Over the past few weeks, we have been reminded again of the incredible tensions that seem to be continually boiling over in the Middle East, and at the center of the tension is a city called Jerusalem. It’s ironic that the city itself speaks of peace, for that is what ‘shalom’ means. Yet this city is often at the center of human conflict. It is considered a holy space for the three major monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Proximity to Jerusalem and the temple mount in particular is a critical issue for Orthodox Judaism. Every time we have traveled to Israel and have gone to the Western Wall, we have seen people crying out to God. Then we have gone into what is called the rabbinical tunnels which leads to the place of closest proximity to the temple site, which is considered by Orthodox Jews, as the most sacred place in all the earth. Yet, God in His desire to relate to humanity reached out and brought us a sacred space that transcends a ‘physical locality.’
In the ancient world, temples were sacred places where the gods dwelt. In Judaism, the worship of one God, meant there was only one temple, and it was located in Jerusalem. In the Old Testament all males were to attend three festivals annually in the city of Jerusalem as they went up to the Temple to worship. So, the faith of God’s covenant people was centered around the temple. Both Paul and Peter use the temple as a metaphor to explain the nature of our amazing relationship to God.
What does it mean to live like a ‘Rock Star?’ In popular culture it means the idolization of fans, fame, fortune and many other things in life that may not be appropriate. Yet, God has his ‘Rock Stars.’ He calls them ‘living stones,’ a metaphor explaining that God now lives in us, rather than in a temple made of physical stones. We who are followers of Christ are now part of the eternal temple, the place where God lives. When Jesus came on the scene, he changed the parameters of where the holy place is. The temple no longer became a physical earthly building, but that holy place was in the person of Jesus, and later within the hearts of those who put their trust in him as their Lord and Savior.
There are a number of fascinating Old Testament passages that speak of stones and their meaning. In the book of Daniel, the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream of an image made of precious metals representing human kingdoms that would eventually be replaced by a stone hued out of mountain not made by human hands. This dream had significant historical meaning as world empires rose and fell until finally God’s kingdom arose to conquer all of them. David Helm reminds us that Daniel was not the only one who saw God’s kingdom as a stone.
“Isaiah had seen a stone in a vision God had given to him years before. ‘So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion; a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic (Isaiah 28:16).’ The psalmist also spoke of a cornerstone that would bring salvation to all who believed as well as a stone that would be a stumbling-block for those who reject it (v. 7; see Psalm 118:22). And so, deeply imbedded in the strata of Israel’s rich history was the conviction that she was God’s kingdom- that Jerusalem was God’s saving city and that the temple stood at the center of God’s activity in the world.
Centuries later a young, impoverished itinerant preacher from Galilee named Jesus would come along and take all the imagery of the stone passages in the Hebrew Scriptures and commit the unpardonable sin of applying them to himself instead of to Judaism, the city, or the temple.[i]
This is not to suggest that Jesus sinned, but in the eyes of traditional Judaism, Jesus is seen as a blasphemer. Jesus basically pointed out that he was the true fulfillment of all these Old Testament prophecies. Jesus told the religious leaders of his day that though they studied the Scriptures diligently they misunderstood their ultimate meaning. “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:39-40).”
Regarding the temple, Jesus himself declared that he was God’s temple, the dwelling place of God. When questioned as to his actions in cleansing the earthy temple, Jesus’ response is insightful.
Then Jews then responded to him, ‘What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do this?
Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’
They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build the temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?
But the temple he had spoken of was his body.
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.[ii]
The New Testament teaches so clearly God is found in the person of Jesus. That is exactly what Paul was stating in Colossians 1:19-20. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
So what then is the outcome of Jesus’ death for us? We have been reconciled to God through Christ’s work on the cross and made holy. We are no longer separated from God because of our sin, but we are brought near to Him. We are now holy, which means that we have been separated to do God’s purposes in our lives as well as being set free from accusation from our former guilt and sin.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-[iii]
Peter now explaining this same metaphor of the Temple as a powerful image of the church, points out these incredible realities:
As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.[iv]
As we examine Peter’s analogy from 1 Peter 2:4-10, we see a great truth and its application being given to us. Peter is explaining to his readers and in turn to us what it means to be a covenant people based on what Jesus the Messiah has accomplished for us and how we should live. In other words, how should we live as a living stone? What does it mean to be a ‘rock star in God’s kingdom?’ There are two things we need to embrace to live as God designed.
