There are two truths I want to unfold and undergird from Scripture and from experience. The first is this: "To you who believe, Jesus Christ is precious" (1 Peter 2:7). The second is this: Your power to give a compassionate witness about Jesus to unbelievers will grow in direct proportion to how precious Jesus is to you in 1982.
From Futility to Eternal Significance
The first truth is simply taken from 1 Peter 2:7. Let's walk through the preceding context briefly. Start back at verse 18 of chapter 1. Speaking to the believers in Asia Minor about 30 years after the death of Christ, Peter says, "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ." Without Christ we were all victims of a massive hijack and were being held hostage by our own sin and the power of Satan. The place of our captivity was called "futile ways." All was futile, the blowing up of bubbles that burst. Life may have been full of business and building, but it all signified nothing and would have ended in an eternal whimper. But Christ paid the ransom. He purchased our freedom by his own life. As 1 Peter 2:24 says, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness." And now nothing that we do in his name is futile, but it all has eternal significance.
He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
What makes this Jesus Christ so special that his blood could ransom all believers from their futile ways is that before he was manifested in the flesh, he lived from all eternity with God the Father in the happy fellowship of the Trinity; and after his crucifixion God the Father raised him from the dead and gave him glory in heaven. And God did all this for our sake, so that we would hope in him.
The Creation of New Desires
That's the truth referred to in verse 22. If we obey it, that is, if we do put our hope and faith in God's Christ, then our souls are purified. Sins are forgiven and the old desires that hindered love are replaced with new ones, so that we love one another earnestly from the heart (v. 22). Or to put it another way, we have been born anew by the living and abiding word of God (v. 23). The purification of the soul through faith and hope in Christ is a new birth because in it God imparts a new nature to the believer. The Holy Spirit comes in and the very character of God begins to spread through our personality, until we are fully conformed to the image of Christ (1 Peter 1:2; Romans 8:29).
Conversion to Christ is not simply a decision to believe some facts about God. It is a new person being born by the imperishable word of God, the gospel. The gospel begets children of God when it meets with life-transforming faith.
Therefore in chapter 2, verse 1, Peter urges us to confirm our newness by laying aside all the old desires of malice and guile and hypocrisy and envy and slander, and in their place to have the sign of new life: desire for Christ. "Like newborn babes, desire the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." Conversion to Christ is caused by tasting his kindness and being convinced that no other beverage in the world satisfies like that. And the sign of life after conversion is that we desire more and more of Christ in his word and in his kindness. If there can be a healthy baby who desires no milk, then there can be a Christian who desires not Christ. But there are none of either. O, yes, a baby may get sick and lose its appetite for a day or two, but it soon regains it, or it dies. So believers may experience lean seasons and dry nights of the soul, but they will come out of it. The appetite will return. Else they will die and not grow up to salvation.
To You Who Believe, Christ Is Precious
Then in verses 4–8 the metaphor changes. Christ is not just the milk we desire; he is the precious and chosen cornerstone that we come to and build our lives on individually and as a church. Some reject the stone and stumble over it into eternal doom, but as verse 7 says, "To you who believe, he is precious." Notice what happens when we connect verses 4 and 7. In verse 4, Christ is chosen and precious in the sight of God. In verse 7, he is, therefore, precious to us who believe. Believers are chips off the Old Block as it were. We choose what our Father chooses. We feel to be precious what our Father feels to be precious. Therefore, we see again how saving faith is not just agreeing that certain facts are true. Saving faith signifies a new nature. And the evidence of this new nature is that it desires Christ, it cherishes him as precious.
When Peter says, "To you who believe he is precious," he is showing what distinguishes believers from unbelievers. He is not saying that there are a few really spiritual believers who desire Christ and feel his preciousness. He is saying that if you are a believer, if you are saved, for you Christ is precious. If you do not feel his preciousness, if you do not desire him like a baby desires milk, examine the roots of your faith and see if they are sucking up life from the precious blood of Christ and the promises of God, or if they are simply curled around the dry rocks of habit, tradition, custom, form, peer pressure. Is Christ an allurement to your affections, or just duty to be performed? Are you moved by desire for him, or by the expectations of family and church? "To you who believe, he is precious."
How precious? How much is Jesus worth? Where does he come in your scale of desires? Jesus told a parable one time that describes how precious it really is to inherit the kingdom of heaven. And since he himself is the king of that kingdom and the one who makes it valuable, the parable applies to him too. He said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." Notice well: the man does not sell all that he has begrudgingly; he does it joyfully. The reason is because he sees how precious the treasure is. He knows that, whatever he pays for that field, it's a steal. Jesus is worth so much more than anything else in all the world, that every loss endured to have more of him can be endured with joy.
