The Living Stone and God's New People
Passage: 1 Peter 2:4–2:8
The Living Stone and God's New People
If you have your Bibles, you can turn with me to 1 Peter 2.4-8. This has become one of my favorite sections in 1 Peter, because in this passage, we see Peter’s heart as a pastor-shepherd. In these verses, we see Peter working hard to encourage his readers with the precious truth of the gospel. We see him wrestle with a very important question – how do we reconcile what God says is true about us as Christians with our experience in the fallen world? That’s an a difficult question. How do we reconcile what God says is true about us as Christians with our experience in the fallen world? God says that those who are in Christ are heirs of all things. Christ is the heir and authority over all things, and because we are in him, we are also heirs of all things. God says that we are sons and daughters of God. Because we are in Christ, we have been adopted as God’s children. Those are some amazing truths.
But how do we reconcile those truths with the reality that in this fallen world, Christians are often rejected, opposed, and reviled? We may be heirs of all things, but often times, in this life, we risk the loss of all things because we belong to Christ. If we are heirs, then why the opposition? You see what I mean about reconciling the two. How do we put God’s truth together with our experience, when our experience actually seems to go against those very truths? Peter is wrestling with that question in this morning’s passage, and we get to wrestle along with him.
What we will see this morning is that Peter accomplishes two goals. First, he affirms and describes what is true about Christians – that they are God’s new covenant people. Then, after affirming that truth, he goes on to explain how that fits with our experience of rejection and opposition. See what he does – he affirms the truth that God has revealed, and then he applies the truth to their experience. He reconciles those two realities, and he does so by pointing us to Jesus Christ himself.
Believers are Built Upon Christ to be God’s New People
Our first point this morning is this – Believers are built upon Christ to be God’s New People. The main idea of this section is found in v5, where Peter writes, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.” Unlike the previous sections, Peter doesn’t issue a command here. He describes a reality that has happened as believers come to trust in Christ. This verse is not something that believers must do, but something that happens as believers trust in Jesus Christ. That is why v4 opens with the words, “As you come to him.” As believers trust in Christ, this is what happens – they are built up as a spiritual house.
Before we talk about this idea of a spiritual house, it is important to note how Peter describes Christ here in v4. This description will come back into focus later, in vv6-8. We would do well to pay close attention at this point. In v4, Peter says Jesus is the Living Stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious. In calling Jesus the Living Stone, Peter picks up on an important OT image. It’s the image of a stone established by God as the foundation for God’s work of salvation. In fact, while Peter only alludes to the OT background in v4, he will actually quote the specific OT passages later in vv6-8. In recalling this OT imagery, Peter is saying that Jesus is the foundational stone in God’s work of salvation. Everything in salvation is built upon Christ the Living Cornerstone. How do we know that Jesus is this foundational stone? Because of his death and resurrection. That is Peter’s point when he says that this Living Stone was rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious. He’s saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection established Christ as the Living Cornerstone.
It would help us to remember Jesus’ earthly ministry at this point. While on earth, Jesus was largely rejected by those he came to save. And this rejection reached its climax in the crucifixion. Now, that might lead us to think that Jesus was not the cornerstone of God’s salvation. If Jesus was rejected and died, then how is he the foundation? But note the contrast in v4. Christ was rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, or better yet chosen and honored. We know Jesus was God’s chosen, honored servant because God raised him from the dead. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s work of salvation. In fact, it’s the reality of the resurrection that leads Peter to say “living stone” in the first place. The Living Stone in whom believers trust is none other than the crucified but risen Christ.
That brings us to the main idea of the passage, which is in v5. When believers come to this Living Stone, they themselves like living stones are built up as a spiritual house. Because of our connection with Christ, believers are also like living stone. We are included in Christ in God’s great work of salvation. We are built upon Christ to be a spiritual house for God. The reference to a spiritual house recalls the OT Temple, which was the place where God’s Spirit dwelt on earth. What Peter is saying here is that the church is now the dwelling place of God’s Spirit. No longer does God’s Spirit dwell in a physical temple. Instead, God’s Spirit now dwells in the midst of this spiritual house, constructed of living stones built upon the Living Stone, Jesus Christ.
As Peter goes on in v5, the temple imagery continues. Peter says that believers are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, and their task as a holy priesthood is to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God. Now, we’ll talk more about this idea of believers as a holy priesthood next week, when we look at vv9-10. At this point, I want us to consider these spiritual sacrifices. This is a very important question, because to offer spiritual sacrifices is the purpose of God’s building us up. We need to understand what these spiritual sacrifices actually are.
Some commentators think spiritual sacrifices refer to the prayers of God’s people. The basis for this is in Isaiah 56, where God says that he will bring people from the nations to his holy temple. In the context of Isaiah, God calls the temple his house of prayer. The nations come to the temple to pray. This leads some commentators to think that the sacrifices are the prayers of God’s redeemed people. Other commentators think that the spiritual sacrifices refer to evangelism. The basis for this is in v9, where Peter says that the purpose of the church is to proclaim God’s excellencies, or to proclaim the good news of his salvation. Why are we God’s people? So that we might proclaim his gospel and glory. That leads some to conclude that the sacrifices refer to evangelism.
