Built Upon a Living Stone audio (4MB)
Picture a team of stonemasons, preparing to build a great temple; perhaps it’s the replacement for Solomon’s temple that was destroyed by the armies of Babylon. They pick up all the stones that look the right shape to fit into the wall of a building and put them in a pile, ready to use later. Every now and then, though, they find one that’s been broken off in such a way that it’s too crooked to use in a wall. Those ones they cast aside. But then when the construction begins the master builder comes along and sorts through the rejects to find a stone that’s just the right shape to form the cornerstone of the foundation. This is the stone that the rest of the building will be aligned with. It’s the critical stone in the foundation because everything else gets it’s alignment from it.
It’s a great story isn’t it? The reject that becomes the most valuable member. There’s something there that appeals to our Australian love of the underdog, isn’t there? And I guess it’s something we all dream about. Going into an op shop, as I do every now and then, and discovering some treasure - not that I ever do - though I did get a coffee plunger for $2 the other day. But of course this isn’t a picture of some everyday occurrence. No, Peter here is talking about the spiritual temple of God: the replacement for Solomon’s temple, yes, but a spiritual replacement. And notice what he says about it.
The Foundation of the Temple
First of all, what’s the foundation, the cornerstone of this new temple? Well it’s Jesus Christ isn’t it? Jesus was rejected by those he came to speak to, by the leaders of his own people in fact. He was put to death by them, but God had chosen him to form the foundation of this new spiritual temple. He’s the living stone that’ll begin the process of building a living temple for God. And he wasn’t just chosen, he was precious in God’s sight. He appeared to be a reject but in fact he was the most precious treasure you could imagine.
But notice that this isn’t just about Jesus either. It’s also about us. What does he say? He says: “Come to him.” “Come to Jesus.” Why? Why are we called to come to Jesus? We’re called to come to him so we too can become part of the temple of God. He describes us as living stones as well, just like Jesus. This is a temple that will have a life of it’s own, that will grow and grow in strength and stature.
But there’s something else in this picture of a new Temple of God. We discover that we actually have two different parts to play in the growth of this temple.
First of all we’re the building blocks that form the structure of the building. The church is nothing if it doesn’t have you and me to hold it up. You may have seen the old notice board proverb “CH__CH is nothing without UR in it”. If you’re old enough you might remember the show “Yes, Minister!” You’ll recall that it was set around the work of the UK Minister for Administrative Affairs and I remember one episode when a new hospital had just been built and the Departmental Secretary was asked how the new hospital was functioning. His answer was that it was going fabulously. When asked what was the secret to this success he pointed out that they didn’t have any patients yet. Hospitals work much better when there aren’t any patients. Well, you might think the same thing is true for a church. There’d certainly be fewer problems if we didn’t have any people in the church, that’s for sure! But it wouldn’t be much of a church would it? In fact it wouldn’t be a church at all. No, the church is the people. We are the living stones, being built into a living temple, a place where people can come to encounter God.
Our task as building blocks of the temple is to bind together in unity to create a strong and stable structure. We’re living stones which means we need to keep growing, not in size but in strength, in maturity, so the bonds we have with one another become stronger and stronger as time goes on.
But having said that, we need to be careful how we understand all this. It’s all too easy to hear what I just said and still think of a physical building. Where is this place where people can come to encounter God? Is it this building here? Well, it might be when we’re here meeting together. Our weekly meeting to praise God, to hear from his word, to give him our corporate worship is a vital place where people will meet God. But equally they’ll encounter God when they encounter us. Do you see that next bit. Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood. The priests are those who stand between God and people. They’re the ones who bring God’s word to the people on behalf of God and who offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. So one of our roles as God’s people is to bring God’s word to those around us. To share the gospel with people. To introduce God to those who don’t know him.
That happens at all sorts of levels of course. I was doing it the other day with the family of someone who had died, who needed to hear that there is life after death if they’ll trust in Jesus Christ. I do it every time I walk out of the church during the week and someone is walking past and I smile at them and say good morning or good afternoon. You might do it by taking a casserole to someone who’s been sick or by visiting someone in hospital and offering to pray for them.
The other thing that priests do is the offering of sacrifices. Not the sort of sacrifices that were offered in Solomon’s temple: hundreds of sheep and cattle with blood pouring everywhere. No. What are the sacrifices that we’re called to offer? He describes them as spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
One of the things that we can do as Christians is to offer to pray for our friends. That’s a spiritual sacrifice to God, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever had someone refuse when I’ve offered to pray for them. And it’s a priestly act isn’t it? What’s more, it’s something that any one of us can do.
But this spiritual sacrifice is even more than that.
I don’t know whether Peter had read Paul’s letter to the Romans, though it’s possible that he has because he mentions Paul’s writing in 2 Peter 3, but he certainly uses the same phrase that Paul uses in Romans 12, doesn’t he? Do you remember how Romans 12 begins? “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:1-2 NRSV) Here it’s the same idea isn’t it? Offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice. In other words, give over your whole life to the service of God; as a thanksgiving offering, as an act of worship.
