Sermons

June 28, 2020

Living Stones and Holy Priesthood

Steven Lee (North Campus) | 1 Peter 2:4-5

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 2:4–5

Rejection can be a precursor to vindication. Consider the following stories:

A boy was born in 1879 in Ulm, Germany. He was considered slow since he didn’t speak until four and was unable to read until he was 7. He was rejected by the Zurich Polytechnic School, and both his parents and teachers considered him mentally slow and unsocial. This boy went by the name Albert Einstein, the renown physicist who won the Nobel Prize in physics because of his theory of relatively (E=mc2). 

There is the story of Jan Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, who are not household names. They authored an anthology (a collection of short stories) that was rejected by 144 publishers. Finally finding a publisher willing to take a risk on this unproven duo, they ended up selling 125 million copies of the series: Chicken Soup for the Soul. 

There was a young man working as a truck driver who tried out to be the vocalist in a local band. After his try out he was rejected and told to keep his day job truck driving, “because you’re never going to make it as a singer.” That man was Elvis Aaron Presley, who went on to become one of the most famous musicians of the 20th century. 

We love a good rejected-but-vindicated storyline. Despite obstacles and being dismissed, the unlikely hero rises to fame and success. We love these stories because they are exceedingly rare. Most people don’t become New York Times bestsellers, win the Nobel Prize, or become famous musicians. In our world, rejection is commonplace, and vindication is exceedingly rare. All fairy tales end with, “And they lived happily ever after”—but there is a reason they are fairy tales. 

This is likely one of the worries that is plaguing the apostle Peter’s readers. It’s what keeps them up at night. They are exiles and sojourners, rejected by the society around them, experiencing increasing marginalization and facing intensifying persecution. Maligned and alienated, wondering how the story ends. Questioning God’s plan. Looking for answers.

Here Peter transitions from the implications of being born again back to reminding his readers of their identity and their purpose so that they do not lose hope.

The main point of our passage is that God is creating a people with a new identity and purpose—as living stones and a holy priesthood—for his glory. You have been born again to a living hope—yes—but for what purpose? God has not left his disciples here on earth to merely survive until he returns, but he has given them a purpose and calling. 

Life languishes without purpose. We—like Peter’s readers—have been given a purpose by God. Dostoyevsky once wrote, “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” Peter is telling us what we are to live for this morning. Here are your marching orders, church!

Our plan is to look at the following:

  1. Jesus as the Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4)
  2. Believers as Living Stones (1 Peter 2:5)
    1. To be a Spiritual House
    2. To be a Holy Priesthood
    3. To offer Spiritual Sacrifices

1) Jesus as the Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4)

Believers are to come to Jesus, the “living stone,” who is both rejected by men and chosen and precious in God’s sight. This metaphor of a living stone draws upon Old Testament prophecy about the coming Messiah. Peter cites Psalm 118:22–23, Isaiah 8:14–15, and Isaiah 28:16 in 1 Peter 2:6–8. We’ll study that more in depth next week, but for now, we can notice that Peter is drawing upon Jesus own self-identification as the cornerstone. 

This metaphor would have been commonplace in those days. Before builders would begin the construction of a building, they would have heaps of large stones and boulders to serve as foundation stones, cornerstones, and capstones. They would search through until they found the right stone for the appropriate purpose. Jesus is examined, and he is rejected and tossed aside. In fact, Jesus is judged a false prophet and killed.

Jesus himself taught that he is the rejected cornerstone in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In all three of these gospel accounts, Jesus cites Psalm 118:22–23, which is what he also cites in 1 Peter 2:7. In Matthew 21:42–44 we read,

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (See also Mark 12:10–11 and Luke 20:17–18.)

Jesus as the living cornerstone, rejected by men, is further confirmed elsewhere in the New Testament as well. We see this in Peter’s speech in Acts 4 and in the apostle Paul’s writings.