My conclusion is that those solutions are certainly possible, but likely too narrow to be what Peter has in mind. It seems most likely to me that Peter has in mind our entire lives, lived in such a way that is pleasing to God. Not just prayer or evangelism, but everything in our lives oriented toward God and his glory. Spiritual sacrifices are the fruit of a life completely and utterly devoted to pleasing the God who has redeemed us. That’s what I think it means to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God.
Now, when we step back and put all of this together, we can see Peter’s point in v5. Peter wants believers to understand that as they come to Christ, they are built up and established as God’s new covenant people. God has called them and made them his own. He has chosen them and established them as his precious possession. Just as Christ was chosen and precious in God’s sight, so also believers – the church – are chosen and precious in God’s sight. Our connection with Christ the Living Stone makes us the new covenant people of God. That’s why Peter employs so many images that come from the people of God in the Old Testament – the temple, priesthood, sacrifices. All of those things make us think of God’s people in the Old Testament. But now Peter uses those things to describe Christians. Why? In order for them to see that they – the church – are God’s chosen, new covenant people. They belong to him, as his special possession.
And the church’s task now flows from that identity as God’s chosen, precious people. God has chosen the church and made us his own so that we might live lives pleasing to him. That is our spiritual sacrifice – a life pleasing and devoted to God. How do we do this? How do we live lives pleasing to God? By continuing to come to Christ, the Living Stone, the one who is the foundation of God’s salvation. This is how we were made God’s people, by coming to Christ in faith. Remember the beginning of v4 – “as you come to him.” This is how we were made God’s people, and this is how we now live as God’s new people – by continuing to look to Christ the Living Stone in faith. Remember that what pleases God is faith and trust. He’s not looking for us to be self-sufficient, strong, and capable people. He’s looking for us to be dependent, trusting, and faithful people. He is pleased as our lives are marked by increasing faith, deepening dependence, and steadfast trust. This is how we offer up our spiritual sacrifices – by continuing to trust Christ, by continuing to depend upon the gospel.
This means that if all you can do this week as a Christian is desperately cling to Christ in faith, then praise God! That is a spiritual sacrifice that is pleasing to him! If all you can do is cling to Christ, then be encouraged – the Father is greatly pleased by that kind of dependence. He doesn’t ask you to be strong and self-sufficient; he asks you to come to Christ in faith, because that is how he is displayed as the strong and sufficient One. Offer up your life as a pleasing sacrifice to God by continuing to cling to Christ.
God’s Purpose for a Rejected Cornerstone
That brings us to our second point – God’s Purpose for a Rejected Cornerstone. The glorious reality of the gospel is that God is building a people for himself, and those redeemed people are built upon his Son, the Living Stone of salvation. That is gloriously good news. But there is another reality at work in v4 that needs to be addressed. It’s this – not everyone comes to Christ in faith. Not everyone is built upon the Living Stone. Some people reject Christ. Peter acknowledges that in v4 when he recalls Jesus’ ministry on earth. He says that Jesus was rejected by men. This means that the Living Stone is also at times the Rejected Stone. For the believers in Peter’s letter, this rejection was also personal. Remember, these were suffering Christians. They faced opposition because of their faith in Christ. It wasn’t just that the world rejected Christ; the world rejected them as well! Think of the difficult questions this would have created for them. If it is true that Christ is the Living Stone, and if it is true that we are built upon him as God’s people, then why so much rejection? Why so much opposition? Or, to put it more pointedly, doesn’t all the rejection call into question God’s purposes? Can we really have hope that Christ is the Cornerstone if he was rejected and his people are also still rejected? Those are the types of questions that the Christians in Peter’s day were probably asking as they endured suffering.
To answer these important questions, Peter uses a series of OT quotations to explain and clarify what he taught in vv4-5. Specifically, he quotes from the OT in order to demonstrate God’s purpose for a Rejected Cornerstone. What we need to do at this point is understand Peter’s use of the Old Testament so that we can understand how he intends to comfort and encourage these suffering Christians. And Lord willing, we will find comfort and encouragement for ourselves as well. Let’s start in v6 and work our way through these OT quotations.
First, in v6, Peter quotes from Isaiah 28.16. He writes, “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.” In Isaiah 28, the people of Israel have rejected God’s covenant in favor of other covenants that they falsely believe will save them. In response, God says that he is establishing a foundation stone that will certainly save all who believe in God’s promise. And only those who believe in that promised stone will be saved. By quoting Isaiah at this point, Peter is saying that Christ is that foundation stone, that Christ is the one who will save all who come to him faith. Peter makes this clear with the conclusion he draws in v7 – “So, the honor is for those who believe.” In other words, when the day of God’s judgment arrives, those who are built upon Christ will receive honor and approval. Just as Christ was chosen and honored by God in the resurrection, so also will believers be honored and saved on the last day.
