Coming to the Living Stone

Series: Elect Exiles

Sermon by David Strain on Sep 29

1 Peter 2:4-10

Well do please take your Bibles in hand once again and turn back to the New Testament this time and to 1 Peter chapter 2; page 1014 of the church Bibles. We are working our way through the teaching of 1 Peter, Sunday mornings in our sermons, and we’ve come this morning to chapter 2, verses 4 through 10. We’ve said that the message of 1 Peter is that he is seeking to equip us to live a life on mission together, a life bearing witness to Christ and the community around us. And we need to understand if we’re going to do that what the dynamics of the Christian life really are. How do we grow? How do you become a Christian and how do you grow as a Christian that you might live a life on mission together? And that is very much the focus of verses 4 through 10 of 1 Peter chapter 2 and we’re going to see that in just a few moments. 

Before we do, before we read the text, I have a confession to make. I worked really hard this week, really hard this week, to try and come up with a simple way to divide the passage, a nice easy outline for you, and the passage won and I lost and I couldn’t find a nice simple outline! And so you’ll be thrilled to know, I’m sure, that this morning I have an eight point sermon! Yeah, the early service, they laughed as well but I don’t know why. I’m absolutely serious - it’s an eight point sermon! If you’re a seminarian you should take careful notes. This is how not to preach a sermon! By the way, all of that is not an invitation to the smarty pants in the congregation to come to me with the nice three point alliterated outline of the text once we’re done! Please don’t do that. It won’t go well!

Okay if you’re taking notes, let me go ahead and give you the outline; the eight points. First of all, the passage before us is going to call us to come to Jesus. Come to Jesus. Secondly, come to Jesus by faith. Third, come to Jesus continually. Fourth, come to Jesus corporately; come to Him together. Fifth, come to Jesus to be like Him. Sixth, come to Jesus to praise Him. Seventhly, we are to come to Jesus to proclaim Him. And then eighthly, come to Jesus for mercy. I’m not sure when the last time I heard the phrase, the word “eighthly” in a sermon. There’s probably a reason for that, but there we go! So come to Jesus, come by faith, come continually, come corporately, come to be like Him, come to praise Him, come to proclaim Him, and come for mercy. That’s where we’re going. Before we turn our attention to the text and begin to work through all of that, let’s pause again and ask for God’s help. Let us pray.

O Lord, please now by the living and abiding Word of God, by which we were born again, the pure spiritual milk of the Word by which we grow, O God, wield Your Word in our hearts, killing sin and causing all graces to ripen in our lives to Your glory and praise. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

1 Peter chapter 2 at the fourth verse. This is the Word of God:

“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. 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,’

and

‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Amen, and we praise God for His Word.

So Peter, in our passage, takes us onto a building site. Doesn’t he? He distributes hardhats and high visibility vests and he takes us on a tour of the construction of a great temple. God Himself is the builder of the temple. We see Him in our passage like a master mason shaping the stones that will fit together as this temple rises for His glory. The most important stone of them all, Peter says, is the cornerstone. You’ll probably know in the ancient world the cornerstone had to be perfect so that every other stone may be carefully fitted to it. Every other stone in the building derives its dimensions, its shape and contours, from the cornerstone. And the cornerstone, Peter says, is a living stone because the cornerstone is Jesus Christ. And so God, in the great construction project, makes use of building materials suitable to be built into the cornerstone, the living stone. And He uses living stones to build the temple; that is, hearts brought to living faith through the living and abiding Word of God. And so He takes his cues here in his vocabulary about the cornerstone from Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14, all of which he quotes as you can see in our passage. Jesus is the cornerstone, chosen and precious to God, and we are living stones. And as we are fitted into Him, we are fitted and connected to one another. And so the temple, that is the Church of Jesus Christ, will grow.

Okay, so do you see the primary metaphor with which Peter is working? We’re on the building site and we’re watching the church, the temple of God where He dwells and His presence is known in the world, beginning to grow as lives are changed and brought into union with Jesus, the cornerstone. 

