Coming to Him as to a Living Stone

Sermon preached on 1 Peter 2:4-10 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/06/2011 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 2:4-10

“Coming to Him as to a Living Stone”

At the end of last week’s passage, we were told to desire pure milk. That was verse 2. Verse 3 went on to give us the reason: because we have tasted the goodness and grace of the Lord. I made the point last week that to desire the pure milk was more than just desiring God’s Word in our lives. I made the case that it involved desiring Christ himself, and all his benefits. Since we’ve tasted of the goodness of Christ in our lives, we should crave Christ and all the grace he gives.

With that in mind, this passage flows quite naturally. If the last verses told us to be fed from Christ, this passage talks about us coming to Christ. That’s how verse 4 starts out. “Coming to him,” it says. Since we’ve tasted of the goodness of Christ, let us be coming to Christ. That’s the point here. We are to be coming to Christ. As we come to him, he nourishes us and grows us.

Peter then in this passage uses a new analogy to describe our coming to Christ. He moves away from the milk analogy. He starts to use a building analogy. He talks about different kinds of stones; stones used in buildings. But, he’s not really talking about literal, physical, stones. No, the stones he is talking about are “living stones.” And the building he is talking about is a spiritual building. That’s what we see here. In verse 4, Peter calls Jesus the Living Stone. In verse 5, he calls us living stones. He says all these stones are making up a building. But we see what kind of building this is in verse 5. It’s a spiritual house, a house of worship. In other words, a temple. And so to call Jesus and us living stones is a metaphor describing a spiritual reality. What we’ll see today is that as we come to Jesus, we are coming into a spiritual, heavenly, temple. Actually, it’s saying that as we come to Jesus, God is building us into this temple. Christians, no longer worship in a physical temple anymore. No, we now come to Jesus and are made into a spiritual one. That’s what we’ll consider today.

So first, we’ll consider what it means for Jesus to be a Living Stone. We’ll see how we come to him as our spiritual temple. That will be our first part of our message today. After that, we’ll consider what response we should have to this living stone. This passage describes two possible responses to Christ. It contrasts those who come to this Living Stone in faith, with those who reject him. So our last part of our sermon today will consider those two different responses.

Let’s begin then with considering Jesus as this Living Stone. In our text for today, Peter quotes three Old Testament passages as proof texts for describing Jesus as a Living Stone. These three Old Testament passages are prophecies, which point to Christ. You might remember how last chapter Peter said that the Old Testament predicted the coming of Christ. Here he demonstrates that with three quotes right in a row. If you read over the original context of these Old Testament passages you’d see that they each are using building imagery. Not just that, but you’d see that they all are specifically using temple imagery. And yet Peter applies them all to Christ. Peter doesn’t use them to refer to the Old Testament temple. He uses them to refer to Christ. He uses these Old Testaments passages about a temple to describe how Jesus is a spiritual temple. You could even call Jesus a heavenly temple then. We come to Jesus spiritually as he reigns in heaven. This passage shows that as we do that we come into a temple. A temple that is not earthly. A temple that is spiritual and heavenly.

The first Old Testament quote is in verse 6. This is Isaiah 28:16. “Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect and precious.” Let’s consider this quote first. In the original context of Isaiah, Isaiah refers to the stone as being a “sure foundation”. That’s explaining what kind of stone this cornerstone was. It was a foundation stone. Two adjectives are used in verse 6 about this foundation stone. He’s described as an elect stone and a precious stone. Let’s consider the significance of these two adjectives.

First, Jesus is called an elect stone. In other words, a chosen stone. This presents the imagery of the selection of a cornerstone in a building. This would have been an important stone for the building. It would not have been arbitrarily picked. A number of stones would have been carefully studied and tested before the builder made the final selection. This selection would reflect the skill of the builder. It was the key stone for the foundation, so it had to be just right. If a building’s foundation is poor, the building won’t not stand the test of time. And so whenever you build something, it’s so important to establish a solid foundation. Jesus expressed this same truth in that parable where he taught to build your house upon the rock and not upon the sand!

And so this is what it means for Jesus to be an elect stone. He is not a foundation of sand! No, he’s just the right foundation. God, the master builder, selected Jesus to be the foundation of his heavenly temple. This was God’s plan from eternity. He’s been working it out throughout all of history! Jesus was foreknown before the creation of the world, spoke of by the prophets, and according to the foreknowledge of God, he was destined to become man, shed his blood, and be resurrected for the people of God, and to be revealed at the consummation . This was God’s plan. In calling Jesus a chosen or elect stone in verse 6, Peter is using the building imagery to express these spiritual realities. Because Jesus is the foundation stone chosen by God we can have great confidence in this foundation! Upon the foundation of Jesus, the people of God are built up into a spiritual house, and they cannot be shaken. There can be no other foundation, for God has, before the creation of the word, selected Jesus to be the perfect chosen stone.

