It’s Not About You! (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Bible and a crucifix
Click this picture to hear the sermon!

The last several weeks have been part of one long statement Peter has been making, and they’re all inter-connected:

  1. We’re supposed to be holy because God is holy (1 Pet 1:13-16)
  2. We’re supposed to reckon Christ’s sacrifice as worth the cost of denying ourselves (1 Pet 1: 17-21). He redeemed us with His blood, not with something worthless. If we take His grace for granted, we’re basically calling His sacrifice worthless.
  3. Part of being holy means to love one another (your fellow believers in this church), with a pure heart, fervently (1 Pet 1:22-25).
  4. That means we each have to take action in our lives (1 Pet 2:1-3). We confess and forsake sin that stops us from accomplishing all this. We desire to be corrected by the sincere milk of the Word, so we grow – tossing away sinful behavior, and replacing it with Godly behavior.

So, what’s the point? We usually have tunnel-vision on our individual walk as Christians. We forget that we’re part of a group of people whom God has saved, individually and specifically, for a reason. Today, Peter will tell us why God saved you, what your most basic job is, and why we need to try our best to be a holy people. Peter wants to get us to look beyond ourselves, and understand that all believers are part of a greater Christian community. It’s not about us at all.

Peter is going to use a very simple and familiar example to help us see where we each fit into God’s plan for this age – and why it matters. He’s going to use the idea of a temple. He’s going to mention Christ as the chief corner stone, the foundation block, for this temple. He’s going to say that believers are the individual stones and building blocks which make up this temple. Let’s see what Peter has to tell us:

 

4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

 

We’ll spend a little time unpacking what this verse tells us:

First:

Peter writes that all believers continually come to Christ, who is the “living stone.” Why is Christ specifically called a “living stone?” Because we don’t worship a dead Savior. We do celebrate our Savior’s death – because of what that death bought for us. However, we also celebrate His resurrection – because His victory over the grave means our victory over the grave – if we believe in who He is and what He did for us! We worship a Risen and Living Savior – One Who sits at the Father’s side in heaven right now! He’s not dead, He’s alive! He is the foundation stone our faith is built on, but our Savior isn’t a pile of bones on a hillside outside Jerusalem – He’s alive![1]

Second: 

Christ was rejected (“disallowed”) by men, but chosen by God and precious to Him. It’s so easy to skim over those words without a second thought. We ought to realize that Peter was killed for his faith shortly after he wrote this letter. Peter wrote the letter to remind folks who are really suffering about the grace of God – to encourage them about who Christ is (not was) and what He did for them.

We aren’t quite sure when Peter was killed, but it may well have been during Nero’s reign. A man wrote about the terrible persecution against Christians during Nero’s reign:

“Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”[2]

That’s why Peter wrote this in the same letter:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf,” (1 Peter 4:12-16).

People who read this letter could be faced with death for not denying Christ. Peter didn’t want them to deny Christ, and he reminded them about these precious truths as much as possible.

Third:

God is building us up,[3] because we’re living stones, too! Why are we living stones? Because we’ve been born again, raised from death to life. We’ve been spiritually resurrected just as surely as Christ was physically resurrected! What is God building all believers today up into?

Fourth:

We’re a spiritual house – a temple! The church (in a corporate, in-prospect sense) is made up of individual building blocks – people. You and I are the building blocks that are built around the foundation stone of Jesus Christ:[4] 

“For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit,” (Ephesians 2:18-22).

As we’re going to see, this means Lone Ranger-type Christianity is un-Biblical. You are each part of a local church (or ought to be), a building block that’s vital to your church. What do we do as a church? We’re being built up by God into a spiritual house (a temple) to do . . . what?

Fifth:

We’re each priests before God! We don’t just make up this temple – we serve in it! There are two basic things a priest does:

  1. A priest is somebody who has access to God in a way that ordinary people don’t
  2. A priest is also somebody who represents God to other people

Each believer is a priest before God in this age! Here is why:[5]

  1. By repenting and believing in Christ, you have direct access to God yourself – you don’t need to rely on anyone to speak to God for you:

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

  1. The Great Commission commands every believer to go tell others about the Gospel – you live holy lives and give God’s message of salvation to a lost world!

So, we’re each individual priests in this temple, the church – but what are our jobs? The priests in the OT brought sacrifices before God – it was one of their main jobs. That is our job today, also.

Sixth:

Our job is to bring spiritual sacrifices to God – not physical ones! What are spiritual sacrifices? They’re the work we do for the Lord. They’re us using our God-given talents, gifts and abilities for Him wherever He’s planted us. It’s us saying, “You’ve saved me, God, and here is me showing my love and devotion to you . . .” [6]Look at what the Scripture has to say:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service,” (Romans 12:1).

“Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God,” (1 Peter 4:1-2).

That’s why we’re supposed to be holy. That’s why we’re supposed to love fellow believers in your church with a pure heart, fervently. That’s why Peter says that we’re priests together in this temple that is the Church. We’re all individual stones, being added to the structure that is the temple of God. We’re all based on the living stone, Christ, the cornerstone! We belong to Him – as a group. 

Seventh:

We’re only acceptable to God because of (“through”) Jesus Christ. He gives us access to God. His death washed us clean and atoned for all our sin. He’s the reason we are priests who can approach God and worship Him by offering spiritual sacrifices!

Now that he’s said all this and made so many amazing statements, Peter goes back to the Old Testament to prove his point:

 

6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.

 

Peter basically says “that’s why Isaiah wrote this,” and quotes from Isaiah 28:16. Indeed, Christ is the chief cornerstone. He is chosen for the task of redemption and self-sacrifice. He is precious. Whoever believes in (1) who He is and (2) what He came to do will never be put to shame!

