Christ the Cornerstone
What is the primary Biblical image Jesus’ disciple Peter used to describe Jesus? You might think Messiah, Savior, Lamb of God, Shepherd. Actually the primary Biblical image one of his disciples, Peter, used to portray Jesus is the Cornerstone. The first time Peter mentions Jesus as the Cornerstone is shortly after Pentecost, after Jesus’ resurrection and the Holy Spirit came filling the disciples like tongues of fire. Peter and John were dragged before the religious leaders to explain how they had healed a man. With the courage of the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly proclaimed in front of the very same religious leaders that had Jesus put to death, that the man was healed in the name and power of Jesus and then he quoted Psalm 118:22, Peter said, “He [Jesus] is ‘the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone (cornerstone).’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12).”
In our day and age, unless you’re a stone mason, you probably don’t think much about cornerstones because most of our houses don’t have a cornerstone. We have poured concrete foundations, and studded walls. But in the 1st century Israel the primary building material, or at least their foundation material, was stone. And the most important stone in the whole house was the cornerstone. The cornerstone was the first stone to be laid in construction. It became the foundation upon which all the other stones were set. The cornerstone had to be the perfect stone and set just so because if it was off, even a little bit, the whole building was off. Those who are in construction know how frustrating it can be when a foundation is not plumb.
Peter tells us Jesus Christ is the stone that was rejected. He was rejected by the Jews, he was rejected by the Gentiles (Romans). When Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself, even his own Father rejected him, at least for a little while. But because he himself was sinless, God raised him up and placed him as the Cornerstone. He is the foundation, there is no other foundation upon which we can build our lives which will result in our salvation because any other foundation would be flawed.
Peter tells us no one can avoid the cornerstone, you are either going to trip and stumble over it, and reject him, or you are going to accept him, and build your life upon him. Not just on his teaching, but on the person of Jesus. The one thing you can’t do is ignore him.
Living Stones Built into a Living Temple of the Holy Spirit
In the NRSV 1 Peter 2:5 reads a little differently, it says, “…Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” In other words, there is a choice I need to make. First, am I willing to build myself on Christ as the cornerstone? Are we building on Christ as the cornerstone or on some other foundation? Building on Jesus means we put our faith in him, but it also means we set our lives according to his. We line our lives up according to his.
Second, will I allow God to work on my rough edges to be built into God’s spiritual house? Stones that come out of a quarry usually aren’t ready to be used for building, at least not right away. They need to be chiseled and formed to fit the location the mason wants to place it. Without taking the rough edges off it makes it difficult to set it stably on the foundation. It is also difficult for any other stones to rest next to it or on top of it.
The imagery Peter is giving us is a human version of the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s interesting that today if you go to Jerusalem you can go down to see where Solomon’s Temple was built and they say in some places they had stones that weighed tens of thousands of pounds, yet you can’t even slip a piece of paper in between them. They were perfectly shaped to fit together into a foundation for God’s Temple.
Even when we are saved by God through Jesus we still have some rough edges in our life, our mouth, our attitude, our anger, our self-centeredness, our pride. They still haven’t been changed yet. Jesus has given us new life, he has forgiven us our sins, but our attitudes and behaviors haven’t caught up with our new life yet. We require a process of chiseling off our rough edges. We can’t do this on our own, but we can allow God to do it. As we were reminded last week in reading Peter, God said, “be holy because I am holy.” In our new life in Christ we are meant to be set apart for him, that’s what it means to be holy, set apart for God. Our life should reflect the Cornerstone, we are citizens of God’s kingdom, not our cultures. So we must each ask ourselves, "Am I willing to be shaped and used as a living stone for God’s purposes, am I allowing God to take off the sharp edges which do not reflect him, so he can fit us into where he wants us?
Living Stones Built into a Spiritual House
As living stones building on Christ the Cornerstone, we should notice that we are not alone. God is building a spiritual house (v. 5). One stone does not a house make. One stone can’t even make a wall. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to Ephesus about how we, together, are built on Christ the cornerstone to become God’s holy temple:
Eph. 2:19 Consequently, you are...fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
It begins with Christ as the cornerstone, then the apostles, and prophets who form the foundation, and then we as living stones build upon this foundation, on top of those who have gone before us in the faith and next to each other to form a spiritual house (as Peter calls it), or a holy temple (as Paul calls it). You can imagine this is a big house with lots of stones, each represent the billions of Christians in years past and today. Together we become God’s new living temple. We become the place where God lives by his Spirit.
Too often in our individualistic Christian culture we have been taught that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit lives in me, therefore all I need is myself and Jesus, I don’t need other Christians. But more often in the Scriptures it says we (together) are the dwelling place or temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s why Jesus said, “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them (Matt. 18:20).” In order to experience God’s power and the presence of the Spirit, we need to be together. So what happens if we don’t continue to meet together whether in worship, Bible studies, fellowship, or prayer meetings? We draw away from the power of Holy Spirit. That’s why it is harder to live a Christian life without other believers.
We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We are part of a great movement of God’s Spirit which the Bible calls the church. The church is not this building, the church is the people of God. God chooses to work through the church. I believe God is working powerfully even in our times. But in order for the power of the Spirit to manifest requires us to work together to accomplish it That’s why Peter goes on to say in 1 Peter 2:5 we are built into a spiritual house, “to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices.”
We are a Holy Priesthood Offering Spiritual Sacrifices
In Jesus’ day priests were men set aside by God to serve God on behalf of the people of God. The priests did God’s work. The priests did the work of worship, the priests served God in the holy places on behalf of the people, they made the spiritual sacrifices. But now that Jesus has made the one time sacrifice for us all by taking our sins upon himself, we all have become priests. We no longer need someone else to do the work of ministry for us. We don’t need the priest to do it, we don’t need the pastor to do it, we don’t need paid professionals to serve God for us. We are all able to do God’s work. God has gifted each one of us with talents, with skills, with abilities so we can work together to accomplish God’s mission. We don’t need to sit and wait for someone else to do it for us. We don’t need to sit and wait for the United Methodist denomination to it. We don’t need to sit and wait for our conference to get their act together. We have already been equipped with everything we need right here, right now to serve each other and to minister to our community, because we together have the Holy Spirit. We just need to do it. We need to use what God has given us to accomplish his mission which as Jesus said was to make disciples of Jesus.
God is inviting us all to offer our spiritual sacrifices. What are these spiritual sacrifices?
What are some of the spiritual sacrifices God expects us to make?
1. Gifts and talents – God gives us our abilities for a reason, so we will use them for his purposes and not for our own selfish gain.
2. Praise - 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. We center our lives around continual praise to God. Once, when the religious leaders told Jesus to rebuke the people for shouting and praising Jesus on Palm Sunday. Jesus said if they keep quiet, even the stones will cry out.” We make a sacrifice of praise.
3. Financial gifts - "[The gifts the believers had sent to Paul] are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God" (Philippians 4:18). We offer our money and possessions freely to help spread the gospel.
4. Love one another – Sometimes it is a sacrifice to love others because we may not like them. "Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2). We offer love, to God and to others.
5. "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased" (Hebrews 13:16). We do good and share freely with others.
6. Our Selves - "I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1). We offer ourselves and our wills to God’s control. We offer our gifts and talents back to him.
Let me close by reading again those verses from Psalm 118
“22 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone (cornerstone); 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.”
Why can we rejoice in this day, because the Lord has made it? Yes, but we also rejoice in today because the stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. Have we chosen to rest on that Cornerstone? Are we being the living house where the Spirit dwells as we regularly gather with other Christian believers? Are we giving God our spiritual sacrifices by using our gifts and talents to serve each other?