Museum or Zoo?
Please read 1 Peter 2:1-12 in your Bible.
Image by James Best, (C) 2020,
There is a scene in C.S. Lewis' book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where the White Witch had turned several inhabitants of the fictional world of Narnia into statues. Aslan, the lion, defeated the White Witch and then went to the courtyard were all the statues had been placed. He breathed life into them, restoring them to living beings. To quote from the book,
“The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd.”
Take note of that first line. It is the basis for this message’s title.
The thing about museums is that if they don't keep changing their exhibits and holding special events, who's going to visit a second time? Museums are quiet, consistent places dedicated to the past. They hold artifacts of bygone days, some of which are so arcane, young people can’t guess at their use!
For the sake of comparison, let's look at zoos. Do people repeatedly visit a zoo? Possibly; at a zoo one rarely gets to see all the animals in a single visit. Life at the zoo can be a little unscripted; you may see some sides of animal life you didn't really care to see. But at least at the zoo, the exhibits are alive.
So - is our church a museum or a zoo? Is our emphasis on the trophies of the past, or do we exhibit a living faith? Which approach is going to be more attractive to unchurched folks?
CONTEXT: In v. 1, Peter offers a sample of the sin that must not be on display in churches. Before getting into the eight virtues we’re about to describe, he commanded us to get rid of ALL MALICE, DECEIT, HYPOCRISY, ENVY, AND SLANDER. These vices are contrary to the work the Holy Spirit wants to do in our midst and therefore must be put away. These are examples of the SINFUL DESIRES from which we are to ABSTAIN, according to v. 11.
Peter described seven human exhibits that can be found in churches.
NEWBORN INFANTS (2). In Ephesians 4, Paul used infants as a symbol of spiritual immaturity. But Peter's symbolism is different. NEWBORN INFANTS are morally innocent. Peter urges them to a diet of PURE SPIRITUAL MILK, with the emphasis on PURE. The truth of the Bible encourages us to moral purity and sustains our growth INTO SALVATION. (This is an example of how biblical symbols are not always used in the same way. We need to be careful to study the passages in context, so we can get it right.)
LIVING STONES, BUILT UP AS A SPIRITUAL HOUSE (5). Followers of Jesus follow His example; as He is a LIVING STONE (4), we are LIVING STONES (5) too. Together, we make up a SPIRITUAL HOUSE, a temple, a place in the world where God dwells.
This SPIRITUAL HOUSE is also a people among whom God may be found. Note that individual stones aren't useful until they are brought together.
A CHOSEN PEOPLE (9). The word “chosen” speaks to divine initiative; God chose us first, provided salvation without our help. As He chose Israel before her, God chose the Church for salvation, obedience, and service. This is never a point of arrogance.
A HOLY NATION and a HOLY/ROYAL PRIESTHOOD (5+9) I have put these exhibits together as this is something of mixed metaphor. One would expect the words HOLY and PRIESTHOOD to go together as they are both religious terms. Similarly, you’d expect ROYAL and NATION to be put together as they are both secular/political terms. We can guess why Peter mixed the metaphors; my guess is Peter is showing the distinction between “sacred” and “secular” is not important as the believer is to exhibit godliness in both arenas.
The first of two modifiers of the word PRIESTHOOD is HOLY (5). “HOLY” means to be set apart from worldly uses to God's specific use AND to be morally pure.
The second modifier is ROYAL (9). We are promised that we will be able to rule as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10 + 20:6). Our royalty comes from being adopted into the family of the King of Heaven.
The Latin word for “priest” (pontifex) means “one who builds bridges.” Peter's symbolism changes from building SPIRITUAL HOUSES to building spiritual bridges between God and people, and between people, to join us all together in Christ.
The term “HOLY NATION” brings to mind what God wanted Israel to be; a nation wholly devoted to Him, a light to all the nations of the world (Isaiah 42:6). This term is very similar to the next exhibit.
A PEOPLE FOR HIS OWN POSSESSION (9+10). All of us were once spiritual loners. In Christ, we are adopted into a faith-family. The phrase HIS OWN POSSESSION can be taken two ways I can see.
Firstly, in our world, sometimes the value of an object is not determined by the value of the object itself, but by the person who owned it. For example, a pink Cadillac has value depending on the age and condition of the car. A pink Cadillac owned by Elvis Presley has a value regardless of its age or condition.
As God’s people, our value is not based on any worldly standards such as accomplishments or wealth. We have priceless value because we are God’s POSSESSIONS.
Secondly, God the Father has welcomed us into His family. Our identity is based on that most important family relationship. We are His PEOPLE because God is the Father of our family.
The terms SOJOURNERS (11) and EXILES (11) are so similar I have put them together as one exhibit. We do not conform to the world's standards or make up our own as it is not our home. An illustration of the Church is the Kingdom of God. Regardless of what earthly nation we call home, our true citizenship is heaven. This means in relation to this world, we are SOJOURNERS and EXILES.
Have you ever sung, “This world is not my home, I'm only passing through...?” That's what a “sojourner” is: a traveler who's passing through. The journey is important and so is the destination. This word is also translated as “strangers;” the word used for Abraham in Canaan (see Genesis 23:4).
Worldly-minded people do not understand or like heavenly things or God’s people. It is their rejection of things of God (including us) that makes us EXILES. For an example, think “green card;” God's people are in this world on a temporary visa and work permit.
EXILES can also be translated as “pilgrim;” a traveler for religious reasons. Whether SOJOURNER or EXILE, it is clear that God’s people are “Just visiting” this world. It’s like playing Monopoly when your token lands on the outside border of the “Jail” square on the “Monopoly” board. Remember what it says there? “Just Visiting.” Landing on that space makes it permissible for you to mock and tease other players whose tokens are, at that time, in jail.
The last of these seven exhibits is the Blameless Saints (12). This exhibit is the key to this study. These words do not literally appear in the text, but summarize Peter’s teaching in v. 12.
Peter did not hold up moral purity as an end in itself, but as a means to an end. We are to pursue holiness as a means of witness to those outside the faith. It can be said that modern American Christianity is too inwardly-focused. We present ourselves as just one more kind of self-help group, sometimes promising prosperity in return for our sacrifices of faith.
People outside the faith must see the truth of Jesus in what we say and do. We are to witness with both words and deeds and they had better match!
We are to think of all this as preparations for the DAY GOD VISITS US. That would be Judgment Day, folks. We want as many people as possible to join us in heaven. The thing is, the DAY of God’s visitation is not known to us, so we cannot procrastinate. We must be active in our witness right now or risk missing the opportunities God is giving us.
Peter described seven human exhibits that can be found in churches.
Whenever someone asks you - on any subject - to choose either...or? Ask, “Why not both?” Why can't we be both a museum AND a zoo? Why can't we continue to celebrate our history and traditions and at the same time tell the story of Jesus in a way that is compelling to modern audiences?
In Sioux Falls, SD, we have an attraction called the Great Plains Zoo, which is a combination of zoo and museum. The museum portion exhibits a collection of stuffed animals and other natural artifacts that describe the science of our world. The zoo exhibits live animals that are displayed in various buildings and outdoor enclosures. I'm not sure what African animals think about South Dakota winters, but they do a good job of surviving. The Great Plains Zoo is a place people want to visit again and again.
Perhaps it should be our ambition to be both a museum and a zoo! We should aim to be people whose purpose is rooted in the past but spreading branches into the present, with buds prepared for the future.
The Zondervan Bible Commentary, “1 Peter,” G. J. Polkinghorne