THE FIRST THING WE NEED IS TO EMBRACE IS THE REALITY THAT WE ARE GOD’S DWELLING PLACE
This is a profound truth that when we grasp it. It will encourage and challenge us. As a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, He lives in us. I remember when this truth filled my own soul. It overwhelmed me. The apostle Paul states it this way in Colossians 1:27: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” We are God’s dwelling place, we become His temple. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church he relates it as being filled with God, the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.[v]
Peter is basically saying that God lives in us. Secondly, we have a high and holy calling to operate as mediators between God and people, which is the function of priests. We are to offer spiritual sacrifices. We’ll come back to what that means, but as priests, all believers have direct access to the Father, a great privilege but also one of great responsibility.
A. Let’s gain an understanding of the cultural background in Jesus’ day and the significance of what Peter is explaining to us as it relates to purity laws.
We can frame the question this way, ‘How can outsiders become not only insiders but people who are purified and have access into the very presence of God?’ That is what Peter is explaining to us here in these texts. The whole Old Testament is revealing to us the condition of our soul as being contaminated by sin; we are considered impure, unholy, and unclean. The whole dietary system was to reinforce this idea. It created boundary markers to identify God’s people as being distinctly separate unto God from all others. It was exclusive in nature.
Of all the Jewish sects in Jesus’ day, the Pharisee had the greatest influence over the people, even though they were small in number. Josephus, a first century Jewish writer, estimates that there were about 6,000 Pharisees in Jesus’ day. They believed not only in the written law of God, but also the Mishnah, the oral traditions that they claimed were equally inspired.
Jacob Neusner notes that the dominant trait of Pharisaism before A.D. 70 [which was the date the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans] as depicted in both rabbinic traditions and the Gospels, concerns conditions regarding ritual purity. It is remembering that fully twenty-five percent of the Mishnah is devoted to questions of purity.[vi]
Jerome Neyrey in an article on ‘The Idea of Purity in Mark’s Gospel,’ shares how critical this concept was.
Ancient Jews, for example, had specific purity rules which classified foods as clean or unclean, which ranked objects according to degrees of uncleanness, which identified people as fit or unfit to enter Israel’s temple. …purity is a map of a social system which coordinates and classifies things according to appropriate place. The direction of the map suggest the principle of classification: holiness (or purity) is measured in terms of proximity to the Temple [representing God’s very presence], the center of the map. …It is not surprising, then, that a group like the Pharisees built a ‘fence’ around its life. To keep the core clean and pure, one extended the boundary around that core, put a fence on the perimeter, and guarded that outer ‘fence.’ Hence the chief rule was ‘Make a fence around the Law.[vii]
Vincent Taylor writes: “In laying down the principle that uncleanness comes from within, and not from without, [Jesus’ pronouncement] stated a truth, uncommon in contemporary Judaism, which was destined to free Christianity from the bondage of legalism.”[viii] William Barclay calls this ‘well-nigh the most revolutionary passage in the New Testament [where Jesus declared all foods clean].”[ix] Jesus was redefining what was clean and unclean. “For the Jews of that day, this was incredible. The Apostle Peter heard Jesus say this with his own ears. Yet, sometime later, after Pentecost, when Peter was well-experienced with preaching the gospel, he still had trouble with thinking he could be defiled by what went in.
So when Peter has his vision of the unclean animals coming down from heaven and God tells him to eat, Peter’s response is immediate: Surely not, Lord, I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” Peter needed a vision to drive this point home to him. While Jesus violates the Pharisees’ purity standards, Jesus has His own standard.
“Whereas the Pharisees’ concern is with externals and surfaces (washings of hands, pot, cups and vessels 7:2-4), Jesus’ concern is with the interior of the heart.”[x]
B. Peter now uses Old Testament texts regarding Jesus as the key to a relationship with God.
Peter is quoting from Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 and applying them to the person of Jesus.
For in scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and whoever trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ [or to state it positively: will be honored by God].