 

7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,

 

That’s why Christ is precious to us who are believers! Peter quotes from the Old Testament again from Psalm 118:22-23. He uses the picture of a building to make the point. The very stone that the builders rejected as worthless and unfit, ironically, is the one that God placed as the cornerstone in the entire foundation of the church. The Jewish leaders who were supposed to be teaching the people to worship God in spirit and truth were the very ones who looked at Christ and rejected Him as useless. Remember what Isaiah wrote over 700 years before Christ’s virgin birth:

“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not,” (Isaiah 53:1-3).

 

8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

 

To unbelievers, Christ is literally a stumbling-stone, a rock of offense. They don’t want to be joined to Christ. They don’t want to be priests before God – nothing could be more repulsive! They don’t want to offer spiritual sacrifices to God – that means they’d have to deny themselves and make Him Lord of their life. Unbelievers don’t want to go near God and serve Him. They want God to stay in a galaxy far, far away and to leave them alone.

But, Peter reminds us, that’s not our attitude!

 

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

 

If you’re a believer today, Peter wants to remind you of a few things:[7]

  1. That you’re part of a chosen people – the Church
  2. You’re part of a royal priesthood. You’re not a Lone Ranger Christian out on your own. You’re an integral part of this temple God is building up!
  3. You’re part of a holy nation of believers. We don’t worship the American flag; we worship the cross of Christ – we’re His people
  4. You’re His special (“peculiar”) people
  5. Your job is to be a testimony for Him in everything we do, because God is the One who called us out of darkness and into the light that is Christ (Jn 8:12)

 

10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

 

Gentiles didn’t used to be the people of God – the Jews were.[8] Now Gentiles are fellow-heirs in the church. Non-Jews didn’t have the mercy of God before – the Jews had been entrusted with the message of salvation: 

“That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ,” (Ephesians 2:12-13).

Now we do have that mercy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

CONCLUSION:

God called you and saved you. He joined you, as a building block, to the Church – the temple He’s building person by person. Because we’ve been given the responsibility and privilege of serving Him and approaching Him directly, we ought to take our job seriously. Peter says our job is to show God to other people – to unbelievers. We can’t do that if we’re not fighting against sin in our lives! That’s why we need to do our very best to be a holy people. It’s not about just us. We serve in the church. We’re part of a holy group of people God has elected and called to salvation. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ and His church.

———————————————————–

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Edmund Clowney observes, “Peter identifies the cornerstone with Christ. He calls him a living Stone; he would not have us think of his Lord as inert marble! Christ is the living Stone, however, not just because he is a living person, but because he is alive from the dead as the risen Lord. God set his cornerstone in place by the resurrection,” (The Message of 1 Peter, The Bible Speaks Today [Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1988; reprint, Kindle edition, 2014], Kindle Locations 1163-1165).

[2] Tacitus, Annals 15.44. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/etSkSM.

[3] D. Edmond Hiebert makes a point of noting that we are not building ourselves; it is God who is calling us out as individuals and making us a part of His church (1 Peter, revised ed. [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1992; reprint, Winona Lake, IN: BMH, 2008], 132).

[4] Roger Raymer has an intriguing observation:  “Believers are identified with Christ, for He is the living Stone and they are like living stones. And as they become more like Him, further conformed to His image, they are being built into a spiritual house. Jesus told Peter, ‘On this rock I will build My church’ (Matt. 16:18). Now Peter (1 Peter 2:4–5) clearly identified Christ as the Rock on which His church is built,” (1 Peter, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985], 845).

I am not quite convinced that it’s worth drawing that comparison, but it would be worth further study.

[5] “In this building, the Church, we are to offer ‘spiritual sacrifices’ as a ‘holy priesthood.’ The Church has no formal priesthood but is a priesthood. Our sacrifices are the various ministries we perform as we exercise our spiritual gifts. Our priestly duties involve  mediating between God and the world in our mission to the world,” (William Baker, James & First and Second Peter, 21st Century Biblical Commentary Series, ed. Mal Couch and Ed Hindson [Chattanooga, TN: AMG, 2004], 120).

[6] “They are offerings befitting a spiritual priesthood that is prompted by the Spirit and that reflects His nature and essence. They are not sacrifices offered to make expiation for sins nor to procure personal merit before God. Such sacrifices have no place in the Christian church because the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross has fulfilled the shadows and symbols of the Old Testament sacrifices (Gen 8:1-10:18). The sacrifices Peter mentions are expressions of worship by the redeemed, offered in gratitude and self-surrender,” (Hiebert, 1 Peter, 134).

[7] I decided to not segue into a discussion on how God applied these same terms to the nation of Israel. I don’t think it’s necessary to delve into that topic for this particular sermon. It will distract from the flow of thought I’m establishing, and it is too weighty a topic to discuss appropriately here. I feel that even a brief mention of the issue will unnecessarily distract from the point of the sermon.

[8] Peter deliberately uses Hosea 1:9-10; 2:23 to make this point. Advocates for replacement theology are quick to seize on this point, and claim that God has applied to promises from Hosea directly to the NT Church. This is not correct; the context of both citations from Hosea will not allow this interpretation. It is far more logical, however, to conclude that Peter used these citations to illustrate his point.

Hiebert agrees, and remarks, “In glancing back over the last two verses, one cannot escape the impression that Peter clearly intended to establish a parallel between Israel and the church . . . It does not naturally follow from the parallel between Israel and the church that Peter believed that the church has permanently replaced Israel, and that the latter will not again enjoy a separate existence under the favor of God,” (1 Peter, 147).

Raymer observes, “Peter just used similar terms to point up similar truths. As Israel was a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,’ so too believers today are chosen, are priests, are holy, and belong to God. Similarity does not mean identity,” (1 Peter, 846).

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