Reading: 1 Peter 2:4-10
There are a lot of books out there on self-image. Most of them are all about how to improve it. Self-image is the personal view that we have of ourselves. It’s the way that we picture ourselves – our self-portrait. It works as an internal point of self-reference, saying here’s an asset – there’s a liability. It’s an ongoing assessment of who we are and what we are about. And while self-image is important, it can also deceive us. I might be better than what I think or a whole lot worse. It’s not hard to get it wrong, because I am not impartial.
Well, the same thing may be true for God’s people as a whole. Every group has a self-image. And when a group is small and it’s members are scattered, it’s just natural to think that you are not important. Perhaps a better measure than self-image is the view that God has of us. He is impartial and He knows what He’s talking about.
That is what the text for this article is all about. It’s about how God sees His church. It’s about the importance that God gives to His people. It’s really about the high honour of belonging to God.
Now this image that God has of the church is expressed as a metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech comparing two things, by saying that one thing is the other. Like saying, that that man’s a rock. Jesus himself said: ‘I am the door of the sheepfold’. (Please refer to Chad Ramsey’s article in this issue for other metaphors in 1 Peter)
Well, in 1 Peter 2:4, Jesus is a living stone and we are coming to him. Of course it is true that we cannot be Christians at all if we have not already come to him. If we have not already been sprinkled with his blood. If we have not already had our souls purified through obedience to the truth. If we have not already been redeemed by his sacrifice. And as we read what Peter has written it is also clear that we must continually come to Jesus. Once is not enough. We came to him the first time, in order to be saved, and we must keep coming to him, in order to live the saved life.
So it is not surprising that when Peter calls Jesus a stone, that He is also a ‘living stone’. Peter has already said that we have been born again to a living hope. That God’s word is both living and abiding. So it makes sense that Jesus who is revealed by that word is a living stone. He is God and eternally alive. He is the giver of life and of new spiritual life.
As a living stone, Jesus has a history. He was rejected by men and still is. But he has always been choice and precious to God. As the Psalmist put it, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone” (118:22).
God knew that it would happen and said so in scripture. He also affirmed the value of that stone, making it the chief corner stone. So it is that when we come to Jesus as a living stone, we agree with God. We come to Him to receive all of the things which God set out to accomplish through Him. And when we do, when we come to Him in faith, we too become living stones. God makes us into living stones and shapes us for his purposes, one of which is to build a spiritual house…a new dwelling place for Himself.
This is a radically unexpected outcome. That God would not only condescend to dwell among his people but to dwell within them.
There is an obvious contrast between the church and the old temple in Jerusalem. That temple was built out of things that were not alive, things like stones and timber, silver and gold. It was a thing and not a person. And because it was not a person, it had nothing in common with God. But God’s new temple is made up of people. It is alive and made up of living souls. Each is indwelt by God the Spirit and all together we are fashioned into God’s dwelling place on earth.
And then to extend the metaphor just a bit, the temple is now also the priesthood. There is no traffic in and out of God’s presence because the priests do not leave and neither does God.
Blood sacrifice is over and done with and those that remain are the spiritual kind. The blood of Jesus was shed once for all. It was acceptable to God and atoned for our sins – for all time. Therefore there are no more blood sacrifices. Those that remain express unity and fellowship with God in obedience to His will. The praise and prayers that we offer in worship come up before him as acceptable sacrifices. We are empowered to make them because the blood of Jesus has qualified us to do so.
The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus has now taken his seat at the right hand of God. That he intercedes on our behalf, and does so on the basis of his sacrifice. He is our high priest and through him we enter the immediate presence of the Father. And so it is that ‘through him (Jesus) our spiritual sacrifices are acceptable to God” (vs 5). They are pleasing to God because we are in Christ.
But the things that we now offer to God are spiritual. When we worship God in spirit and truth, that is a spiritual sacrifice. When we honour him, obey him and serve him, these are more spiritual sacrifices. When we pray to him. acknowledging him as God and thanking him, we offer spiritual sacrifices. And with these, God is pleased.
Peter turns next to scriptures that foresaw the coming of Jesus and which also anticipated a new spiritual house. They predicted that not everyone would agree with God’s assessment of his Son (I Pet. 2:6-8)
For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,” and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
The first passage is a citation from Isaiah 28:16 – but it is not a quote. Peter gives the sense of what Isaiah said.
Picture a construction project where God is the builder. He is at work again in Zion as the only one able to build the sort of dwelling fit for his presence. Instead of using blocks of stone, God is shaping a building out of people. The person that He starts with is chosen and precious. It’s the only one suitable, the only one qualified to do the job. It is God’s cornerstone and as such, governs every aspect of the building. All of the other stones find their place relative to this one.
