A friend of mine called Patrick was in a heavy drinking set when he came to faith in Jesus. He told me later that what brought him to church was realising he'd lost control of himself. So he appreciated more than most Christians what it means to be saved from living without Jesus to living under his control. And the change in him was remarkable, and he began to try to share his faith with his non-Christian friends. I remember how shaken he was at their reaction. Because, on the one hand, they were completely uninterested. He'd changed completely, he was full of the reason why – and yet they didn't want to know. And on the other hand, they turned against him for what they saw as his judgmentalism, now he wouldn't get drunk any more. He hadn't said anything about their drinking. But they felt judged simply by his change of behaviour. And one told him they preferred the old Patrick to the new prig. I wonder if you can relate to that? Sharing your faith and being rejected. Living out your faith and being criticised. That's what 1 Peter was written to help us handle. So please turn in the Bible to 1 Peter 1. And let me remind you of two verses we've already seen. First look at 1 Peter 1.1, which says:
"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles"
In other words, 'to those who feel like foreigners or strangers in the non-Christian world', which is how Patrick suddenly felt, and how all Christians do, to some extent, because we don't belong to the world with its values and norms any more. And it gives us grief for that. So look on to verse 6, which says:
"In this [that is, our future salvation beyond this world] you rejoice, though now [in this world] for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials"
And the rest of the letter shows that Peter was thinking especially of the grief Christians get for being Christian. That can make you react in various ways. It can make you think it's not worth being a Christian – or even that the gospel can't be true (otherwise why don't people believe it?) or it can make you withdraw into the Christian bubble of church and Christian Union – and when you do have to be out there in the world (like, at work), to treat your faith as a purely private thing, not to be raised or lived out in public. Or it can make you want to hit back and unfriend those who unfriend you, and criticise those who criticise you.
So what does Peter say in tonight's passage to help us handle being rejected and criticised for our faith? Well, the first thing he says is:
1. Be the Spiritual Family God Means You to Be
Look on to verses 22-23, where we left off last time:
"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth, for a sincere brotherly [and sisterly] love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God"
So that's saying: if you're a Christian, it's because God brought you to a new birth – a spiritual new start – by enabling you to respond to Jesus. And if he's brought you and me to new birth, that makes us brothers, or brother and sister, in God's family. And verse 23 says: it's an imperishable family – it's going to last into eternity, where we'll finally live together perfectly because we're finally sinless.
So Peter says: start being now what you'll be like then. For example, he says, 'Love sincerely. Don't just 'do Bible study and prayer' in a small group for an hour or so a week or fortnight, without getting involved with one another's needs. Get out of your depth in trying to care for and help your brothers and sisters.' Then look on to chapter 2, verse 1:
"So [in order to start being now what you'll be like in eternity] put away all malice [in other words, ill-feeling – maybe towards a fellow-Christian who's hurt your feelings] and all deceit and hypocrisy [for example, when I say you're my spiritual family but don't lift a finger to care for you or help you] and envy and all slander [in other words, bad-mouthing fellow-Christians and church – which I've even had to pick people up on for doing publicly, on Facebook]."
But what's all that got to do with handling the world 'out there' when it rejects and criticises us? Why is Peter talking about things 'in here' – in church? Well, the answer is: how things are in this church will either really help our witness, or really hinder it. Because God means this to be a place where fellow Christians will pick us up again when peoples' reaction to our witness has discouraged us. And he means it to be a place that leaves us thinking, 'It may be hard being a Christian, but I'd rather belong with these people and have what we've got in Jesus, than belong with the world and have what they've got, and be doing what they're doing.' But if we're not being the spiritual family God means us to be – if church is basically rubbish – we'll end up disillusioned and disillusioning others – and even thinking, 'Maybe I'd rather belong with the world, after all.' Here's an email I got from someone like that:
"I had really positive experience [of church] as a child. But as I grew up I struggled increasingly with the lack of integrity and gossip… I left and tried… other churches, only to feel like a perpetual outsider. I no longer regularly attend any church because I don't really see the point. However uplifting the teaching, I'm met continuously by individuals who fail to practice what they preach… and… who are indifferent or exclusive. I think what I've realised is that I don't believe in church any more."
And the humbling truth is that the last church they'd tried was ours. So look at the antidote to that in verses 2-3:
"Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good."
So he says, 'You've tasted something of how good it is to be saved from living without Jesus, to living under him together – something of that quality of life together. So now, imagine you're newborns, and imagine the Lord Jesus is your milk. And long for the milk, so you grow up together in your salvation.' In other words, work together to know Jesus and be changed by him more – and do that as eagerly as a newborn works at a bottle of milk – and you won't end up saying, 'Maybe I'd rather belong with the world, after all.' Because the church will be better than anything the world can offer.
