The first part of today’s sermon really belongs at the end of last week’s sermon. Last week, we spent our time on verses 22 to 25 of chapter 1 where Peter instructs his readers — and that includes us — to love one another deeply, from the heart. And do you remember? We’re to love one another deeply, from the heart because we’ve been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. God has caused us to be born again: he’s raised us up with Christ to live a new kind of life; and he’s re-created us to be like Christ. And so, if we’ve been born again, we’re no longer to live as we once did — doing what is evil and hating one another — but we’re to live a new kind of life, which means we’re to love one another deeply, from the heart. That’s what we were thinking about last week. And in the next verses — verses 1 to 3 of chapter 2, Peter goes on to write about how we’re to rid ourselves of all kinds of sins which prevent us from loving one another the way we should. So, those verses really belong to last week’s sermon; but I ran out of time and wasn’t able to deal with them last week. So, we’ll consider those verses today, before going on to verses 3 to 10 where Peter tells us about the Lord Jesus and those who believe in him and those who don’t believe in him, but who stumble over him. So, there are four parts to this sermon: Firstly, put away what’s evil; secondly, there’s what he says about the Lord Jesus who is the Living Stone; thirdly, there’s what he says about those who believe and who are therefore living stones; fourthly, there’s what he says about those who don’t believe, who stumble over the Living Stone. —
So, verses 1 to 3 first of all which begins with the word ‘therefore’; and that tells us that what he’s saying now is based on what he’s said before about being born again. So, since we’ve been born again, we’re to love one another deeply, from the heart. Therefore, since that’s the case, we’re to rid ourselves of all of these evils. Think of someone who is wearing filthy clothes; perhaps they’ve been working hard in the garden and their clothes are all sweaty and covered in mud; or think of someone who has been working on their car; and their clothes are now covered in oil. They’re filthy. And they want to take off those filthy clothes and put on something clean. Well, since we’ve been born again, we now hate our former life. We hate the sins we once loved and held on to. And we want to get rid of those sins, don’t we? We especially want to get rid of them, because things like malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander prevent us from loving one another the way we should. Malice, or ill-will towards one another, destroys the fellowship of the church. The person who is deceitful and hypocritical cannot be trusted; and that too ruins the fellowship of God’s people. When we envy one another, we resent one another. And when we slander other people, we’re destroying their reputation. And none of that is good for the peace and unity of the church. But the person who loves is only ever kind to others. The person who loves only ever tells the truth and is sincere. The person who loves is glad when others do well. The person who loves will only say what is kind and good about others. We’re to love one another deeply, from the heart, which means we’re to get rid of, we’re to take off, all of these wicked practices which Peter mentions in verse 1.
But then he goes on to tell us that we’re to crave pure spiritual milk. Do you see that? Like newborn babies, who can’t get enough of milk, so we’re to long for and crave after this pure spiritual milk, because just as the newborn baby needs milk to grow, so believers need this pure, spiritual milk to enable us to grow up in the faith until we receive full salvation, when we’ll come — in body and soul — into the presence of the Lord to be with him for ever and for ever.
But what is this pure, spiritual milk which we need in order to grow as believers? Well, it’s not clear. The Greek word which Peter uses and which is translated here as ‘spiritual’ is not the normal word for ‘spiritual’. It’s related to the Greek word for ‘word’. And so, some Bible commentators argue that Peter is referring to word-like milk. In other words, he’s referring to the word of God. So, we’re to crave the word of God; or we’re to feed on good biblical teaching; because this is how we grow up in the faith. And certainly, in 1 Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 5 biblical teaching is likened to milk.
However, Peter goes on to quote from Psalm 34 which talks about tasting that the Lord is good. And so, some Bible commentators think that when Peter tells us to crave pure spiritual milk, he’s talking about longing for and desiring the Lord Jesus Christ. So, believers have already discovered how good the Lord Jesus Christ is; they’ve tasted his goodness for themselves. And now Peter is telling us that we should long to experience and to taste more and more of his grace and mercy. That’s the way to grow in the faith; keep longing for the Lord Jesus Christ; and keep longing to experience more of his goodness.
But how do we do that? How do we experience more of his goodness? How do we taste more of his grace and mercy? Well, we believe — don’t we? — that God uses the means of grace to work in our lives to re-assure us of his love and grace and goodness and to build us up in our faith. And so, we believe he uses the sacraments; and he uses prayer; and he uses the reading and especially the preaching of his word. When we come to church, and when we receive the Lord’s Supper by faith, when we pray together with faith, when we listen with faith to his word, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to us, by his Spirit, and reveals to us his love and grace and mercy and goodness; and he re-assures us; and he strengthens us; and he builds us up in the faith.
