1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins

Christians are often called to endure unjust suffering as part of the cost of following Christ.  In the early church many Christians were from the lower classes, even slaves, and so were especially vulnerable to persecution.  1 Peter 2:20 envisages slaves suffering for doing right.  To endure such treatment is ‘commendable before God’.  Peter than turns attention to Christ, the supreme example of innocent suffering (v23).  This leads to thoughts of what his suffering and death accomplished.  We consider 1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins.

1. A sacrifice offered

Granted that Christ had committed no offence, as Pilate acknowledged (Luke 23:4), what was the purpose of his death?  It was not a tragic accident (Acts 2:23) – it fulfilled God’s purpose.  All through his earthly ministry Jesus was conscious of the divine necessity of his suffering and death (Matthew 16:21).  Peter sets this out at the beginning of the verse: ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’.  The idea of ‘bearing sin’ is rooted in the OT.  It signifies taking responsibility for sin, bearing the penalty (Leviticus 24:15-16 in the ESV).  Christ took the responsibility for our sin, bearing its punishment.  It is a substitutionary work (Isaiah 53:12).

It is also the language of sacrifice (eg Leviticus 14:20).  Bearing the penalty for our sin required death (Hebrews 9:22).  It is the shed blood that atones for sin.  The supreme price had to be paid.  The use of the term ‘his body’ stresses the physical reality of what happened – the brutality of the death he died is not to be minimised or sanitised.  This is the cost of salvation.  Without the shedding of blood, when he ‘poured out his life unto death’ (Isaiah 53:12) there is no gospel.  It was ‘on the tree’.  Why is that description used?  The OT background tells us that ‘anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse’ (Deuteronomy 21:23).  He took the curse due to our sin (Galatians 3:13).  He endured the wrath of God for us.  The heart of the gospel is that he was ‘wounded for our transgressions’ (Isaiah 53:5).  We see the wonder of God’s love and grace at the cross.

2. A sanctification effected

Peter does on to deal with the present goal of Christ’s atoning work in relation to believers – it is sanctification.  His goal is the making of a holy people.  There are two aspects to sanctification:

            (a). A definitive act.  Literally Peter speaks of believers ‘having died to sins’ – this has already happened.  It is a strong term – ‘having cease to exist in relation to sin’.  The connection to sin has been irreversibly broken – sin and Satan are no longer the dominating powers in our lives (see Romans 6:1ff).  When we embrace Christ by repentance and faith, we have new life.  We have ‘passed from death to life’ (John 5:24).  It is essential to grasp this – it is liberating news.

            (b). A daily process.  Now that the dominion of sin has been broken, this must be translated into daily practice.  We have victory in Christ – we must not live as if we were defeated.  ‘We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?’ (Romans 6:2).  The Lord offered his sacrifice on the cross so that we might ‘live for righteousness’ – the kind of life that is in accord with God’s holiness and that will receive a favourable verdict at the Last Day.  When we consider the atoning work of Christ, our response (in the power he gives) is to be a life that reflects the Saviour.  All of life is to be measured in these terms.  Our priority is a righteousness that honours God.  In Christ he has provided all we need (2 Peter 1:3) for this life – it is both necessary and possible for the child of God.

Ephesians 3:1-9 Preacher to the Gentiles

Although Paul was a Jew, his main ministry as a Christian evangelist was to the Gentiles.  After his conversion on the Damascus road he was visited by Ananias, who baptised him.  In preparing Ananias, the Lord told him regarding Paul, ‘he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel’ (Acts 9:15).  In writing to the Ephesians Paul now turns to describe that ministry to the Gentiles that the Lord had committed to him.  Consider now Ephesians 3:1-9 Preacher to the Gentiles.

1. The position Paul occupied

Paul was one of the apostles whose ministry was foundational to the New Testament church (1:1).  He describes his ministry not in terms of grandeur or the respect due to him.  He is:

            servant (v7): he is not a master of the gospel – he occupies the position of a servant.  He is a servant to do the will of his Master.  The stress is on God’s action – the work is a gift of his grace.  Paul is aware of his unworthiness.  Christians are called to work in a different spirit from the world (Matthew 20:25-26).  God does not use arrogant workers.

            less than the least (v8): Paul is conscious of the sin from which he has been saved.  He depends totally on God.  This also emphasises the privilege he has received.  He is amazed by the contrast between the glorious task and the unworthy instrument God uses.

            prisoner (v1): This is what doing his work faithfully has brought him.  Paul knows, however, that this is God’s will for him – he is a ‘prisoner’ too in the sense of obedience to Christ.  Suffering indeed authenticates the message – 2 Corinthians 11:16ff.

2. The commission Paul received

From conversion, Paul has had a specific task – ‘to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ’ (v8).  Paul in his early work Paul began with the Jews, but turned to the Gentiles when the gospel was rejected (Acts 13:46).  He proclaims a ‘mystery’ (v4,6,9) – this refers to the plan of God which man could never have discovered but which God has now revealed.  The work Christ would do ‘for ages past was kept hidden in God’ (v9), but when the right time came it has been revealed (v5).  The message originates with God (Galatians 1:12).  The gospel we preach is God’s message, filled with his truthfulness, commanding obedience, requiring proclamation.  This is an ‘administration’ (v2 or ‘stewardship’) – a task for which we will have to give account to the Lord.