Second, Jesus is also called a precious stone here in verse 6. Well, who could be more precious in God’s sight to serve as the foundation of this temple than God’s only begotten son? This selection by God of such a precious cornerstone points to the high regard that God has for this spiritual temple that he is building. He is building a precious temple. In Jesus, The people of God are being built up into this precious temple, founded upon this precious stone!

And so, Peter’s quote in verse 6 of Isaiah 28 brings out the quality of Jesus being a chosen and precious cornerstone, which is the chief foundation for this spiritual, heavenly, temple. Peter shows here in verse 6 that for Jesus to be the Living Stone, it means that he is the spiritual foundation for this heavenly temple. And whoever builds on this foundation, will in no way be disappointed. Whoever depends on Christ for their spiritual life, cannot be removed from this foundation; not even by worldly sufferings.

Verse 7 contains Peter’s second Old Testament quote. This is from Psalm 118:22. The building and temple imagery continues. It speaks of the stone as being rejected by the builders. Yet, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Ps 118:22). You may see in some of your translations that in verse 7, the word capstone is used in place of cornerstone. I actually prefer capstone as the translation here. The word used in verse 7 is different than the one used in verse 6 and translators have not been in complete agreement over the best translation of this word in verse 7. There is some difference in meaning between “cornerstone” and “capstone”. A cornerstone is a foundation stone, right at the corner; it unites two intersecting walls at the foundation. Back then, this would have been the most important stone in the foundation. That’s the type of stone we described in the previous verse. On the other hand, a capstone is something at the top of a building. It’s usually a bit decorative. A very clear example would be the final pointed stone on top of a pyramid. But any final stone on the top of a building or archway would qualify. Capstones would often be made for beauty. It might serve as the crowning achievement of a building. So a “cornerstone” would be the chief stone of the foundation and a “capstone” would be the highest stone that completes and brings beauty to a building.

Strictly from a translation stand point, some think verse 7 should be translated as a cornerstone, and some as a capstone. This should not cause us much concern, however. If verse 7 presents Jesus as a cornerstone, then verse 7 is basically reiterating the point of verse 6. That Jesus is the foundation of a spiritual temple, on which we as living stones are founded. But if verse 7 presents him as a capstone, then we’d be given an additional nuance. That Jesus is not just the foundation of this spiritual temple, but he’s like the crowning top to the temple. As I’ll show in a moment, that would mean that Jesus is also the glory of this spiritual temple. I personally think this is how we should read verse 7. Remember verse 7 is quoting Psalm 118:22. How the stone is used in that original passage should inform how we understand it being used here in 1 Peter. Well, when we look back to the original context of that Psalm, the very next verse says this: “This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes”. Psalm 118 says there something visually appealing to what this stone had become. That wouldn’t seem to describe a foundation cornerstone. It’s usually not that easy to see a foundation stone. But a capstone is easy to see; and they often are very marvelous to the eyes, as Psalm 118 describes. And so given the choice between a capstone and a cornerstone, it would seem that a capstone better fits the original context of Psalm 118.

And so, the translation “capstone” seems to be the best fit in verse 7. If Jesus is described as a capstone in verse 7, it would seem to point to his glory. Jesus is the glory of this spiritual temple. That’s what a capstone typically does. It brings beauty and glory to a building. It’s the culminating stone of a building. Back then, capstones would often be decorated and give honor to the owner of a building. Consider the Washington Monument; its capstone is the pointed, pyramid-like stone completing the top of the monument; without this capstone its beauty wouldn’t be the same! And so, the capstone is the stone that everyone’s eyes are drawn to when looking at a building. This is why Psalm 118:23 says the capstone “is marvelous in our eyes”.

And so by extension, Jesus is the glory of this spiritual temple. He shows the majesty of the true builder, God, who has placed Jesus as the capstone of the temple! Peter shows here in verse 7 that for Jesus to be the Living Stone, it means that he is the glory of this heavenly temple. All who come to Jesus in faith behold the glory of God!

