Live As Servants of God
The Living Stone
1 Peter 2:4-10
One thing I noticed about Israel in my recent visit is that nothing is built of wood. There are some trees, but most of them are small and not suited to making lumber. I suppose that is why King Solomon contracted with King Hiram of Tyre to cut cedar trees from Lebanon to provide the timbers for building the temple (1 Kings 5). Ancient structures in Israel are built of stone. More modern structures and homes are built of cement and blocks, but to this day there are great rock quarries where huge blocks of limestone are excavated for building purposes.
The Apostle Peter uses the metaphor of a stone to speak of Christ and the Church. I wonder whether Peter was drawn to this image because of his own name. Peter’s given name was Simon, but Jesus renamed him Cephas, the Aramaic word for “rock.” Our English name “Peter” is derived from the Latin word “Petrus,” which in turn is derived from the Greek word “Petros,” the word for “stone” or “rock.”
Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” became the rock of revelation upon which the Church was built. Jesus is the cornerstone of the edifice. Peter points us to Jesus, calling him the “living stone.” Peter says, “Come to him, a living stone” (vs. 4).
Jesus’ dead corpse was placed in a garden tomb carved out of rock. We visited the place when we were in Israel. You can clearly see the outcropping of rock that resembles a skull. Remember that the word “Golgotha” meant the place of the skull. Jesus’ lifeless body was laid in the cold stone of the cave, but he did not remain dead. On the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead, and he became a “living stone.”
The resurrection of Jesus from the grave is the cornerstone of our faith. The resurrection was the vindication of all Jesus claimed about himself. He truly was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. It was impossible for Jesus to stay dead. Jesus said of his life, “I have the power to lay it down and the power to take it up again” (Jn. 10:18). God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus became the “ever-living stone.”
Furthermore, Jesus was chosen and precious in God’s sight (vs. 4). Peter quotes Isaiah 28:16. “It stands written in scripture: ‘I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” Ancient Israel believed that because of God’s election and the temple built in Jerusalem, the Lord would never allow the Jewish nation to fall to the Babylonians. Their false security led them into idolatry and immorality. They became lackadaisical in faith and practice. They believed their election would shield them from God’s judgment, but they were mistaken. Through Isaiah God foretold of a new cornerstone in Zion, chosen and precious in the Lord’s sight. Jesus was the fulfilment of this ancient promise. At Jesus’ baptism the Father declared, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11). Jesus was the chosen and precious stone. Jesus’ person is the living stone, but his finished work, his sacrificial death for the forgiveness of sins and his glorious triumph over death in the resurrection, forms the precious cornerstone of God’s eternal plan of salvation. It is a tragedy that Judaism and all of the other world religions have rejected the living stone of Jesus, the Messiah. As Peter says, “To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner’, and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall’” (vs. 7-8).
This was another thing that struck me about Israel: it is a land of competing faith claims. The land is dotted with synagogues, mosques, and churches. The Jews gather at the western wall. The Muslims gather at the Dome of the Rock on the temple mount, and Christians gather at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Muslim minarets issue a call to prayer at sunup, midday, and sunset. The Jews stand before the Wailing Wall rocking back and forth reciting their prayers, and Christians flock to the churches for the Mass. The Orthodox Jews believe Jesus was a false messiah. They still look for the Christ to come. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, but he certainly was not the son of God, for Allah is one. Only Christians believe that Jesus is the living stone, chosen and precious in God’s sight, but the rejection of Jesus extends far beyond the Holy Land. Many in the world believe Jesus was a good man and a wise teacher of morality, but they reject Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
There is a mystery in this. Why do some believe in Jesus while others reject him? Peter says, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (vs. 8b). We cannot escape the profundity of election. One commentator makes this helpful observation: “The wonder is not that God chooses some and not others; the wonder is that God choses any.” He goes on to write, “We are a chosen people, but not a choice people. There are no grounds for pride. God choses not the wise, the mighty, or the noble, but the foolish, the weak, and the despised.” God’s choosing is both a source of gratitude and grief: Joy for us who believe, but sadness for those who are passed over by God.
Although God’s choosing is unfathomable, we are, nonetheless, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. We have a particular purpose in God’s unfolding plan of salvation. Jesus is the living stone, and because of our union with Christ by faith, we are also living stones. We are to “let ourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (vs. 5). We are to “proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (vs. 9b). “Mighty acts” can also be translated as “praises.” At the heart of our God-given vocation in this world is worship, the praise of God.
Declaring the praises of God is the great work of worship. On Thursdays we are studying the Book of Psalms. There are two forms of praise in the psalms: praising God for what God has done and praising God for who God is. In worship we thank God for what God has done, particularly in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but we also praise God for who God is. Soren Kierkegaard, the nineteenth–century Danish philosopher, famously wrote that “worship is to an audience of One.” In worship we seek and receive blessing from God, but the core of worship is not receiving but giving, giving praise to the One who is our focus.
I like what one commentator wrote, “Praise is more than thanksgiving for God’s deliverance; praise adores God the deliverer. To commemorate the saving deeds of the Lord is a thrilling task, but the pinnacle of devotion is to rejoice in God himself, the doer of those deeds. The supreme prayer of devotions is ‘Hallowed be Thy name.’ The burning focus of worship is found in lifting the name of God in adoration.” This is our highest calling on Sunday mornings.
In the mystery of election, we have been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. God has made us living stones by uniting us to the Living Stone. God is building us into a spiritual house. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. We are to offer spiritual sacrifices of adoration to God for what God has done and for who God is.
The words of the Hymn, “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation” come to mind. “Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ, our head and cornerstone, chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the Church in one; holy Zion’s help forever and our confidence alone. Praise and honor to the Father, praise and honor to the Son, praise and honor to the Spirit, ever three and ever one: one in might and one in glory while unending ages run!” The last stanza is a doxology. Our lives are to be a doxology to God.
So let us come to the Living Stone, chosen and precious in God’s sight: Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Let us be built into a spiritual house to praise God for what the Lord has done for us and for who the Lord is, and let our worship be a witness in this darkened world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Amen.