And so, whether the milk is the word of God, as some commentators say, or whether the milk is our experience of the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ, as other commentators say, it amounts to the same thing: as we come to church on Sundays, and engage in public worship, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to us and he enables us to grow up in our salvation.
The Lord Jesus
So, we’re to rid ourselves of what is evil; and we’re to long to know the Lord Jesus who is good. Well, let’s move on now to see what Peter says about the Lord Jesus. And in verse 4 he refers to the Lord Jesus as the Living Stone. He’s living, because, though he died, he was raised and lives for ever and for ever. So, he’s living because of his resurrection.
And then, from the following verses, we discover why Peter is referring to the Lord Jesus as a stone. You see, he has a particular kind of stone in mind. He’s thinking of the cornerstone of a building. Just look at verse 6, where Peter quotes from Isaiah 28 which says:
See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone….
Peter takes that Old Testament prophecy and applies it to the Lord Jesus. He’s saying: The Lord Jesus is the chosen and precious cornerstone.
Now, if the Lord Jesus is the cornerstone of a building, what kind of building does Peter have in mind? Well, look at verse 5 where he refers to a spiritual house. So, we’re not thinking of a physical building made up of bricks and concrete and glass and metal. We’re thinking of a spiritual building, and a building which is related in some way to the Holy Spirit.
So, it’s a spiritual house. And if you continue to look at verse 5, you’ll see that Peter refers to sacrifices. Well, sacrifices are offered in a temple. So, this spiritual house which is being built is a temple. But again, we’re not to think of a physical temple made of bricks and concrete and glass and metal; we’re thinking of a spiritual temple where spiritual sacrifices are offered to God.
I’ve said before that Peter takes Old Testament ideas and he applies them to Christians. And that’s what he’s doing here: he’s taking the Old Testament idea of the temple and he’s applying it to the church. This spiritual house, this spiritual temple, is the church which God is building on the earth. And Peter is teaching us here that the Lord Jesus is the cornerstone of the church.
Now, I don’t know if it’s still the case today, but in Bible times the most important stone in any foundation was the cornerstone. Whenever builders were building a house, they would put the cornerstone into position first; and then, only after the cornerstone was in position, could they begin the rest of the building. So, when Peter refers to the Lord Jesus as the cornerstone, he’s saying that the Lord Jesus is the most important part of the church. The rest of the church depends on him for its existence and for its strength and stability and for its growth. Without him, there would be no church.
However, that’s not the only point he’s making. Look at verse 7 where Peter quotes from Psalm 118 which also refers to a stone. But this time the stone has been rejected by the builders. You know, they’ve looked at it and decided it’s not right; it won’t do; they don’t want it; and so they toss it into the skip. However, time passes, and someone takes this stone out of the skip because they realise it’s just what they need; it’s going to be the capstone, or the cornerstone, of the building. So, the builders rejected it; but in the end it became the cornerstone. And Peter applies that to the Lord Jesus to make the point that the Lord Jesus was rejected by men. When did that happen? Well, when they took him away and crucified him. So, he was rejected by men. But, in the end, he was chosen and precious to God the Father who raised him from the dead and who exalted him to the highest place and who made him the cornerstone of the church which God is building on the earth.
So, let’s put these pieces together. There’s the church, this spiritual house, which God is building on the earth. And the most important part of this building is the Lord Jesus Christ, rejected by men, but chosen and precious to God.
Now, why do you think Peter is saying this about the Lord Jesus? Why is he making the point that the Lord Jesus was rejected by men but was chosen and precious to God? Well, it’s because he was writing to believers who were rejected by men. The world hated them; and the world was persecuting them; and they were suffering grief in all kinds of trials because of the world which hated them. And so, Peter was writing to encourage them: You’re rejected by men. Well, the Lord Jesus was rejected by men. But even though they world rejected him, he was chosen and precious to God. And so are you. So are you. You may be rejected by men, but you’re chosen by God and precious to him. So, don’t be discouraged. And don’t be afraid. And that’s a message we also need to hear: though we may be rejected by men, nevertheless we’re chosen and precious to God.
So, that’s what Peter says about the Lord Jesus: he was rejected by men but was chosen and precious to God. What does he say about believers? Well, first of all, in verse 4, he says that they have come to Christ, the Living Stone. In other words, they’ve trusted in him. Coming to Christ means trusting in him; it means turning from our old life of sin in repentance and turning in faith to the Saviour.
He then goes on to say that believers are living stones. So, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Living Stone and when we come to him and trust in him we become living stones. What does that mean? Well, ‘living’ means that though we were dead in our trespasses and sins, we’ve now been raised with Christ by faith to live a new, resurrection life. And the fact that we’re stones means that every believer is part of the church.
