Being God’s House
1 Peter 2:4 - 12
OT Reading Psalm 118:22 – 29
Appearances can be deceiving.
A few years ago I was doing some lecturing at the Bible College of SA, in their preaching class. And, as part of the course, each week, at the beginning of class, one or two students would preach to the class, and then everyone would give feedback.
It’s a process that someone once described as a “blowtorch to your belly”, having a group of your peers critique your sermon!
But it was a good way to learn!
I remember one sermon that I heard there, the preacher began by saying, “You should be glad, that I’m not God!”
I can’t remember anything else about that sermon, or anything about any of the other sermons I heard there, but I keep coming back to that line, You should be glad I’m not God.
Because it’s true isn’t it?!
The way God chooses to bring his purposes about, is so completely different to the way that we would choose, were we in his position.
Think of the great problem facing humanity, our sin and rebellion against God.
If we had to identify the person most able to solve that problem, we’d probably choose someone who looks the part, someone who has “centre of God’s plans”, written all over them.
Surely if someone is that significant, they’re going to look impressive.
But appearances can be deceiving.
I’ve told some of you this story before.
A couple of years ago, Jake Oliver went out for a walk.
Jake was a 12 year old British schoolboy, and he looks, pretty much like your average 12 year old British school boy.
So he was out, minding his own business, when a guy in a balaclava jumped out and tried to mug him.
He threatened Jake, and tried to steal his mobile phone.
He was a big bloke, 6 foot, a hundred kilos, and remember, Jake’s 12 , a skinny little school kid.
Jake later told the local paper “I'd worked really hard, doing lots of odd jobs to pay for the phone and I hated having to give it away."
And so he didn’t.
Jake says “he swung at me so I had no choice but to defend myself, So I side-stepped his punch and delivered a right-hander in the face.
It broke his nose and there was blood everywhere."
Appearances can be deceiving.
You see while Jake looked like an ordinary 12 year old school boy, he wasn’t!
He was, in his age group, the karate world champion!
Appearances can be deceiving.
Did you notice what Peter said about Jesus in the opening verse of this section from 1 Peter 2?
A Question of Identity – part 1: Who is Jesus?
Look with me from verse 4.
As you come to him, Peter says, the living Stone - rejected by men, but chosen by God and precious to him - 5
And a bit further down,
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,”, or the Cornerstone
“A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
Jesus is the cornerstone, the centrepiece of God’s plans for all of creation, chosen and precious, and yet, what does Peter say about the kind of response to Jesus from the world?
Is he , universally acclaimed?
Is he , loved by everyone?
Are his ways so obviously wise in the eyes of the world, that people just can’t get enough?
Does he have the X-Factor?
Not at all.
Not impressive, not successful, by the world’s standard.
In fact, hundreds of years before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah wrote about him, He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men. Isaiah 53
Yet Jesus is the foundation of God’s most important work, the work of reconciling people to himself.
And so to reject Jesus, is to make a terrible error.
A year or so ago I built a brick retaining wall at our place, and , not actually being a brickie, this was a project with some challenges, namely keeping the various surfaces vertical and horizontal!
And some of the bricks I had were, a bit misshapen, you know, a bit sticking out here, and a bit sticking out there.
It was all I could do to keep the wall straight using the good bricks, let alone some that were a bit wonky, so anything that wasn’t perfectly square I just left to one side.
It was the same for buildings in the ancient world. Any stone that didn’t measure up was cast aside.
But Peter quotes from Psalm 118 to say that those who reject Jesus as no good, insignificant, not quite up to my standards, are actually rejecting the most important one, the very foundation of God’s work.
When we started to build our house, everyone felt the need to share their building horror stories with us, and I remember hearing about one person, who , when the concrete foundation was laid for their house, they went to have a look at it, thought “that doesn’t look right”, and discovered the foundation was in the wrong place, and actually extended a metre over the boundary into the neighbour’s property!
What do you?
If your foundation’s over here, you can’t build your building over here.
Getting your foundation right is very important!
These stone metaphors from the Old Testament, Isaiah 28, Psalm 118 and Isaiah 8, Before the New Testament era, these were understood as speaking of the Messiah, God’s chosen king who was going to come.
And whenever they’re quoted in the New Testament, They’re applied to Jesus.
He is the stone.
