Monday, September 3, 2018

How firm a foundation (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
When you are building a new business, you want to inspire confidence that you can meet the needs of potential customers.
Tom had recently opened a computer repair shop, and he was struggling to get the new venture off the ground, so he really didn't have time to attend a birthday party for his mother-in-law's three-year-old grandson Tyler, but his wife insisted that they both go. Besides, Tyler adored Tom. The party was proceeding smoothly until Tyler brought Tom his new "Strawberry Shortcake" toy computer, that can help with spelling and some other things. Tyler wanted Tom to turn it on for him. Tom opened it up, slid a couple of switches back and forth, but the "Strawberry Shortcake" toy computer would not come on. Tom gave it back to Tyler saying that he couldn't help him. Tyler took the computer and gave it to the mother of a little girl who had the same toy. She opened it up pushed a button, and it came on. Tom asked her what she had touched to turn it on. She replied, "the 'On/Off' button." When Tom said he couldn't figure it out, "And I work on computers for a living." She replied, "I wouldn't tell that to anyone."
When you are building a new business, you want to inspire confidence that you can meet the needs of potential customers. When God builds His new church, He wants to inspire confidence that He can meet the needs of those who are more even than potential tenants.

Because Peter, the author of our passage this morning, is an "apostle to the Jews" (Gal 2:8), his ministry is primarily to the descendants of Abraham, and he addresses his first epistle accordingly: "To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered..." (1 Peter 1:1) Nevertheless, much of what he writes, especially about Jesus, is applicable to all believers, Jews and gentiles. In describing the rabbi, Peter makes three architectural comparisons that are in some ways characteristic of him:
  • Jesus is the living stone (1 Peter 2:4-5).
  • Jesus is the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6).
  • Jesus is the capstone (1 Peter 2:7-8).
Each kind of stone forms a different but integral part of the building. In the course of describing the savior, Peter also describes others, both those who accept Jesus and those who reject him.

I. Jesus is the living stone (1 Peter 2:4-5).
1 Pet 2:4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
When Peter calls Jesus a "living stone" and his followers "living stones," he is probably referring to what comprises the body or central part of a building (given that his other metaphors correspond to the bottom and top parts respectively). Referring to someone as a stone is not necessarily a compliment. After all, a person can be "dumb as a rock" or a "stone cold killer." Yet in the Bible "living stone" is a positive metaphor that denotes usefulness as a spiritual building material. The 'stone' quality makes it stable and dependable; the 'living' quality makes it dynamic, subject to increase and growth:
  • Jesus illustrates the first quality: He "is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb 13:8),
  • Believers illustrate both qualities: They are to be "firm in the faith" (1 Pet 5:9) yet ever growing in "grace and knowledge" (2 Pet 3:18). A building of "living stones" is durable, impervious to the ravages of time.
Peter's mention of "holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5) echoes God's use of the term with the nation of Israel, whom He tasked with directing other peoples' attention to Him (Exod 19:6). The apostle John hints that the Lord will one day take some gentiles to minister in His millennial temple:
"I will select some of be priests and Levites," says the LORD (Isa 66:21). 
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God (Rev 5:10).
Before those aspects of His plan could take affect, however, God had to send His son. One might think the mere prospect of being included in the divine agenda would thrill people and motivate them to take part willingly, even enthusiastically. Alas, many people are not excited about receiving God's emissary, and they lobby actively against him. Peter says...
A. He was rejected by men.
Several passages attest to Jesus' poor reception, despite his divine appointment and God's careful planning "before the creation of the world" (John 17:24; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20):
Isaiah wrote, "He was despised and rejected by men" (Isa 53:3a).
Jesus said, "They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him" (Luke 18:32b).
John lamented, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him" (John 1:11).
This despite the fact that...
B. He was chosen by God.
...and, thus, has priority in God's agenda. You, however, are not so obtuse, and for good reason. Peter says that far from residing in a physical structure...
1. You are a spiritual house.
...not that you live in one (or are a tenant in one) but that you are one. Furthermore...
2. You are a holy priesthood.
Although the whole of Israel is a "kingdom of priests" according to Exod 19:6, responsible to direct the nations to God, Isaiah and John state (above) that God will draft gentiles into the priesthood during the Messianic Age, a privilege otherwise reserved for a single Hebrew tribe. As God says, "I will consecrate Aaron and his Sons to serve me as priests" (Exod 29:44).

Application: What have you been doing since Jesus saved you? Peter says you should be doing what priests do. It is not yet the Messianic Age, so you do not yet have a role in the millennial temple, but there is a similar task you should be doing. Paul describes it in his letter to the Romans where he writes, "I urge you, offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" (Rom 12:1). Even in the absence of a temple, you can still fulfill a priestly role by obeying what God requires from you. What act of obedience have you been putting off for a more convenient time? What person have you delayed talking with until the moment is just right, despite the Spirit's persistent prompting? Do not wait for the Messianic Age to serve the messianic agenda.

