This week, as we continue our series, Standing Firm, we are talking about the third part of the foundation Peter builds before getting into the meat of his message. We’ve talked about the hope we have in Christ and the fact that we actually need to live out that hope if we want it to do anything positive for us. This week we’re talking about what that foundation can do in and for our lives if we’ll embrace it. We all want to be someone. Peter here tells us how.
We live in a celebrity-obsessed world. Hopefully you don’t waste too much time doing this, but have you ever looked at the magazines in the racks at the checkout counters in stores? Almost without fail, their front covers are filled each month by one celebrity or another promising to tell readers about something they couldn’t possibly have known yet and on which their whole lives are hanging. Why are they covered with celebrities like this? Because the marketing folks know that you and I are more likely to buy something because Dwayne Johnson has something to tell us about physical fitness. We’re more likely to shell out some dough because Scarlet Johansson promises to give us the skinny on the squabbles her co-stars had on the latest movie set. The same thing goes with TV shows. We are much more likely to tune into the latest game show if it features a rotating celebrity cast than if it is just filled with…normal…people. News programs regularly include celebrities on their round table panels, not because they are particularly knowledgeable about the subjects being covered, but because they want more viewers and celebrities are the way to do that.
Our obsession with celebrities is bigger than just this. I mean, what exactly makes a celebrity anyway? At the most basic level, a celebrity is simply someone whose name a lot of people know. But what exactly counts as “a lot of people”? There really isn’t a rubric for this. For instance, everybody in Oakboro knows who Ted Lilly is. He even got his own feature on Spectrum News last year. But is he a celebrity? A local one, sure, but outside of Oakboro? Michael Winslow auditioned for America’s Got Talent in a recent episode. Ever heard that name before? Maybe, but you’re more likely to know him as “that sound effects guy from the Police Academy movies.” He was pretty famous back in the 1980s, but most people nowadays have never heard of him. He was a celebrity, then he wasn’t, and now, I guess, he is again. Or maybe this: Have you ever heard of a little girl named Diana? Along with her little brother, Roma, the two Russian-speaking siblings play with toys and put videos of it on YouTube. I had never heard of them before writing this sermon and I suspect you haven’t either. And yet, her YouTube channel is the second most popular one in the world. Is she a celebrity?
More than even this, though, and speaking of YouTube, our real goal nowadays is to become celebrities ourselves. And social media creates an allure of possibility around this in a way no previous generation could have even imagined. As a matter of fact, the phenomenon of social media celebrities helps us more finely define what a celebrity even is. Celebrities aren’t simply people who are known by a lot of people. They are people whose opinions matter to a critical mass of people. The real superpower of celebrities is that they are able to influence the views and opinions of the masses. This is why brands hire celebrities to pitch their products. There are some individuals with a sufficient amount of influence that companies will pay them tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to tell their followers to use whatever the product is. It may be a product no one has ever heard of before, but when folks hear Celebrity X say, “I really like this,” all of a sudden, they are thinking, “I need to get me one of those.” Somewhere inside of all of us is a desire to be that kind of person. We don’t just want people to know who we are, we want them to care what we think. We want to be “someone.”
This morning finds us in the third part of our series, Standing Firm. The big idea for this whole series of conversations is that we live in a world increasingly turning against orthodox expressions of faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus. That is, it doesn’t like Christians very much anymore. The world’s antipathy, though, doesn’t change our core mission as the church, as followers of Jesus, in any way, shape, or form. We need to be prepared to stand firm in our faith regardless of what the world thinks about us. But there’s a right way to do that, and a whole lot of wrong ways. The real question, then, we are seeking to answer over the course of the next few weeks is how we can stand firm in our faith without sacrifice our witness. Fortunately, this is not a challenge we are facing on our own. Our guide throughout this journey is going to be the apostle Peter’s first letter to some believers living in a similarly hostile cultural environment. His wisdom in these few pages is absolutely invaluable for us in our own efforts to stand firm.