Come to Jesus 

And now we need to ask, “What use is Peter making of this principle metaphor?” And the first and most obvious answer to that question, the first use that Peter makes of the metaphor, of Jesus the cornerstone and other stones being fitted into Him, is that we must come to Jesus. You see that in verse 4, don’t you? “As you come to Him, a living stone.” Everything else he will tell us about who we are by the grace of God, about the privileges we enjoy, about the mission we have received, all of it follows as a result of coming to Him, the living stone. This really does speak to the fundamental uniqueness of the Christian Gospel. Doesn’t it? All the religions of the world, you know, all the spiritualities and the self-help methodologies out there all invite you to perform some work, to engage in some ritual, to search within yourself, seeking some experience. But the Christian Gospel does not point to self-discovery and self-performance. The heart of the Christian Gospel is an invitation not to turn inward, not to learn some new set of behaviors, but to meet another person, to come into close connection and relationship to someone else entirely, “extra nos” - outside of ourselves - to meet Jesus Christ; to come to Him, the living stone, chosen by God and precious. Come to Jesus Christ, Peter says. Have you met Him? Have you met Him? 

Come to Jesus by Faith

But how do you come to Jesus Christ? Well, Peter says come to Jesus and come to Him, secondly, by faith. Look at verses 6 through 8. Verses 6 through 8. “‘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,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” So when Peter says come to Jesus the cornerstone, what does he mean? Does he mean come to the church building on a Sunday? Does he mean come to the front after the sermon and pray a prayer or sign a card? What does it mean to come to Jesus? Peter says it means come to Jesus believing, come to Jesus by faith. “Whoever believes will not be put to shame. The honor is for you who believe.” Those who do not believe stumble. He’s saying, “Look, Jesus is the cornerstone and the only options available are that you come to the cornerstone in faith and are built in to this great building, this edifice, this temple that God is constructing in the world or you trip over Jesus, you stumble over Him to your destruction.” Those are the options available to us all.

So how do you come to Jesus? There’s nothing to do, he says, but believe. You are a sinner; me too. We stand by nature guilty in the sight of God, but God has provided His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to obey God’s holy law that we all have broken and cannot keep and to pay the price, fulfill the debt that we could never hope to pay ourselves. He is, therefore, a perfect Savior of sinners and He is offered to you, to me. He’s ours, yours for the taking. “Take Him,” Peter says. Come to Him. You take Him by faith. You take Him believing, resting on Him, merely trusting in Him. You abandon all your confidence in yourself, you reject all the counterfeits of the world, and you put your trust in Christ alone. So come to Jesus. Come to Jesus by faith. 

Come to Jesus Continually

But come to Him, thirdly, not just one time at the beginning of your Christian life. Come to Jesus, he says, continually. Keep coming to Jesus. Look at verse 4 again. “As you come to Him, a living stone, you are being built up.” Maybe a better translation would be, “Coming to Him,” or perhaps even, “While you keep on coming to Jesus, the cornerstone, you yourselves like living stones are being built up, a spiritual house.” The whole life of a Christian, the whole life of a Christian is summed up right here in that one phrase. Christians are always coming to Him, the living stone. That’s what a Christian is - always coming to Jesus, the living stone. You never outgrow your need of Him. 

Think about the most mature, godly, vibrant Christian that you know. Their faces seem to just shine with meekness and joy as they follow Jesus. They’ve walked with the Lord for years and years. They are, in your mind, a paragon, an example of Christian holiness. They’re everything you aspire to be. Peter is saying they need to come to Jesus as much today as they did when they took their first steps on the journey of faith. 