You see, whenever a person trusts in the Lord Jesus, that person is added to the church which God is building throughout the world. Think of the builder who is building a house. Each day, he takes more and more bricks and adds them, one by one, one by one, to what he’s already built, so that the house gets bigger and bigger and bigger as the days go by. Well, as we come to Christ and trust in him God takes us and he adds us to the church so that they church gets bigger and bigger and bigger as the days go by.
But then, not only are believers living stones who have been added to the church, but we’re also priests. Do you see that in verse 5? Peter says:
you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood.
And as priests, we’re to offer spiritual sacrifices to God. What kind of spiritual sacrifice are we to offer to God? Well, the writer to the Hebrews helps us here, because in chapter 13 he talks about Christians who offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name. The kind of sacrifice we’re to offer God is this: with our lips, with our voice, we’re to offer our praise to God and we’re to declare our thanks to him for his goodness to us.
So, believers have come to the Lord Jesus, which means they’ve trusted in him. And when we trust in the Lord we’re added to the church as living stones. And we’re priests who offer to God a sacrifice of praise. And fourthly, we can look forward to being honoured by God. Now, you’re perhaps scratching your head and wondering where it says that. Unfortunately the NIV translation of verse 7 isn’t the best. In verse 6, we have the quotation from Isaiah that those who trust in the Lord Jesus will never be put to shame. And then the NIV begins verse 7 by saying:
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious.
However, a better translation is provided by the ESV which says:
So, the honour is for you who believe.
You see, the point Peter is making is this: Instead of being ashamed for trusting in Christ, we’ll receive an honour. Right now, in this life, we might be despised and rejected by the world. They might hate us or laugh at us or despise us for believing in the Lord Jesus. They might reject us the way they rejected the Lord Jesus. But we shouldn’t be put off, because eventually, if we remain faithful and continue to believe, we’ll be honoured by the Lord when he raises us from the dead and glorifies us in his presence and crowns us with everlasting life.
So, believers have come to the Lord Jesus, which means they’ve trusted in him. And when we trust in the Lord we’re added to the church as living stones. And we’re also priests who offer to God a sacrifice of praise. And though we may be hated now, we can look forward to being honoured by God.
So, that’s what Peter says about believers. But he also refers to unbelievers, doesn’t he? Look at verse 7 again:
Now, the honour is for you who believe. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’ and ‘A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’
As far as God the Father is concerned, and as far as believers are concerned, the Lord Jesus is chosen and precious and he’s the cornerstone of the church. But for those who don’t believe, he’s a stumbling stone. So, Peter is picturing people who want to reach God. And they want to reach heaven. But they’ll never reach God or heaven because they’ve tripped and stumbled and fallen over Christ. Instead of believing in Christ who is the only way to God and to heaven, they’ve tripped over him. And instead of believing in Christ, and being raised up with him to new, resurrection life, they’ve stumbled over him and they’ve fallen away from God. And we’ve met many people like that; people who may be interested in talking about God and heaven and eternal life. But the moment you mention the Saviour, and how he died to save sinners, the conversation stops; they will not accept what the Bible says about him.
But look what Peter then adds at the end of verse 8: ‘They stumble because they disobey the message….’ Now, that part is straightforward: they haven’t obeyed the message; and the message is: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.’ They haven’t obeyed that message about believing in the Lord Jesus. That’s straightforward.
But then Peter adds: ‘which is also what they were destined for.’ Now, that’s perhaps more surprising. We sometimes talk about the biblical doctrine of predestination and how God, before the world was made, chose those he would save. And, having chosen them, he calls them through the preaching of the gospel and enables them to believe in Christ the Saviour. But here’s Peter reminding us of the other side of that doctrine: as well as choosing some to inherit eternal life, God has determined that the rest will not believe. And therefore, they cannot be saved. They cannot be saved.
The Apostle Paul teaches the same thing in Romans 9 where he quotes the Lord saying in Exodus 33:
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy,
and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
God was saying: I am the one who decides these things. So, he has mercy on one person; and he hardens another person.
It’s a difficult doctrine. But why does Peter raise it here? Why does he mention it now? Well, it’s to remind believers who are suffering at the hands of unbelievers that everything is in God’s hands. He’s the Sovereign King who rules over all; and who, every day, is working out his great plans and purposes for the world. Why do some stumble over Christ and fall away from God? It happens according to the plan of God. Why do they oppose the church and persecute believers? That too happens according to the plan of God. All things are in his hand. And so we ought to trust in him to do what seems best to him. And we ought to offer up to him a sacrifice of praise and give thanks to him for his grace and mercy to us, because though we deserve to be condemned for our sins, he enable us to come to Christ and to believe in him; and he makes us living stones in his church; and he makes us priests to praise him; and he promises that one day he will honour all who believe when he brings us into his presence.