July 5, 2020
Brian Tabb (Downtown Campus) | 1 Peter 2:6-8
For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.—1 Peter 2:6–8
As a church family, we have been studying 1 Peter the past few months in our series, Don’t Waste Your Trials. The apostle Peter wrote this letter to encourage suffering believers to “stand firm” in the true grace of God (1 Peter 5:12). Peter challenges us to see ourselves as “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1)—that is, to recognize that we’ve been chosen by God and now live as strangers and sojourners in this world, as citizens of heaven longing for our true home. Peter urges us to persevere in faith and love in times of trial because we have a living hope and inexpressible joy through Jesus, our risen and returning King (1 Peter 1:3, 8).
Last week Pastor Ming-Jinn preached on 1 Peter 2:4–5, where the apostle likens followers of Jesus to “living stones [who] are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Today we look at verses 6–8, where Peter unpacks what he says about Jesus in verse 4: “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” The apostle quotes three “stone” prophecies to support his claims about Christ and help us see the implications for following Christ. The big idea of our passage is that Christ is the stone on which we will stand by faith or stumble and fall. We cannot remain neutral or independent: We will either love Christ or loathe him; we will either treasure Christ or take offense at him. Christ is the stone on which we will stand by faith or stumble and fall.
I’m reminded of the old adage: “One man’s trash is another’s treasure.” One of my favorite things about our first home in St. Paul was the front entryway that was constructed with materials from an old church sanctuary. The wood panels and stained-glass window were destined for a dumpster, but a resourceful builder saw potential and value in these cast-off materials and used them to create something new and beautiful. Similarly, Peter uses building imagery to help us understand our identity and calling as Christ’s people. We are “like living stones ... being built up as a spiritual house” (v. 5). Surprisingly, the foundation of this spiritual house is “the stone that the builders rejected” (v. 7)—Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. God turns rejection into redemption. He takes a stone from the scrapheap to accomplish stunning salvation and build an enduring structure—his church.
You might wonder why the apostle calls Jesus “a living stone” and quotes three “stone” Scriptures. Of course, Jesus gave him the name “Peter” (meaning “rock”), so we might think that this outspoken apostle had a thing for all things “stone.” Here Peter is actually following the example of the Lord Jesus, who called himself “the stone that the builders rejected” (citing Psalm 118) to explain that his coming suffering and death were not an accident but a deliberate fulfillment of ancient prophecy (Matthew 21:42). Jesus was rejected by men, then raised by God on the third day. Jesus is “a living stone” because he walked out of the grave alive. Peter “the Rock” learned from his Lord that the spurned stone would be the savior of all (cf. Acts 4:11–12), and he explains this crucial biblical truth in 1 Peter 2:6–8. We see two contrasting responses to “the living stone” Jesus Christ: (1) standing on the chosen cornerstone, or (2) stumbling on the rock of offense. This all-important choice, whether to receive or reject Christ, cannot be compartmentalized but shapes every part of our lives now and forever.
Look with me at verse 6. The word “for” signals that this verse supports or explains what Peter has just said about Jesus and his people in verses 4–5. He says, “it stands in Scripture” to stress the authority and truthfulness of God’s word. Peter quotes Isaiah 28:16: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Notice how this quotation precisely repeats the earlier description of Christ as a living stone ... chosen and precious (v. 4).
Turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 28. In this passage, the Lord confronts his people’s false sense of security and utter disregard for his word. According to verse 15, Judah’s leaders have “made a covenant with death,” meaning that they trust that their political alliances will protect them from the threat of the mighty nation Assyria. They have made lies their refuge, so God warns that “hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter” (v. 17).
I grew up in Oklahoma, and frequently in the Springtime we would hear tornado sirens. Those sirens are an urgent warning to flee to a storm shelter. It would be utter folly to stand outside holding an umbrella when a massive tornado is coming. Similarly, God sends Isaiah to sound the alarm that God’s judgment is coming, and their umbrella-like political deals will not stand in the coming storm. God then points Judah (and us) to the only secure shelter in Isaiah 28:16,
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’”
We need to ask two questions of this verse: (1) Where is “Zion”? (2) What is this cornerstone?
