I would like to propose a new church name: Church of The Holy Royal Priesthood of the Living Stones.
Do you like it? Would you go to that church?
I don’t know if I would. I’d be thinking, “Huh? Something is off there.” I would really be suspicious of going to a church with that name.
And yet in our next section of 1st Peter, 2:4-10, Peter uses those exact terms to describe the Christians he is writing to. So actually, if a church named itself the Church of the Holy Royal Priesthood of the Living Stones, we would have to say that church has a completely biblical name. A weird name, for sure, but straight off the page of the Bible.
Why would Peter use those words to describe the church?
Read the passage again, and what you’ll find is that there are actually more terms Peter uses. There were so many I couldn’t figure a good way to include them into a church name.
He starts off calling them Living stones, a Spiritual house, and a Holy priesthood. Then it gets confusing because the next one he says is “Royal priesthood”.
Didn’t he just say “Holy Priesthood”? He did. Now he goes on and says “Holy nation.” Is he changing his mind?
Holy priesthood, royal priesthood, holy nation. Peter is all over the place. Can we sort this out?
Imagine being these new Christians hearing this read to you for the first time; would this passage be helpful to you? In my mind, I read and think, “Peter, what are you talking about? What is a holy, royal priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices?”
Is Peter trying to give them a job description? Is he saying there “Here is what I want you to do?”
The simple answer is Yes. He is giving them a job description. That means by extension, he is giving us a job description. We can learn in these verses what we, a church, are to do.
But before he gets to job description, he is giving them an identity, which is why he mentions all these labels. And in particular Peter needs them to see the central place that Jesus must have in their identity as his church.
In verse 4 Peter says “you come to him.” To who? To Jesus. Jesus, Peter says, is the living stone. Then he goes on to describe Jesus three ways: Rejected by men, Chosen by God, Precious to him. Those phrases describe Jesus’ identity. A living stone who was rejected by men, chosen by God, precious to him.
It gives me the image of a game of backyard soccer. The neighborhood kids come together, and they start to pick teams. There is often one guy or girl that no one wants. All the kids are getting picked, running over to their team captains, so thankful that they got picked. You know how it feels to be picked for a team, right? Doesn’t matter if you are kids or adults. If you get picked, it is so life-affirming. Sadly we also know what it is liked to be rejected. To be the kid who is waiting there, hearing other kids’ names called, desperately hoping their name gets called, and one by one, the options narrow down and their name is still not called. Then it comes down to the final two. At the final two, you do not want to be picked last. Your heart starts pounding, your face flushes red with embarrassment and fear. Then you hear it. The other person’s name. You are last. Rejected. No one wants you, and it hurts. The team captain with the final choice looks at you and says “I guess you’re on my team.” Wow, that stings, right?
Peter says that person picked last was Jesus. Jesus was rejected by men when he was crucified. But surprise!, there is an unexpected turn of events.
Jesus was chosen by God not to die, but to rise again! The dead stone lives. Jesus is precious to God. This odd living stone, whatever that means, though he is rejected by men, is actually quite amazing from a totally different viewpoint, from God’s viewpoint.
Peter is saying this because these Christians he is writing to are experiencing the same thing in their world. They, too, were being rejected by men. They are being persecuted. They are not wanted in their communities. These Christians are a tiny minority, and they seem really odd to the vast majority of the people around them. When these Christians received and accepted the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, the word of God that was preached to them, and they started following the way of Jesus, they started becoming different.
So Peter reminds them that they, like Jesus, are actually chosen by God, and what’s more, they are precious to God! Peter is saying that they also need to see themselves as living stones, just as Jesus was. He is their foundation.
They are living stones built on the foundation of Jesus. They are being built into a spiritual house to be a royal priesthood. Time out? What? Peter is changing images so fast here. Living stones? We barely have a clue what that is about, and now he is calling the Christians a royal priesthood? Why is he changing images so fast?
We will look further into those two images, but first let’s keep going through verses 6 and following. There we see that Peter goes on to describe the foundation of Jesus.
He quotes some Old Testament passages in verse 6-8 showing that Jesus is the foundation. More specifically, Jesus is the precious cornerstone of this spiritual house. But there is a problem. Not everyone thinks Jesus is precious. We who believe think he is precious, of course, but for some other people, Jesus is a stumbling stone.
You ever walk on rocky path and stumble because there was a stone you didn’t account for? At our house, it is dog toys. It seems like every day, someone in our family, me included, walks across the living room carpet, not looking down, and steps on a dog toy, stumbles, looks hilarious doing it, and says “Bentley!” our dog’s name.
Jesus, Peter says, is a stumbling stone for people who do not believe. It’s not just that they don’t believe in Jesus. They find him distasteful or repulsive. All that Jesus stands for, they find unnecessary or unhelpful, maybe even wrong.
So when we look at Jesus as precious, we stand out at odd. When we see Jesus as precious, we want to follow his way. We want to be like him. That is what Peter is saying. We are living stones, built on the foundation of the original living stone, Jesus.
How is Jesus a living stone? He was dead like a stone and came back to life! Because Peter calls Christians living stones, how are we living stones? Check back in tomorrow when we’ll take a look at why Peter uses this unique image of living stones.