Paul gave us a living example of this parable. He said in Philippians 3:7ff.,
Whatever gain I had, I counted loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I might gain Christ.
The mark of a saint, a child of God, is not that we have attained or are perfect, but that we long for Christ, we thirst like hungry babies for his Word and fellowship and power. No Christian is satisfied with his present condition. We are hungry, and the more we taste, the hungrier we get for Jesus. His value does not diminish with time—it increases. And the better we know him, the more we love him. And when we finally enter into his presence with rejoicing, our endless song will be, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." Your mouth is always full of praises for what you value most. "To you who believe, he is precious."
Power for Witness and the Preciousness of Jesus
That's the first truth I wanted to urge this morning. The second is this: Your power to give a compassionate witness about Jesus to unbelievers will grow in direct proportion to how precious Jesus is to you in 1982. Notice in 1 Peter 2 how our text continues in verse 9. You who believe and feel the preciousness of Christ "are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." Another good translation would be, "that we might declare his excellencies." The text explicitly says that God chose us and made us his new people for the purpose of telling people about his excellencies, specifically, about how wonderful it is to be brought from darkness to light. Or to put it another way, we have been chosen in order to declare how precious Jesus is to us. Therefore, I also infer from the text that our power to make that declaration will increase in direct proportion to how precious Jesus really is to us. You cannot bear a credible witness to the value of anything if you do not feel its value. Therefore the most important question we can ask ourselves if we hope to reap a harvest in 1982 is: How much is Jesus worth?
Now I want to tell you a little story to illustrate how prayer, meditation on the worth of Jesus, and the patience of God enabled me to do something last month I should have done long ago. I have a neighbor named Alan. He's single and in his 40s. When Noël and I moved into our home on Elliot Ave. in June 1980, I met Alan right away. In our first conversation, I asked if he went to church anywhere, and he said, "No." I said he would be welcome at Bethlehem anytime, and dropped it. I didn't drop it out of a wise and strategic plan to reach him effectively with the gospel; I dropped it out of ineptitude and squeamishness and lack of vitality in faith.
Over the next year Alan and I only exchanged pleasantries on the run, and I remember missing one terrific opportunity to speak of Jesus when I helped him put his canoe away. But during that year I could hardly ever go to God in prayer without Alan coming to mind. Every time I sought power and blessing and asked, "God, is there anything standing between us?" Alan came to mind. I felt repeated pangs of guilt for not speaking to him of the most important thing in the world.
So I began to pray for courage and, above all, love. I asked that the Lord give me an opportunity. And in amazing patience, the Lord took me in little baby steps. He moved me to start carrying a little booklet by John Stott called, "Becoming a Christian," and he enabled me to promise that the next time I saw Alan, I would give him the booklet and express my concern. Just before we left for vacation last August, I needed to tell Alan that I was going to have some grading done that would affect his yard. So Karsten saw him one morning outside and told me, and I ran out to speak to him. With Karsten and Benjamin by my side, I explained the grading problem and got his permission. Then I said something like this, "Alan, I remember when we talked last summer, you said you didn't go to church anywhere. I suspect that probably means you don't have much interest in Jesus Christ either. And that concerns me because he's my Lord and means a lot to me. So I've been carrying this little booklet around, hoping to give it to you. If you had time to read it, I'd love to talk about it more sometime." He took it and thanked me and said he was just on his way to the boundary waters and would read it. He was very courteous. What I felt especially good about was that my sons had been at my side and had seen their daddy reaching out to a neighbor.
After that I was in constant prayer about what to do next. How should I follow through? One Monday morning in the fall, as I was praying in my study, the Lord would not let me up until I made a vow to call Alan that night and ask what he thought of the booklet. So I made the vow, and I asked the interns to pray for me when we met that afternoon. I called about 7:30, and he was not home. I called again, but he never returned that evening. Even though I didn't reach him, I felt good that I had kept my vow and overcame my anxiety about calling. One more baby step with God's help.
I didn't feel right about calling again for some time. A new idea was starting to form, namely, a more personal face-to-face visit. The first time I saw him since August was at our neighborhood Thanksgiving open house. It was in a crowded living room, and it was too impersonal, I felt, to ask about the booklet. He sat on the floor and was very friendly. I was encouraged that he felt free to come.