There are, aren’t there, oceans of fascination and wonder in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Think about His mission from the Father - sent from eternity as the only Redeemer of God’s elect. Think about His incarnation, His coming in the womb of the virgin as the person of the Son is united forever to human nature. Think about His humble birth, His obedience and sufferings, His preaching and His miracles and His cross and empty tomb. Think about Christ our Prophet who reveals the Father to us. Think about Christ our Priest who makes atonement in the sacrifice of Himself and now ever lives to make intercession for us. Christ our King who rules and governs us, subdues us to Himself, and takes dominion over all His and our enemies. Think about Him reigning right now at the right hand of God the Father until all His enemies are made a footstool for His feet and the nations are made His inheritance. Think of Him coming again when the trumpet sounds and the skies split and He comes with an innumerable company of the heavenly hosts to bring all to Judgment Day. Think about Him presiding over saints and angels in the new creation, glorified wounds the object of our wonder and worship forever. This Jesus, to whom you are invited to come and keep on coming, is endlessly fascinating, endlessly satisfying, endlessly glorious. You never can drink the well of His grace and glory dry. You never can ask more of Him than He can give. You never can hurt more than He can heal. You never can sin more than He can redeem. You don’t outgrow Jesus. You don’t move past Him. The Christian life is one of continually coming to Him, resting on Him, rejoicing in Him. Come to Jesus, come by faith, come continually. 

Come to Jesus Corporately 

Fourthly, come to Jesus corporately. Come to Him together. Christians aren’t mavericks; they aren’t lone rangers, at least they’re not supposed to be. The “you” in verse 4 is plural. “You yourselves,” verse 5, emphasizes the point. And do remember the metaphor Peter’s working with. We’re on the construction site of a great temple. It is built on the living stone of Jesus Christ. He’s the cornerstone. Every other stone is shaped in direct relation to Him, fitted carefully into Him as it were, and since every stone must fit into Him, every stone fits into every other stone. We are joined together in Jesus Christ. That’s Peter’s metaphor. We are one. You know, block to block, stone to stone, integrated into the whole, the temple of the living God. There is no growth, do you see, without this corporate, this togetherness dimension of the Christian life. 

That has huge implications for the way we live out our Christian faith. Doesn’t it? It reminds us that the ordinary way that God has ordained for us to grow and to mature and to come continually to Christ is to come to Him together. Together. We often talk about the means of grace, the ordinary means of grace around here. We mean simply the Word of God read and preached and prayed and sung and seen in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The means of grace, though, are primarily corporate in their character. We do them together. And by use of them together, by faith, we grow. And we grow into one another and into Christ. We come to Christ together.

I was thinking as I was writing this of those of you who are at home right now watching on television or on livestream. And some of you are in that circumstance because you’re housebound and unable to come to church or otherwise hindered by circumstances you can’t avoid. And we rejoice with you in the technology that enables the ministry of the Word to reach into your life still and we’re so very grateful for it. But it may be that you’re sitting at home watching online or on television and it’s become a substitute for the assembly of God’s people. You need to hear Peter’s message clearly. There is a “one anotherness” that is a non-negotiable to the Christian life. We need each other. I need you. You need me. We need the people sitting around us. We need to see each other impacted by the Word. We need to hear each other singing praises and calling out on the Lord Jesus. Get yourself to church. “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another and all the more as we see the great day approaching.” We need to be together. There’s a coming to Christ that requires togetherness to do it. Come to Jesus. Come to Jesus by faith. Come to Jesus continually. Come to Jesus corporately.

Come to Jesus to be like Him 

Fifthly, come to Jesus to be like Him. It’s the great longing of every true Christian’s heart - to be like my Savior; to bear His moral likeness in my life. The greatest regrets of my heart are those places where I’m more like who I was than who my Savior has called me to be. Jesus, Peter says, is the living stone. And He says to us as you come to Him, “You yourselves, like living stones, are built up as a spiritual house.” He’s saying the life of cornerstone flows in to the living stones. You’re living because you’re connected to the living cornerstone. The virtue that it resides in Him flows into you. 

The same note comes out again in verse 7 where Peter says “The honor is for you who believe.” The word for “honor” is actually the same word he used back in verse 4 to describe how God views Jesus, the cornerstone. He is “chosen and precious.” The word “precious” and the word translated “honor” are the same word. He’s saying Jesus is precious treasure to God. And those who are built on Him, built into Him, into this temple, fitted into the cornerstone, united to Jesus, you’re precious too. You are precious treasure to God. The character and stamp and likeness of Jesus begins to shine in you as you keep on coming to Him. That’s what he’s saying. Come to Jesus. Come by faith. Come continually. Come corporately; come together. And come to be like Him, to be made like Him.