So far, we have been doing some foundation building. If we are going to stand firm, we have to first know for sure what we are standing on. Two weeks ago, we poured that foundation. Our ability to stand firm is rooted in the hope we have in God’s promise in Christ to make tomorrow better than today. Your hope in Christ is big enough to lean on. But, if you are going to lean on it, you’ll need to lean all the way on it. Professing to stand on this hope without actually standing on it is a waste of time. It won’t do you any good then. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it. That was what we talked about last week.
This third part of our series finds Peter doing yet a bit more foundation-laying before getting into the meat of his message which we will start talking about next week. His foundation comes in three parts, and this is the third. The first part focused on the hope we have in Christ. The second focused on the implications of that foundation. Those two ideas are important—critically so—but this third part is pretty important as well.
If we are going to stand firm on something, even if it looks like it will hold us, we want to know whether or not it’s going to do anything for us. Is it going to be worth our time to actually stand on it? Are the efforts we make to disentangle our hope from other things in the world around us going to produce a return on our investment in them? And I know this kind of thinking seems like it shouldn’t have any place in the mind of a follower of Jesus, but it’s there all the same. What is this going to accomplish for me? If I am going to stand firm in the face of all these trials, sure the hope I have is tremendous, but what am I committing myself to be a part of? Are the sacrifices I make to stand on it going to pan out? That’s what Peter addresses here. We all want to be somebody. Here Peter says to us, “Try this and you will be.”
If you have a copy of the Scriptures at hand, find your way with me to 1 Peter 2. He begins here by picking up right where we left off last time (which makes perfect sense as the chapter designations we use were made up later and were not original to Peter…he was just writing). Look at this with me in 1 Peter 2:1: “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy [there’s the word at last], envy, and all slander.” If you were here last week, I hope our conversation is ringing a bit in your ears. If your hope is in Christ, your life should look like it, and if your life really does look like it, none of those things will be making themselves manifest in it. In other words, live consistently with your confession.
When we embrace this hope, though, Jesus said that we become something new. We are not the same as we were before. Peter made that point as well—“do not be conformed to the desires of your former ignorance.” Well, when someone is born, what are they? An infant, right? He is a baby who needs to grow. So, look at what Peter says. When you have grabbed hold of this foundation of hope by giving your life to Christ, you need to live like it. But you may not—probably won’t—be able to live it at the beginning. You’ve got to learn it. “Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word [there’s that pointer to the Scriptures again], so that you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Are you with him here? If you have embraced this, do the work you need to do in order to grow up into it. Invest yourself in the Word of God so that you can grow up into your salvation. Okay, fine, but what’s in this for me? I mean, sure, salvation and hope and life. Those are all really good things, of course. But let’s be honest. That thing in us that wants to be known, rises up a bit here and wants to know what we get out of this.
So, Peter tells us. Look at v. 4: “As you come to him, a living stone…” Now, pause there for just a second. What does a stone imply? It implies that God is building something. Stone is a building material. So, God is doing something here. As we go to Jesus, He is doing something big. “As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God—you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Let me unpack this quickly. The idea of a priest doesn’t carry the same weight in our minds as it did in the minds of Peter’s audience. For us a priest is just another name for a pastor and is basically the one who leads the worship services and delivers the sermon. They were thinking something entirely larger than that. For them—and for many religions across the world still today—the priest was the person who stood between the people and the divine. He was the one person the gods had designated as acceptable to approach and present the requests of the people. Normal folks didn’t have any access to the gods. This was the case for the pagans and the Jews both. If you wanted to have any kind of communication with God or the gods, you had to go to the priest. And, since the gods were essential to the carrying on of daily life, the priests were thus critical to being able to accomplish anything meaningful in life.
Here’s the point: Peter makes clear here that God is building His people—us—into a priesthood. He is designing His followers to stand in the gap between the rest of the world and Him. Given that He is the great and most high God, this is the highest position there is available in all the world. In other words, this is no small call to something insignificant. It’s an entirely bigger deal than that.
