Living stones in Christ’s Temple (1 Peter 2:4-6)

[Audio for this sermon available here.]

How do we relate the Old Testament to the New?  Because things are so much better in the NT, it can be tempting to downplay the importance of the OT or disregard it altogether.  A close reading of the NT, however, reveals that it makes significant use of the OT.  The letters of 1 and 2 Peter are two places that testify to the fact that what God has disclosed in the NT builds upon and is the fulfillment of OT revelation.  In 1 Peter 2:1-10, Peter’s multiple references to the OT serve to highlight and magnify the promises, privileges and pleasures we have under the New Covenant – which are far better than the Old Covenant, but still in beautiful continuity with it (according to the covenant of grace).

More specifically, what I plan to do this morning is focus on verses 4-6 of 1 Peter 2, where the Holy Spirit teaches us about our spiritual union with God through Jesus Christ.  Using the OT language of Temple, holiness, priesthood and sacrifice, Peter describes our new living relationship with God made possible through the intercession of our final High Priest, the incarnate Son of God.  In the OT, the Israelites were kept at a distance from God because of the guilt of their sin. Today, we come boldly into the inner sanctuary of our Father’s house, through Christ, to offer up sacrifices of thankful service for the glory of our Triune God.

The object of our faith: Jesus, the cornerstone of the Temple of God

In verse 4, Peter sets up his discussion of our participation in the realities of God’s acts of salvation in the OT, by drawing our attention first to Jesus – the one to whom we draw near in faith.  Peter begins this verse with the words: “As you come to him” to describe the posture of trust and belief that God’s gift of faith produces in us.  Peter assumption is that those of true faith, indwelt by the Spirit, will keep on coming to Jesus and his promises, despite their sin and even in the midst of the sufferings of this life.  In the case of the early Christians who Peter was writing to – who were predominantly Gentiles and not ethnic Jews – we understand that they were being persecuted in significant ways for their beliefs.  Like the OT people of God they were strangers and exiles in this world.

With these opening words, Peter has confidence that even in thick of the trials and temptations of this life, true believers will keep on coming to Jesus.  This is because salvation is ultimately a God’s sovereign choice and act.  God is the one who produces faith and he nourishes it over and over again by his Word and Spirit.

So, who exactly then is this object of our faith?  According to Peter, he is: “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…”  At first, these words seem like a contradictionHow can a stone be alive?  Peter’s analogy makes little sense without the OT and the role that the Temple played in it.  The Temple was the center of the religious life of OT Israel.  It was there where Israel met with God and encountered his awesome presence.  It was there that the covenant community congregated to worship and where the priests offered up sacrifices to God on behalf of the sins of the people.  The Temple was that place where God met with his people.  It was that place of spiritual union between God and his children.

The thing, however, about the physical Temple along with the priesthood and the sacrificial system is that they were provisional.  They had an expiration dateWhy?  Because they pointed beyond themselves to better things to come.  While they did indeed convey God’s grace, they were shadows of the eternal realities of God’s holy dwelling-place in heaven (cf. Hebrews 8-9).

In the fullness of time, that heavenly sanctuary came down to earth in God’s Son: one born of a Jew and under the law.  In John 1, we are told that the eternal Word of God became flesh and literally erected himself like a temple in the body of Jesus.  Jesus came as the fulfillment of everything that the OT Temple stood for and more.  He is God’s dwelling in the midst of sinful mankind.  And yet, God’s very own people, the Jews, did not accept him or his message.

The Jewish nation that should have received their Messiah with open arms – for he is the one spoken of in both the Law and the Prophets – instead rejected him.  Jesus came to bringing salvation to Israel, and yet they chose to build their future upon the faulty foundation of manmade tradition and human will.  But this too is in keeping with the prophecy of the OT.  In Psalm 118.22, the Psalmist writes: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  In Matt. 21:42-44, Jesus identifies himself as the “cornerstone.”  This truth is confirmed by Peter in Acts 4 and then again for us in 1 Peter 2:7.  As the prophets of the OT predicted, the long-awaited Messiah would be a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (cf. Isa. 8:14; 1 Peter 2:8).  Jesus was rejected by the Jewish masses in Jerusalem because his message of salvation through suffering and death did not satisfy the demands of the people.

Jesus: chosen and precious in God’s sight

This sad reality does not, however, change the fact that “in the sight of God” Jesus is “chosen and precious.”

