Once you were not a people…

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 (1Pe 2:10 NRS).

This scripture was part of the Kerygma Bible study, and for some reason it struck me. Peter is paraphrasing a passage from Hosea, a prophet from the 8th Century BCE, originally delivered to Israel. The letter was written probably between 70 and 90 CE, so the book of Hosea was already about 800 years old. He wrote to five provinces in what is now Asia Minor, or Turkey. Israel, culturally, was as far removed from them as you can imagine. And yet, the churches in these territories were reading the Hebrew scriptures. That in itself is remarkable when you think about it.

I tried to place myself in the shoes of a Gentile Christian of that time. You don’t know much about Judaism, but somehow you’ve come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. As you gathered with other believers, you learned that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah promised in the Jewish scriptures. You’re a Gentile in a province of Asia. Besides living under Roman rule, what do you have in common with the Jewish Christians in your congregation? Just one thing: you believe in Jesus, and you have heard from those who knew him that everything he did and said was to fulfill scripture, including the way he died, his being betrayed by a close friend, and his rising from the dead.

You’ve heard letters from Paul and stories of Jesus called Gospels. All of them cite scripture after scripture that Jesus fulfilled, so you’ve learned more and more of the Hebrew scriptures. Maybe you have a vague sense that it is connected to you somehow. It is about Jesus and how he was revealed to be the Messiah. But it seems above you or beyond you. It comes out of a history that is alien to you.

In joining one of these churches, you had to renounce whatever gods you had worshipped before. Maybe you have been ostracized from your family. Your associates have stopped doing business with you. Your friends don’t understand why you won’t sacrifice to the same gods now, or why you won’t eat the meat they offer you. You have lost your identity. You are one of the “no-people,” a stranger and alien in what used to be your home.

Then you hear this from Peter. He’s quoting – or actually paraphrasing – some Jewish scripture, but this time it’s not about the Jews or even just about Jesus. It’s about you.

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 (1Pe 2:10 NRS).

And it hits you: I am one of God’s people. You have found who you really are. A history that began thousands of years before you were born, a history that includes Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth and David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, and all the prophets, that history doesn’t just belong to the Jews now. It belongs to you. The promises God made to Israel throughout history are to you as well. You and this church and every church everywhere are the people of God just as much as the Jews now, all because of Jesus. This isn’t just their story anymore. It is our story. It is your story. And now you can finally begin to understand who you are. You are a part of God’s people.

You are not just an individual who was born and one day will die for who knows what purpose. You are a part of a people that stretches back through history, long before you were born and will continue long after you are gone. A living history you can build on and contribute to and leave something for the next generation. You are not just an individual in some province of the Roman Empire.

You are one of a people that is in every locality, every city, every province, and is continuing to spread all through the empire and beyond even where Rome can reach. A people of every race, tribe, tongue, and nation who have one thing in common: You have all come to believe in Jesus Christ and his Resurrection power. And because of that, you are all God’s people and citizens of God’s kingdom.

For some reason, all of this came over me at once. Imagining what it would have meant to one of those original recipients of this letter, somewhere in Asia Minor, it came to me in such a clear and overwhelming fashion. I can’t help feeling my words have not even begun to capture it.

Maybe you have had a similar experience, where you were reading the Bible and suddenly you realized God wasn’t hiding somewhere in the pages of history in some elusive mystical experience but was right there with you. Or suddenly you realized you weren’t reading about people buried in two or three thousand years of history. You were actually reading about yourself, your people, your history. If so, I would love it if you would share it in the comments below.

Grace and peace to you.

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2 thoughts on “Once you were not a people…

  1. Christopher Luplow

    Great article and insight, David. I had not considered the theological “leap of faith” people had to make at that time. It is hard to comprehend how difficult it must have been for people to believe in the fulfillment of the prophecies of a foreign God. Especially when a majority of adherents to that religion did not believe the fulfillment of the prophecies had actually taken place.

    Liked by 1 person

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