Summary: What it means to be building stones of the house of God.
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 descendents of Aaron.