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. They stumble because they disobey the message – which was also what they were destined for.[xi]
The message here is the good news about Jesus, who He is and what He accomplished for all who will believe. Jesus explains this text from the Psalms to the religious leaders as the vast majority were criticizing and rejecting him as their Messiah.
In Luke 20:9-18, Jesus tells the parable of the Vineyard, where the landowner rents it out to tenants and when he comes to collect the rent he sends servants, but they had sent them away empty handed. Later, he sends his son, they conspire against him and ultimately kill him in order to steal the inheritance for themselves. This is a foreshadowing of what Jesus knows is about to happen to himself. Jesus is the son in his parable. Jesus then raises the question, ‘what will the owner do to them? To which the people replied that he would kill them and give the vineyard to others. Jesus then applied this parable to the text in Psalm 118:22, as the meaning of that text. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” By rejecting Jesus, they were rejecting God’s saving program for themselves. When we reject Jesus we are also rejecting God’s saving program for our lives. In a building, the cornerstone is the key stone from which the entire building is measured and developed from. Jesus is explaining that if we come to him, the cornerstone we will be humbled, but if we reject him, we will be crushed or destroyed.
Karen Jobes points out: “…a well-developed interpretive tradition apparently already existed in Jewish writings that identified the stone with the Messiah. All that remained for the NT writers was to identify Jesus as the Messiah.”[xii]
In looking at Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, the crux of the issue in the minds of the Jewish religious leaders, was whether Jesus saw himself as the Messiah.
But Jesus remained silent [before his accusers] The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.
‘You have said so, Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’[xiii]
By quoting Daniel 7:13, Jesus is making a powerful declaration not only that He is the Messiah, but of the nature of the Messiah as God, Himself. The religious leaders obviously understood what the next text described as applied to God coming to judge humanity. Jesus is applying these two texts to himself.
He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.[xiv]
The reaction of the high priest was that Jesus had spoken blasphemy. But Jesus is actually explaining the nature of who the Son of Man is. He is the stone of the everlasting Kingdom that will never end. To reject Jesus is to reject the only means of our salvation. Peter in one of his sermons from the book of Acts before the Sanhedrin (the Jewish parliament in his day), applied this very truth to his hearers.
Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.[xv]
C. Acceptance or Rejection of Christ foretold.
Here Peter is employing the picture of a stone that has been dressed or cut and sits ready for incorporation in a building. The builders have passed it over as being unfit for the task. They cannot see that it is the right one. But they are wrong, for the stone in question has been approved by the architect. The psalm says the rejected stone is not merely laid as part of the building but as the main foundation stone on which the whole building depends.[xvi]
It is only through the person and work of Jesus Christ that we can be made acceptable to God. Even as Jesus was being rejected, Peter’s hearers could relate to that experience in their culture. Karen Jobes states: “Peter’s readers can no doubt relate to the experience of rejection, since they too were being rejected by their society as unfit.”[xvii] This is something that we will face as followers of Christ. So, if Jesus had the experience of being rejected by men, but chosen and precious to God, the Father, it should not surprise us if we also will share this same experience of being rejected by others.
D. Why do people stumble and disobey?
Peter states in verse 8 that they were ‘appointed to do so?’ Peter doesn’t elaborate what he means by this and it has caused various interpretations often shaped by theological convictions.
“Some take it to mean that stumbling is inevitable once the word has been disobeyed but that God does not appoint people to their disobedience. …France (1998:34) argues that it means ‘not that certain people were destined not to believe, but that God decrees is that those who do not believe will stumble and fall. Others argue that the appointment is to disbelief, which then necessarily results in stumbling.[xviii]
What is important to understand is that Jesus, the Messiah, is the stone that lies before all our paths in life. The way we respond to Him is determined by the issue of faith. Will we bow to Christ in faith, or will we reject Him and suffer loss?
THE SECOND THING WE NEED TO EMBRACE TO LIVE AS GOD DESIGNED IS APPLYING THAT CALLING INTO OUR LIFESTYLE
What are the implications of being a living stone in God’s temple?