Acts 4:11–12 is the climactic moment where Peter and John are arrested, five thousand people had just believed in Jesus, and they’re dragged before the rulers, elders, scribes, and high priestly family. Peter—fresh off of his denial of Christ and subsequent restoration—stands up testifies to the name of Jesus with astonishing boldness. He says, 

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Paul likewise affirms Jesus as the cornerstone in Romans and Ephesians: 

  • Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”—Romans 9:32–33

  • Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.—Ephesians 2:20–22

Jesus’ earthly ministry was met with rejection. He was rejected by his contemporaries, by religious leaders, by government officials, by the masses, and even by his family. Jesus himself knew this was what he would face and experience. But in God’s sight, Jesus is chosen and precious. A voice from heaven declared when Jesus was baptized, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; cf. Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22).

Why does this matter? What is the point Peter is making? The point Peter makes in the following verse is that believers follow in the footsteps of their Savior. Jesus is the living stone and, as we come, to him we become like him as living stones. The rejection, marginalization, or persecution you face is not because you are forgotten, but precisely because you are chosen and precious in the sight of God.

This can come as a surprise to some and a disappointment to many. The Christian life is characterized by rejection and unjust suffering. Alienation from the society and even suffering or being maligned is not a sign that God has forgotten you, but rather that you are following in the path of Jesus.

We must not mistake prosperity with godliness. We can’t marry American nationalism with Christianity. We shouldn’t confuse political influence with Kingdom citizenship. Christ and his kingdom do not depend upon lobbying, Congress, Supreme Court Justice nominations, or the President. Does he use them? Absolutely. But God can use a talking donkey if he needed. The dual lessons that God’s people are to learn is that our rejection from society—or our acceptance from society—does not define our identity. Our identity comes from our shared identity with Jesus—rejected, murdered, and resurrected, victorious over sin and death. The pathway of Jesus is not lined with accolades, fame, or fortune. Instead, it is a pathway of rejection, and chosen and precious in the sight of God. 

How often do we get this backward? We think that God’s favor will be experienced through warm receptions, big crowds, prominent placement, large platforms, widespread acceptance, winning awards, good PR and public praise, and accolades that will point to God’s greatness. And sometimes those things happen. But over the course of history, it is the exception to the rule. Peter’s readers are wondering aloud, “Is our suffering a sign that we’re getting it wrong?” And the answer that Peter is giving is “No”—carry on because, for believers, rejection is par for the course.

2) Believers as Living Stones (1 Peter 2:5)

In the same way Jesus is the living stone, believers now in Christ are likewise living stones. Our identity, our experience, and our understanding of our life and purpose ought to be shaped and informed by Christ and Christ alone. Our identity is to be bound up in the person and work of Jesus. In particular, three aspects are in view.

  1. To Be a Spiritual House
  2. To Be a Holy Priesthood
  3. To Offer Spiritual Sacrifices 

A) To Be a Spiritual House

Believers are the construction materials being used to build up God’s spiritual house—the temple of God, the place where God’s presence dwells. This entire house is built upon the cornerstone of Jesus, in which all other stones are measured and aligned. There are a number of things we ought to note from this analogy, but let me mention two:

We are the place where God’s presence dwells. What do we know about the temple? It’s chief characteristic is its holiness. This is where God’s presence dwells. Therefore, this adds weight and motivation for our holiness and living as those who have been transformed by God. Our holiness is so more than just our personal progressive sanctification—it includes how we love one another, how we relate toward each other, and how we put away sinful attitudes and actions that poison the community of faith.

We together are being built up into a single temple/house for God. This image takes aim at our individualistic, self-focused perspectives on the Christian life. Our significance and purpose is tied up being a part of something bigger than any one of us. We are part of God’s spiritual house—bigger than us, bigger than our family, bigger than one church, but that is comprised of every believer in every generation. We are being constructed into a singular grand design and structure unlike any other. In a world longing for significance, there is no greater building project in all the world than this. 

Peter’s readers are alienated from their society, but they are part of a construction that will cause the largest buildings in our world to look like Lego creations when all is said and done. God’s spiritual house—comprised of believers from all time, every tribe and nation—will make all other buildings and communities pale in comparison. This morning, it’s important to back up and take in the whole picture of what God is doing in drawing people to himself and building his temple. 

