RPM, Volume 16, Number 7, February 23 to March 1, 2014

Stones and the Stone

1 Peter 2:4-8

By D. Marion Clark

1 Peter 2:4-8

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. 6 For 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."
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,"
8 and,
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

The moment of truth arrived one day in the life of Jesus and his disciples. They had been with one another for a couple of years or more, had seen his miracles and heard his teaching. So, one day he asked them:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matthew 16:13-18).

Peter passed his test through his confession of Jesus to be Messiah, and Jesus promised him that through such a confession his church would be built. In our text today, Peter talks about this building program and our role in it.

The Precious Cornerstone

The section we are moving into, verses 4-10, is obviously an effort by Peter to again encourage his readers, reminding them of who they are. They come to Christ who is the living Stone, which has an effect on their lives.

What is meant by the imagery of stone? This is not the same word from which Peter derives his name. That word is petra or petros. This word is lithos. Petra is usually translated "rock," and it refers to the large rock imbedded in the earth or a mountain. Paul refers to the rock from which the Israelites drank water in the wilderness as a symbol for Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus used this word to describe the foundation upon which a wise man builds his house, as opposed to building on sand (Matthew 7:24ff).

Lithos would be stone used to build a structure. It is building block. Jesus is the living building block. Living indicates that stone is a metaphor, just as you might say, "Those defensive lineman are a living brick wall." Of course, with Jesus you can never discount the other implications. He is the one who rose from the dead, after all, and he has the power to give life to the dead. He is both living and life-giving, which fits in well with the point Peter wants to make about Jesus' followers.

As you come to him, the living Stone…you also, like living stones are being built… As you come to Jesus, the living Stone, you become living stones. There is a transformation which takes place; you become like Christ. It is not that they have become perfect like Christ; indeed, Peter is writing to them about unChrist-like behavior; but a spiritual work has been done within them to make them acceptable to God like Christ. How so? We see it through what is happening to them.

Peter goes on: you are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Let's break this sentence down. As building stones, they are being used as building material for a spiritual house. A shift is taking place in Peter's address to his readers. Up to this time he has spoken to them as individuals. As individuals they were each born into a new hope. As individuals they are to live holy lives and love one another. As individuals, Christ redeemed them. But now, as individual stones, they are being built into one building, one spiritual house. What is this one house? It is the house of the Lord, or as Jesus once said, his father's house. We together are a dwelling place of the Lord; we are his temple.

In this spiritual house or temple, we serve as holy priests. In the context of our community — our being together — we carry out the work of the priesthood. What is that work? Offering acceptable sacrifices to God.

This was the primary duty of the Jewish priests — to execute the sacrifices. The writer to the Hebrews notes: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices (10:11). There were burnt offerings, cereal offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings; offerings for the sins of the nation and for personal sins; offerings to cleanse the unclean and offerings to redeem from sin. And for these offerings to be acceptable to God, they must be made only in the temple in Jerusalem and only through the assistance of the priests. And the priests could only be the descendants of Aaron.

Peter is saying, "Together, you form the acceptable temple; you make up the acceptable priesthood. Through Jesus Christ, i.e. through his priestly work of sacrifice that makes you holy and your faith in him, you now are able to offer acceptable spiritual sacrifices."

What are these spiritual sacrifices? Romans 12:1 speaks of our bodies; Paul refers to the gifts sent to him by the Philippians as acceptable sacrifice to God (Philippians 4:18); Hebrews 13:15,16 refers to praise and sharing with others as pleasing sacrifices. The fact is that all that we do should be an offering to God.

Peter's emphasis is not on the specifics of the sacrifices, but rather on the connectedness of the Christian believers. Together they are a spiritual house; together they form a priesthood; and through their life together they offer acceptable spiritual sacrifices. And it is not just being together, but being together in Jesus Christ, living out their communal life through him.

Verse 6, a quotation from Isaiah 28:16, reinforces the place of Christ:
For 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."

The cornerstone, which bears the weight of the whole structure is Jesus. God himself has selected this stone, deems it to be of great value, and has laid it in its place. Therefore, those who trust in him (which is the essence of being a Christian — we put our faith in him) will be secure in their salvation.

In summary, Jesus Christ is the precious cornerstone. He is precious to God who chose him and placed him in his position. It is through him that God accepts our sacrifices. Thus Jesus is also precious to his people, because he is a sure foundation and through him they have access to God.

The Stumbling Stone

But Jesus is not precious to everyone; indeed, this living Stone is rejected by others as unworthy to even use.

7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone," 8 and
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

Peter brings together two Old Testament passages. The first is Psalm 118:22. This is the psalm pilgrims to Jerusalem would sing as they processed to the temple. It is a psalm of God's salvation, exulting in his deliverance of them from their enemies. Let me read the verse in its context:

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
23 the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

25 O LORD, save us;
O LORD, grant us success.
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
From the house of the LORD we bless you (21-26).

Where have you heard this last verse, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord? Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Jesus enters into Jerusalem before the Passover with all the other pilgrims who would have been singing this psalm. As he approaches, they direct this line to him as the Messiah who would fulfill it. Peter says, yes, he did fulfill the psalm as the Messiah, all of it — he is the stone rejected by the builders and exalted as the capstone by the Lord. (By the way, did you catch that last phrase: From the house of the Lord we bless you? That's what we are being built up into as living stones.)