Peter goes on to tell us more about this incredible stone on which all of this is being built. It is not just any stone, but the cornerstone—the point on which the whole thing rests. What’s more, this incredible building was always the plan of God. “For it stands in Scripture: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and honored cornerstone, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.’” Now, in a culture in which whatever brings honor is good and whatever brings shame is to be avoided at all costs as theirs was, this was a really big deal. Perhaps the way to put it today would be that the one who believes in this stone—in Jesus—will never experience any loss of status. You will be somebody, and that won’t ever change.
The trouble is, being someone is an audience-specific designation. Several of the top YouTubers in the world are based in Brazil. Most Americans have probably never heard of them and wouldn’t recognize them on the street. They may be someone there, but they aren’t here. The reverse is equally true. The two audiences Peter has in mind here are the kingdom of God and the world. The kingdom is eternal, but the world is present. And being somebody in the kingdom doesn’t mean much in the world. In fact, it’s worse than that. Being somebody in the kingdom can actually work against you in the world. The world rejects the kingdom and its accoutrements. It always has. This misplacing of priorities and inability to identify what really matters will not pay off in the end, though, because the kingdom lasts. “So honor will come to you who believe; but for the unbelieving, ‘The stone that the builders rejected—this one has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone to stumble over, and a rock to trip over.’ They stumble because they disobey the word; they were destined for this.”
There’s ultimately no honor to be found there. If you’re chasing this world to find status or celebrity, it’s going to fail you. You may become well-known. You may become an influencer. You may live a life for a season in which the whole world holds its breath as it waits for you to pass judgment on the latest fad. But it will not last. In Christ, though, God is making you somebody who will last.
Listen to this next part: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Did you catch all of that? This is pretty incredible stuff, especially if you’re wondering a bit whether this whole following Jesus thing is worthwhile. In Christ you are part of a people who are chosen. You are part of the organization standing between the world and God to represent its interests to Him. You are a nation different from the world around you. Not just different, but superior. That’s no cause for arrogance because our greatness doesn’t have anything to do with us. It has everything to do with whose we are. He is great and we are merely reflecting Him. And that idea of being a “people for his possession” sounds funny to our ears, but Peter’s audience got it. A people without a sovereign were no people at all. They were adrift and unable to really become anyone. God wants you to be someone. And we are all of these things not simply because. We are all of these things so that we can proclaim His praises.
Apart from Christ, you and I are nobodies. It doesn’t matter how many people know our name, or how influential are our opinions about anything. At some point, we will be forgotten. The world will move on. We are part of a people with no future and no hope. We have no identity of our own. We only drift from one thing to another in hopes of finding one we can claim for ourselves. But in Christ, God is making you part of something more. He’s making you someone more. That’s where Peter lands here at the end: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” You want to know what all of this is going to do for you? It’s going to make you somebody. God has made you somebody in Christ. In Christ, you are somebody worth knowing.
Now, let me tread carefully here for a minute. I am not at all saying that unbelievers are somehow worthless. All people are created in God’s image and are thus possessed of an inestimable value. Apart from Jesus, though, we are part of a system that will one day be gone and forgotten. In Christ, that’s not the case. We are part of the kingdom of God that will last and matter forever. God has made you somebody in Christ. You stand firm against the rising tide of intolerance for whose you are and what you believe with a godly hopefulness because you are somebody in Christ. God has made you somebody in Christ.
And that, really, is the invitation here. In Christ, you can be somebody. If you’re not connected with Christ and are still searching for an identity that really gives your life the substance you know deep down it should have, He is where you will find it. If you have some folks in your life who are struggling with their identity, point them in this direction to find it. God has made you somebody in Christ. And when you know you are somebody and part of a body that will last forever, a bit of trouble—even a lot of trouble—here and now fails to have the same power and punch it once did. God has made you somebody in Christ. It’s time to become who He made you to be.