But that's only if we're being the spiritual family God means us to be. And if, for you, we haven't been, can I say, 'I'm sorry'. And can I say, 'Please bear with your brothers and sisters'. And can I also say: if you're aware of relationships in church which you need to mend, or you need to help others to mend, please do so. The second thing Peter says is this:
2. See Everything in the Light of Jesus' Resurrection
Look on to verse 4, where Peter says:
"As you come to him [that's Jesus], a living stone rejected by men"
Press pause there, and that's reminded us that Jesus was rejected. And he said that if we follow him, we'll also be rejected at least to some extent and some of the time. Because, consciously or subconsciously, people around us are saying, 'I don't want Jesus running my life.' Which is why they don't like Christians reminding them of him. So they may just be politely disinterested. Or they may be really negative – you know, 'Why are you so judgmental? Why can't you tolerate other beliefs instead of trying to convert everyone?' And, as Patrick found, it can lose you friends. As equality law is used to enforce acceptance of beliefs about sexuality and gender, more of us may find ourselves losing jobs and losing public office. And in some of the home countries of internationals here, you could lose your freedom or even your life.
That may leave us asking, 'Is being a Christian really worth it? Aren't non-Christian people better off – being able just to fit in with everyone else, and not having to share a message that people don't want to hear?' And Peter says to us: 'If you're thinking that, you're not seeing things straight, and you need to see everything in the light of Jesus' resurrection.' So look down to verse 4 again:
"As you come to [Jesus], a living stone – rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious"
So men rejected Jesus. They crucified him. But, as verse 4 says, he was chosen by God for that – to die for our forgivness – but also to be raised from the dead and put on the throne of heaven. And that's the ultimate reality that everyone here and everyone around us needs to face: Jesus is risen, he's our rightful ruler, and he's at the centre of God's plan for the universe. And Peter uses an Old Testament picture of that, taken from the Isaiah 28 reading we had – where God says that he has (Isaiah 28.16):
"Laid… a precious cornerstone"
The cornerstone of a building was the first one laid, which would dictate the shape of the whole thing. A bit like a big lego brick put in the corner of a base piece is going to shape everything else you can do. And God was saying through Isaiah, 'My plan is to build a people who know and love me. And metaphorically speaking, my plan rests on this 'stone'.' And we now know that the 'stone' is the risen Lord Jesus. So verse 4 again:
"As you come to [Jesus], a living stone... [you need to see that he was and still is] rejected by men but [that his resurrection says that he's] in the sight of God chosen"
So when they crucified Jesus, they thought they were getting rid of him. But you can't get rid of God – you can reject him, but you can't get rid of him. And the resurrection showed that. It shows that he's alive, and there, and that we'll all meet him in the End, whether we want to or not, whether we believe in him or not. So in the light of that, we're better off being on the right side of him – even if that gets hard now. Because being on the wrong side of him – even if it's easier now – will be a disaster in the End.
And Peter explains that with a string of Old Testament quotations (on the theme of the 'stone' (or rock) that we've seen in Isaiah 28). And I'm just going to give you the gist of them. So look on to verse 5, where he says: As you come to Jesus, a living stone…
"you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
So in Old Testament times, the priests were the privileged ones – who were symbolically closest to God, most 'in the know' when it came to God. And Peter is saying: 'You Christians are now the privileged ones who, out of everyone in the world, really know God through Jesus, and really know what life's about – rather than shooting in the dark, like others, and living by trial and error. So don't think non-Christian people are better off now.' And then he says, 'Above all, think who's better off eternally.' So look at verse 6:
"For it stands in Scripture: [and here's Isaiah 28 again]
"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him [notice that the stone is a 'him' because it stands for Jesus] will not be put to shame.""
In other words, 'will not in the End regret trusting in him or think it wasn't worth it.' Richard Baxter lived in the 1600s and wrote a superb book about heaven called The Saints' Everlasting Rest. It's a bit 'ye olde', but here's a bit where he imagines a Christian (or saint) arriving in heaven:
"From [heaven] the saint can look behind him and before him. And to compare past with present things must raise in [his] soul an inconceivable... sense of its [privileges]... To stand in heaven and look back on earth, and weigh them… in the balance... must… transport the soul, and make it cry out, "... Have the gales of grace blown me into such a harbour? ... O… blessed end! I see [now] the Gospel is indeed good tidings... Are all my afflictions, Satan's temptations [and] the world's jeers, come to this? O... Unworthy soul! Is this the place you came to so unwillingly?... Was the world too good to lose? Could you not leave all, deny all, and suffer anything for this? ... Are you not now ashamed, my soul, that you ever questioned that love which brought you here...?"