In this chosen one God is laying the cornerstone. In the Hebrew text, Isaiah 28:16 reads – “He who believes in it will not be in a hurry” (or disturbed). But Peter quotes from the Greek O.T., the Septuagint which says – “ He who believes in Him will not be ashamed”
The gist of both readings is, that God is laying a new foundation. The focus is on the one who puts his trust in the Lord. And if a person who has trusted in the Lord must then must hurry away in haste, then it is clear that he has been disappointed. Both versions capture the same idea. That we will never be put to shame when we put our trust in God and especially so when we put our trust in His new cornerstone.
Did you notice that Peter refers to the stone as a person and not a thing. He changes the word from ‘it‘ to ‘him‘. So Peter says that “whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed”. That pretty much sums up the two possible reactions. God said that this stone is precious. I chose it. The question is, will it be so for you and me?
For those who agree with God, that stone is precious. It has made all of the others into living stones. It has shaped them into the temple of the Lord.
But for those who disbelieve, it makes them trip and fall. It is their downfall. They are disappointed by it, for it is not the one that they were looking for. It does not measure up, because it can never be used to build what they want.
Peter is speaking historically when he says that: “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone”. Jesus quoted from Psalm 118:22. He said that this passage predicted – that the leaders of Israel would not accept him as the messiah (Mt. 21:42, Mk. 12:10, Lk 20:17)
Standing before the Sanhedrin, Peter said the same thing in Acts 4:11:
…let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by this name this man stands here before you in good health. “He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
There is no question about what this metaphor means. Jesus was the stone and the Jewish leaders were the builders. God chose and sent him. They rejected and killed him. God raised him from the dead and has elevated him to the highest place in the new temple that He is building. Apart from the sacrifice of Jesus, there is no other way to be saved.
Returning to our passage in 1 peter, consider the last sentence in 1st Pet 2:8. Peter writes – ”for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.”
What does he mean?
Is Peter saying that the leaders had no choice? That God put them up to it or in some way limited their choices? In what sense were they appointed to do this?
If we look closely, we will notice that they were appointed to stumble. They were not appointed to disobey. They stumbled because they disobeyed and not the other way around. When God destined Christ to be the kind of king that he was, he also destined that a certain kind of person would stumble over him. He was not the messiah that they were looking for. He was good and righteous. He pointed out their sins and sometimes embarrassed them. He said “love your enemies”, which they were not about to do. So they hated him enough, to put him on a cross.
God knew that they would. He knew, that even though as Israelites they were his people, yet as sinners they were not. Those who had bought the priesthood from the Romans were not the kind of priests that God wanted. They didn’t know what it was to be holy and didn’t recognize God when He lived among them as a man.
But it didn’t have to be like that. And those who stumbled at first, could well have changed their minds. As a matter of fact, some did. We read in Acts 6:7 that at that time, many priests were becoming obedient to the faith. The point is, that God did not consign the leaders to unbelief. They chose that for themselves.
What a difference, faith makes. We are now God’s chosen race, His family here on earth. We have been born into it, conceived by the word of God. As God’s children, we’re part of a royal family, qualified also to offer spiritual sacrifices, since God has appointed us to His priesthood.
God has taken us and made us his own. We are a people for his own possession and he has just the one. In return, we belong to him and to no one else. Therefore our task on earth is to proclaim the excellence of the one who has called us from darkness into the light of his presence.
God has called us by his own glory and excellence. 2nd Pt. 1:3. He is not only sovereign in dimensions of his deity, he is also perfect in person and character. He is righteous and just, forgiving and gracious. And in the person of Jesus, he never let go of goodness, to take hold of sin.
He was perfect and he is perfect, excellent through and through. He has made us anew and it is up to us to broadcast His excellence. When our lives display the excellence promised by the gospel of Jesus Christ, it may then be heard with the force that God intends.
It is then as part of the Lord’s temple, that we tell the story of Jesus. We tell how God has broken the grip of sin in our lives and has taken us to a realm where it has lost it’s appeal. Its a place of light and hope where forgiveness is never in short supply. It’s a marvelous place, a place of wonder where we are constantly amazed by God’s goodness toward us.
Because, there was a time when none of this was true. We have always been people, but not always God’s people. We needed mercy, long before ‘the Word became flesh”, ofor nce we were not his people and he was not our God.
But God wants us to know, that all of that has changed. If you are not his people, you can be. And if we do belong to him, then God wants us to live in the power of his presence, every moment of every day. He wants us to proclaim the excellence of the One who calls all people on earth to Himself, so that all may come.