3. The message Paul preached

The message is ‘the mystery of Christ’ (v4) – the presence of God’s reign and salvation in him.  It centres on the person and work of Christ.  The ‘mystery’ is ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Colossians 1:27).  One vital element of this gospel – the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel’ (v6).  Together they make up one Body – the Church.  Their unity is stressed – ‘together’ is used 3 times.  The death and resurrection of Christ establish a new humanity, transcending human divisions.  This is the only message we have for the world.  We must ‘make [it] plain to everyone’ (v9).  Apart from the gospel people are in darkness.  We have a wonderful gospel – ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ – a privilege to hear and proclaim.

Acts 4:12 No other name (Mission Focus)

Christians are always preaching about how people must believe in Jesus.  That is central to our message, but increasingly in a pluralist, multicultural world the question is being asked, ‘Does it matter if I believe in Jesus?’  There are so many options for belief and unbelief – why should the Christian way be regarded as necessary?  The answer is spelled out in Acts 4:12 No other name.

1. The need

Note the language Peter uses: ‘Salvation…saved…’  What is the significance of these terms?  The Bible makes it clear that human beings, whatever their intellectual or cultural achievements, are in a sad spiritual condition.  In our natural state we are ‘God’s enemies’ (Romans 5:10).   We are at war with the Creator we should love and serve.  In particular, the enmity is seen in our sin and disobedience – ‘all have sinned’ (Romans 3:23).  The result is that we are under the holy wrath of God: ‘The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men’ (Romans 1:18).  That is why every person needs salvation.

2. The name

There is hope in this darkness, albeit one hope – ‘there is no other name’.  But there is a name.  It is one that has been ‘given to men’ – given by God.  In his love and grace he has provided the solution we need.  The ‘name’ of course refers to the Lord Jesus Christ – who he is and what he has done to save us.  The name is not some kind of magic charm that just needs to be spoken to be effective.  Jesus is the Son of God who now shares our human nature.  As John 1:14 tells us, ‘the Word became flesh’.  In that human nature he lived a life of perfect obedience that we have not lived and died the death that we deserve to die because of our sin.  Thus we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21 ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might be made the righteousness of God.’

3. The necessity

There is necessarily an exclusivity in this message: ‘no other name…must be saved’.  There can be no salvation by other means and no other name is able to save us.  One aspect of the gospel is the uniqueness of Jesus and his saving work.  This is not one among several options for us to choose from in order for us to sort out our relationship with God.  It is the only one.  It therefore matters tremendously if you believe in Jesus or not: it is not merely a matter of life and death – it is a matter of eternal life and eternal death.

Ephesians 2:19-22 God’s holy temple

It is striking how much Old Testament language is used in the New Testament – underlining the fact that the best preparation for understanding the NT is a good grasp of the OT.  This is true of the biblical doctrine of the church, where the basic principles are set out in the OT.  The people of God are, for example, frequently described in the language of the temple.  Consider Ephesians 2:19-22 God’s holy temple.

1. A secure position

Concentrating on the change that has taken place in Gentile believers, Paul recalls their former misery (v19), outside the sphere of blessing and fellowship with God.  They have been transformed by Christ to whom they are united by faith.  They have been brought into a secure place of blessing:

            (i).  Fellow-citizens with God’s people.  They have been liberated from their alien status – the King has granted them citizenship and they have the same standing as every believer, Jew or Gentile.  By the new birth we enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3; Colossians 1:13), a present possession which we will enjoy to the fullest extent after the return of Christ.  Being a citizen carries with it the obligation to obey God’s royal law.

            (ii).  Members of the household of God.  The family imagery carries the suggestion of intimacy, a warm relationship.  Above all this means that God is our Father and he has given us his Holy Spirit to mark us as his children (Romans 8:15).  We now enjoy all the spiritual privileges of God’s children, the fruit of God’s grace.

2. A sure foundation

The Christian has (or should have) a deep sense of security, which the unsaved lack.  This is not because we trust in ourselves, but because of our sure spiritual foundation that supports our whole life.  Note v20 ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets’ – best understood as their faithful teaching of the truth of God.  Through the Word of God we are brought to Christ (2 Timothy 3:15) and are nourished and grow (1 Peter 2:2).  We have a secure foundation by which we can test all we hear and read.  It is the Lord who gives shape to the building: ‘with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  He is its main support (Isaiah 28:16).  The church depends on Christ for everything, and we can be sure that he will never fail us in any time of need.  We can rest in him and find peace.

3. A steady growth

The church is described as a building, but it is not static, it is a growing building: it is ‘growing into a holy temple in the Lord.  This is organic language.  The church is united to Christ: ‘in him the whole building is joined together’ (v21).  There is a permanent spiritual unity despite outward divisions.  God’s purpose is that his church will grow ‘into a holy temple in the Lord’.  This takes place as each member develops and matures.  We are ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5).  Gradually God shapes each of us to fill a unique position.  He is building ‘a holy temple’ reflecting his holiness.  It is a glorious privilege to be ‘a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit’(v23) and a summons to holiness (1 Corinthians 3:16).