Note who rejects the most precious of all the stones — the builders. The very persons who should have recognized its value reject it as worthless. Who is it that rejects Jesus as the Messiah? The religious leaders, the very persons who should have recognized Jesus to be the fulfillment of prophecy. But then, so has mankind in general. Go back to verse 4: As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by men. The Jewish religious leaders failed; so did, and so do, most people.

Note also the slight change in terminology for this precious stone. The quote from Isaiah 28:16 depicts the stone as cornerstone. Jesus is the foundational stone upon which the house of God is built. In Psalm 118:22 he is the capstone. He is the crowning stone of glory for the building. Jesus rejected and killed by man, would be raised and exalted by God.

The next quote comes from Isaiah 8:14: A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." The context of this verse is enlightening and sobering:

Do not call conspiracy
everything that these people call conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
and do not dread it.
13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,
14 and he will be 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.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured (8:12-15).

The Israelites feared the nations around them. God warned them that they feared the wrong party — fear God, not man. God will be your sanctuary. But, if you refuse to make God your sanctuary, then be aware that he will become your snare. If he will not be the rock in which you take refuge, then he will become the stone that makes you stumble and the rock that makes you fall. Peter applies this message to Jesus. If the builders and others toss away the central stone reserved for the true temple of God, they will find themselves later tripping over that same stone and falling to their destruction.

Why do they stumble? They stumble because they disobey the message. What message? The gospel of Jesus Christ. Now note here, Peter does not say "unable to believe" he says "disobey." Unbelievers would surely protest such a characterization of themselves. "Peter, we would like to believe, but your evidence is not persuasive." Peter's position: "You do not believe because you do not want to. Your problem is not intellectual, but in the heart." God does not condemn man for unbelief in itself, but for refusal to believe.

And then also note Peter's additional comment—which is also what they were destined for. This is a clear statement of predestination, and Peter's point for bringing it in is to assure his readers that those who reject Christ have not frustrated God.

Hearing about how easily their Savior is rejected can raise some insecure feelings. "Why are we believers the minority? Did God come up with a plan that is not working? Is he a god with good intentions, but just has not been able to figure out how to convince the average person? How strong is God to save us when he can be resisted so easily?" Peter assures his readers that those who reject Christ are not rejecting their destinies; they are not frustrating God's "wonderful plan for their lives." Rather, they are fulfilling the destinies planned for them.


Now, what is the Christian community to learn from this passage? Let's review our text which is rich in lessons for us. The first section of verses 4-6 teaches believers the importance of community centered around Jesus.

What was Peter trying to get across to the Christians scattered among somewhat hostile peoples? Stick together. Be the community that you actually are in Christ. Being a follower of Christ is not about us each finding our own way; it is about joining in with other followers so that together we glorify God and withstand the trials of the world.

Let's go back to verse 4. As you come to him, the living Stone. Here is the image of us as individuals coming to Christ. Once we come to him we find that we become living stones…being built into a spiritual house. We may come as individuals to Christ, but once in Christ we are connected to one another. And we are not just connected together; rather, we are connected to build a house for the Lord in which we may please him.

The lesson is obvious to us. Be a community. Be intentional about gathering together for worship. Be intentional about getting together to build each other up in the Lord. Could any Christian dare, after reading such verses say, "I don't need church to worship God?" Well, if you want to offer worship that is acceptable to God, apparently you do. You can and should worship God privately, but corporate worship is as important, if not more. We are members of a body; we are living stones of a spiritual house. We are connected. The one Holy Spirit who dwells in each of us, dwells among us connecting us together.

Peter's lesson to his people is the same to us — live out physically what is true of us spiritually. Love each other in Christ. Encourage each other in the faith. Hold one another accountable in our Christian walk. Minister together. Pray together. Confess our sins to one another. And do these things not according to how we may feel at any time, but as much as possible and with as many as possible.

There is a clear lesson in this passage for unbelievers, or rather, a clear warning. The second section, verses 7-8, stands as a warning to those who will not receive Jesus on his own terms. I use that phrase, "on his own terms," intentionally. There are not many persons, religious or nonreligious, who would regard themselves as enemies of Christ. Nevertheless, if Jesus is not their cornerstone or capstone, the only other option is for him to be a stumbling stone.

There are those who believe Jesus to be a special religious leader, maybe even the most god-like man who ever lived. There are those who regard him as a great model of love or justice. They would not agree that they are rejecting Jesus. They just cannot accept the accounts of Jesus that make him Messiah, a Savior. They cannot accept the accounts that would make him God, or at least in a way that we are not God. They are happy to have Jesus as part of their building.

That's not an option. He is the cornerstone upon which our faith in God must rest. He is the capstone which we must exalt above all else. We must accept that we are no temple without him. He is the precious stone chosen by God, and we will rise up to God on him and through him, or we will fall from God tripping over him.

Jesus is the line drawn on the ground. He is the test of the heart. Do you love God? Do you want to know God? Then what do you confess about Jesus? Can you have honest doubt? Yes, but if it is honest, you will make the effort to learn, and you will recognize that your obstacle is not purely intellectual, but that you fear the humbling of yourself that is required.

You see, the Bible is right. Our problem, even as Christians, is not that we can't make sense of the gospel and God's Word. Our problem is that we don't want to. We have to give up so much. But then that is the irony. In our fear to lose what belongs to us, we stumble and lose everything. Jesus said it best: Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it (Mark 8:35). Only through obedience to Jesus — believing on him on his terms — will we know life.

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