He is the cornerstone, the foundation,
He is the one that causes people to stumble through their unbelief, through their rejection of him.
Jesus himself, in Matthew and Mark and Luke, quotes these passages and applies them to himself.
Rejected by humans , yes, but he is chosen by God.
I think one of the most dis-heartening experiences for a Christian person, can be when you’ve shared the good news of Jesus with someone, only for them to reject Jesus outright.
I had a conversation just before Christmas when I was, well I thought I was making a pretty good case for why trusting in Jesus was good idea.
And this guy stopped me in my tracks and said, “Don’t talk to me about Jesus, I’m not interested”
That can make you feel like not wanting to talk to anyone about Jesus ever again, can’t it?!
But Peter’s encouragement for his original readers, and for us, is that no matter what anybody says about Jesus,
Now matter how strongly people might react against the good news that we bring,
We need to remember, he is chosen by God.
We need to remember Jesus’ identity, because as we’re about to see, our identity, flows from his.
Jesus is the key member, of this structure that God is building,
Appearances can be deceiving.
A Question of identity – part 2: Who am I?
So Jesus Christ is God’s chosen cornerstone, Peter says that his readers, Christian people, you , today, if you’re trusting in Jesus, your identity, flows from Jesus’ identity.
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.
Jesus is the living stone, the one who fulfils those promises God made in the Old Testament, but people who come to Jesus, that is, trust in him, verse 6, believe, verse 7, those people are also , living stones.
Our nature, our identity, derives from the nature of Christ.
So if we want to make sense of the situation we find ourselves in in the world,
Our standing before God,
We need to have a very clear picture of Jesus. Of his life, his death, his resurrection.
It’s because of his resurrection that Peter can call him a living stone.
And people who trust in this resurrected Jesus, are also “living stones”, verse 5. The life that Jesus has as a result of his resurrection becomes our life.
We’re still waiting for our resurrection, at the end of the age, but already, having come to Christ, we have this new life.
Amazing really isn’t it?
Peter thought so! Verse 5 starts with a very emphatic – even you yourselves, like living stones, are being built up.
Even you have life because of Christ, Peter says!
Appearances can be deceiving!
But a bit further down, in verse 9, Peter describes his readers a bit more, . you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.
And that sounds to us, kind of , churchy, Christian jargon.
We might not think much of it.
But for Peter’s original audience in 63 or 64 AD, those words, that identity, that he’s saying Christian people have, monumentally significant.
Who is he writing to? Chapter 1 verse 1 tells us, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout what’s now Turkey.
We can tell from some of the things that he says that he’s writing to both Jews and Gentiles.
Those who historically were God’s people, and those who historically were considered far from God.
And the way he describes both those groups of people here, is in the very words God used to describe Israel, on bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, Exodus 19.
Israel were God’s chosen people,
Israel were to be a royal priesthood,
A holy nation,
They were God’s special possession.
And so in this group are Christians from all sorts of crazy religious backgrounds, who would never have imagined themselves enjoying the privileged status Israel held.
Now they’re being told, you are God’s chosen people, God is doing his work, through you.
I heard once about a young adopted boy, who was being teased because he was adopted, he was different, and finally he had enough, so he said to the kids who were picking on him, my mum and dad chose me, your parents just had to take what they were given.
What a privilege to be chosen!
What a sense of identity and belonging and purpose, being chosen gives.
What an amazing new identity someone can have, through Jesus Christ.
So let’s spend a minute thinking about this , building project that God has undertaken.
God’s chosen people, are being built up, like living stones, into the building of which Jesus is the cornerstone or foundation, verse 5, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We who are , founded, if you like, on Jesus are being built up into God’s spiritual house.
It’s interesting language isn’t it?
A spiritual house,
It’s a place where priests minister,
A place where sacrifices are offered.
What does it sound like?
It’s a temple isn’t it?
A Question of Identity part 3 – Who is the church
The nature of the Church - A better temple
God is building a temple out of people, with Jesus Christ as the foundation.
Now again, familiarity kicks in, if you’ve been around churches for a while, you think “yeah, we’re a temple, that sounds nice!”
And there are other places in the New Testament where “temple language” is used to describe Christians, and like here, it tends to be corporate identity on view, the people of God , together in Christ, are God’s temple.
So we’re familiar with this language,
We know also that the temple of God in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, about 6 years after this letter was written, and so when we hear the word “temple”, well, we automatically think in metaphors.