Come to Jesus to Praise Him

And sixthly, come, he says, to praise Him. Those who come to Christ are given a new identity. You become living stones. And then Peter sort of mixes the metaphor to begin to highlight not just our new identity but now also our new mission. Do you see that in verse 5? Look at verse 5 with me. “You yourselves,” he says, “are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” It’s a natural enough mixing of metaphors. He thinks about the temple, the spiritual house that God is building. And then he thinks about those who labor in the temple, the priesthood. We are not just a temple where God resides, but we are a priesthood to offer praises to God.

It’s sometimes said that in reformed churches like ours we do not have priests, that one of the principal achievements of the Protestant Reformation was to remove from the vocabulary and the structured life of the church all room for priesthood. And there is an important sense in which that’s quite true. Jesus is the perfect great High Priest who by the sacrifice of Himself has made atonement for sin once and for all and has done away with the need for priesthood and sacrifice to reconcile us to God. We need no other priest, no other mediator than Jesus Christ. Praise God that that is true. And so we do not now have a priestly cast, a clerical order of priests in the church of Jesus Christ. But the reformers who emphasized that reality also were quick to remind us that while there is no special office of priest, there is a general office of priest that belongs to every single Christian. The priesthood of all believers is a phrase you may have heard. If you’re a Christian today, you are a priest called to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 

What does that mean? Well you may remember in the Levitical code there are two broad classes of sacrifices that were offered by the priests. One was the atoning sacrifice for sin and for guilt and of course that sacrifice has now rendered obsolete having been ultimately fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We don’t offer atoning sacrifices because “It is finished.” The work is done. Payment is made. Atonement has been secured. The other class of sacrifice, however, were sacrifices of praise and of thanksgiving. And while because of the cross we no longer need offer bloody sacrifices, we still offer the sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving and of worship to God. And that is our task and our calling. It means, of course, that worship, the praise of God, is not incidental to our Christian lives. There is, according to Peter at least, a central if not the central duty of the Christian believer. You have been redeemed, you have been incorporated into Christ so that you may offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. “Your end,” as our catechism reminds us, is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Everything else ultimately leads to aims at the glory and praise of the triune God. That’s why you’re here. That’s why you exist. That’s what we’re doing here together. That’s why you have been saved by grace - that you may make much of Him and delight in Him and adore Him. 

Come to Jesus to Proclaim Him 

So come to Jesus. Come to Jesus by faith. Come to Jesus continually. Come to Jesus corporately. Come to Jesus to be like Him. Come to Jesus to praise Him, but not only to praise Him. What is the mission and task of a priesthood? Not just to praise Him, but also to proclaim Him. Look at verses 8 and 9. “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.” That’s actually our theme verse for our teaching them this year. You remember? “Proclaiming the Excellencies of Him: On Mission Together - Proclaiming the Excellencies of Him Who Called Us.” That’s our focus this year. It comes from these verses. We are on a mission together. And what is our task? It is to proclaim His excellencies to the world because we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. 

Peter there is drawing that vocabulary from Exodus 19:5-6. Israel were gathered, remember, at the foot of Mount Sinai. There, God constitutes them a body politic, you might say, giving them their national constitution in His holy law, in the Mosaic Law. And He says this about them, these words. And now Peter is saying if you are a Christian, you are grafted in to the Israel of God. And their task, this chosen race, this royal priesthood, this holy nation - what is it that they’ve been called to do? Well, they’ve been called, Peter says, to proclaim His excellencies. That also is likely reflecting the Greek Old Testament scriptures from places like Isaiah 43:20-21 where Israel’s task was to proclaim His mighty deeds. Proclaim His mighty deeds. 

And Peter doesn’t simply have worship in mind here when he calls us to proclaim His excellencies, His mighty deeds. He is thinking about the world around us as the verses we’ll consider, God willing, next week makes very plain. Peter always is aware of how the words and works, the life and stance of the believer is being received and interpreted and heard and understood by the unbelieving world around us. He’s constantly mindful of that reality. And so he says, “Yes, I want you to praise God, as it were, vertically. That’s part of your core mission. But I also want you to be so captured with wonder at His goodness and grace that you can’t help but proclaim Him to the world horizontally. I want you to proclaim His mighty deeds. His many surpassing excellencies.”