Then I did something which I recommend to everybody, but only if you are ready for God to do something new in your life. I took a day's retreat, Monday, December 14, to pray and meditate and think about church in 1982. I spent about five hours praying and reading Scripture, which is where these last two sermons were conceived. The fruitlessness of our witness at Bethlehem laid heavily upon me, and I knew that the problem was as much in me as anyone. Sure I witness to Christ every Sunday from this pulpit and often in my study, but when it comes to seeking the lost in the world out there where they are, I am as hesitant as the rest. I knew that something had to give in my own life. Some long ingrained fears had to be overcome. If I were going to continue as pastor, I had to quit denying the gospel through silence. If I were going to stand here and proclaim, "Love your neighbor," I had to stop contradicting it in my own life through neglect.
On December 23, I was praying early before breakfast at home, and I was wrestling, wanting the resolve, yet not wanting the resolve, to go visit Alan and pour out my heart's desire for his salvation. But the Lord's time for victory had arrived, and he destroyed the resistance of my proud flesh and caused me to make a final vow. This very night I will go see him if he is home. Besides 18 months of prayer, the thing that God used to bring me to that point of submission was the question: How much is Jesus worth? I put a yellow pad beside me on the couch where I knelt and wrote: "Jesus, I would rather have you as my Savior and Leader than keep my health, have my sons and wife, or preserve my own life. You are more valuable to me than all I own and all the friendships I cherish, all the pastimes I enjoy and all the plans I have for my future." Then I asked why. Why is Jesus worth so much? That's what I needed to articulate as my witness to Alan. I wrote three things.
First, "I could have no peace with God without you, Jesus. My conscience declares to me that there is a God and that I am a sinner guilty before him. Without your death and resurrection for my sins, I would live in the misery of guilt." Then I wrote a Bible verse to support that.
Second, I wrote, "Without you, Jesus, my life would be like a ship without a rudder in an ocean of time with no destination. I want my life to have meaning and significance. And, if the Bible is true, that's impossible if I don't follow you, the person who gives meaning to the whole universe." And I wrote a couple verses to go with that.
Finally, I wrote, "Without you, Jesus, death and eternity would be fearsome to me. But God loved the world so much that he gave you his only Son that whoever believes on you might not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16.) I needed to see it in my own hand: Was Jesus precious to me or not? If so, why? And that was my testimony. I jumped up and typed on a piece of paper and said, "I'm going to read this to Alan tonight. But before leaving my room, I asked the Lord for a promise to sustain during the day as I was tempted to back out. He reminded me of the text in Chariots of Fire (a movie I had just seen). "Those who honor me I will honor" (1 Samuel 2:30), and John 12:26, "If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him." I paraphrased them like this: "He who aims in love to testify of my value, I will honor." And the Lord opened my eyes to see and feel that nothing could be greater than being honored by God. That was my weapon all day.
At noon I went to Logos Bookstore and bought a NT and a copy of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and wrote a message of hope for Alan in each and wrapped them up for a gift. We had four guests for supper that night, and after we ate, I told them what I aimed to do and asked if they would pray for me. We prayed, and I called Alan. He was home. "Hello, Alan, this is your neighbor, John Piper. I have a Christmas gift for you. Can I bring it over?" "Sure, come on over." I left Noël and Carol Steinbach and Tom and Julie Steller and Dana Olson praying around the table as I, for the first time in my life, visited a neighbor for the explicit purpose of telling how much Jesus is worth.
He was alone, and the television was on. We stood in the middle of his living room, and I said, "I have a couple of books for you for Christmas, but there is something else I want to say too, if it's alright. You know from our talks before that Jesus means a lot to me and it concerns me that you don't believe in him this way. I've been praying for you almost every day, and this morning I just felt that I had to come tell you at Christmas time why Jesus is worth so much." I took out the piece of paper to read. The TV was still on, and I felt like the atmosphere was terrible for saying what meant so much to me.
So I paraphrased it (freedom from guilt, meaning for life, hope for eternity) and then asked, "Have you ever desired that kind of experience or relation to God?" And to my great surprise and delight he turned off the TV and asked me to sit down. He had read the booklet in the boundary waters and had heard a group of Christians singing about Christ. "Yes," he said, "I've thought that might be nice to have such faith." I asked what hinders him from believing; "Is it what it would cost or intellectual barriers?" "The latter," he said. So I told him the book by Lewis might be a great help to him as it was to me. I would love to help him, any way I could, get over those barriers. Could we talk again? He thanked me for my concern and seemed genuinely appreciative. Then I left.
That's where the story stands now. The lessons of the story are these: 1) God is patient and very kind; 2) if you are able to continue in prayer (perhaps 18 months) for someone day after day and not give up because of the guilt of failure, God will finally overcome the internal and external barriers to witness; 3) if you ponder how much Jesus is worth to you and why, you will have your own personal authentic testimony. That's what the world needs to hear: Why is Jesus so precious?