The book of Isaiah mentions “Zion” or “Mount Zion” 47 times. The Lord has founded Zion and dwells there, and he promises to comfort and save Zion, gather the nations, and reign over his redeemed people forever. Thus, in Isaiah 28, “Zion” refers to the holy city of God, the New Jerusalem, the place where the redeemed people of God live under God’s righteous rule. Zion is our true, glorious, eternal home.
This prophecy focuses especially on the foundation of our future home: the cornerstone. Isaiah piles up descriptions of this cornerstone—it is tested, precious, and sure. In the ancient world, the cornerstone was the most important part of a building. This stone stabilized the foundation of the structure, holding the other stones together in proper alignment. God lays this stone as a foundation for something—most likely, for God’s true temple built not with cedar and cut stones but with his blood-bought people. Ephesians 2 makes this explicit, calling believers “a holy temple” founded upon Christ as the cornerstone (vv. 20–22).
Isaiah 8:14 refers to God himself as “a stone,” but here the “tested stone” that God has laid is his messianic king. Isaiah 9:7 promises that God will establish the messiah’s kingdom “with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” Commentator Paul House explains, “In Isaiah, only Yahweh and His chosen Messiah merit belief. No place but Zion is ultimately a permanent home of righteousness, justice, and peace.... Yahweh’s word and the messianic promise are the stone that tests all people and all ideas.”
Peter explains that Jesus Christ is the chosen and precious cornerstone. Moreover, 1 Peter 2:4 calls Christ “a living stone” to remind us that he rose from the dead and has given us “a living hope” (cf. 1:3). God is building a spiritual house of worship—a new temple made up of people redeemed by Christ, the true cornerstone. Whoever believes in the risen Lord will never be put to shame.
Isaiah’s prophecy challenges us to ask ourselves this: Where do we go to seek shelter and security in life’s storms? In this election year, are we looking for political solutions to our pressing problems like Judah did? In recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed many of our cultural idols such as financial security and personal autonomy. COVID-19 dramatically disrupted our global economy. The stock market tanked, and millions of people lost their jobs, including some in our church. The pandemic reminds us that our true security is found in God, not in our jobs or our bank accounts. The apostle Paul calls us not to be proud or to set our “hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Moreover, the coronavirus affected nearly everyone’s schedules. We’ve endured weeks of stay-at-home orders; our schools, offices, and church buildings have closed; and our plans for travel and extracurricular activities have been canceled. These disruptions have revealed to us that we are not really in control. I’ve been reminded of the words from James: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring.... You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:14–15).
Don’t waste your trials, friends. The difficulties of the pandemic have forced us to consider whether we’re really building our lives on Christ, the cornerstone, or on some other foundation. The “breaking news” about more daily COVID cases can move us to fear, but we have a living hope and a solid rock to stand on. Let’s trust the Lord in these troubled times, look for opportunities to love and serve our neighbors, and speak of the countercultural hope that we have in Jesus.
Christ is the stone on which we will either stand by faith or stumble and fall. Verse 6 emphasizes that whoever believes in Christ “will not be put to shame.” Verses 7–8 explain Christ’s rejection and offensiveness by quoting two more “stone” Scriptures. There is only one “rock”—Jesus Christ. The crucial question is whether we revere or reject him. Notice the contrast in verse 7: “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’” Here Peter quotes Psalm 118:22, the very passage that Jesus himself used to explain his own rejection and death.
In Psalm 118, the psalmist recounts that the Lord has heard his prayers and has become his “salvation” (v. 21). God has done something “marvelous in our eyes” (v. 23) by turning rejection into redemption (v. 22). The king who “comes in the Lord’s name” and is blessed “from the Lord’s house” (v. 26) is also the rejected stone in verse 22.