But here we come back to last week’s theme: ‘Living Holy Lives’. We’re called to be a Holy Priesthood, a holy nation. If we’re to be built into this new temple of God; if we’re to minister as priests in this new temple of God we need to be a holy people. Back in 1:13 he says: “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves.” The old fashioned expression was gird up the loins of your mind. The idea is of lifting up the skirts of your robe so you won’t be tripped over by them. In 1:15 he says: “as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." Here in chapter 2 the idea is expanded. If you’re to minister in God’s holy temple then you yourself must be holy.
And how are we to do that? Well let’s go back to the beginning of our passage; to the verses I skipped over. There we read: “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.” If we’re to prepare our minds for action, to gird up the loins of our mind, to rid ourselves of things that might trip us up, what are the sort of things that might trip us up?
Well, first of all they’re the mental pollutants: malice, guile, that is, trickery or manipulation, insincerity, envy, slander. Have you seen how those sorts of vices ruin the ministry of people? I can think of several people I’ve seen in the church over the years who would have been such great servants of God, so productive for the kingdom, if they hadn’t suffered from envy of other leaders, or hadn’t tried to manipulate their way into positions of influence, or if they hadn’t been two-faced, saying one thing to you then doing the opposite, or perhaps just doing nothing.
So that’s the first step, rid yourself of those things that will trip you up. Make sure they don’t act as a hindrance to your ministry for God. But notice that this isn’t what constitutes holiness. Holiness isn’t the absence of something. It isn’t just a matter of purifying your life. Holiness is a positive attribute. So the next thing he says is this: “2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.” Holiness comes about as we feed on God’s word. It’s a natural result of a healthy diet. If we feed on the pure spiritual milk of God’s word then we’ll grow in holiness.
“If indeed you’ve tasted that the Lord is good.” Are there times when you forget what it’s like to experience the goodness of God? Perhaps when life gets too hectic, or when there are particular pressures on you at work, or at home, or in your family? Do you perhaps sometimes even forget that God is there? I think Peter here is saying don’t forget. Remember how good it is to experience God’s love. It’s like the taste of chocolate or hot chips or your favourite summer fruit. One taste is never enough. Right now I’m thinking about the taste of mangoes. Just the thought of it makes my mouth water. That’s the sort of feeling he’s trying to get across to us. Remember the goodness of God so you want to go back for more. Feed on his word so you’ll experience him more and more.
And then he says come to Jesus. He’s the source of all that’s good and pleasant for the Christian. Come to him on whom we can build a life of service to God.
Past, Present and Future
But let’s just think for a moment about how we got here and where we’re going.
Look at v6. God has placed this living stone in Zion, that is in Jerusalem, so whoever believes in him will not be put to shame. God has done this on our behalf. I don’t know about you but there are plenty of things in my life that I’m ashamed of, that I’m glad no-one else knows about. I’ve made as many mistakes as the next person, I’m sure. And if I had to come before God on my own merits I wouldn’t have a chance. Like the snake in the garden of Eden I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. But God has taken my shame away. He’s provided a living stone that I can come to and have all my sins wiped away.
And having wiped away my sin, having taken away the death sentence I was under, he’s given me new life in Christ. Right now I’m remade as a living stone for his temple just like Jesus Christ. He’s chosen me, just as he chose Christ. He’s brought me into his people, into his holy nation. And he’s given me a new task to do. Do you see what it is? Do you see what God has called you into this spiritual temple, into this holy priesthood, to do? V9: “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Have you noticed how it always comes down to this? With privilege comes responsibility. God has called us to be his ambassadors; to proclaim his mighty acts; to share God’s love and mercy with those who don’t yet know him.
Again, this is why we need to be holy just as he is holy. Because the way we behave reflects on the God who called us. In the next section we read this: “12Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.” Our holiness of character is a sure sign to those who’d oppose us that there’s something true in what we say. Our personal integrity reflects the integrity of our message.
Our future is clear, though we don’t yet see it completed. We’re being built into a spiritual temple that, when it’s completed, will become the new Jerusalem described in Revelation 20, a place where God’s people will worship him day and night; where there’s no need for a sun or moon because God is its light. And again our holiness now is in preparation for that great day. As we often read in our communion services from the first letter of John: “Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3 NRSV)
So here’s the challenge to us today:
First, have you come to Jesus? Have you encountered Jesus in a real way, in a way that has brought you into his holy temple, that’s made you part of God’s own people?
Are you seeking to build God’s temple in unity with those around you?
Are you feeding on the pure spiritual milk of his word?
Are you seeking to get rid of those things that will trip you up or hold you back, so you can get on with living holy lives?
Are you proclaiming the mighty acts of God by your character, by your words and by your actions?
And are you living as one of God’s holy priesthood, bringing God’s good news to those who haven’t yet heard it?