A Glorious House in a Hostile World
Passage: 1 Peter 2:4-8
I worked as a youth pastor for nine years, and during that time, I learned a lot about human nature because teenagers aren’t very skilled at masking their problems. For example, it was very interesting to observe how insecurity affects different teens. Some teens basically have the word “insecure” written across their foreheads. Think of the teenage girl who barely speaks, is sort of hunched over when she walks, and will hardly look you in the eye. But teens demonstrate insecurity a variety of other ways. Some are right up in your face and very warm, but they are intense people pleasers. They don’t hide like the slouched over girl, but they never lead with self-confidence. Maybe the oddest expression of insecurity or depression is when they attempt to hide these feelings with outlandish behavior or dress. It’s not always true (some kids are just goofy), but generally speaking the teenager with the craziest color of dyed hair, the oddest dress preferences, and the most outlandish behavior is the saddest and most insecure. That seems contradictory doesn’t it? Why would someone respond to deep pain by dying her hair neon green? The answer is that she is trying desperately to hide her pain or to run from it. She hopes that by appearing happy, she will become happy. Much of society believes that Christianity is the same sort of mental hoop. They say that weak people who can’t handle pain use Christianity as a crutch. They claim that Christian joy is but a mental trick that helps us deny reality. When you consider the difficult plight of Peter’s audience, someone might think that 1 Peter 1:1–2:3 is a denial of reality. So far, 1 Peter has had a positive feel that doesn’t seem to square with how these believers who were suffering for their faith. But with our text today and continuing through the remainder of the book, Peter does not ignore the reality of suffering or attempt to put a happy face on it. Rather he deals honestly with the rejection Christians face and seeks to provide real answers for the pain his readers were enduring and for how to live rightly in the midst of it. First Peter 2:4–10 concludes the first major section of the book, which has a very theological orientation and prepares the way for a number of practical exhortations. It transitions the book to practical exhortation by considering our union with Christ and what that means for our relationship to God and with an unbelieving world. We will only study through v. 8 this morning, though I’d like to read the entire section (read). Maybe you noticed that the picture of Christ as the cornerstone of the church is the dominant theme of this text. Peter talks about how different people respond to Christ and about how God is building the church on the foundation of Christ. This passage may not be as easy to follow or as immediately applicable as some of the passages we have studied, but it gives a rich picture of our relationship to Christ and encouragement for life in a oftentimes hostile world.
This text naturally divides into two sections First, vv. 4–5 teach that…
God is building his church on the foundation of Christ (vv. 4–5).
The Father chose Christ as the foundation of the church (v. 4). Verse 4 describes God’s sovereign purpose to build the church on the foundation of Christ. You probably noticed as we read the passage that it is dominated by construction terminology. For example, Peter describes Christ as a “living stone.” This word for “stone” is normally used for stones used in construction. When ancient builders would construct a stone building, they would cut stones from a quarry to specific dimensions and then transport these stones to the building site. Sometimes the foundation stones could be massive. Archaeologists have uncovered one ancient cornerstone that measured 69’ by 12’ by 13’. Once the stone reached the construction site, the engineers would examine it to make sure it was the appropriate dimensions and that it was strong enough to fulfill its purpose. If the prepared stone did not meet their standards it would be rejected. Similarly, Peter states that men rejected Christ. To continue the building analogy, he didn’t fit the Jews’ specifications of what Messiah should be. He was a humble carpenter from Galilee who came on a donkey to bring peace rather than on a warhorse to defeat the Romans. Because of that, Israel rejected Christ and ultimately pushed for his crucifixion. Since Pilate and the Romans didn’t see any great significance in this man, they consented and killed him. Men unjustly rejected Christ because their criterion of evaluation was wrong, but while men rejected him, he was “chosen by God and precious.” The Father saw that Jesus was the perfect stone on which to build the church and so he determined to build on this foundation. We saw in 1:20 that this election took place before the foundation of the world. Man’s rejection and crucifixion of Christ didn’t surprise God; rather in eternity past he planned their rejection and the building of the church on Christ. The world’s rejection of Christ will become a significant theme in this book as Peter helps his readers deal with their own rejection. In particular, Christians should not be surprised when the world rejects us because the world rejected our Savior. Neither should we be intimidated because our Sovereign God was not defeated by the rejection of Christ but is instead working his perfect purpose through it.
What is his purpose?
