 1 Corinthians 3, it’s, don’t you know that you are God’s temple and his Spirit? God’s Spirit dwells in your midst. And if you destroy that, watch out because this is the only place where the world can look to see what God looks like.

I think as we hear that again in this letter from Peter, it’s like, here we go again, right? That it’s just really hard to be a people who are willing to suffer with those in our world who do not yet know who they belong to. And then to stand with those who really do know, but somehow got caught up in a narrative that says, if you just go with God, all the bad stuff will stop happening, all the suffering will disappear. And wherever there is suffering and tension and abuse, it must be that God is absent. So, you need to go examine what you did to make God go away. And then it turns into this transaction, yet again, that puts the burden on us to figure out what we did wrong so that we can get God back here, instead of going the only reason that we see Christ suffering is not so that he did some suffering and now we have to.

It’s Christ [saying], no, you as a broken people in a broken world suffer, and the only way that I can actually be like you and with you and for you and put to death this as the last word over your life, and to bring something out of this that is actually glory—even though nobody looks to a cross to find glory—then you will suffer because I see that. I know that. But your suffering now is answered by mine. And so don’t be afraid because the answer that mine gives you is actually resurrection. That God’s bringing me all the way through the death that awaits you. And as children of resurrection, don’t be afraid. Come with me into the place of suffering. Come with me into the places of your own heart suffering or your body and see the marks of the living God and the way and the character of the living God right there, instead of expecting to be looking somewhere else.

Anthony: As you were talking, I was reminded that God doesn’t save us from death. He saves us through death, primarily the death of his Son Jesus. But also, we experience it subjectively as we die to self each and every day, the salvation of our God and as we participate in his suffering.

This passage (it’s the very first scripture, verse two) it mentions—what does it mean, to grow into salvation and light that we are God’s chosen people in Jesus Christ who have tasted indeed that the Lord is good. What does it mean to grow into salvation?

Cherith: That’s the challenge with the lectionary is that you get portions without getting to find the content of what’s happening, which doesn’t say anything negative about the lectionary. It says, go read the context, and you’ll love better what you’re getting in the lectionary.

But I think it’s that it comes out of that whole discussion of what does it mean to be a people for God’s name. And that Peter uses those really odd and beautiful oxymorons like, you’re this people here, but actually you are to live here as elect, in the sense that God has chosen you to reveal himself to the world. But at the same time, while you’re busy doing that in the world, you really are exiles. You’re foreigners and strangers to this very space that you get to now be slaves to, as you are slaves like Christ, as you could you talk about at the end of chapter 2.

I think it’s such a brilliant and really challenging moment to go, do I know? Would I hear the voice of these brothers and sisters challenging me to stay in this space that actually looks like the life of Jesus, where people do betray and people do reject and ignore and want a different God and a better version of whatever it means to follow God so that he can serve them in a different way, instead of us being those who get to accompany him into these places. And I think it just picks up from the preceding argument of, what does it look like to take off? It’s sort of the Pauline language of “take off the old and put on the new.”

Peter says, rid yourselves then as holy ones who’ve become holy with Jesus. You need to get rid of the stuff that actually looks nothing like the character of God but is probably in your DNA, and that just takes a long time to live in community together, especially when people are persecuting you, basically, subtly as well as straightforwardly, just always questioning you.

Like, what a ridiculous thing for you to follow this kind of God, because what good is that going to do you and where’s the glory in that? I think it’s really easy to become deceived or really easy to (what does he say?) have hypocrisy or envy the fact that other people don’t seem to have to struggle in the same ways that we stand with God to struggle for the world.

And he [says], you got to put that off, and then it’s time to just start. Because he’s just been talking about the word out of the Old Testament and the people are like grass and they wither, but the word of the Lord is forever. And you have been given that Word and you have been joined literally to that living Word. But that’s going to take a lifetime to grow up into the character of your elder brother and Lord as children of both fearlessness around death and suffering, but also children who know the hope of their resurrection. So, you already know how this turns out, in a sense. It looks like Jesus and so stay with it.

You’ve been given this, and you’ve tasted that he is good. Not that suffering is good for its own sake, but that he is good. And through him you can ask every question and consider every experience and find that God is in it and is actually making a difference through it.

I think it’s just a beautiful—like a new newborn baby that’s just—there is no other way to survive except to just drink from the breast. And it’s that basic. This is not, I should include God in my life a little bit if I have time. It’s like you will not just survive, but you will not live.

And the Old Testament passages all through 1 Peter are really about life as they reflect the God of life. He’s [saying], there’s no way that you can live and grow up into a life that isn’t nourished and nurtured from the very heart of God.

Anthony: And this nourishment, as you keep pointing back to, gets experienced, especially in the community of faith. You’ve mentioned this a few times, that we belong to each other.

There’s no such thing as me and my Bible, right? It is about the community. That’s where we experience the fullness of God’s love for us as a triune God. Jesus taught us to pray, our Father, not my Father. And I read this morning, Paul uses the phrase, our Lord, 53 times and my Lord, only once. And you won’t find, “Jesus is my personal Savior,” [in the Bible] though there is the personal nature of it. He is saving the community, the world. That’s who he is. And I sure hope that as our listeners hear this, that we’re leaning into community because that’s where we start to experience wholeness and healing, I think, that God’s intended for us.

Small Group Discussion Questions

Speaking of Life

  • Do you ever shy away from sharing the Gospel? Why?
  • Why do you think those who heard Stephen’s message in Acts 7 reacted so violently against it?
  • What do you think Stephen’s legacy was – how did he impact the early church?

From the Sermon

  • Peter reminds us that we have “tasted that God is good” (1 Peter 2:3); when you hear this what comes to mind? How have you experienced the goodness of God?

Jesus is the only reason someone should reject the gospel. What are the most common reasons you’ve heard for rejecting the Gospel?

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