While the world hates and despises him, Jesus has nevertheless always been the supreme object of God’s love and delight.  The Father elected or chose his incarnate Son for the most intimate relationship possible.  This is because the pre-incarnate Son, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit have existed in perfect loving union for all eternity.  How can this be so?  The Son, like the Father and the Holy Spirit is God.  As we confess, there is one God, which consists of three Persons, who are of the same substance, and equal in power and glory.  The union of the three persons of the Godhead exists in the most sublime harmony.  It is therefore in keeping with God’s nature and glory for him to choose himself in his Son: not only as the eternal object of his love, but also to fulfill his mission as Saviour of mankind.

For, in the sight of God, Jesus is “precious” beyond compare.  Like a shimmering diamond that reflects back to God the rays of his own glory, such is the invaluable worth of the Son to the Father.  His symmetry and his attributes are of the most pure, most holy and most complete kind.  God the Father is fully satisfied with his Son – even without reference to what Jesus has accomplished in this world.

And yet, the perfect and unremitting love, joy and glory of the Triune God has overflowed toward sinful mankind – you and I – in the saving work of Jesus.  And this has only served to further amplify and magnify the worth of the Son in the eyes of the Father.

Living stones and holy priests in Jesus

Jesus is God’s chosen servant who was given a mission before time began to be the Saviour of the world.  God elected his Son for this mission because he is the only one who can be mediator between God and sinful humanity.  As the God-man, Jesus is the only one equipped to fulfill God’s promise of redemption.  He alone was qualified to live a life of perfect obedience to the law.  He alone was able to bear God’s wrath for the sins of mankind through a life of suffering, which culminated in death on a cruel Roman cross.  And he alone was able to triumph over sin, death and hell, by rising from the dead.

Do you believe this or is this an offense to you?

Beloved, it is because God has chosen his Son and counted him precious, that we are able to come near to God.  By the Father’s grace and through his Spirit, he has enabled us to believe in his Son.  By God’s mercy, we have not stumbled over the cornerstone of the church, but instead we keep on coming to him as the source of forgiveness and eternal life.

Now notice with me that Peter continues to use the analogy of the Temple and continues to make reference to OT in order to describe the surpassing riches of our new spiritual union with God through Jesus Christ.

For those who have tasted that the Lord is good, Peter writes, verse 5, “… you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house.”  See how the Apostle makes the connection between Jesus as the “living stone” and us as “living stones.”  His point is to emphasise the unity of new life that we share in Jesus.  Jesus is the chief cornerstone or foundation of the heavenly temple of God and we his people, like stones, have become part of its majestic architecture.  Peter declares that we are “being built up” – by the power of the Holy Spirit – “as a spiritual house.”

Remember, there is no longer need for the physical temple of the OT because Jesus has fulfilled its purpose and significance in his very own flesh.  Therefore, sinners, you and I, may now come boldly into God’s presence – into the most holy place – through the blood of Jesus.  In 1 Cor. 3:16, Paul calls the church the temple of God in which his Holy Spirit dwells.  God’s Spirit has made us holy through the blood of Jesus, and he continues to sanctify us through the merits of Christ.  By faith in Jesus and through his Spirit, we have truly entered into God’s house through the doorway of Jesus.

In the OT Temple, Israelites were kept at “arms length” as it were from God.  This is because only the high priest could venture beyond the curtain into the most holy place (or inner sanctuary) in the Temple, where God was present; and only once a year.  Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies to offer up the blood of sacrifice to God for the sins of the people.  And this the priest could do only after many cleansing rituals in preparation, and with a rope tied to one ankle for a fast recovery lest God consume him!

This has all changed, however, with the coming of Christ, has it not?  In Jesus, Peter writes in verse 5 of our passage, we as NT believers are all part of “a holy priesthood.”  We, like the OT people of God, are also a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-5).  But the difference is that our priestly service is not preoccupied with and hindered by the guilt of sin.  And our holiness as a “nation” is not dependent on our obedience.  This is because by faith we have the privilege of benefiting from and participating in the holy living and the once-for-all sacrifice for sin of the final high priest in service to God, Jesus Christ!

