One a cold and rainy morning not so long ago we laid out where our new pole barn would set. We had marked it out earlier to get a feel for it, but this was the final decision. The crew was ready to go, there was no going back once they started. The focus that morning was on the corners. It’s amazing how one little adjustment has large ramifications. Get the corners right and everything else falls into place. Peter uses that same building principle in our next step on our walk through 1st Peter.
Welcome to the ninth installment of our walk through 1st Peter. If you’re just joining us, previous articles can be found on our website – lambchow.com. Peter writes, “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone,” and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” (1 Peter 2:4–8, NASB95) I see three topics intertwined in these verses; stones, rejection, and sacrifices.
It may be a surprise that Peter sees the work of God through the eyes of a builder. Peter wasn’t in the building trades, he was a fisherman. But it was to Peter that Jesus said, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:18, NASB95) There has been an age-old disagreement in the church on this. Who was Jesus building on? If we consider Peter’s own words, I think we can say this. Jesus is the cornerstone, the first stone, upon which the church is built, but Peter is the very next stone of the foundation.
We often miss the tectonic shift these verses hold. In Peter’s day the center of worship was the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. It was by all accounts a wonder to behold. Mark records, “As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” The first gathering place of God’s people was movable, a large tent-like structure erected in the center of the Hebrew camp. The first permanent place of Jewish worship was planned by King David and constructed by King Solomon. Over the years it saw waves of disrepair, revival, desecration, and neglect. The temple Jesus’ disciples saw had been rebuilt and expanded by Herod the Great. Perhaps Herod did this out of pride or political expediency. The Jews may have been worshiping God, but it was no longer Solomon’s temple but Herod’s. Jesus replied, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” (Mark 13:1–2, NASB95) A prophecy fulfilled a few decades later.
The tectonic shift is this, where worship was once constrained to a place it is now birthed in our hearts. However, even though worship is free it must rest on the cornerstone of Christ, or it is something else. Jesus is our cornerstone, not Peter, not tradition, not denomination, not musical stylings, not a physical building, not a set of doctrines, not even our own thoughts. Jesus is the cornerstone, the stone against which everything else rests and is aligned to. This idea is so strong that Jesus said, “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” (See Matthew 21:42–45, NASB95) There’s something about worship and being with God’s people that break off the parts of us that are out of alignment with the cornerstone. But for the prideful, well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks.
Jesus was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders of his day. He simply didn’t measure up to their standards and challenged their security. Jesus offended them. This hasn’t changed in two thousand years. People are still offended at Jesus’ name and reject him as their cornerstone. We may think that it’s gotten worse in recent years, maybe, but I wonder of we are simply seeing the revealing of a hidden rejection that has been there all along.
If Jesus our cornerstone was rejected is it any wonder that we may also be rejected at times? We do need to be honest with ourselves though, not all rejection is because of Jesus in our lives. Some are because of our own sin and humanness. Some are the sin of others as they judge using unbalanced scales. Some are that as our lives align with Jesus, it simply rubs people the wrong way. Sometimes it is because we’re trying to “straighten them out” before they’ve decided to align with the cornerstone of Christ.
Rejection doesn’t feel good, it never will. The important message here is not one of calming those feelings by saying “it’s ok, Jesus was rejected too.” I see a deeper and more meaningful message in Peter. Jesus’ rejection did not take away from His value to God. Peter repeats this idea of the stone the builders rejected being precious. Jesus’ rejection by Jewish religious leaders and others did not taint, lessen, or change His preciousness to God. Neither does being rejected by men and women because of Jesus name taint, lessen, or change our preciousness to God. Rejection is not a failure, but an opportunity for grace.
The purpose of all this building is to provide a place for a holy priesthood to offer acceptable sacrifices to God. Our misunderstanding of what is an acceptable sacrifice to God goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. (Genesis 4:1-8) People have literally and figuratively killed each other over it ever since. Let’s make this simple, God is the one that decides what is an acceptable sacrifice, not us.
In the Old Testament Temple days there were many sacrifices and offerings. They can basically be divided into two categories. Sacrifices for cleansing which includes the forgiveness of sin or atonement and sacrifices of thanksgiving and petition. Jesus is our atoning sacrifice so I don’t believe that Peter had that in view. Paul wrote, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12:1, NASB95) The spiritual sacrifice in view is not for atonement or forgiveness but for worship.
Here we must make another change to our thinking because worship is more than just a few songs when God’s people gather. True worship is living out what God has put in us. We may sacrifice our resources and time, but God also calls us to sacrifice our desires, feelings, ideals, passions so that we can more fully live for Him. True sacrifice is not giving up everything we have but giving Him everything we are.
There is an interesting twist to Peter’s instruction. You see, not only are we the living stones built on the foundation of Christ and the Apostles, but we are also the Holy Priesthood offering the sacrifices of praise. (1 Peter 2:9) While not stated I see this as a picture of the “one another” the followers of Jesus walk in. Sometimes we’re a living stone on the wall making space for someone else to have a close encounter with Jesus. Sometimes we’re the ones presenting the sacrifice as others hold up the walls to make space for us.
Making space is the purpose of a building, for piling stone upon stone. As our world grows more and more self-centered, the cornerstone of Christ calls us to be living stones set by the master builder. Following Jesus is not an “it’s all about me” movement, quite the opposite in fact. Jesus may call us to make space for someone we think of as unworthy of God’s love and forgiveness. Sometimes making space requires a sacrifice of silence and prayer as we watch God work in their lives. That’s just one example, there are many other ways we can make space for someone to encounter God. What kinds of ways to make space, to be a living stone, come to your mind?