Monday, June 07, 2010

Jesus Christ, the Living Stone - 1 Peter 2:4-8

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We have probably all heard the story of the three little pigs. Each one built a house using different materials. One built a house of straw. The Big Bad Wolf came to visit, saying, “Little pig, little pig, let me in.” But the pig said, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin.” And the Big Bad Wolf said, “Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down.” And of course, he did just that, and enjoyed a nice dinner of pulled pork barbecue. Then the wolf went to the second pig’s house, which had been built out of sticks. This encounter also ended badly for the pig. But when the wolf came to the third pig’s house, which was made of bricks, there was a different outcome. No matter how hard he huffed and puffed, he could not blow the house down. He decided to come down through the chimney, but the third pig had placed a pot of boiling water in the fireplace. The wolf landed in the water, and the third little pig had a feast of boiled wolf for dinner. There have been many morals drawn from the story over the years. One could be that an insatiable appetite for pork may result in premature death. But more evident is this lesson: it pays in the end to be wise and careful in making and executing plans.

Like those little pigs, we are building something. We aren’t all building houses necessarily, but we are all building our lives. Unlike the pigs, we do not have three sets of plans to choose from; only two. There are plans developed by men and plans developed by God. All of us will build our lives according to one or the other sets of blueprints. Now here on the construction site of life, God has placed a piece of building material. Quoting Isaiah 28, Peter says here, “Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone.” And this stone is Jesus Christ. He is described in verse 4 as a “Living Stone.” He is not like the idols of the nations which are carved out of stone. These stones are worshiped, but they are dead. They are like those idols described in Psalm 115:

They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat

Christ is not a dead stone, but a living one. He is alive, and through His resurrection from the dead, alive forever more. The world is a construction zone, upon which men and women are building their lives. And God has set a stone in the midst of this field. What we do with that stone indicates if we are building with God’s plans or men’s plans.

I. Those who build on the plans of men reject the Living Stone of Christ

The first thing see about this Living Stone of Jesus Christ is that He has been rejected by men. Obviously, this does not mean that He has been rejected by all men, or all human beings, otherwise we would not be here worshiping Him today. But it is true in a general sense that Christ faced overwhelming rejection by multitudes in His own day, and continues to be rejected, sometimes vehemently and violently by many still today. They see this stone that has been set in their construction zone and wonder why in the world it is there, who put it there, and how to get rid of it. It is just in the way of their plans to build their lives on their own terms. They may initially try to ignore the stone that is Jesus Christ. But He can hardly be ignored. That was the source of much frustration for me before I became a believer. Everywhere I turned there was someone talking about Jesus, or there was some church on the corner, or there was someone reading a Bible, or some artwork depicting scenes from the Bible. At least for those of us in the Western World, Jesus Christ is impossible to ignore. There are reminders of Him everywhere. And that gets under the skin of the unbeliever who is trying to ignore the stone that they think is just cluttering up their construction zone. They keep bumping into it.

So then, they may try to remove the stone. This happened in Jesus’ own day. The most ardent rejecters of Christ in His day were the religious leaders of Israel. They got tired of bumping into Him and His teachings and His followers. They were trying to build their own system, and they didn’t need Jesus messing it up. There’s a warning for the contemporary church in those religious leaders. They had built an enormous facility, amassed a huge following, had many programs, and were handling vast amounts of money. But they were rejecting Jesus Christ. God was not in what they were building. So we need to ask ourselves … is God in what we are doing? Or are we so caught up in building our own systems that we have ignored Him altogether? A. W. Tozer once said that if the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. That is a tragedy. That was the tragedy of the first-century leaders of the Jewish religious system, and it is the tragedy of the Church, especially the church in America and the West today. And when those religious leaders got tired of bumping into Jesus, and they could ignore Him no longer, they sought to remove the stone from the construction zone by having Him killed. And they succeeded, for just under 72 hours. Amazingly, the stone showed up in the field again. Jesus rose from the dead.

Throughout history, there have been people so bold as to think they could remove the stone. They have sought to wipe out all traces of Jesus Christ from the face of the earth. Tyrannical emperors, radical philosophers, and others have had their turn. And none have succeeded. Today, the so-called “New Atheists” are having a go. They are led by people like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. This movement was characterized in a 2006 Wired magazine article as condemning “not just belief in God but respect for belief in God.” In their minds, “Religion is not only wrong; it's evil.” In his book Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris writes, “I have set out to destroy the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.” And this is mild in comparison to some of the heated rhetoric emerging from this movement. But like every other effort to remove the Living Stone of Christ, time will show that this one will likewise fail.