Look on to verse 7:
"So [ultimately, and in the End] the honour is for you who believe, [in other words you get the best deal] but for those who do not believe…"
And this will be some of us this evening – still thinking things through. And Peter quotes two more parts of God's Word to help you see where you stand, and what the issues are for you. The first is Psalm 118.22:
"The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone"
So imagine that the world is a building site, and we're builders trying to build our lives – build our loves, our families, our careers, and so on. And God has sent his Son Jesus as the stone we're meant to build them on. And this is saying: he was rejected back then, when he came to earth. And he still is rejected by millions today. But, in fact, he's become the cornerstone of the whole plan for this universe, because God his Father raised him from the dead, and he's alive and well, back in heaven. And in the End, everyone who built their lives ignoring him will meet him as their Judge.
Verse 8 then has another quote, which pictures how the 'stone' of the risen Lord Jesus lies unavoidably in the pathway of each one of us. And you've got two options. Either you can 'climb aboard' the stone by faith and build your life on him. Or you can walk on through life as if the 'stone' wasn't there. But it is. And in the end, you'll hit it. In which case, verse 8 says it'll be:
"A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offence."
Which is a picture of falling over something to your ultimate ruin. Let me be really straight if I may. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, Christianity is untrue and we should all walk away from it. But if he did rise from the dead, he is God, and he is as unavoidable as a massive rock in your path. And you don't get rid of him by believing something else; you don't get rid of him by saying, 'Well, I'm glad it's true for you – but it's not for me, I'm not the religious type.' I mean, imagine we went to the top of the Newcastle keep for a bit of sightseeing, and after a bit you say, 'Well, I must be going' – and you start climbing over the parapet. And I say, 'What are you doing?' And you say, 'Jumping to get down.' And I say, 'But what about gravity?' And you say, 'Oh, that might be true for you – but it's not for me, I'm not the gravitational type.' Are you going to float or fall? And it's the same with Jesus. If he rose from the dead, he's as unavoidable as gravity – whatever you believe.
So that's the second thing tonight's passage says: See everything in the light of Jesus' resurrection. Because then we won't think non-Christian people are better off with their apparently easier ride. And we won't wish we still belonged to the world. But there's one other thing we won't do, either. And that's to pull up the drawbridge, withdraw into the Christian bubble and say, 'Well, blow you lot. If you're going to react negatively to our witness, then we're not going to bother any more.' Because the last thing Peter says in tonight's passage is this:
3. Keep Witnessing to People about Jesus – even if they Reject You
Look on to verses 9-10:
"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
That's a mixture of more Old Testament quotes, where God said what he wants his people – which is now those of us who trust in Jesus – to be and to do. So the priests were basically 'go-betweens' – between God and others. And Peter says: Christians are now God's 'priesthood' – we're the 'go-betweens' between God and his world. And part of that involves speaking for him. So verse 9 says: if God has called you through the gospel into relationship with him it's so…
"that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you"
Which means: speaking about how he's made himself known to us, and how he's put us right with him, through Jesus. And that can be by us doing the talking ourselves in the opportunities that come up in conversation. Or it can be by us inviting people to hear others do the talking – whether that's bringing them to church, or to an event like House, or letting Rico Tice do the talking by using Life Explored – or whatever. But, one way or another, we have to get to the point of talking about Jesus with people. And because that's not easy, it's tempting to tell ourselves that, actually, we just need to live good Christian lives to point people to Jesus.
So, for example, a while back, the Newcastle Christian Union got into something called 'service evangelism'. 'We're going to tell people about Jesus just by serving them', was the idea. So they went round the kitchens in halls doing peoples' washing up and cleaning up the mess. Which, if you know how the undergraduate animal can live, was seriously sacrificial serving. But if that's all you do, people won't make any connection with Jesus. They might think you're nice, or weird, or nice and weird – but they're not going to think you're Christian and hear about Jesus unless you actually talk about him. So being God's go-betweens involves speaking for him. But it also involves living godly lives that back that up. So look at verses 11-12:
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles [in our terms, the non-Christian people around you] honourable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
And the challenge is to live the good Christian life among the non-Christians, isn't it? Because it's easy to live the good Christian life among the Christians, in the church and CU bubble. And it's easy to live the bad Christian life among the non-Christians – to be one person here in church but another person out there at home or school or uni or work. But we're called to live the good life among the non-Christians – with the hope, verse 12,
"that, when they speak against you as evildoers [you know, 'Why are you so judgmental and intolerant?'], they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
And I take it 'the day of visitation' is when Jesus returns to wrap up history. The hope is that good Christian lives will disarm people's negativity to Christianity, and point people to Jesus so that, God-willing, they'll be on the God-glorifying side in the End.
So that's tonight's instalment of help in handling being rejected and criticised for our faith. And it ends by reminding us, that however discouraging or difficult it gets – and it does – we're to keep witnessing to the world about Jesus. Because God has many more people to call to himself. And we're the means he's going to use to do it.