Over the years, one of the joys of Family Camp has been the arrival of an annual meteor shower. Several times, Judy and I walked to the top of the hill above camp, laid down on our backs, turned off our flash lights and watched the streaks of light flashing across the sky. It was exciting, at least to us, because we see them so infrequently. We might liken those shooting stars to the joys which come and go during our earthly lives. There are things which come along, making life sweet and happy for a time – but they don’t last. The joy of a new baby in the family is not the same as the joy of his graduation or marriage. The pleasure of a completed project has to be replaced with that of a new project. They flash across our sky, sometimes looming large, and then they are gone.
But the joys which the children of God may have, begin at a specific moment determined by our sovereign God, and then they go on and on as infinitely as the eternal God Himself. The blessings of being one of “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people… called … out of darkness into his marvellous light” are not meteoric. They are more like the consistency of the sun. The pragmatist might point out that even the sun will burn out – or more likely, be doused by God. But what will happen then? That faithful, burning orb will be replaced by something even more perfect – the Lord Himself.
Peter, our Apostle, adds, in verse 10, one more blessing to his list of Christian joys. Even though he repeats the word “people” from verse 9 his approach is different in this verse. Earlier he pointed to the joy of being God’s “peculiar people,” where the emphasis was on “peculiar.” He was saying that God’s saints belong to the Lord in a special way – they are His “personal people.” the way we might think of “personal property.” And with that relationship we can be sure of His infinite protection and care. We aren’t public land, like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park, owned by everyone in general and trampled by millions. No, we are the choicest acre in the universe, and into this garden the Lord comes every evening to fellowship with us. In verse 10 Peter simply points out that we are God’s people NOW, while in the past we were NOT. And the thing which facilitated this great change was the unfathomable mercy of God.
Let’s think for a few minutes about these transformed people.
I believe that Peter had someone special in mind – at least he had some special scriptures in mind. Compare what he tells us with a couple verses from the Old Testament – “ye… in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Now see if you detect an echo. ” I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.” That is from Hosea 2:23. Here is another from Hosea 1:10 – “In the place where it was said unto them, Ye are NOT my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.” As the Spirit lead the Apostle to write his letter, putting down these blessings of the saints, I believe Peter’s mind went back to Bible lessons he had heard in his youth at the synagogue in Capernaum. Perhaps, also, he had heard the Lord Jesus use Hosea to call Israelites to repentance.
Hosea was one of the prophets whom God placed in northern Israel. He served the Lord at about the same time as Isaiah. But his was very different from Isaiah’s evangelical style of writing – Hosea is figurative and pictorial.
The book begins with God authorizing Hosea to marry a woman of a disreputable reputation. “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms, for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord.” The commentators are divided on whether this marriage was figurative or real. I think it actually occurred, because the woman is named, and we even have her father’s name. The commentators are also divided whether Gomer, Mrs. Hosea, was a fornicator before her marriage. Whether she was or not, she followed the wickedness in her heart, becoming an adulteress after the marriage was begun. This would certainly be a better illustration of the truth the Lord was conveying to Israel. They were God’s people, but then turned to spiritual adultery – they began to worship idols. Anyway, this woman gave birth to several children, whom the Lord named in such a way as to testify against Israel’s descent into spiritual immorality. For example, one of the children was named “Lo-ammi” – “For ye are NOT my people, and I will not be your God.”
Gomer and her children are not painted in very bright colors in the Book of Hosea. “Say ye unto your brethren, Ammi; and to your sisters, Ruhamah. Plead with your mother, plead: for she is not my wife, neither am I her husband: let her therefore put away her whoredoms out of her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; Lest I strip her naked, and set her as in the day that she was born, and make her as a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. And I will not have mercy upon her children; for they be the children of whoredoms. For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink.” All of this, and more, are given to us to point out the wickedness of Israel’s sin. The thing for US to remember at this point is that idolatry can take on many forms. Any lost soul can become an idolator. Paul said in Colossians – “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry…”
These things come into the Apostle’s mind as he writes the words of I Peter. “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” “But wait a minute,” someone says, “Hosea is all about Israel, and therefore what he says doesn’t apply to me.” It is true that Hosea was a prophet to Israel. But Peter may have had another scripture in mind as well.
Think back to the scripture which we read earlier from Romans 9. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit quoted the words of Hosea, whom he called “Osee,” because of the differences in language. He used Hosea to include Gentiles, non-Jews like you and me, into the blessings of God’s mercy and grace. Romans 9:25 and 26 – “As (the Spirit) saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.”