So, Jesus is both the cornerstone and the capstone, both the foundation and the glory of this spiritual temple that God is building! This imagery essentially paints a picture that Jesus makes up the entire temple. That’s actually affirmed in verse 8. Verse 8 has the third Old Testament quote about a stone. Peter again uses a passage about a stone to describe Jesus. This quote in verse 8 comes from Isaiah 8:14. In its original context, God, is declaring to Israel that he himself shall be a sanctuary. Isaiah 8:14 says, “Then he [God] shall become a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Did you catch that? In this Old Testament passage, God says that he will be this stone, and that this stone would be a sanctuary. In other words, in this Old Testament passage, the stone is not just a foundation stone or just a capstone. It’s the whole sanctuary. The whole building. And so this quote in verse 8 completes the idea of Jesus being a spiritual temple. According to Peter, Jesus is this sanctuary from Isaiah 8:14. He has become this spiritual, heavenly, temple for God’s people.

And so, Peter quoted three Old Testament passages about a stone. Each one had to do with a temple. Peter uses each of them to declare Jesus as the Living Stone. Jesus is a spiritual temple. In and through him, we too are joined to this temple. He’s foundation of this spiritual temple. He’s the glory of this spiritual temple! He himself is the temple. Each of these three Old Testament passages brings out a unique nuance of how Jesus is this temple. Peter sums this up by calling Jesus this Living Stone.

I’d like to turn now and consider the two different ways someone can respond to this Living Stone. Peter presents two possible responses. You can believe in Jesus and therefore come to him in faith. Or you can not believe and reject him. Here Peter describes the reality for those who believe and the destiny for those who do not.

For those who believe, Peter clearly demonstrates that they are identified with Jesus. They are united to him. Jesus’ life is their life. There are several ways we see this identification in this passage. Jesus is described as the chosen stone in verse 4, the believers are also called chosen in verse 9; same word in the Greek. Jesus is described as precious in verse 6; verse 7 connects this preciousness with believers. This connection isn’t as clear in our pew bible translation, but the sense in the original is that Jesus’ precious value is something for us; for our benefit. As the NASB translates it, “This precious value, then, is for you who believe.” Of course the clearest way our identification with Christ is expressed in this passage is in verses 4 and 5. Jesus is called a Living Stone in verse 4. In verse 5 believers are called living stones. Those who believe are living stones, just like the Living Stone, Jesus Christ. And so, Jesus, the Living Stone, is wonderfully identified with those who believe in him!

Saints of God — YOU are those who believe! See yourself in the text! You have been identified with Jesus, the foundation and glory of this spiritual temple, the chosen, precious, and Living Stone! You are chosen by God, you are precious to God, you are living stones! How precious this Living Stone is to us! Because of this Living Stone, we are being built up into a temple in which God dwells through his spirit. We are being built into an indestructible heavenly temple. This temple is not like the earthly temples in Israel’s history. They were destroyed. No, God’s people are built up in Christ into a temple not made with hands. A temple that no one can shake. A temple that no one can mar its glory.

But our passage today also addresses those who do not believe in verse 7. It says, to those who disbelieve, to those who disobey the word of God: these have NOT been identified with the Living Stone! These are the ones who have denied the gospel; who do not trust in the Living Stone. To them, it says that Jesus is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense! These have not been chosen to receive life but have been destined to live in rejection to God’s Word. The Living Stone is not of precious value to them, but presumably the things of this world are more precious to them. These have rejected the Living Stone, and so they themselves stand rejected by God.

But why would anyone reject Jesus Christ, the Living Stone? Well it talks about here in verse 8 how Jesus is a stumbling stone to them. Jesus is a rock of offense to them. In other words, the contrast is that for believers Jesus is a precious stone. To unbelievers, he’s something they get tripped up on, or offended by. Think about this for a moment. Think of how people can get tripped up on Jesus. Jesus tells us that if you follow him, you’ll be seeking heavenly treasure. That you might have to suffer now for a little while in this world. That in this world you will have trouble. He tells us to endure this for a little while for our future glory is worth it. But surely that is a stumbling block to many. Surely many have chosen to find their comfort and hope in this world. We said how Christian have become pilgrims in this world. We are now strangers and aliens in this world. Surely many who reject Jesus are so attached to this world, that they cannot bear being strangers in it. They do not find hope in the idea of being united with Jesus or in being built up into a spiritual temple. Rather, they desire to cling to earthly treasures, not spiritual ones. They stumble over the way of Christ and the cross.

Similarly, Jesus tells people that they have sins that need to be forgiven. That can offend people. We see the Pharisees, for example, offended when Jesus calls them to account for their sins and hypocrisy. Jesus’ message can offend those who don’t think they have any problem with sin. That can cause people to reject Jesus as well. For us, we’ve seen our sin and know that Jesus’ atonement is so precious to us. Others can just be offended and reject the Christian faith.

