Peter begins his letter with the metaphor of a child. You were chosen, selected, by God to belong to his family, not because of something you’ve contributed, but because of his great mercy. You’ve been born into a living hope that you can anchor your life into. It’s not something that will fade or be stolen or lost, and your hope isn’t some wishful thinking that won’t be realized until after you die. It is a solid and unshakeable hope based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ – something historical, factual, and true. Through that resurrection (meaning if Jesus stays dead, this doesn’t happen) through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we were redeemed from our ignorant and empty way of life, and called to a life of obedience and holiness.
Then Peter tells us that we have a new identity as part of the family of God. We’re no longer united by earthly or fleshly things – race, hometown, what cars or drinks we like, political leanings, even what church we go to – but we are held together by the Holy Spirit in us who have been born again. Part of our calling, then, is to love one another constantly and rid ourselves of the ignorant and empty stuff we used to do. Oh and yeah, you might have to suffer grief for a short time in various trials.
And isn’t it crazy how that is what catches our attention? TRIALS?! I didn’t sign up for trials!
The people Peter is writing this to are people who have been forced from their homes, and are facing persecution from their neighbors because they are following Jesus. More on that in a minute. But Peter is clearly not avoiding the fact that there are very real trials and challenges in these people’s lives, but he’s calling their attention to what is MOST true about them; he is calling their attention to their REAL identity in Christ.
So we pick up this letter in chapter 2 now, in verse 4.
Peter continues in verse 4:
- As you come to him (Jesus),
- a living stone (a resurrected, once dead but now alive Stone) —
- rejected by people but chosen and honored by God—5 you yourselves, as living stones, (you too are once spiritually dead, but now spiritually resurrected, living breathing stones)
- ...a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
When I was working in construction, back in Pennsylvania before moving to Iowa, We were working on a large house that would be covered in mostly stone and brick. And I remember watching the stone masons during our breaks or quite honestly probably when I should have been working. They had a massive pile of stone just dumped out on the job site, and it was so fascinating to watch them go to the pile, grab a stone, and with their stone hammer, chip away just enough to make it fit in the spot they wanted it to go. Laying stone is artwork, and if you ever get the chance to watch someone do it, it’s quite a skill. Nate Swartzentruber, one of our drummers here used to do stone work and did an awesome job on a sitting wall in our backyard.
But it’s great because what that artist can see is not simply a wall that needs to be covered. He or she can see that pile of stones and knows they are not meant to just stay on the pile. They are not meant to stay scattered around the ground. They are meant to fit together in a way that brings beauty and glory to the house, and enjoyment and honor to the people who live in it. So they pick one up, knock some of the imperfections off with the hammer, and set it carefully in place, grab another one, do the same thing, pick one up… drop it on the pile, and grab another one.
So here it says that we, as those who have been born again are like stones being chosen by a stone mason, and are being built together into (and follow this with me in verse 5) a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices to God. Spiritual house; priests; sacrifices. What is the building he’s talking about here?
The Temple! The place where God’s presence lives! These people Peter is writing to have been scattered away from Jerusalem where the actual temple was, which was synonymous with the presence of God. All the way back in Exodus 25 when God introduced the idea of the tabernacle, a traveling place where his presence would live with his chosen people, a building had always been the place where God’s presence lived, where sacrifices were carried out, where priests did their work of representing the people to God and God to the people.
The church replaces the physical temple. The church is no longer a physical building resigned to one city, or one place – the Church and the presence of God is visible anywhere believers are! So when God calls you to himself, like a master artist, he chooses you as you are to be part of his house, a living Temple, a place of true worship and acceptable sacrifices to God! And that is not something you can do on your own. The church is not primarily a social organization but the new temple where the transformed lives of believers are offered as acceptable sacrifices to the glory of God.
And what are those acceptable sacrifices? They are not bulls and goats anymore. They are spiritual sacrifices:
- 1 Samuel 15:22 – To obey is better than sacrifice; to pay attention is better than the fat of rams
- Psalm 51:17 – the sacrifices pleasing to God are a broken spirit and a humble heart
- Hosea – I desire mercy, not sacrifices – knowledge of God instead of burnt offerings.
- Romans 12:1 – Therefore I urge you, in light of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship.
- Philippians 4:18 CSB – But I have received everything in full, and I have an abundance. I am fully supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you provided (finances)-a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.