Our spiritual sacrifices of gratitude to God

In the OT, the high priest would time and time again make a blood offering to God to atone for the guilt of his people due to their sins.  This was to appease God’s wrath, but not forever.  However, not so for the Final High Priest, the Son of God.  For Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to the law and offered up his very own body once and for all as a sacrifice for our sins.  He shed his blood to put an end to the OT Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system.  This is why, according to Peter in the last part of verse 5, our service to God is unlike that of the OT priests and unlike that of Jesus.  Instead of offering the sacrifice of the blood of bulls and goats, or our imperfects works, in order escape judgment, we “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

And what are these “spiritual sacrifices”?  The sacrifices that we offer up to God are what he has always desired, which are the sacrifices of holy living in grateful response for our salvation.  Through the intercession of Christ and his Spirit, our works have been made pleasing and acceptable to God.

Think about it, beloved.  You are chosen, precious and holy in God’s sight.  How?  Because you are by faith united to the life-giving person of Jesus though his Spirit.  Just when God started cutting off the branches of Jews, by the mercy of Christ we Gentiles have been engrafted into the vine of salvation.  Just when OT Israel had been divorced and exiled, God has wooed us in marriage by betrothing us to his Son.  Just when the prophets could bear it no longer in their anticipation of the perfect high priest, Jesus became the head of the church and made us members of his very own body.  He has brought us into the Holy of Holies and given us a room in God’s spiritual house.

Brothers and sisters, by faith we have come to share in the love, joy and eternal fellowship of the Triune God.

To know that we Gentiles were once not God’s people, but now we have become God’s people – in the most intimate personal relationship through Jesus Christ – is our hope and joy in the midst of the sufferings of this life.  For even though the world rejects Jesus and therefore oftentimes rejects and persecutes us as well, God’s promise certified in Christ’s blood is that he will never reject us.  “[W]hoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”  Beloved, this good news is the pearl of great price and the treasure of incomparable worth.  Let it, therefore, motivate us to live thankful lives of sacrificial service to God, proclaiming the excellences of his name and his gospel, for his glory in this world.  Amen.

 

Simon Jooste, RCSS morning service, April 7 , 2013

We are objects of God’s mercy

This is a sermon that was preached at Bellville Reformed Church this past Sunday evening.  For examples of other Reformed sermons and resources, please look here.

We are objects of God’s mercy

1 Peter 2:1-10

Have you ever arrived in a new place – like another part of your home city or country, or perhaps another country altogether – and you have thought to yourself: This is like a different world?  It looks and sounds and feels so foreign?  For many Christians, the Old Testament – or at least parts of it – can seem like a very different world.  The OT can seem so different from the NT and the ways in which God deals with his people today.  Throughout the ages, Christians have wrestled with how to relate the Old and New Testaments.  Some theologians have concluded that the God of the OT is one of judgment and wrath, while the God of the NT is one of mercy and love.  Others believe that Israel was saved through keeping God’s law in the OT, while Christians are saved by faith in Jesus in the NT.  These theologians see little continuity between the Old and New Testaments.  Because of perspectives like these, the OT is all too often outright neglected in the life and ministry of the church.  But is our world really so unlike that of OT Israel in the ultimate sense?

Let’s answer this question this evening by considering 1 Peter 2:1-10, with special emphasis given to vv 4-6 and 9-10.  One of the defining features of the letters of the Apostle Peter is that they were written to Christians who were predominantly Gentile in nature.  In other words, they were not ethnic Jews and physical descendents of Abraham.  This reality is important in a number of ways for our understanding of God’s message of salvation to us in our passage as well as the Peter’s letters in general.  I will give you two closely related reasons why.  First, Peter takes salvation truths about God’s OT people and their world, and applies them directly to Gentiles, who, for the longest time were considered strangers to God’s covenant promises.  In other words, Peter shows us the magnificent continuity between the OT and NT worlds.  But how does he do this?  This brings me to my second point.  The world of the OT and ours come together in Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the OT.  [Die wereld van die Ou en Nuwe Testament kom saam in Jesus Christus, die beloofde Messias van die Ou Testament.]  Through the blood of Jesus Christ, both Jew and Gentile, you and I, have escaped the wrath of God and become objects of his mercy.

I. Two testaments, one people

The first ten verses of 1 Peter 2 are filled with direct and indirect references to the OT and the identity of God’s chosen people, Israel.  Peter uses these references to describe who we are as NT Christians.  You will notice how naturally and seamlessly Peter applies OT Jewish truths to NT Gentiles, but not without reference to Messiah, that is Jesus, the cornerstone of the church.  So, let’s consider some of the ways in which our identity as Christians is shaped by the world of the OT, and God’s salvation promises and acts we find there.