B) To Be a Holy Priesthood

Peter indicates that believers are also priests that serve in God’s house as a “holy priesthood.” This anticipates language Peter will use in 2:9 of a “royal priesthood,” but the point is that all believers now have direct access to God through Jesus. In the Old Testament, only Levites could serve as priests. But now, all of God’s people serve as the priesthood of all believers.

God’s people corporately work together, not in isolation, but united by God’s spirit, to serve together as God’s set-apart people. Every member is able to approach God directly through the work of Christ. 

If all believers are living stones of the spiritual house, and every believer is a priest, what then do the priests do? In the Old Testament, priests helped offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. This leads to the last part of verse 5 ], “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

C) To Offer Spiritual Sacrifices

What spiritual sacrifices then are in view? The New Testament indicates a few different possibilities:

  • “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Presenting one’s body in holy living.

  • “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). Financial contributions to fellow saints or ministers of the gospel.

  • “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15–16). Praise, doing good, and generosity.

  • But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Evangelistic praise.

The use of “holy” in describing this priesthood also harkens back to 1 Peter 1:16 where we are to be holy as God is holy. Therefore, the believer’s conduct and actions are part of this spiritual sacrifice that is acceptable to God. Everything done in obedience to Jesus and through faith in Jesus is now acceptable.

That final little phrase, “through Jesus Christ,” is a significant qualifier. If it’s done through and by Jesus, then it brings God glory and honor and praise. And if anything is done apart from the empowering strength of the Spirit and is not grounded upon the work of Jesus Christ, then it does not please God. This notion, that Jesus is the litmus test or the dividing line, is reinforced once again. Jesus is the fork in the road. You either reject him as a liar or lunatic, or you receive him as your Lord. There is no middle ground.

Application & Conclusion

How then do we receive and apply these truths? Come to the living stone. Jesus is the cornerstone—such that everything else sits upon him and is aligned to him. Our world does not value Jesus because they think he is irrelevant to their problems and circumstances. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Jesus is the cornerstone—and the stone of stumbling. Final judgment will be determined by how each one of us responded to the revelation of Jesus.

We drink deeply and eagerly from the sole source of life and hope—Jesus Christ himself, as revealed in God’s word. We don’t try to pit some parts of the Bible against Jesus’ teachings. We don’t try to apologize for Jesus’ teachings or words. We don’t try to interpret Jesus’ teachings to say things differently, to be more culturally acceptable, or to be more palatable. Jesus doesn’t need our PR. Jesus requires our obedience. We come not as those who can make Jesus look good, we come as those who conform ourselves to his revelation, commands, and teachings.

The Bible has particularly strong words for those who are lukewarm in their faith. Either be hot or cold, just don’t be halfway. And in the same way, for those who are unsure what they think of Jesus, you must decide if you will stumble over this stone or if you will build your entire life upon this cornerstone. A life built on this cornerstone will come with rejection from the world, trials, suffering, and persecution—but also unmatchable peace, everlasting life, complete acceptance by God, empowerment from his Spirit, and forgiveness of sins. But you cannot have it both ways.

What does it really mean to be a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, or to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable and pleasing to God? 

One implication of this teaching is that we remember that we do not exist alone on an island. We are one of many vital and essential living stones that comprise the house of God. We cannot exist alone or apart from the rest. This isn’t meant to be a plug for church membership, but we should remember that we are one of many members and the church—the body and building of God—which requires the engagement and involvement of each and every member. 

We are all priests that have free, full, and unfettered access to God. One of the privileges of the pastors is we often get to minister to you. We get to pray, we get to counsel, we get to visit at the hospital, and do weddings and funerals. And yet, even with those privileges of being commissioned to teach God’s word, we are all priests who can come to God and minister on his behalf. We can share the gospel, we can bring prayer requests to the throne of grace, and we can minister rightly. One of the most encouraging things in the midst of the last few months has been how many people that have told me how they are praying for the pastoral staff regularly. I don’t take it for granted that you pray, and I believe God answers and will continue to answer your prayers. I know my own wisdom, discernment, and abilities are nothing with the collective cries of God’s people for God to move and work through weak and fallible servants. We all have access, so make full use of your privileges of entering the throne room of God.