Christ fulfilled this psalm as the messianic king who was praised with shouts of “Hosanna” as he rode into Jerusalem (Luke 19:38) and then rejected with cries of “Crucify him!” (Luke 9:22, 23:21). No one in Jesus’s day expected a suffering messiah, but he explained that he must suffer many things, including rejection and death, according to the Scriptures. People expect a king to be honored, but Jesus experienced scorn and shame. Israel’s leaders despised Jesus and sought to destroy him, but by rejecting Christ they ironically carried out God’s secret plan for salvation. God designed that the stone that the builders cast aside would be the living cornerstone of his new temple of praise.
Notice that our passage says that believers have “honor” and “will not be put to shame.” Shame refers to being excluded or treated as unworthy. The opposite of shame is honor, being treated as worthy. The Lord Jesus endured the shame of the cross and is now seated at the place of highest honor at God’s right hand. Peter wrote to believers who experienced shame and dishonor because of their decision to follow a crucified king, but the apostle reminds them—and us—that God will not put his people to shame. The church is made up of people who may be honored or dishonored in society—rich and poor, white-collar and blue-collar workers, men and women from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. God shows no partiality but bestows honor on all who belong to Christ. In the same way, we must avoid partiality, showing honor just to those who are like us or who can benefit our reputation. Through Christ, we are members of one body, living stones in God’s new temple, and we reflect our oneness in Christ by showing honor to all our fellow believers.
Look with me now at verse 8, where Peter emphasizes the disastrous consequences of rejecting Jesus, the chosen and precious “living stone” (v. 4). He quotes part of Isaiah 8:14: “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” Isaiah 8 calls us to honor the Lord as holy and fear him alone (v. 13). The Lord presents himself as both “a sanctuary and a stone of offense” (v. 14), highlighting the “double-edged” nature of his self-revelation.
The claim of God’s sovereignty and holiness cuts two ways: (1) you can trust his promises and come to him as a secure sanctuary in the storm; or (2) you can take offense at God’s claim, trust in yourself and “stumble” and “fall” on the divine rock (v. 15). There’s no third way, no option to remain neutral or indifferent. We see this double-edged divine revelation most fully in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul explains that the gospel of Christ crucified is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called ... Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24). Jesus is either your savior and cornerstone, or your stumbling block and judge.
Those of us who regularly attend church and identify as Christians can easily read “those who do not believe” and assume that Peter is only talking about people “out there”—avowed atheists, secularists, or those of other religions who publicly oppose Christ and his followers. But remember that the Bible scholars of Jesus’ day called for his execution, and one of his own disciples betrayed him with a kiss. You can grow up in a Christian home, attend church, be “Minnesota nice,” and avoid obvious sins, all the while trusting in yourself rather than treasuring Jesus and clinging to God’s promises. Bethlehem, beware the subtle danger of general familiarity with the things of God as a substitute for genuine faith in Christ. Today, as you hear God’s word, do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 3:7), but come to Jesus—the chosen and precious cornerstone—and taste and see that he is good (1 Peter 2:3–4).
Peter concludes verse 8 on a sobering note: “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” The apostle reminds us here that God is sovereign over salvation and judgment from beginning to end. None of us deserves God’s bountiful love and lavish mercy; all of us at one time were “not a people,” living in darkness, straying like sheep (vv. 9–10, 25). Left to our own natural abilities and worldly sensibilities, we all would reject Christ. God has predestined some people to willfully reject his Son and receive what their sins justly deserve (theologians call this doctrine reprobation). But God has opened our eyes to see a cast-off, crucified Christ as our living Lord and Savior; he called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light to proclaim his excellencies (v. 9) and stand firm in his grace (5:12).
To sum up: We’ve seen from 1 Peter 2:6–8 that Christ is the stone on which we will stand by faith or stumble and fall. Christ experienced painful rejection and shameful death, but God raised him up on the third day and declared him to be the chosen cornerstone. Our risen Lord is the foundation of the spiritual house of praise that God is building, and all who trust in him will never be ashamed.
