God's Chosen People
chosen for His favor
"I can imagine," I said, excited for our brother, Cornelius, and not the least bit jealous. "Did he give you a tour of the place?" Apelles had just returned from Caesarea where our brother was stationed with his cohort.
"Yes, he did. It is a large place with spacious rooms, but not overly extravagant. The courtyard is bigger than average, bordered with mature shade trees and sitting benches. The floor of the house is elevated and has an impressive stairway with columns at the entry. You go through a pair of big double doors to get into the house. You can definitely see his wife's touch on the interior furnishings. So, it is a beautiful place, but, well, what caught my attention was the changes in Cornelius."
"Really? How so? Is he getting that proud Roman soldier attitude?"
"No, not that. In fact, he is less like a soldier than before." Distractedly, Apelles offered me a bowl full of grape clusters. "He, ah, he prays a lot, and gives money to the poor."
"Cornelius!? Prays?" I laughed and popped a couple of the grapes in my mouth, "Since when has he started paying attention to the gods?"
"That is what is extraordinary. He doesn't pray to the Roman gods, he prays to the Jewish God."
I nearly choked on my grapes. After a short spasm of coughing, I sputtered, "The God of the Jews! Cornelius?!"
Apelles sympathetically handed me a napkin, "My reaction was similar, except I spewed my wine clear across the table. In short, yes, he has become a worshiper of the God of the Jews. He relayed to me of how a few Jewish merchants explained to him the reason for their image-less temple. Apparently, they assert their God is a living God and is the maker of all things. Thus, He dwells in the heavens, not in an earthly temple."
Of course, I'd heard that the Jew's temple had no image. I could not imagine offering sacrifice to empty air. How did they ever know if their God heard them?
"He then shared with me that he had a long conversation with the merchants and it greatly piqued his interest. Some days after the conversation, they returned and gave him a copy of their religious writings. To my surprise, Cornelius claimed he avidly read through all they gave him. Not only that, but he also began attending their synagogue and listening to their teachings."
"Teachings? Like a school?"
"I suppose so."
"What is there to teach about the gods? It's all a bunch of legends."
"Cornelius did share with me regarding their teachings. Apparently, the Jews believe their ancient writings originated from their God and therefore they study these scriptures to learn of His character and person."
"Seriously? They study to learn what their God is like?" That just seemed weird to me. I couldn't believe Cornelius was into something like that.
"That is what Cornelius informed me. My understanding is the Jews think their God is far above humans in power and wisdom. They claim it takes a lifetime to begin to understand and comprehend His ways. Cornelius himself rather enthusiastically stated that their God is amazing. He said he is astonished at His righteousness and holiness, and mercy towards those who seek Him."
"A righteous God? None of the gods are righteous - they are as immoral as humans, or even worse."
"Evidently not the Jewish God. Cornelius showed me many of the laws they received from their God. There is no arguing the righteousness and justice of the commands they follow. It is evident their God does not practice or even permit unrighteousness."
"That's impressive. I can see why that would appeal to Cornelius." I pondered what Apelles told me, then shrugged my shoulders. "Yeah, well, if this God they worship is the Creator of all things, then surely we all can seek him in our own way."
"I suppose that is true, but Cornelius seems convinced that you can only encounter Him through the teachings of the Jews."
"Really," I said scornfully, "and what makes the Jews so much better than anyone else?"
Apelles said soberly, "Cornelius showed me in their ancient writings of the covenant God made with their patriarch, Abraham, to take his descendants as His people. The covenant was that He would be their God, and they would be His people. And it appears He..."
"Wait a second. What do you mean ‘they would be His people?’ If He is the creator of all things, then aren't we all His people?"
"No, not according to their scripture writings. Furthermore, it is fascinating to see how history bears out their claim. God made multiple covenants with them, the like of which have never been offered to any other nation. Additionally, they have the holy law of God which declares His commands. Furthermore, at their temple, they perform the sacred service of God. And, they have the solemn promise of God to be established as the head of all nations in the last age. It is rather astonishing to have seen the level of Cornelius’ certainty that the way to the living God is through the Jews."
We sat in silence for a few minutes while I tried to wrap my mind around this concept. It was hard to believe that Cornelius had become convinced that the Jews were the people of God and held a position of honor in the sight of God above all other nations. Truth be told, it was a bit difficult to accept that the Jews were above the Romans in some fashion. However, I knew that the Romans didn't have any special access to the living God. In fact, as far as I knew, they didn't have any access to God at all. "Well," I said, "this is some unexpected news you bring, Apelles. I suppose if Cornelius thinks the Jews have something, then maybe a guy should look into it and see if there is anything to their claims."
Apelles nodded. "Cornelius sent a couple of their books back with me. I've nearly finished with the first and can lend it to you, if you are interested."
I nodded my assent, and the conversation turned to other things.