And so unbelievers can stumble over Jesus teaching and they can be offended by it. But what a terrible thing it is to reject Jesus the Living Stone! For, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”! Jesus quoted this same passage from Psalm 118:22 to the Jewish religious leaders who had rejected him. Jesus applied it to them as a word of judgment! Speaking of this stone, in other words himself, Jesus told them: “The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44). Those are frightening words. Jesus basically says that Psalm 118 implies judgment for those who’ve rejected him. I’m sure Jesus’ application of this passage is in the back of Peter’s mind here. Peter quotes the same passage in verse 7 and directs it toward the unbelievers. Surely he has Jesus’ teaching on that passage in mind here. To those who disbelieve, to those who stumble on the rock of offense, Jesus is saying, “the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him”. This is the destiny for those who do not believe; they have been judged. They’ve denied the living hope of heaven in favor of the dead hope of this world.

Let me be abundantly clear. If you do not trust in Jesus, then you have no eternal hope. You are destined to suffer God’s punishment for your sins for all eternity! If that is you today, then I plead with you. Place your faith in Jesus and in his saving work on the cross! See how precious Jesus is! Repent of your sins and turn to Christ, that you might have the life that is truly life! May you too be known as a living stone, being built up into this spiritual temple of God’s people.

Do you see the ramifications of these two responses? This passages shows that when you encounter Christ, there is a choice to be made. You can’t just simply step over Jesus. You can’t just simply walk around him. There’s a choice to be made when you encounter him. Encountering Jesus will leave you changed. For some it will mean salvation. For others it will mean destruction.

So let’s summarize what we’ve said today. Peter has presented Jesus as a spiritual temple. Jesus is both the foundation and glory of this temple. By coming to Jesus we have access to God. We worship God through Jesus. And when we come to Jesus we become part of this temple. This of course means we no longer worship God in a physical temple. This church building is a building, but it is not a temple. The gathered church is the temple. The people of God coming to Christ is the temple. Not a physical structure anymore. That’s why long term the book of Revelation tells us that there won’t be a temple anymore, in terms of a physical structure, that is. Revelation 21:22 says that in glory, there won’t be a temple, because God and Jesus will dwell with us, forever. You see, that’s what the physical temple in the Old Testament represented. God’s presence among the people. It was how they could draw near to God and worship him. By going to the temple. In eternity in glory, we won’t need a physical structure like that, because God will live right there with us. That’s amazing to think about. And yet this passage says we already taste of that spiritually. Already that future is present, spiritually through Christ. As we come to Jesus, we come the spiritual temple, right now. As we come to him, we are made a part of that glorious temple.

What a wonderful contrast then is presented here between believers and unbelievers. The book of 1 Peter has been talking about how we might have to suffer now for a little while. He tells us glory will be in the future. And yet even now spiritually we participate in that future glory. Already we have access to God through Christ. The world denies this. The world might try to shame us today because of this. But this passage says they’ve got it wrong. Verse 7 says that we will not be put to shame. Believers won’t be put to shame. The world might try to shame us, but the reality is the opposite. They will be put to shame on the day of Christ’s return. But for us on that day, we will dwell with God forever. What we experience spiritually now, will come to a glorious fulfillment then.

And so my closing exhortation then is this. Come to Jesus. Since we’ve tasted that the Lord is good, let us come to Jesus. That’s the response commended in this passage. We don’t want to stumble over Jesus. No, we come to him. We come to him in faith. We come to him believing. But more than that: we come to him as a temple. That means we come to him in worship and in prayer. We come to him to serve God. Verse 5 describes this coming to him, as coming as priests. Priests worship and draw near to God. Verse 5 says that as priests we should offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus. Of course, not sacrifices for atonement. That’s already happened in Jesus. That’s why we come to God in Christ. But yet we still offer up spiritual sacrifices it says. Our worship of God and the ways we serve him now are all spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving that we offer to him.

This goes back to what I said last week. For us to crave the pure milk of God is more than just taking in God’s Word. It includes all the ways in which we come to Jesus. All the ways in which we receive Christ into our lives. It includes all the ways we experience God and his goodness through Christ. Come to Jesus and you will take in the pure milk of God. Come to Jesus, and experience God. Come to Jesus and you come to divine blessings. To divine nourishment. Come to Jesus in worship, in prayer, and to learn from him from his Word. Let us in all things, come to Christ and abide with him. Let’s pray.

Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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