As we close, I want to highlight two implications of this passage for us as a church family: (1) we have a new identity, and (2) we have a secure unity.
A New Identity
First, through faith in Jesus, we have a new identity. Author Tim Keller explains that identity is “a sense of self and a sense of worth.” The question is what we root our identity in. We might draw our sense of self and worth from being part of a family—as a son or daughter, a father or mother, etc. Or we might look to our career, our education, or our accomplishments to define who we are. The Bible reminds us that our identity is not achieved but received, as we are known and loved by God. We see this received identity in 1 Peter, where the apostle calls Christ “a living stone” who is “chosen” and “precious” (2:4), and then uses the very same descriptions for us as Christ’s people. What is true of Jesus is true of us as well. We are “living stones” who share in Christ’s resurrection life and have “a living hope” because our Lord is alive (1:3). Further, we are chosen by God and honored in his sight, as Jesus is. Peter calls us “elect exiles” (1:1) and “a chosen race” (2:9), applying OT language for Israel to Christ’s multiethnic people. Similarly, our faith is “more precious than gold” and will bring honor when Christ returns (1:7). We also should expect to share Christ sufferings as we experience opposition and various trials in this fallen world (4:13). Church, your fundamental identity is not defined by your family, career, or achievements, but by your relationship to Jesus Christ. Through faith in Christ, we are redeemed by his blood and called chosen and precious to God.
A Secure Unity
Finally, through faith in Jesus, we have a secure unity as living stones in God’s new temple. The world offers many alternative “foundations” for unity—political causes, social organizations, sports teams, etc. But Christ alone offers a sure and stable foundation on which to build our lives together. The unjust death of George Floyd and the destructive riots that followed have shaken the very foundations of our city and make us long for our true, eternal home in the city of God. If we have tasted that the Lord is good and have come to Christ in faith, then even now God is building us into a spiritual house of praise that will last forever. As followers of Christ and members of his house, we have more in common with one another than we have with unbelieving family, friends, and coworkers. This does not erase our real differences, but it puts these differences into perspective and allows us to have true fellowship in Christ, true unity amidst diversity.
The Bible calls the church God’s family and household, and last week Pastor Ming-Jinn helped us reflect on the house as a place for human flourishing. Earlier, I shared about a room in our first house that was constructed using wood and a window from an old church sanctuary. On a more personal note, let me share briefly about how God has used adoption to teach me about the meaning of a family.
About two and a half years ago, Kristin and I flew to China to meet our son and bring him home. When we adopted Jonah, he received a new identity as part of a family, with parents, siblings, and a home. He had a place to belong, to grow, and to flourish. This new reality brought with it real challenges: our boy had to learn a new language and new culture and live in a foreign—and frigid—place, far away from all that he’d known. He also brought incredible joy to our lives and contributed to our blended family in beautiful ways. He learned to eat pizza and hot dogs, and we learned to enjoy shi-fan and dumplings. He wears his Vikings jersey and superhero costumes, and our other kids have traditional Chinese clothes and sometimes use chopsticks. We’ve celebrated milestones and American and Chinese holidays. We also supported one another through suffering, we’ve laughed and cried, apologized and loved because we are a family. Our family’s unity isn’t defined ultimately by DNA but by love.
In the same way, the church’s unity is not based on our common preferences, affinities, or heritage but on the redeeming love of Christ. He is the chosen cornerstone, the singular foundation for our life together as God’s spiritual house. Bethlehem, remember that we have a secure unity in Christ. We must live out this reality by supporting one another through suffering, laughing and crying together, praising and lamenting together, apologizing when we sin, and loving earnestly from the heart because Christ first loved us.
Because of our new received identity and secure unity as Christ’s chosen and precious people, may the Lord help us “to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together [we] may with one voice glorify” him (Romans 15:5–6).