We’re Royalty, Too!
May 1, 2011
The letter of I Peter is written to the churches of Asia Minor. It is apparent from the writings in this letter that being Christian was making life challenging for the members of these churches. The recipients of the letter are former pagans, Gentiles, who are now rejected by their Gentiles neighbors. The author of this letter is encouraging the Christian community to have hope in what Peter describes as a “brand-new life, with everything to live for.” It takes faith to believe in this brand-new life, and faith to believe in a Christ that they will only see in the future. It comes down to this: a promise has been made by God, and God will keep the promise.
For I Peter, the Christian promise has three elements: (1)the glorious revelation and judgment of Christ on the last day; (2)the salvation that is present for believers now as they await the last day; (3)the inheritance that is being kept safe in heaven. I find the notion of inheritance to be the most intriguing element in Peter’s discussion of the Christian promise.
The Bible makes over 250 references to inheritance. So, as Peter Marty puts it, everyday conversations about legacy and wills took place in ancient life as often as they do today. “But of all the properties and wealth that can be passed along to an heir, they all have one thing in common…they lack permanence. Regardless of whether an inheritance has a high or low estimated value, it will always fade like the grass and flowers of which the prophet Isaiah once spoke.” Peter writes of an inheritance, on the other hand, that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. What could that possibly be?
The notion of inheritance certainly played a role in the Royal Wedding, which I’m sure none of us watched on Friday! Besides the refreshing novelty of a whole day of positive news that one could actually enjoy watching, I was struck by the enormity of all that was being passed down to this otherwise pretty normal looking couple. Besides the personal fortune inherited by William from his mother, there is a boatload that comes their way by virtue of birth. Let’s just start with the crown jewels, for instance! And even though Balmoral Castle is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, let’s face it…she didn’t buy it. She inherited it from her great grandmother…along with all the rest of the royal holdings.
With the weight of a 1000 years of monarchy and tradition, the pomp and majesty of Buckingham Palace, the Royal Guards and the amazing uniforms worn by William and Harry…and just generally every moment of the day stitched together with perfection….the monarchy and its inheritance looks rock solid. Yet as Russian history will testify, one good revolution and it all goes away over night. The British monarchy is a magnificent inheritance, but it is not imperishable. As we saw with the marital ups and downs of the royal family—it is not undefiled. And the popularity of this young couple aside, it still remains to be seen if the monarchy and its inheritance will be unfading.
Peter Marty: “The writer of I Peter says that there is one inheritance that will put the insignificance of all others into perspective. This one is given (not by birthright) but by divine mercy, made possible by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and secured in heaven. It will be best received as a gift and best known through the life of genuine faith.” What did Jesus, in the passage from John which we read, bequeath to his disciples in that post resurrection appearance? His first legacy to them was peace, which he breathed upon them. His second legacy was joy, which he lived and encouraged his disciples to also live. In John 15:11 “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
We can be joyful because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven. We have inherited as much as that couple who stood in front of that altar in a church full of 1900 guests, the assembled hierarchy of the Church of England, and millions of TV viewers.
Our inheritance was costly. It cost God plenty to wrestle us away from the grip of sin and into that glorious future promised in I Peter. David Bartlett suggests that faith is, in part, the confidence that believers do have a treasure laid up for them that neither moth nor rust can corrupt. In fact, Bartlett says, this whole letter helps us to find “what does not perish in a world where all else is perishable and perishing.”
We are royalty. When we were baptized God chose us as members of God’s royal family. Our baptism ensures our inheritance. And like the members of the House of Windsor, we didn’t earn a bit of it. But we were born into that inheritence, we were re-born into it through our baptism.
So often we view the Christian life as something for which we are entirely responsible. We earnestly struggle to get right with God. The good news of the gospel is that we are already right with God. As William Willimon puts it “we do not need to work to get anywhere. We have arrived. We are not miserable wretches inching our way into God’s good graces. We are royalty who already have assigned seats in the Kingdom—by God’s grace.” The nobodies have become somebodies.
A little farther into this short book of the Bible, I Peter says this: But you 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. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
I’ve told the story here before of the gold coin I received as an inheritance from my grandmother. I’m wearing it today. The coin was a gift from her mother, who gave it to her when she traveled into the city, so that she would have the means for any emergency. She never needed it, but I think for her it became a symbol of independence. It is a wonderful gift that has brought meaning to my life and a better understanding of my grandmother. But it doesn’t tell me who I am because it doesn’t tell me whose I am. Only my baptism does that. That we belong solely in life and death to our savior Jesus Christ is our inheritance. God’s great promise to us is stored more securely than all the crown jewels in London.
With our identity secure– royalty who have already received our inheritance–we, the chosen ones, can breathe easy and live into that gift. Our faith should be a lifelong celebration of the fact that no matter where we are born, or to what station in life we are born, we are all heirs of the same promise. Rejoice, Christians! In the opening line of the Bishop of London’s wedding address, Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!