God is building us into a temple of praise. The grammar clearly sets off the verb “are being built up” as the center of vv. 4–5. God is in the process of constructing a “spiritual house” or a new temple where there is new access to God and where he receives glory and praise. Peter is drawing a comparison between the temple in Jerusalem where Israel met and worshipped God and this new temple, which is the church. But there is a significant difference. The church isn’t made of physical stones; rather it is made of “living stones” or believers. Peter uses the same word for stone that he used of Christ. It describes a stone that that is shaped carefully to fit a specific spot. The idea is that God is continually shaping us as individuals so that he is continually building his church. As we grow as individuals, God’s church grows also. What a beautiful picture of the church. God is constantly as work in us to build a more beautiful house of praise. How then is he shaping us? The answer is in the first statement of v. 4. We are constantly “coming to Him.” This is the same verb that is often translated “draw near” in Hebrews, and it pictures our approach to God in prayer and worship. As we come to God in prayer and behold his glory in worship, God is shaping us more and more into a great house.
Holy Priesthood: But not only does Peter picture the church as a temple; he also pictures us as “a holy priesthood.” The basic idea is that we are set apart to God, and we have direct access to God. These pictures of the church as a temple and a priesthood are pretty incredible when compared to the OT. The OT temple and priesthood were in one sense a testimony of God’s grace. They were symbols of God’s presence within the nation and of the opportunity to receive forgiveness. But they also symbolized a wall between God and the people. After all God was in the temple but only the priests could enter his presence. The temple walls and ultimately their sin separated the nation from him. But because of Christ, this is no longer true. Christ gives all believers direct access to God. We can draw near in prayer and worship. The Holy Spirit lives in our hearts. We enjoy a personal, intimate relationship with the God of the universe.
Spiritual Sacrifices: Because of that, we can offer “spiritual sacrifices…” What are these “spiritual sacrifices”? For Israel to approach God, they had to bring animal sacrifices that were slaughtered to provide atonement. But we no longer need to bring animal sacrifices because Christ has provided us with atonement. But the NT talks several times about Christians bringing sacrifices. Romans 12:1 commands us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice.” We worship God by giving him our lives. Hebrews 13:15 commands us to “offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks.” We worship him with our words. Verse 16 notes that we also worship him by doing good deeds for each other. And Philippians 2:17, describes Paul’s ministry to the church as a sacrifice to God. Based on these references, we worship God when we express our love for him, serve him, and serve each other. We have many opportunities to express our love and devotion. But this verse concludes with a humbling reminder that even our best acts are not inherently pleasing to God. Instead, our sacrifices are made acceptable “through Jesus Christ.” As long as I have a sin nature, I cannot do anything that is entirely pure and pleasing to God. Everything I do is tainted by sin, but the grace of Christ makes my worship acceptable. He makes it possible for me to please God and to approach him in worship.
Verses 4–5 provide a beautiful picture of the deep relationship Christians enjoy with both the Father and the Son. God is building his church on the foundation of Christ. He is growing us as individuals and as a body. And through this spiritual temple God is building, we can meet with God and worship God. Peter’s desire is that we would find joy and rest in this relationship to God. His readers felt the pain of rejection all around them, but while they were rejected by the world, they enjoyed an intimate relationship with each other and with God in the church. And we must also find our security and joy in God and each other. Pressures surround us, and more and more we feel like outsiders in our society. But no matter what we may face on the outside, we can rest in our standing with God, and we can find comfort in our fellowship together. Praise the Lord for our standing with God and for the fellowship of the church.
Peter then offers further encouragement by demonstrating that both these blessings and especially the world’s rejection did not surprise God; rather they have been God’s purpose from long ago. Verses 6–8 teach that…
Our standing with God and the world’s rejection fulfill God’s prophetic purpose (vv. 6–8).
Peter makes this point by citing three OT prophecies that predicted the work of Christ and the fact that some would believe while the majority would reject him.
Verse 6: Verse 6 quotes from Isaiah 28:16. Peter accomplishes a couple of things through this quotation. First, this quotation demonstrates that God had prophesied hundreds of years earlier that he would one day build a new temple that would be distinct from the physical building where Israel worshipped. As well, this temple would be established on the foundation of Christ. In our day, buildings sometimes have cornerstones, but they only have symbolic significance. They might state the year the building was built, and sometimes they may have a brief quote regarding the purpose of the building. But they do very little from an architectural standpoint. However, a cornerstone was very significant to the construction of ancient buildings. The cornerstone determined the lines and shape of the entire structure. Peter’s point is that God determined long ago to build a new spiritual institution on the foundation of Christ. He determines the shape of this new building, and he is worthy to be the cornerstone because he is “precious” or valuable. As a result, this prophecy promises that the one who believes on this new cornerstone will not “be put to shame.” This cornerstone will not fail; it will provide a solid foundation for the church and for our lives. Because of that, those who believe on Christ will not ultimately regret making this decision. We may be rejected in the world, and we may suffer loss in this life. But Christ will keep his eternal promise. We will make it to glory, and we will be honored and vindicated for our faith. This is very reassuring to remember because sometimes we can wonder. Sometimes following Christ is very lonely. Your family doesn’t understand. You’re left on the outside of relationships at work. And Christian values are increasingly marginalized in our culture. And then there’s the daily struggle against the desires of the flesh. Sometimes we wonder if it is worth it all. Peter says that it absolutely is. Christ isn’t a flimsy foundation that may or may not stand. He was chosen by the Father before the foundation of the world to be the foundation of the church. He is precious, and he will not disappoint. Don’t fear following Christ. Have faith that Christ will be faithful and that he will be worth any sacrifice. And follow him.
