Lego and toys like that seem to never go out of style. I played with them when I was growing up and now my son plays with them. No matter how technologically advanced things get, no matter how many fancy toys we have, it seems that children will always love to just sit on the floor and build something. They will make buildings, animals, machines. They’ll construct towns or make little imaginative plays for themselves. When Timothy makes something out of his Duplo or Lego bricks, he will hold it up and declare to Sarah and me what it is and enthusiastically show us what it can do, what it’s for.
Peter says something remarkable about the church again in this passage. This letter opened with Peter telling Christians that they were chosen by God the Father, made holy by God the Holy Spirit, and sprinkled with the atoning, cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, God the Son. We have been made into something new by God. Here in today’s passage we learn more about what we are and what our purpose is.
We’ve learned that something new has been made of us. In fact, God is making something new of us. Peter says that as we come to “the living Stone” we “are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood” (v. 5). Verse 9 says “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” You have been called out of darkness and into God’s wonderful light. Verse 10: “you are the people of God” and recipients of his mercy.
When Peter writes that these Christians are being built into a “spiritual house” he’s referencing the temple. Paul also called the church a temple. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:16:
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives among you?
(1 Corinthians 3:16, NIV)
The two big concepts that sum up what Peter is saying about the church here are temple and priesthood and to fully understand the gravity of what Peter is saying to these people we need to understand what is meant by these two words. I don’t have time this morning to cover this in great depth but, biblically speaking, what is a temple? What is a priest?
The temple in Jerusalem was a unique building. This place was where heaven and earth intersected. There were purifying rituals, sacrifices, curtains, and barriers to keep sin out and keep this unique place holy so that a holy God could dwell in the midst of sinful humanity here in this broken world. It was where God’s presence touched down here in this world so he could dwell amongst his people in this one place.
The priests were descended from Aaron, Moses’ brother the first high priest. Again, this was very much about the presence of God. The priests went into the temple to stand before the Lord, to be in his presence and then to go out from the presence of God and pronounce his blessings on the people.
All of this changed with Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross that was the ultimate sacrifice to atone for the sins of God’s people. Sin would no longer stand between us and God. No need for barriers or sacrifices anymore. When Jesus died the great curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). In Christ there is nothing to separate us from the presence of God.
At Pentecost, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, as Peter and the other disciples were waiting in a room in Jerusalem the Holy Spirit came and filled the house and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
What does that all mean? It means there is no longer any need for a special building to be in God’s presence. God is present himself in each Christian. God the Holy Spirit dwells within us. Not a special building somewhere in the world, but in you and me. It means that we are the temple. We are the place where God is present. We are where heaven and earth intersect.
It means that no matter where you are God is present with you, within you. It means that our church buildings are not “God’s house”, we are God’s house. It means that if we cannot come to the meeting house on Sunday then we still can come into God’s presence wherever we are.
Christians are the temple of God. We are priests too. We stand in God’s presence and represent God to the world, we pronounce his blessings, we declare the good news.
Peter supports what he’s written with references to Old Testament prophecy. He quotes Isaiah and Psalm 118. Jesus is the stone that God put in Zion, the stone that this new temple would be built on. He was rejected by the religious authorities, handed over to be crucified. But he is precious to God and to us who believe.
Jesus is the foundation of our faith. You cannot have Christianity without Christ. That might seem obvious, but it’s very easy for people to get distracted and lose their way. The church is not about buildings, it’s not about tradition, it’s not about community, it’s not living a morally upright life, it’s not about culture. The church is about Jesus Christ, or it is simply not the church. Jesus Christ is our cornerstone, or we are simply not the house of God. Those other things are good, and they have their place, but they are not the cornerstone, they are not what we are built on.
Jesus causes many people to stumble, they reject him. That was the case back at the time Peter wrote this letter. People could accept religion, but when it comes to following a crucified messiah that was just too much for them. The cross of Christ offended them. It’s still offensive today. People want Jesus the wise man, Jesus the guru, Jesus the teacher. But Jesus the Saviour they reject by trying to save themselves. The cross confronts us with our own sin and need of salvation. It shows us that we were in so much trouble that the Son of God needed to sacrifice himself to atone for our sins. This offends people.
It comes down to Jesus. Will we accept him for who he is, who he claimed to be? Those who can accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour have been called, as Peter says in verse 9, out of darkness and into the wonderful light of God. We are the people of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, a holy priesthood. Each individual Christian is a little intersection of heaven and earth.
This passage has no imperatives. It doesn’t tell us to do anything. But what it does do is make it clear what Christians are and what defines us. What is the cornerstone of your faith? How you answer that question will let you know what you are. What do you think of Jesus Christ? Do you accept him as your Lord, your Saviour, your cornerstone? Will you?
Lord God help us to come to you, to be in your presence. Help us during these times of separation and isolation, to still work together as the church, the temple of God, no matter where we are. Help us to pray for one another, to look out for one another, to encourage one another. Help us to be priests, to declare your blessings to the world. Help us to declare your praises.
We pray for the ongoing work in this country and around the world to fight against the spread of COVID-19 and to fight against the virus itself.
We pray for the church that you would help us to remain faithful In difficult times. Help us to know you are near and to see the light at the end of this darkness.
We pray for struggling businesses and for all who are anxious as this country faces into another recession.
We pray for the people that we know who are undergoing struggle or hardship now. We pray that you would give them hope, comfort and strength. We pray that we as your people might be able to minister to them in some way.
We ask all these things in Jesus’ name.