You know, when you fall in love or when you were younger and you saw your friends fall in love and they just drove you crazy talking about their beloved, you know the funny thing they said the other day and on and on and on they ramble about their favorite someone. Why are they doing that? It’s not a duty to them really, is it? They don’t have to force themselves to do it. It comes pouring out of them because they are so delighted with the one they love. Peter is saying to us, “Understand the wonder of the grace of God in the Gospel. You have been brought into the nearest possible relation to Jesus Christ. You’ve been built into the temple, into the cornerstone Himself, and now you’re a living stone too. You’re becoming a temple where God is going to dwell; He’s going to inhabit you with His very presence.” 

How can you keep that to yourself? Why doesn’t it come bubbling out of you? One has to ask whether if we do no proclamation to others we really think God is worth praising at all. If we saw His infinite praiseworthiness, wouldn’t we open our mouths every chance we get to proclaim His excellencies to the world? The best evangelists, I have noticed, are usually also the most fervent worshippers. So come to Jesus, Peter says. Come to Jesus by faith. Come to Jesus continually. Come to Him corporately; come together. Come to Jesus to be like Him. Come to praise Him and to proclaim Him.

Come to Jesus for Mercy 

Finally - we made it, you see! The eight-thirty service, they doubted we’d make it as well, but we got here! Eighthly, come to Jesus for mercy. Look at verse 10. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Just think about the progression of Peter’s thought for a moment. We began by thinking about coming to Jesus and then we thought about the blessings that we enjoy in Jesus, the privileges that are ours. And then we began to think about our duties having come to Jesus - to praise Him and proclaim Him. And now it’s almost as though we’ve come right back to the beginning where Peter reminds us about having received mercy. It’s as though he’s saying to us, “You can busy yourself in His praise and in sharing the Gospel with the world and pour your life out in service of King Jesus. You may even feel you have made a significant difference and an impact for your Savior’s name and take some real and appropriate satisfaction in all that you have done for Him, but even after you have done everything that you can, there’s nothing for you to boast in. Is there? After all, what have you that you have not received? To what can you point that is not itself a fruit of the mercy of God, freely poured out upon you through Jesus Christ our Lord?”

We’re debtors to mercy alone. Isn’t that right? We owe it all to mercy. And actually seeing the wonder of the mercy and kindness of God is what will melt our hearts and loosen our tongues both in praise and proclamation. Maybe you are yet to come to Jesus. Please hear Peter’s invitation and hear it with some urgency. Don’t trip over Him. Don’t let Him be the cause of your stumbling. Instead, recognize there’s life for you in connection to Him, only in connection to Him. Come to Him, the living stone, and live. Come to Him. Maybe you have come. Are you coming continually? Are you coming corporately? Have you been wavering? Have you begun to forsake the assembling of yourselves together as some are in the habit of doing? Come and meet Christ where He is ordained to be found - in the assembly of His people, in the preaching of the Word, in the praising of His name. Come and worship and come and proclaim Him. See again the wonder of His mercy. Come back to Calvary. Look at the nail marks in His hands and feet. See what has been done for you. See what love the Father has poured out for you in His Son Jesus Christ. Let mercy melt your heart and loosen your tongue and go fulfill the mission given to you as a spiritual house, a priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

In Jesus there’s mercy for you. Come to Him and find the mercy you need. Let’s pray together.

Lord Jesus, we confess to You that we often content ourselves with coming to church instead of coming to Christ. We come to duties but not to Christ. So Lord Jesus, have mercy, have mercy. We are debtors to mercy alone. All that we have and enjoy is a gift of mercy. Help us to drink that mercy in and receiving is anew to rise with melted hearts and loosened tongues to praise and to proclaim You to the ends of the earth. So we come to You, we come back to You, right now, together, today. We’re not pretending anymore and we’re not hiding our sin from You. We are not hiding from You. We come to You. Lord Jesus have mercy and receive us by Your grace that we may be living stones, united to You the cornerstone, the living stone, and become in union with You a great temple where God dwells for His own great glory. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

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