- Hebrews 13:15 CSB – Therefore, through him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
So, it’s fair for us to ask: Are you growing in your awareness of the things of God? Are you growing in showing mercy to those around you – the poor, the guilty, your kids, your spouse, your neighbor with the political sign that isn’t who you’re voting for? The trials and challenges we face in life are the chisel to our stone, the fire to our gold – choose your metaphor – so when they come into your life, are you growing in obedience? Are you growing in purity with your body – saying no to sexual temptations, physical or virtual? Are you growing in generosity and gratitude? Repentance?
Maybe you see those and you hang your head in shame, because your answer would be, no, not really. My growth pattern looks more like 2:1, full of wishing life was fair, wanting what I don’t have, and I’m getting pretty good at tearing people down who disagree with me.
Or perhaps you think I don’t even know what and obedient life like that would look like! How generous is generous? How obedient is obedient? What to you mean, “show mercy to those around me?” How do I know what that kind of life looks like?
If any of you have been part of a building project before, building your house or something, you know that you start with your land, choose where the house will go, and the first thing you do is drive a stake into the ground that marks one corner of the house. Then you start to pull your lines from that stake.
If you are laying a retaining wall, or back to those stone masons on that house I was building, you have to pick one stone to be the first one. So they might dig through the pile until they find that one unique stone that is a perfect starting point. You set it down as the corner marker, and all the other stones you lay are based on that one. Your string lines come off of that one, your level comes off of that one. Your plumb lines are based on that one. There is one stone set in place that all the other stones depend on. And it’s called the Cornerstone. And you could preach the rest of this sermon for me.
6 For it stands in Scripture: See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and honored cornerstone, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.
God is a master builder with this spiritual house he is building, and he chose to show us what a life of holiness, generosity, mercy, gratitude, and obedience looked like by choosing a Cornerstone that would be chiseled and cut through rejection, suffering, and crucifixion. Chosen. Honored. Yet suffering and crushed by the will of his Father.
That’s hard to wrap our heads around isn’t it? But in the same breath it is incredibly encouraging! It once again means that suffering doesn’t mean God has forgotten me or abandoned me. It does not mean I’m unloved or unimportant. Like a father who loves his son inflicts pain for the purpose of discipline, if I am in Christ, I’m still honored and chosen – even when suffering comes. Those trials that God allows in my life are the same chisel strikes that he allowed his Son to endure, and I’m being fitted for life with Him!
But even as I am being chosen and fitted by the master builder, I am responsible for how I respond to that. By virtue of the fact that God has chosen Jesus to be the foundation for the church, means that we are responsible for our relationship to that cornerstone.
v7 So honor will come to you who believe; but for the unbelieving, The stone that the builders rejected— this one has become the cornerstone, 8 and A stone to stumble over, and a rock to trip over. They stumble because they disobey the word; they were destined for this.
When God appointed Jesus as the atoning sacrifice, to be the cornerstone in Zion, by that act God also appointed two consequences, two outcomes, that hinge on one thing:
Our acceptance or rejection of Christ. Believing.
Everything hinges on this.
For those who receive Jesus Christ – you will share in the honor of Jesus, and never be hung out to dry.
For those who reject Jesus - you will trip and fall, and will be put to shame
There will be many who believe, and many who refuse. Many who are built up and many who stumble. While it is an uncomfortable truth that not everyone you know – quite possibly not everyone in this room – is a born again child of God, your friends and family members' rejection of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean “oh they’ve chosen a different way that leads to the same place” – their rejection of Christ confirms they are not (yet) born again into the living hope of salvation that Peter is talking about, and we should live and pray and interact with them in such a way that we persuade them to accept the gospel of Christ before it is too late.
9 But you (who have believed in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for YOU) are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession,, so that you may proclaim the praises,, of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Flip back to Exodus 19 with me, starting in verse 1.
Exodus 19:1-6 CSB –  In the third month from the very day the Israelites left the land of Egypt, they came to the Sinai Wilderness.  They traveled from Rephidim, came to the Sinai Wilderness, and camped in the wilderness. Israel camped there in front of the mountain.  Moses went up the mountain to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain: "This is what you must say to the house of Jacob and explain to the Israelites:  'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine,  and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.' These are the words that you are to say to the Israelites."
My own possession. Kingdom of priests. Holy nation. These are the words that Moses said to the nation of Israel back in Exodus, but now, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, those same statements God made about Israel’s identity are now true of everyone who is in Christ! So as a living stone in the family of God, you have a new identity. Your identity isn’t based on your job, your college, your state, your city, your economic status, etc. Your identity is this:
- A chosen race: This might not fly to well in our present cultural climate, but those who believe in Jesus, regardless of what country they were born or what color of skin they have or what race they were born into, constitute a new KIND of people who have been born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
- This is exactly one of the points for which people in Peter’s day (and in ours, quite frankly) are criticized.