Verse 7: Verse 7 follows by contrasting the end of those who believe on Christ with the end of those who reject him. There is some debate regarding how to understand the first statement of the verse, but most commentators agree that the word translated “precious” actually describes the honor that awaits those who believe. It would be accurate then to translate the statement as, “the honor is for you who believe.” Verse 6 said that we will not be disappointed, and v. 7 notes positively that we will be honored or vindicated for our faith. But there is a very different end coming for those who disobey or reject Christ. Peter grounds this fact by quoting Psalm 118:22. There is a lot of irony in this picture. Remember that when a cut stone was brought to a construction site, the builders would examine it to see if it met their specifications, and if it didn’t, they would reject it. Jesus applied this verse to the religious leaders of Israel (Matt 21:42). Like builders, they examined Christ, and they rejected him because he didn’t meet their expectations. They wanted a mighty king, not a dying Savior. But they were terribly wrong. Because the stone they rejected as worthless became “the chief cornerstone” of God’s new spiritual creation, the church. Israel’s religious leaders missed it, and sadly so does everyone else who rejects Christ. Why is it that so many reject this precious stone?
Verse 8: In verse 8, Peter adds another quotation, this one from Isaiah 8:14. Over 700 years before Christ came, Isaiah prophesied that mankind would not flock to the Messiah; instead they would stumble or trip over him. Again, this is because Christ didn’t appeal to the fleshly, temporal desires of people. Rather, he called on people to follow sacrificially. The gospel we preach is the same way. It doesn’t appeal to our temporary desires; instead, it tells people that they are sinners worthy of God’s judgment. It calls on them to take up their cross and to follow Christ.
Evangelistic Call: It might be that someone here is stumbling over the Christ of the Bible. Maybe you don’t like the idea that you are a sinner and that you can’t save yourself. Maybe you don’t want to submit to the commands of Scripture. They just seem to demanding. Or maybe you are scared of the sacrifices following Christ will demand. I’m not going to tell you that those concerns aren’t real because they are. Any gospel that minimizes these realities is like the teen I mentioned in my introduction that is denying reality. Following Christ is hard. But if you believe on him, God promises that you will not be disappointed. We saw in vv. 4–5 that you will enjoy a personal relationship with God and with his temple the church. And will not need to fear God’s eternal judgment in hell but can instead look forward to a home in heaven with God. These blessings can be yours if you put you recognize that you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and if you put your faith wholly in Christ for salvation. If you’ve not done that, I want to urge you to call on the Lord today and be saved.
God’s Sovereign Purpose: Returning to our text, what is the significance for those who are saved of the fact that unbelievers stumble over Christ? The significance is that when you are in the minority, it’s natural to think you might be wrong or especially that you might be on the losing side. Does the fact that Christianity is in the minority mean we are wrong or that we will lose? Absolutely not, because the world’s rejection doesn’t surprise God or symbolize his defeat. Rather, the point of these quotations is to say that God knew this would happen. And ultimately, it was part of his sovereign will. Notice the final statement of v. 8. Peter says that God appointed unbelievers to their disobedience. This statement is difficult for us to digest because it indicates that the unbelief of some is part of God’s sovereign will. It’s important to note that this is never against their will. The Bible consistently teaches that people will be in hell because they rejected God and the gospel. God is never the direct cause of sin and unbelief. James 1:13 states that God does not tempt with sin. However, our text is also true and consistent with Scripture, and Peter mentions it here to encourage his readers. His point is that we shouldn’t be discouraged when people reject God and the gospel because even their rejection was determined by God and prophesied in Scripture.
This text presents Christ as the cornerstone of the church, and it seeks to encourage Christians in two ways. First, while we may be rejected by the world, Christ was also, and we can rest in a vibrant relationship with him. Second, God is sovereign over everything that is happening. He is in control and even when man shakes his fist in defiance, he is fulfilling God’s purpose. Let’s be encouraged today by the greatness of our God, and let’s be challenged to move toward him in prayer and worship.
Let’s stand and close with a verse of “Chosen as His Children.” Praise the Lord for his sovereign work to bring us to himself.