Brothers and sisters, here Peter gives us spiritual nourishment for our souls without which we will perish.  Let us heed Peter’s admonition in 1 Peter 2.2 to long for “pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation.”  No infant can live without milk, so likewise no Christian can live without the Word of the Lord.  So, if you have like the Psalmist (in Psalm 34.8), “tasted that the Lord is good”, then seek after more of his grace this morning as he speaks to us.  Let us consider who God has made us to be in Jesus so that our faith may be strengthened.

In 1 Peter 2.4-6, Peter tells his readers – tells us – that like “living stones” we are being “built up as a spiritual house” of which Jesus is the foundation or cornerstone.  In other words, Peter uses the imagery of the OT temple – where God met with his people – to describe our union with God.  Remember, Jesus is the one prophesied of in the OT as the fulfillment of the physical temple.  Jesus is the one of whom the Psalmist spoke of and Peter picks up on in Psalm 118.22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”  While rejected and ultimately crucified by men, Jesus is nevertheless “in the sight of God chosen and precious” (1 Peter 2.4).  Therefore, if you have faith in Jesus this morning, you too are chosen and precious in the sight of God; you have entered into God’s house through the doorway of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has united us to Jesus, and thereby sanctified us, to make us “holy priests” so that we can offer up “spiritual sacrifices” to God.

In the OT, God met with Israel in the temple, where only the high priest could enter the most holy place, and only after all sorts of cleansing rituals.  In the OT, the priests offered up the sacrifice of goats and bulls to atone for the sins of the people.  But with the coming of Jesus, things have changed.  Things are much better.  Peter tells us that through Jesus we have all become stones in God’s temple (v5).  We have all been made holy priests who can now enter boldly into God’s presence, into the inner sanctuary – through Christ.  And because Jesus offered up the sacrifice of himself once and for all for our sins, we now offer up sacrifices of praise to God out of thanksgiving.

Brothers and sisters, the good news to us this evening that is born out of and builds upon the world of the OT; the spiritual nourishment for our souls, which is a bottomless-banquet; is that if you believe in Christ this morning “you will not be put to shame” (v6).  For the one that Isaiah prophesied of in Isaiah 28:16, and Peter quotes in his letter, has washed away our sins and has given us the certain hope of eternal life.  And this is true despite the accusations of the law, and what the world might say and how it treats us.  Although we are sinners and guilty of breaking God’s law, our nakedness and shame has nevertheless been dealt with by Jesus.  Jesus took our shame and gave us his perfect righteousness.  Now, by faith in Jesus, we stand justified in the sight of God, never again to be condemned for our wicked deeds. [Deur die geloof in Jesus Christus staan ons regverdig voor God.Although the world ridicules us for our faith and our stand against idolatry and immorality; although, like Israel in exile, the world oppresses us; although the world would like to shame us, humiliate us and disgrace us – our sufferings in this life will not result in shame and condemnation before God.  For we have been vindicated before the world in Jesus.  We will most certainly reign with him in final victory over sin, death and hell.  Beloved, consider who God has made you in Christ by his Holy Spirit.  Consider the even greater clarity and confidence we have of our salvation than the OT Saints.

Two Testaments, one people, in Christ

Have you – like the Psalmist and a countless number of OT Israelites – tasted of the goodness of the Lord, which has become even sweeter since the coming of Christ?  Do you believe in Lord Jesus and do you know the forgiveness of sins?  Or do you continue to reject the Son of Man like those who crucified Jesus and put him to death?

Friends, let us not forget the flip side of God’s promise of salvation.  The sobering reality is that for those who reject Jesus, he is: “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1 Peter 2.8).  In other words, to reject Jesus – the incarnate Word and the cornerstone of God’s kingdom – is not without consequence.  It results in spiritual death and condemnation.

But for those of faith, Peter gives these magnificent words of life and assurance in vv 9-10: “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.”  Beloved, consider with me again the wonder of God’s promise of salvation to us Gentiles.  Remember that according to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2.12, we were once “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”  But this has changed, has it not?  Notice Peter’s description of the unity that we now share with God’s OT people.  Consider how God has widened the scope of his grace now to include both Jew and Gentile, you and I.  Notice how we now share in the fulfillment of God’s promises to OT Israel, how we share in the fulfillment of Israel’s experience as God’s chosen people.  And how has all this been made possible?  Through Jesus!