The Christian church is not primarily a social organization but the new temple where the transformed lives of believers are offered as sacrifice to the glory of God. The imagery of the living stones being built into a single unit implies that the significance and purpose of the individual Christian cannot be realized apart from community with other believers.[xix]
We are not only part of the temple as ‘living stones,’ but also we serve in that temple as its priests.
A. We are the priests that offer spiritual sacrifices.
“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).”
What are the spiritual sacrifices that we offer up? It begins with the offering of ourselves in totality to God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1).”
What are some of the ways that we do offer ourselves completely to God? What we do and say are all expressions of worship to God.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of our lips that openly profess his name.
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.[xx]
So, the first way in which we function as spiritual priests is by offering the sacrifice of praise to God, which is what worship is. Worship is not entertainment. Worship is when the people of God lift up their praises, adoration, and affection to God.[xxi]
When we share the gospel of Jesus with others we are actually engaged in a priestly duty. We are bringing people to God. Paul described his sharing of the gospel as a priestly function. “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:16).” This speaks specifically about the apostle Paul but it is applicable to all of us. Here in our text Peter states it explicitly.
But you are a chosen people, royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.[xxii]
Peter is now quoting from two different O.T. passages that explain the nature of God’s people who are in covenant with God. In verse 9 we have a quotation taken from Exodus 19:6 where God is speaking to the Israelites who had been delivered from Egyptian slavery and were standing at the base of Mt. Sinai where the law and the ten commandments were received. It is God that chooses us and calls us to Himself. Here Peter says that we are a chosen race. It is the idea that we are a people who have been set aside to act in a special way toward both God and our fellow human beings. Toward God we are called to worship Him, to intercede and mediate on behalf of others; while we are God’s representatives on earth speaking His message and living a life that reinforces that messaging. We are to proclaim the goodness and nature of Almighty God. Peter states it that we are proclaiming God’s virtues. What is significant is that verse 10 is taken from the book of Hosea, where we see God accepting those who were formerly rejected. This is an amazing message of hope. We who formerly had nothing to do with God, are drawn to Him by the working of His Spirit to bring us to Himself.
Gentiles are all those who were not Jewish, they were not in covenant with God, they were considered impure, unclean and unholy, but God always had a design to bring all of humanity into relationships with Himself. We, who once were not in a covenant relationship with God, now through Christ are now brought into a relationship where we experience God’s mercies.
So what is Peter telling us here? In other words, what does it mean to live like a rock star or as Peter states it, ‘a living stone?’ Peter is laying down the essence of what the church is all about in the context of the world in which we are living. We are God’s light in a dark world. Scott McKnight states it so succinctly.
The entire sweep of the Bible teaches that Christians in non-Christian environments are not to be worried about changing the environments as they are to remain faithful in whatever kind of environment they find themselves in. In fact, the New Testament is unified on this point: Christian teaching concerns Christian theology and behavior, not social institutions and how they might be changed. …Peter’s agenda here of spiritual formation and evangelistic outreach identifies the preeminent purpose of the church in society.[xxiii]
[i] David Helm, 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 73-74.
[ii] John 2:18-22, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[iii] Colossians 1:21-22.
[iv] 1 Peter 2:4-5.
[v] 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
[vii] Ibid, 15.
[viii] Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker, 1981), 342 as quoted in R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus Servant and Savior, Vol. 1, Preaching the Word Series, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 1989), 166.
[ix] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark, (Philadelphia, Pa: Westminster, 1956), 174 as quoted in R. Kent Hughes, Mark: Jesus Servant and Savior, Vol. 1, Preaching the Word Series, (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 1989), 166.
[x] Jerome Neyrey, The Idea of Purity in Mark’s Gospel, 15.
[xi] 1 Peter 2:6-8.
[xii] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 147.
[xiii] Matthew 26:63-64.
[xiv] Daniel 7:14.
[xv] Acts 4:11-12.
[xvi] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: I. V. P Academic, 1991), 67.
[xvii] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 146.
[xviii] Ibid, 155.
[xix] Ibid, 149.
[xx] Hebrew 13:15-16.
[xxi] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, Fl: Reformation Trust, 2019), 47.
[xxii] 1 Peter 2:9-10.
[xxiii] Scott McKnight, 1 Peter, The NIV Application Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 118.