But imagine that you’re a Christian, in 64 AD, somewhere in Asia Minor, far from Jerusalem, far from the temple of God in Jerusalem,
And if you were a Gentile Christians, that was a temple you couldn’t even enter. You were excluded to the very outer courtyard called the Court of the Gentiles. And in this courtyard, there were signs posted in Greek and Latin warning that no responsibility could be taken for the probable death of any Gentile who dared to venture further inside!
That was their experience of the temple! A huge building in a foreign city that stood to remind them of the distance between them and God.
But Peter says, that’s not the temple for you,
That’s not the temple that matters!
There’s a much better temple that you have access to because of Jesus, and not only do you have access to it, actually, you’re a part of it.
Everything about this new temple that God is building is better than the old one.
The old one was built by human hands, this temple is built by God. Did you notice the passive language in verse 5? You , , are being built, God’s the builder.
Even the building materials in this new temple are superior: Dead stones for the old temple, living stones for the new temple.
You know in the 3 Little Pigs, sticks are better than straw, but bricks are better than sticks!
Well living stones are way better than dead stones.
The most important thing about a temple in the first century AD, was holiness. God’s presence made the temple in Jerusalem holy as it dwelled in the Most Holy Place,
Well the Holy Spirit makes the community of God’s people holy, setting it apart as God’s own. .
The church is God’s new temple.
The church gathered around Christ,
The church with Christ as its cornerstone and foundation
Here the very nature of the church is laid bare.
The church is a spiritual temple.
One of the great things about meeting in a building like this is that it makes it easier to remember that the church isn’t a building, but a gathering of people.
But even when I worked at Trinity Hills, and we met in a hired hall, that was nowhere near as nice as this one, in the early days people would talk about “the hall.” “I left my Bible at the hall”
But then as the years went on, we slipped into calling the building , the church. “I left my Bible in the church.”
Think even of the nursery rhymes we say with our kids. And I’ve told you this before but I’ve only got a couple of good illustrations so I need to keep reusing them!
But you know this one:
Here is the church,
Here is the steeple,
Open the doors, and here’s all the people!
But what I want you to teach your kids is this:
Here is a building,
Here is a peculiar neo-gothic architectural feature of the building,
Open the doors, and there’s the church!
OK, it doesn’t rhyme, I know that. But it’s what God thinks!
The vocation of the church – Offering better sacrifices
And so having seen the nature of the church, we also have the vocation of the church explained.
In its nature, the church is a spiritual temple
And its vocation, its task, is to be a holy priesthood, a community among which the lives of Christian people are offered as sacrifices.
Of course there’s no animal sacrifices, but spiritual sacrifices, living sacrifices. And as someone once said the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep trying to crawl off the altar!
But we don’t have altars any more. Because of Christ’s priestly work, we’re able to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.
Don’t ever let anyone ever call the table at the front of a church building, an altar.
There was once a bride-to-be who was really nervous about her wedding day, and the minister said, “there’s nothing to worry about. You just walk down the aisle,
You stand at the altar,
And then we sing a hymn”
And so on the say, the bride starts to walk down to the groom, still really nervous, so she keeps saying to herself over and over “Aisle , altar , him, I’ll , alter , him”
But there’s no place for an altar in a church building.
An altar is the place where you make physical , dead sacrifice.
Peter doesn’t go into much detail about what these spiritual sacrifices are, but we get some indications what he has in mind.
In the previous chapter he’s drawn the line between holiness, being set apart for God, and right conduct.
In verse 9 he says that this new priesthood is to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
And this declaration isn’t just speech, although of course, we can’t get away from speech, but again the spotlight comes back to a Christian person’s conduct.
What are the spiritual sacrifices that you offer to God?
Well everything that flows out of a life transformed by the Spirit of God.
Everything you do that says I’m trusting in Jesus as God’s cornerstone.
Every decision and word and action that reflects your status as chosen by God.
Living an Alien Life
And so in the last section then Peter encourages his readers to live the kind of lives that reflect their identity.
Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
How does an alien live?
Well, forget about little green men, this is another Old Testament allusion.
Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel described himself in these terms in Genesis 23.
Peter says, like Abraham, you’re living in a place that ultimately isn’t your home.
Don’t expect this to be the place that meets your needs, and where everything comes naturally.