We share in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses, and therefore OT Israel, stretching all the way back to Exodus 19.4-5.  Back then, the Lord addressed Moses with these words: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  In the Ancient world, God delivered the physical descendents of Abraham from slavery in the great Exodus event from Egypt and made Israel his chosen people.  Now, in NT times, and according to Peter, we too have become part of the ultimate spiritual realities symbolized back then in the first Exodus.  We are Abraham’s spiritual descendents and God’s “chosen race” through the second and final Exodus accomplished by Jesus at the cross.  The good news of the gospel is that regardless of our ethnic or cultural background, we can all become part of God’s family; we are all one in Christ.  If you have faith this evening, know that God chose you before the foundations of the world to be part of a new and redeemed humanity, through the sacrifice of Jesus applied to us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  [In Christus het ons deel in die beloftes van die Ou Testament.]

Peter also tells us that like OT Israel we are a “royal priesthood”.  Here again, it is through Jesus Christ and God’s Holy Spirit that we have been sanctified and made holy so that we can enter into God’s presence and offer him our sacrifices of praise.  Our identity and destiny is the fulfillment of Israel’s redemption from bondage in Egypt and deliverance into the Promised Land.  In the OT, Israel served King Yahweh in Canaan as a nation of priests.  Today, we serve as priests in God’s spiritual kingdom that is already ours, but has not yet come in all its fullness.  Like OT Israel, we have been set apart from all the peoples on earth to be part of God’s “holy nation”: one that is not defined by ethnicity, race, politics or geography, but by faith in the atoning blood of Jesus.  Just as God made Israel his prized possession from among all he nations of the world, we too are called “God’s special possession”.  In the OT, God’s people consisted mainly of ethnic Jews, but today we comprise a people that have been drawn from every, tongue, tribe and nation as a trophy for God’s glory.

Brothers and sisters, let me ask you once more: Do you see the magnificent continuity between the Old and New Testaments?  Do you see how we share in the same dramatic story of God’s redeeming acts that stretch all the way back to the early chapters of Genesis?  Peter has shown us that there are two testaments in the Bible, but only one people of God.  Israel is not replaced in the New Testament by another people, but rather Israel is enlarged to include us.  We, the church, are the Israel of God.  This is the first point I have been making this evening.  The second is that in order for this to be true – two Testaments, one people – God had to send Jesus.  Why?  Because of our sin and the idolatry of mankind.

In closing, I would like to bring the problem of sin into sharper focus, because it helps magnify the wonder of Peter’s in verse 10.  In order for us to appreciate the wonder of the gospel and our new identity in Christ, we must grasp the awful predicament that all of humanity is in on account of sin.  No one is able to cleanse himself and make himself holy before God.  Think back to OT Israel.  God promised them a long and prosperous life in the Promised Land – which was like heaven on earth – if they obeyed God’s law.  But, they failed didn’t they?  God ended up divorcing and disowning Israel as a people and sending them into exile for their disobedience.  The book of Hosea is one place where the unfaithfulness of Israel is graphically portrayed.  Israel is described as the prostitute, Gomer, who had gone after foreign lovers.  Israel is also likened to Gomer’s children of whoredom, whom God calls “Not my people” and “No Mercy”… And yet, exile and separation was not the end of the story for adulterous Israel.  For we read in Hosea 2.23 of God’s promise: “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not my People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”

Notice how this is the same storyline of redemption that Peter picks up on in 1 Peter 2:10.  Once again, we find that we are no different from Israel.  We too are lawbreakers caught up in this world of sin.  And yet, the good news of the gospel is that like the remnant of Israel we have become participants in another world – the age to come – through Jesus Christ.  Once we were not a people, “but now you are God’s people, once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”  Thanks be to God for his promise made to Abraham that cuts through two testaments and two peoples, and finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  As recipients of God’s grace and mercy, let us therefore live as strangers and exiles in this world with a certain hope of future salvation.  Let us fight against sin because we are dead to sin and this world.  Let us go forth with thankfulness, knowing that we have been cleansed and justified in Jesus.  Let us go forth proclaiming “the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Amen!

Simon Jooste

Evening service, Bellville Reformed Church, September 30, 2012