But note that there is also a contrast in vv7-8 – “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.’” That’s a combination of OT passages, the first from Psalm 118 and the second from Isaiah 8. Peter wants his readers to see that the world’s rejection of Christ doesn’t change the fact that he is the Cornerstone. They may reject and deny Christ, but that doesn’t change who he is. And since they reject Christ, Peter says they will experience God’s judgment. Those who reject Christ will be put to shame, and they will receive judgment on the last day. That’s the idea of the OT quotes – even though they reject the Cornerstone, that doesn’t change the fact that Christ is the foundation of God’s salvation. He is the Cornerstone, and because they are not built upon Christ, they will not stand on the last day.
Peter then closes v8 with an explanation. Why do these people stumble over Christ? Because they disobey the word of the gospel. Remember in 1.22, Peter said that believers had purified their souls by an obedience to the truth. In that verse, we said that obedience to the truth was trusting in Jesus Christ. You obey the truth by believing on Christ. Peter says here that unbelievers disobey the word. That is, they refuse to believe the good news of Christ as the Living Stone. They hear it, but they do not want to believe!
And in this disobedience, we see the eternal plan. Listen to the striking words at the end of v8 – “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” Peter is saying here that God has ordained that some would trust in Christ and that some would reject him. That was the whole point of the OT quotes – that God’s sovereign plan includes both people trusting in Christ and people rejecting him. God has ordained that these things would happen; he’s ordained both the obedience and the disobedience. He is the sovereign Lord of history, and everything moves according to his purposes. Now, that doesn’t mean that people are not responsible for their actions. The disobedience of v8 is not some pre-progammed robotic action that people have no control over. It’s not like that at all. Notice in v8 that these people disobey the word. That’s an active verb, to disobey. They refuse to believe, and therefore they are responsible for their disobedience.
If we want to be biblical Christians, we have to keep two realities firmly in place. God is sovereign over all things, and people are responsible for their actions. God is sovereign over who will be saved and who will reject Christ. And people are responsible for how they respond to the gospel. Both of those things are biblical realities. You can’t erode one in favor of another. God is absolutely sovereign, even over salvation. And people are absolutely responsible for their actions, even their rejection of Christ. That Bible affirms both realities, and if we want to biblical Christians, we also must affirm both realities.
That difficult question aside, let’s not lose sight of what Peter is doing here. His focus is not on philosophical questions, but on the certainty of God’s plan of redemption. Nothing is a surprise to God, not even the rejection of Christ, or the rejection of God’s people. None of that is a surprise to God. What Peter wants his readers to see is that God established from the beginning a pattern of division between those who trust in the Cornerstone and those who stumble over him. Christ the Living Stone is the great dividing line of humanity. There are those who come to him in faith, and there are those who stumble over him in unbelief. And this division between belief and unbelief is all part of God’s sovereign plan. Therefore, the world’s rejection of Christ doesn’t question God’s purposes, but rather displays the sovereign wisdom of God’s purposes, wisdom that was revealed long ago in the Old Testament and is now applied by Peter to these suffering Christians.
And because they are connected to Christ the Living Stone, that means God’s purposes for their lives are also certain. The world’s rejection of Christ doesn’t question God’s purposes, and the world’s rejection of them doesn’t question those purposes either. They are God’s people, regardless of the rejection and persecution they might experience in this life. Remember, these are suffering Christians, and Peter writes to them in order to help them and encourage them.
And the way Peter encourages them is by reminding them of their connection with Christ. Peter wants them to see that because they are in Christ, the shape of their lives will match the shape of Christ’s life. He is the Living Stone, and because they are in him, they are like living stones as well. Their connection to Christ should give them hope in the midst of suffering. Peter tells them that Christ was chosen and precious in God’s sight. Since they are in Christ, that is true of them as well! They are chosen and precious in God’s sight. And this is true even though they face rejection and opposition in the present. Christ himself was rejected. He was mocked and spit upon and killed. But that rejection was actually the means God used to vindicate him and establish Christ as the foundation of God’s people. Because Christ was rejected and killed, God vindicated him through the resurrection. In the same way, Peter is saying, the world may reject you now. They may oppose you now. They may even kill you. But those things don’t change God’s purposes. Grasp that! Even if they kill you, that doesn’t change God’s purpose for you! Human opposition doesn’t change the purposes of God! Rejection doesn’t question God’s purposes. In fact, Peter is saying here, that rejection will actually be the means through which God vindicates his people on the last day. When Christ is revealed to the entire world as the Living Cornerstone, those who have trusted in him will be vindicated because they are built upon him.
Therefore, suffering Christians, take hope even in the face of rejection! What you endure now doesn’t question God’s purposes. His sovereign wisdom has ordained even the opposition and rejection that you face today. All things are under his sovereign control, and that should enable us to trust him and take comfort in the midst of difficulty. By God’s grace, we are God’s new people, because we are built upon the chosen and precious Living Stone, Jesus Christ. May God encourage us with this truth, and may we, by his grace, continue clinging to Christ in faith.