“A Holy Nation for a Holy God!”
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Stewardship Sunday ~ November 15, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“A Holy Nation for a Holy God!”
Exodus 19:1-6; 1 Peter 2:9-10
I heard the story of the Preacher who wanted to cover all the Prophets on one Sunday morning, so he started with the major prophets. He spent twenty minutes on Isaiah, twenty minutes on Ezekiel, and another twenty minutes on Jeremiah. At this point the congregation was getting restless, so the Preacher said I better get into the minor prophets and let me start with Hosea. “Now where do I place Hosea?” the preached asked. A gentleman in the back pew said, “he can take my seat. I am leaving.” I don’t want to be like this preacher this morning because the call to holiness is a Biblical call that is found throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The topic is very broad, and we can spend a few hours just scratching the surface of this great topic, but I will be short and right to the point this morning.
As you may remember, during the month of November, we are looking at 1 Peter 2:9-12. “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.” This is a tridimensional image of our identity as Christians. It describes the identity of those whom God has called to His kingdom.
The last two Sundays, we had the chance to unpack how the Christian community is a community that is chosen, or handpicked, by God, and how God in His amazing grace, made us a royal priesthood, a privilege that is only made possible under the New Covenant. This morning, we get to the last part of Peter’s tridimensional description of the Christian community. Peter says we are a “holy nation.” The Church has been called to be a holy community. What is at stake here? What is holiness? How do we live this out?
First: What is Holiness?
The Church is called “ἔθνος ἅγιον” ~ “a holy nation.” The word “Holy”, ἅγιος “hagios” in Greek, means “set apart” or “dedicated.” In other words, we have been set apart by God for God’s purposes. We are in the world but not of the world. Under the Old Covenant, according to Exodus 19:6, Israel was meant to be a holy nation, set apart from the other nations. Israel was called to be different – to worship only one God and to faithfully obey that God, to have a different set of standards and morality. They were not to follow the pagan practices of the other nations. As you know, they miserably failed to be that set apart nation.
Yet, in Christ, God has formed a “new nation”; it’s called “the Church of Christ.” The church has been called to be a community like no other; a holy community; a set apart community. The Church is the new spiritual nation which is based neither on ethnic identity nor geographical boundaries but rather on believing in one heavenly King, Jesus Christ, who is the true King of kings and Lord of lords.
In Revelation 7: 9-10, the apostle John gives us a glimpse of the Church in heaven. He says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.” This is the holy nation that has been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
Second: How Do We Live This Out?
How do we live this out? How are we called to be set apart? In what ways are we as Christians called to be set apart? Let me offer two simple yet profound ways. Meantime, I encourage you to test yourself to see whether or not you are set apart in these ways.
We Are Set Apart in Our Ambitions
There are only two people we can truly live for: self or God. Christians no longer live for themselves, but for God. Our only agenda in life is to honor God and glorify Him. People who do not know God live for themselves. Yet, when a Christian thinks about their next decision—the next place they’ll move to, when a Christian thinks about starting a family, when a Christian thinks about going to work— they’re aiming at God. They ask, “How can I make much of God?” The center of the target is God’s will to be done in our lives. Therefore, our ambitions, dreams and desires should have God at the center. The world could care less about this, but that’s why Christians are set apart in their ambitions.
We Are Set Apart in Our Actions
Every activity has purpose for the Christian, even the smallest ones like eating and drinking. Christians do not drink a glass of orange juice the same way someone of the world does. We receive that glass with gratitude—a gift of God’s provision. Our actions—the “what” we do and the “how” we do it—are meant to display our gratitude and love for God. That’s why in whatever we do, ultimately, we do for God’s glory. Our actions have purpose. They are not random; they are intentional. So the question that should occupy our minds is: Do my actions help expanding God’s Kingdom? Do they help others to encounter the love of Jesus? This way, the pledge cards we are presenting today become more than an amount of money we give to this congregation; rather, an action of love and a sign of commitment to God’s Kingdom.
Friends, to the degree that we are “set apart” from the world is the degree to which our lights will shine brightly in the world. You are not meant to blend in like camouflage. If your ambitions, actions, and affections resemble the world, your light bulb is out. But if your ambition is to please God, and your actions seek to bring God glory, and your affections match the very heart of God, you are surely a bright light in a dark place. Friends, we need to test ourselves in this, lest we become deceived. Sometimes we honestly think we live for God, but we’re actually very selfish in our thinking and our planning. Friends, let’s remember that the Church in its most basic identity is a holy community through which God works actively in and through human beings and actions in the midst of a concrete, historical community. May it be so. Amen.
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