Do you know the story of Mehran Nasseri, He’s an Iranian refugee, expelled from his country, and he ended up in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in 1988. But because he didn’t have papers to enter France, he was stuck in the airport, a stranger, a foreigner, and so he lived there, in the airport terminal , for 28 years.
In the first century AD foreigners had questionable rights, And unlike today when if you’re in a foreign country, you throw yourself into the local customs, you eat the fried cockroaches, and all that kind of thing, back then foreigners didn’t immerse themselves in their host culture.
This is the place where you are, but it’s not your home.
There’s always going to be a sense of disjointedness and even hostility, because your citizenship is actually as part of God’s holy nation.
So Peter says as aliens and strangers, live , differently, live what we might call evangelistic lives.
Now, when I’m talking to my non-Christian friends about Christianity, they almost always think it’s about doing good things to get into heaven,
We need to make sure that when we read about ,
Living good lives,
Offering spiritual sacrifices,
That we don’t slip in to thinking this is how we earn a right relationship with God.
But this is how we live, because , of , our identity.
Remember this is alien behaviour.
And so aliens, people who know their identity, and know their citizenship, who know that they’ve been drawn into God’s spiritual temple through Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, they can live a life that shows God’s glory, shows God for who he is, a life that impacts the lives of others, That they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
It was Francis of Assisi who said, “preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” Which, you know, sounds good, but if the gospel is the good news of what God has done to bring to bring us, who were his enemies, to himself, how do you do that without words?
How do you do the bit about Jesus dying in your place, for your rebellion against God, without words?
That’s some game of charades!
But equally, we can’t expect people to hear and believe the word of the gospel if there is no evidence of it having any impact on our lives at all!
Before we started this church I wrote the names of 6 people on my Starting Six card, it was a thing that everyone who was involved in the startup did. These are people I’m still praying for, that through the ministry of this church, they will glorify God on the day he visits us.
But say Chris, who’s in position 5 on my card, imagine he said to me one day,
“Clayton how can I believe that Jesus can make a difference to my life when there’s no evidence that he’s made any difference at all in your life?”
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
If you’re a Christian person, the way you live your life matters.
I can remember speaking to Christians in the UK a number of years ago, who were just so pleased that a young man named Gareth Gates who was the favourite to win the first ever Pop Idol contest, was a Christian.
How wonderful they said, that someone so much in the limelight, was a follower of Jesus.
But eventually it emerged that Gareth had had a sexual relationship with one of the judges on the show, and people found themselves wishing that he wasn’t quite so well-known as a Christian, and everybody’s worst preconceptions about the gospel seemed to be confirmed, and the Jesus haters had a field day.
I’m not having a go at him, I’m just pointing out, what happens, when verse 12 doesn’t happen.
Some of you spend your days in environments where Christianity and , Christians, are looked down upon.
Where , because you’re a Christian, from time to time you’re treated worse than everybody else.
Where , because you’re a Christian, you’re mocked or ridiculed,
Where , in some work places even, because you’re a Christian, you won’t get promoted.
But it’s not just among the friendly pagans that Peter urges his readers to live well.
He wants us to live well among people who are opposed to the Christian message, not people who are , just , indifferent.
Peter knows, Christians will be opposed and accused at every turn, and yet in those very situations, when people speak badly of you, your good deeds can’t be argued with.
And you can imagine how the conversations might go.
That Clayton, he’s so tight with his money, .
“Actually, no, I actually happened to catch him being really generous.”
He’s a Christian, he’s so sure he’s right about everything.
“Well, actually he was very gracious in apologising for something he’d misunderstood”
I’m making these up, I’m not trying to make myself sound good, but I would hope these might be the sorts of conversations people could have about me.
Friends if people see how you act, and how you respond to ridicule, gossip, lies,
Then when they hear the good news of Jesus,
When they understand the teaching that has shaped your life,
They have a choice to then put the pieces together,
I know why Clayton lives the way he does, it’s because this message has transformed him.
For some, their rejection of Christ will turn to obedience to Christ,
And God will be glorified.
Because appearances can be deceiving,
But appearances, aren’t always deceiving are they?
The way we live, will make us look strange and foreign, in a broken and hurting world, because that’s exactly what we are, strangers and foreigners, who are actually part of God’s chosen people, his holy nation, the temple where he dwells.