Then came the day when Apelles returned from a trip from Caesarea full of excitement. While he had been there, Cornelius had received a visit from an angel who instructed him to send for Simon Peter. When Peter arrived, Apelles was there with Cornelius to hear what Peter had to say. As Peter relayed the gospel of Jesus, Cornelius and Apelles believed and the Holy Spirit fell upon them and the others with them. As you know, Luke, the physician, recorded the events that took place in his account to Theophilus, so I do not need to repeat them here in detail. Of course, when Apelles told me of the Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, I too believed and received the Holy Spirit.
Immediately thereafter, we noticed significant changes in our lives. The first was the stunning new wealth of meaning we found in the Jewish scriptures. It was like the heavens opened up and flooded us with a storehouse of 'crumbs,' although it seemed to us more like a treasure house of jewels than crumbs from a table. Another change was how we viewed other people. Some of those whom we once had liked, but didn't embrace our good news of Jesus, became more distant to us. Others, whom we hadn't particularly appreciated, but did welcome the gospel of the Lord, became dear to us. Even with these and other changes, we didn't realize at the time the magnitude of the change that had taken place. Then we received a visit from Peter.
"Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame."
"Them is mighty powerful comfort words," commented Nereus, to whom Greek was a second language. "Jesus, whom precious for God, is very sure person to trust me in."
"True," I replied, "Since God has declared Jesus is the premier and precious cornerstone, then we, who have trusted in Him, need never fear the embarrassment of having misplaced our trust. If God approves of Him, then He is approved."
Nereus nodded as Peter replied, "For this reason, you, who believe that God approves of Him, count Him precious. But to those who do not believe, 'The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,' and He is to them 'A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.'"
Peter paused, evidently seeing the question on Hermes' face. Hermes, a new believer, hesitantly asked, "You said 'those who do not believe,' are you speaking of the Jews?" As Peter nodded, he continued, "What does it mean that they stumbled? Were they standing at one time and then fell down?"
Apelles moved as if he was about to answer. All eyes turned toward him, and he reddened slightly and glanced at Peter. Seeing Peter smile encouragingly, he turned towards Hermes, saying, "At one time, the Jews did stand before God. When God brought them out of Egypt, He established the nation as a people for Himself. They were His priests to the world, and received God’s precepts and statutes. He sanctified them to be a holy nation before Him, separated from the uncleanness of the Gentiles. They were His special people." As Peter nodded his agreement, Apelles continued, "When they rejected the Lord Jesus, they took a position against God. Being opposed to God, it is evident they could no longer be priests unto God. Additionally, having rejected the Holy One, they are no longer holy before God. Thus, they have stumbled from their former position as the special people of God."
Still nodding, Peter added, "They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed."
"Wait," interjected Hermas, Hermes' brother, "The Jews were appointed to stumble?!"
Apelles looked towards Peter, but he inclined his head toward Apelles and gestured for him to answer. "Yes, many of them were appointed thus because of their rejection. You see, although they were God's special people, many of them obeyed the words of men above the words of God. Our Lord Himself pointed out this discrepancy in their lives, and for this they hated Him. Because of their disobedience to the word of God, they were under the wrath of God. Being under God's condemnation, they could not continue to be the people of God. Eventually, as long as they continued to disobey, they had to fall. Does that make sense?"
As Hermas nodded, Hermes thoughtfully said, "So God made Jesus the breaking point for them."
"Yes," replied Apelles, "Their rejection of Jesus was the point over which God removed them from being His special people. Their priesthood is now empty; it no longer bridges the gap between men and God. They are no longer a holy nation before God."
Even without looking for Peter's confirmation, we could see what Apelles said was true. It was a sobering thought, and we sat in silence pondering their significant loss. Then Peter's face lit up, and he held his arms open towards us, saying, "But now you, who have believed in Jesus, are God's chosen generation. You are a royal priesthood before God. You are a holy nation unto God. You are His special people."
Dumbfounded, we sat stunned, some with our mouths hanging open, as the meaning of his words sank in. Then a chorus of questions erupted from the group.
"My understanding not you!" exclaimed Nereus in his broken Greek.
Smiling broadly, Peter beckoned for silence. As our clamor of voices dropped off, Hermes asked one last question, "Why would God make us, us!, His special people?!"
Beaming at him, Peter replied, "So that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!"
Softly, in perfect Greek, Nereus said for us all, "Praise be to God!"
Facing all of us, Peter declared, "It is music in my ears to hear God's praises from you, who once were not a people but now are the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy."
"How could we help but praise Him," marveled Apelles, "We have been made the elect people of God, chosen for His favor!"
We are His chosen people! Praise be to our God and Father who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!
Let the reader be aware that the above conversation is an attempt to provide a commentary on 1 Peter 2:6-10 without making it look like a commentary. The astute reader will have recognized that, within the conversation, everything Peter said was a near quote of the passage. The things said by the others serve as a commentary to bring out significant points that I believe were intended by Peter when he wrote the passage. As a note of clarification, Peter was not teaching that the church took Israel’s place, but that they were made elect in much the same fashion as the nation of Israel were formerly elect.