We can’t get into it very deeply, but Paul’s theme in Romans 9 to 11 is that we who are not of Israel, have been grafted into the blessings which God has promised to the children of Jacob. “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it…” “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “For as ye in times past, have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy.” O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
In other words, as wicked as Gomer/Israel has been before God, we who are Gentiles have been as bad. And as Israel deserved to be striped naked and left to death and destruction, we deserve even worse. But just as a remnant of Israel, throughout the centuries, has been saved by the grace of God, the Lord has redeemed a few even more retched people – you and me. “ye… in time past were NOT a people, but are now the people of God.”
And how did the Saviour do that? His great mercy provided the means.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” In Hosea 2:23 – God said, “I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.”
Mercy, mercy. What is mercy? I looked to John Gill for a definition, but he went on for page after page of description without definition. I checked Augustus Strong who gave his own rather strong definition – “Mercy is that eternal principle of God’s nature which leads him to seek the temporal good and eternal salvation of those who have opposed themselves to his will, even at the cost of infinite self-sacrifice.” Chaffer explained it this way – “Three words needs especially to be distinguished, namely, Love, mercy, and grace. Love is that in God which existed before He would care to exercise more or grace. Mercy on the other hand, is that in God which duly provided for the need of sinful man, while grace is that in Him which acts freely to save because all the demands of holiness have been satisfied.” I think we may be better off simply reading the word in some of the scriptures where it is found – beginning right here. Applying Peter’s words, as aliens and outside God’s blessings, we were on the verge of eternal destruction, but then Jehovah’s mercy was applied and we were made people of God.
Again, that is not a definition, but what more does the Bible say about mercy? Solomon tells us – “It is of Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” I like to say that mercy is what God employs when He does NOT destroy us – when He DOESN’T judge and condemn us according to what we deserve. God was furious with Lo-ammi, his mother and his siblings. Their eternal souls were in peril of Hell-fire, but then in stepped the mercy of God. “Who is a God like unto thee that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage.” The Lord “retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.” “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.”
God is merciful. And He is eternally merciful. “Remember O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy loving kindnesses, for they have been ever of old” – Psalm 25:6. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever; with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, mercy shall be built up for ever; thy faithfulness hath thou established in the very heavens” – Psalm 89:1-2.
Listen to Isaiah 54:6-10 – “For the LORD hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.” Do you know what that means? God is not an indian-giver when it comes to His mercy. When God bestows His mercy on someone; they are forever protected by that grace..
Romans 9:22-23 – “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.” A vessel is something that we carry stuff in. A Christians is a kind of vessel, a vessel filled with God’s mercy.
Romans 9 teaches several things about these vessels of mercy. For example, it says that not everyone in the world is a vessel of mercy. There are a great many people who are vessels of wrath – containers for God’s anger. “But YE are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
God is like a glass-maker or a potter – making lots of different kinds of containers or vessels. Some of them are made to be honored and displayed, by filling them with His mercy. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
The Bible says that every good gift and every perfect gift is from above. God has a kind of mercy which is for all His creation – generally. That is, “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” Nehemiah, speaking about a nation of sinners praised God with “Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.” When God sends rain, ending the drought, it falls on the rose garden of the atheist and the devil-worshipper, just as it does on the rose garden of your mother. But for many that rain is merely sprinkling down over the vessels of wrath. It is not filling up those ugly pots, and it is not changing them into vessels of mercy. Peter says, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
I Peter 1:3 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Titus 3:5 – “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Luke 1:76-79 – “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Daniel 9:9 – “To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him.” Psalm 51:1-2 – “Have mercy upon me O God, according to thy loving kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
Every Christian originally came into this world named “Lo-ammi” – “For ye are not my people, and I will not be your God.” We were born vessels of wrath, but in stepped the Saviour, who reconstituted us as vessels of mercy. We were NOT people of God, but now we are people of God – “children of God.” Praise the Lord for His grace.
If only Gomer and Lo-ammi knew what they were missing. If they only realized what was behind and following the grace and mercy of the Lord. They would repent before God; they would admit and forsake their wickedness. They would reach out in faith toward the Administrator of that mercy. They would plead, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Have YOU ever made that plea? Have you ever, with a broken heart, turned from your sin to Christ? Why not? Can’t you see the blessings to which Peter refers? Why not this morning humbly come to the Saviour?