The Living Stone of Jesus Christ cannot be ignored in the construction zone of life. Neither can He be removed. People try, and think for a moment that they have succeeded, but He keeps showing up. Those who are trying to build their lives and their empires on the blueprints of man keep bumping into Him at every turn. And so the Living Stone of Jesus Christ becomes for them, “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” The presence of this Stone in their field annoys them because they keep tripping over it. They have in their minds plans for building their own lives their own way, and Christ is not a factor in their planning. They have not only tried to ignore and reject the Living Stone, they do not believe and have actively determined to disobey Him. “They stumble,” Peter says, “because they are disobedient to the Word.” They disobey the Incarnate Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the written Word of God, the Bible, by insisting on building their lives apart from this singular stone. But if they would hear and heed this Word, they would turn to Him and believe and allow their lives to be built according to God’s blueprints rather than their own. But by ignoring Christ, rejecting Christ, disobeying Christ, they stumble on the Living Stone, and great is their fall.

We are told here that there is a predetermined consequence for rejecting Jesus Christ, the Living Stone. The translators of the NASB have inserted the word doom here in the text to indicate the severity of this end. Elsewhere in Scripture, it is spelled out with precision. In Proverbs 14:12, we read, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Surely death awaits us all, but the one who dies in rejection of Christ suffers a destiny worse than death. Dying in a state of separation from God leads to eternal separation from God. Jesus said that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. Perishing is the end of those who die without Christ, and that perishing will occur in hell. The book of Revelation describes hell as a lake of fire, where the unredeemed will join Satan and his spiritual forces and be tormented day and night, forever and ever. Jesus described it as a place of eternal fire, eternal punishment, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. Sam Harris, that radical atheist I quoted earlier, seems to understand the severity and the consequences of rejecting Christ better than even some Christians. He said, “If Christianity is correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer the torments of hell. Worse still, I have persuaded others, and many close to me, to reject the very idea of God. They too will languish in ‘eternal fire’ …. If the basic doctrine of Christianity is correct, I have misused my life in the worst conceivable way.” And while Harris does not believe that the basic doctrine, or any doctrine for that matter, of Christianity is true, at least he understands the implications. And we can pray for him and those like him, who stumble over the Living Stone, will turn from their errors and be saved before it is too late.

All around us are those who are building their lives on the plans of men. They have ignored the Living Stone that is Jesus Christ, they have rejected this Stone, they have disobeyed the Word and thus they stumble. And so it would be for us all because of our sin had God not intervened to show us that there is another way to build our lives.

II. Those who build on the plans of God find the Living Stone of Christ to be the Cornerstone

Out here on the side of the building is a cornerstone. It has the name of the church and the date this building was built inscribed on it. But in all reality, this cornerstone is merely decorative. It doesn’t serve much of a structural purpose. But in ancient times, the cornerstone was the most important part of a structure. The entire building rested, to some degree, upon that stone in such a way that if it were removed, the entire structure would collapse. This stone was the truest cut stone of the building and set the standard for what was true and level in the rest of the building. If the building had a solid and true cornerstone, it would be a well-built building.

Here Peter says that the Living Stone that is Jesus Christ is the Cornerstone of the building that God is constructing. “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very cornerstone.” And like all good cornerstones, this one is described as “choice and precious,” in the sight of the architect. And the architect is God. God the Father looks upon His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and says of Him, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” He is a choice and precious stone for the construction of God’s building.

And what is God building? He is building a spiritual house. The Apostle Paul said in Acts 17:24 that God does not dwell in temples made with hands. A woman asked Jesus on one occasion on which mountain is God more rightly worshiped? Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” So, God is not confined to a specific structure or geographical location. No building can be built to house Him. This building in which we meet is no more the “house of God” than any other building or location where those who worship Him in Spirit and truth gather. I have gathered with Christians in East Africa under a Baobab tree and with believers in Eastern Europe on board a ship in the middle of the Black Sea, and I assure you that God does not need a house to dwell in. So He is building a “spiritual house,” a habitation for Himself that is not made with brick and mortar, stick or straw. The language is metaphorical. He is building a spiritual house for Himself.