If everything done by faith, through Jesus Christ, and according to his Spirit is pleasing and acceptable in his sight, then we ought to be motivated to do all the more.

One might ask, what does that practically look like? I was wrestling with this. I wanted to give you a list of five things that would be explicit applications of this so that we can know that we are offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable. The problem was that all the commentators didn’t cite a single example. They all said it shouldn’t be narrowed down to just a few things, but rather that the whole life of the Christian is one of offering up sacrifices. Everything done by faith, with hope in God, with trust in Jesus, empowered by his Spirit, in obedience is acceptable. That’s when the light bulb came on! 

Everything we do by faith is acceptable as a spiritual sacrifice to God. It’s not just the “professional” pastors who preach or lead worship who are acceptable. It’s not just the explicit “church activities” that are acceptable. It’s not just sharing the gospel that is acceptable. We are offer acceptable spiritual sacrifices of obedience in every area and aspect of our lives. We glorify God with our thoughts, our worship, and our longing and reading of Scripture as we serve our families, love our spouse, raise our children by faith, labor honorably at work, submit to leaders and authorities, rejoice in suffering, as we enjoy God’s creation, as we thank him for his provision, and on and on. We get to bring a sacrifice of praise and worship and dependence to honor God with our lives. Priesthood has gone from a narrow set of specific duties in the temple to a broad range of activities in all of life with Christ at the center.

The good news is that though Christ was rejected, God vindicated him. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning on high. He is exalted and worthy of all worship and honor. And guess what? We follow in his footsteps of rejection, and vindication. We too—no matter what we are experiencing—will be vindicated with our Savior. We will surely be glorified. Rejection is never the final note of a believer’s life. Not even if they are a martyr for Christ. Vindication and glorification awaits all of God’s people. And with that truth in mind, we can now live lives that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Sermon Discussion Questions

Outline

  1. Jesus as the Living Stone (1 Peter 2:4)
  2. Believers as Living Stones (1 Peter 2:5)
    • To Be a Spiritual House
    • To Be a Holy Priesthood
    • To Offer Spiritual Sacrifices

Main Point: God is creating a people with a new identity and purpose—as living stones and a holy priesthood—for his glory. 

Intro Question: Have you ever experienced rejection? How did that feel? Does that rejection still hurt today? 

Discussion Questions

  • How was Jesus rejected by those around him? Who are some of those who rejected him or groups of people who rejected him? What did that rejection look like?
  • Where else in Scripture is Jesus described as “chosen” and “precious” or similarly?
  • Peter transitions from the birth and newborn metaphor to a stones and building metaphor. What might be some reasons for this shift? Why is it significant?
  • What is the significance of all New Testament believers being described as“a holy priesthood”?
  • As you scan the book of 1 Peter, what are some possible “spiritual sacrifices” that Peter might have in view?

Application Questions

  • How should your identity be shaped and informed by Jesus? How does Jesus’ rejection help us face rejection?
  • When Peter says, “as you come to him,” what might that mean? How are you intentionally coming to Jesus this week?
  • How does the truth that we are living stones—being built into a spiritual house—to serve as priests shape our attitudes, actions, and perspective? Does this truth encourage you to think about holiness or sanctification differently?
  • How does the fact that we can offer acceptable spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus change our perspective about God, our actions, and our purpose and meaning?
  • What are some spiritual sacrifices you seek to bring to God this week?

Prayer Focus
Praise God for sending Jesus to be rejected by men, but in that rejection to overcome death, sin, and Satan; to obtain the forgiveness of sins for mankind; and to be vindicated by God through his resurrection from the dead. Confess any sins of failing to trust in Jesus or failing to understand that we are his holy chosen people. Thank God that we are being built into his house and that through Jesus’ work, we are holy priests who can legitimately honor and glorify God with our lives. Ask God for help—in any specific areas—to live a life that is holy and acceptable to him as a spiritual sacrifice.

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