- In Peter’s day, the Christians were considered anti-social haters of mankind because they refused to carry the familiar identities of the people around them and participate in the same kinds of entertainment and pleasures as the rest of their culture.
- They were willing to break family ties and ruin their own businesses before they would reject the values of the kingdom of heaven; They would avoid certain civic duties and refuse participation in pagan religious and cultural practices because of their new allegiance to Christ. And they were called haters. Can you imagine??
- New kind of people.
- A royal priesthood
- The priests in the OT were set apart from the rest of the people, again chosen by God, to make physical sacrifices as the mediators between God and the rest of the people.
- And now in Christ, the kingdom of God is made up of believers who must think of themselves as holy with respect to the world, set apart for the purposes of God as his ambassadors to the world.
- As priests, when we offer spiritual sacrifices (v5) of humility and generosity and mercy, the Church brings the kingdom of God into being here on earth.
This doesn’t depend on you going to seminary, or going through our Biblical Training class – if you are born again, you are a servant of Christ. You are called to service. With your time, your abilities, and your belongings.
- A holy nation
- God had chosen the nation of Israel to be his chosen people, but now, not only are we a race among the races, we are a nation scattered throughout the nations. The first Christian nation = the nation of Israel. But now, in Christ, there is no earthly Christian nation anymore. The United States may have been founded on some Christian principles, but that doesn’t make us a Christian nation. The only nation of God is the new nation made up of believers scattered throughout the world.
- And that is great news because anyone in any nation around the world can call out to Jesus for salvation – and belong to this new race, this new nation, this priesthood of ambassadors.
- A people for his possession with a job to do: proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Your former friends may heap abuse on you and think you’re strange, but you belong to a new community – the community of living stones. By the blood of Jesus, and his perfect obedience to and fulfillment of the law, any who believe in him are now added into the promises that were spoken over Israel. You are rooted in whatever he was making Israel he is now making you. You are the new household of faith! God’s covenant promises to them are true of you!
The gospel exists beyond culture lines, race lines, ethnicity lines, skin color lines, past denominational lines, national lines, gender lines, what you were into in the past or right now. This temple of living stones is not just one kind of stone. It’s made up of people, Revelation 7 says, of every nation, tribe, people, language. This is what makes Christianity the most inclusive religion in the world! No one is exempt because they grew up in the wrong country or sinned too much.
- The gospel says the in Christ, the homeless find a home
- In Christ, the fatherless and the orphan find a family.
- In Christ, the widow and widower find a faithful companion.
- In Christ, the rejected find belonging.
- In Christ, the weak are made strong
- In Christ, the hopeless find a reason to live
- In Christ, those who mourn are comforted.
- In Christ, those who are meek inherit the earth.
- In Christ, the guilty are made holy.
- In Christ, sinners are welcomed into the arms of their Savior.
You who once were not a people, now are God’s people.
You who once hadn’t received mercy, now have received mercy.
The builders, the hyper-religious Pharisees of the temple days, and the people who are creating and building their lives on their own efforts and their own ideas today, see this gospel of grace that is open to any who will deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus even into suffering, and they threw it away.
And maybe that’s you. Maybe someone watching this online is having a hard time with the call to follow Jesus. You have a wonderful plan for your life all mapped out, or you’re involved in something or with someone right now, and you’re afraid to commit your life to Jesus because you don’t know what he’ll ask you to do. You’re afraid he’ll ask you to move and do missions. You’re afraid he’ll ask you to end the relationship you’re in. You’re afraid he’ll lead you into some sickness or suffering that will be painful and difficult, and I can’t promise you he won’t.
But his promise to you is that if you receive this salvation that you will never be put to shame. He’ll never leave you hanging. Never leave you out to dry. And your guarantee is the resurrection of Christ, who after he suffered for a little while, was raised to a seat of honor, given the name that is above every name, and given all power and authority to establish his kingdom in and through you, so that you wouldn’t simply be strangers roaming the earth, but people who are known, and loved, and belong to a home that will one day be revealed in the coming of Christ.
V 11 - so I urge you, River City Church, as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.
When this spiritual house that is the Church of Christ is complete, when all the living stones are in place, Jesus will return to earth to usher in the fullness of the kingdom of heaven, and our hope will be realized in a moment.