This spiritual house will be the place of a holy priesthood where spiritual sacrifices are offered up. Again, the language is metaphorical. Israel had a literal temple, with literal priests, who offered literal sacrifices. If that is what God wanted, He didn’t need to reinvent it. It was already there. But when Jesus visited that temple and observed its priests and its sacrifices, He pronounced the entire system to be worthless and spiritually dead. God had no more need of that building, and so some years after Peter wrote these words, the Jerusalem temple was destroyed and has never been rebuilt. But God’s work goes on today through a spiritual temple. And God had no more need of that priesthood. He says here that He was establishing a “holy priesthood.” This implies that the former priesthood had become unholy. As we’ve said here many times, the idea of holiness has to do with being set apart for God’s specific use and purposes. The Jewish priesthood was no longer useful to God; it was no longer set apart for His purposes. So He was making a new priesthood that would occupy a spiritual temple. And God had no more need for those old sacrifices. They were past their expiration date. They were given to Israel to point them forward to an ultimate sacrifice that was to come; and it had come in the person of Jesus Christ. His substitutionary death for sinners rendered those offerings obsolete. The new priesthood would not be occupied with killing animals. Those offerings were no longer acceptable to God because the perfect sacrifice had been made once and for all. So the new priesthood would offer spiritual sacrifices that were acceptable to God through Jesus Christ: offerings of worship, intercession, ministry and witness. Worship comes before the throne of God on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice. Intercession is acceptable on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice and actually pleads the blood-bought benefits of Christ’s sacrifice. Ministry that is acceptable to God is that which functions as a conduit of His grace, where the recipients of Christ’s sacrifice not only receive but also extend the benefits of God’s grace in Christ to others in His name. Witness proclaims Christ’s sacrifice to those who have yet to hear, yet to believe upon Him.

And God is building this spiritual house with the living stones of those who believe in Christ. Matthew 16:18 has been one of the most controversial verses of Scripture in the history of the Christian Church. There Jesus says to Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The name Peter means “rock,” and therefore many have said that Jesus was telling Peter that He was going to build His church on Peter. The entire history and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church has been built primarily upon this interpretation of the verse. But isn’t it interesting that, if this is what Jesus meant by these words, that Peter doesn’t bring that up here? In fact, what Peter himself teaches here is the exact opposite of that interpretation. Peter understood that when Jesus called him “Peter,” He did not mean that He was going to build His church on the rock of Peter. Rather, Peter understood that Christ was going to build His church on the Rock of Himself. When Jesus told Peter, “Upon this Rock, I will build My church,” He was referring to the Rock that Peter had just spoken of before this. Before saying this to Peter, Peter said to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That is the Rock that the Church is built upon. And everyone who comes to recognize Christ as that foundational cornerstone of God’s spiritual house, the church, becomes like Peter, a smaller living stone that is fitted together upon the Living Stone of Christ.

God is constructing His spiritual house with living stones, those who have been made alive in Christ Jesus. We are those who have “come to Him as to a Living Stone” (v4). We are those who have found Him to be choice and precious for the purpose of building our lives, and have therefore believed upon Him (v7). And those who believe in Him, Jesus Christ, the Living Stone, the Cornerstone, will not be disappointed (v6). Those who reject the Cornerstone will be disappointed to find that all that they have built comes to ruins before the throne of God as they are judged with eternal condemnation. Those who believe upon Christ will find that it is not what they have built for themselves that matters, but rather that they have been built up together upon the Cornerstone of Christ for God’s purpose. And they will not be disappointed, for they will find that God has used their lives for His glory, and they have received eternal life in Him.

Shakespeare wrote, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Peter would prefer to say that all the world is a construction site, and all the men and women are building their lives in it. Some are building according to their own blueprints. Some are being built together according to God’s blueprints. And the difference is found in one solitary Stone. God says, “Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone.” What will you do with that stone? If you build upon the plans of men, you will try to ignore this stone and reject this stone. You will disbelieve and disobey the word concerning this stone. You will be offended that this stone refuses to go away, and ultimately you will stumble over this stone to your own destruction. But those who are being built up according to God’s plans bow before this stone in faith and worship, and find themselves in the hands of the master architect and builder, God Himself, who is building us up together upon the Cornerstone. Jesus Christ is this stone. And it is our response to Him that determines our life here and now, and our destiny for all eternity. In Acts 4:10-12, Peter, the Apostle who wrote the words that occupy our attention today, stood before his persecutors, a crowd of people who were building their lives in defiance of Christ, and made a bold proclamation. He said, “Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead … He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

He who believes in Him will not be disappointed, but will be saved. But for those who disbelieve, the stone which the builders rejected becomes 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.” So what will you do with this Stone, the Lord Jesus? Will you stumble over Him and fall to destruction? Or will you bow before Him and be built up upon Him as a part of God’s spiritual house and holy priesthood? The choice is yours. What will you do with this stone? What will you do with Jesus?

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