Jesus is the living stone. Moreover...

II. Jesus is the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6).
1 Pet 2:6 In Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame [or "not be disappointed" NASB]." [Isa 26:18]
The second building metaphor Peter uses refers to an important component at its base. The cornerstone forms that part of a foundation joining two walls together. Peter calls this stone "chosen and precious" (1 Peter 2:6), his second use of the term "precious" (1 Peter 2:4). It is not just any stone at the base of this structure but one of great value, a gemstone. The most striking feature of this stone is its stability; it is not easily moved.

In addition to the general usefulness of monetary currency, gems (or precious stones) have intrinsic value that is not as subject to market fluctuations. Equally important, gems are aesthetically pleasing. Peter says that Jesus is the precious stone, a treasure of inestimable value, and unlike economic wealth, which is fleeting, He is enduring. He is also not susceptible to theft. In fact, his security system is impenetrable. The reason his precious-stone security system is effective in preventing theft illustrates the value of knowing Jesus' character: Most importantly, he is trustworthy for those who choose to put their faith in him. Consequently, he is also encouraging to those who look to him when a situation appears dire.

Normally, a person would appeal to some physical barrier as a deterrent to loss, but Peter cites Jesus' moral quality that, though attractive, one would not generally associate with security. This quality, however, illustrates his faithfulness, which is a trait he highlights at least twice during his ministry:
  • Toward the beginning he says, "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matt 18:20).
  • Toward the close he says, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt 28:20b).
This gem-like quality of Jesus' faithfulness is what Peter considers a primary advantage to knowing the savior.
Application: Why are you a Christian? If you have been a believer for quite some time, the reason you initially turned to God may be different from the reason you currently remain with God. At first what attracted you was the promise of His pardon for your sin. As time passed and you discovered how much more God has to offer, your reason for remaining with Him may have changed or at least matured. You know that you still need His forgiveness, but you also know that you need His provision, His guidance, His protection, His healing, His presence, and much more. What value you did not apprehend at first, you may have come to appreciate with time and experience, that "God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:19).

Jesus is the cornerstone. Moreover...
III. Jesus is the capstone (1 Peter 2:7-8).
1 Pet 2:7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious [periphrastic]. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," [Ps 118:2218 and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." [Isa 8:14] They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
The third building metaphor Peter uses refers to an important component at its apex. The capstone is set on top of a wall and marks the pinnacle of a building. Peter notes the irony here, that the stone the workers discarded has become the project's crowning achievement. "In the same way, Jesus, who was rejected by men, has been exalted by God" (Blum 1981:230).

While Jesus' primary benefit is to those who believe, it is quite the opposite "to those who do not believe" (1 Peter 2:7). For unbelievers it is decidedly negative. Jesus states the agenda for his first advent: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17). Peter says that Jesus' return will have quite a different agenda, especially for the unrighteous. At that time...
A. He is disruptive to men.
Paul notes the difficulty he and his companions face: "We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23). Many people find the gospel unappealing for one reason or another. Maybe they do not like ceding control of their life to someone else. In any case, they do not avail themselves of what God offers. Consequently, Jesus is disruptive to men...

B. He is destructive to men.
Paul also notes that their fate will be permanently damaged: "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess 1:9). Some people find offensive the idea that God would condemn anyone to eternal damnation. But just as He promises eternal life to those who turn to Him, so He threatens eternal perdition to those who turn away from Him (Dan 12:2; also Matt 25:46). Jesus is destructive to men.

Application: Man's final sentencing marks his last opportunity to repent. This will be a universal experience, for the righteous and the unrighteous alike: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor 5:10).10 For the righteous that experience will be wonderfully positive. For the unrighteous, those who have not availed themselves of God's pardon, that experience will be decidedly negative. Jesus affirms that there are only two possibilities for one's direction and destination: Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt 7:13-14) Because God will present only two options at the end, it is imperative that you choose the one right option before the end. Remember: "Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Heb 9:27). To delay is to court destruction.

Jesus is the capstone.

Peter extols the structural integrity of the building God has set up in the person of Jesus. One may certainly exclaim with the hymn writer (George Keith, 1787) "How Firm a Foundation" while marveling over the entire monument to His great plan, how each part, from the cornerstone to the capstone and everything in between, fits together to stand for what God has done through His son. Although Peter mentions the loss for those who reject Jesus, those who embrace him have the great pleasure of actually being part of this grand edifice. Soli Deo gloria

Benediction: You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.

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