Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:4–10
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
A Stone in Zion, Laid
Turn with me, if you would, to 1 Peter 2:4, and we’ll be making our way, God willing, through verse 10.
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of a man named Jean-Paul Sartre or existentialism. Sartre was a 20th-century French philosopher whose philosophy is arguably part of the most popular philosophy in America today with very few really knowing that they have bought his ideas.
One of Sartre’s big ideas was that “Existence precedes essence.” What he meant by that is that human beings are free to author their own identity—that you exist, and then you create your own essence, your own identity, after whatever mold you want.
Maybe you see how popular that idea is in our culture once you hear it in those terms, right? Ours is a culture that fervently believes that it has the power of self-definition, to define your own essence. You get to decide what it is that you actually are.
This morning, Peter is going to talk with us about this, about who we are, about identity. This is a massively helpful text, because Sartre was dead wrong—what you are determines what you do. To put it another way, your activity follows your identity. Our doing comes from our being.
And that is why, really, Peter is going to tell us now so much about our identity—about who and what we are. Because for virtually the remainder of the book, he’s going to tell us how to live. He’s going to urge us towards all kinds of activities and all kinds of doing.
And so this morning, in 1 Peter 2:4–10, Peter will tell us our identity in order that he might call us through the rest of the book to live as what we are—in order that our activity would correspond to our identity. To be what we are.
He points us to four foundational identities out of which all of this doing is to come from:
1. A Temple. You are living stones in God’s new creational Temple.
2. A Priesthood. You are a priests in God’s holy priesthood—royal priests, in fact.
3. A People. You are God’s chosen race, a holy nation to God.
4. A Possession. You are a people for God’s own possession.
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
-1 Peter 2:4–10
Let’s look at these four things Peter says that we are, four identities he points to in this text, then we’ll back up a little bit and see the biggest idea that sits at the heart of the whole passage.
1. Living Stones in the Temple of God
Peter says, verse four, that as we come to Jesus, who is like a living stone rejected by men but chosen by God, we ourselves are living stones being built up into a spiritual house.
He’s using an image that looms large in the Old Testament, the Temple as the house of God, the place where God dwells with people.
Think about all of the themes and threads that converge on the Temple in the Scriptures. It’s the place where God’s people are cleansed from sin by sacrificial blood. It’s the place where God’s glory rested. It’s the place where God met with his people. It’s the place around which literally the whole nation centered.
And yet it was also stripped of its gold by enemies, torn down, and several times desecrated. At the crucifixion, it’s great veil was torn. Shortly after Peter would write this letter, in fulfillment of Jesus’ own prophecies in the Olivet Discourse, it would be utterly and irrevocably torn down. Why?
Because we are living stones built on the Cornerstone, the house and dwelling place of God. Because that Temple always was a shadow, and the cleansed and renewed and Spirit-indwelt people of God are the substance.
You, Christian, are a living stone in God’s Temple. What does that mean? It means that God makes his home, that God dwells in you. It means that your fundamental purpose is to dwell with God. That you were made for that.
Meaning you can’t stuff anything else in the middle of your identity and still end up a human being doing and being what it is that a human being is actually for. You were made for God.
But notice what else it means: There aren’t 6 billion little temples; there’s one. God is building this great redeemed people from every tribe, tongue, and nation into one single thing. You and I aren’t meant for isolation, but for interdependent life with God.
This is one reason why the idea of a Christian, floating around by herself without the fellowship of the saints, is crazy. You can’t be what you are like that. You can’t act like what you are like that. You and I—all of us together—are interdependent.
We are living Stones in God’s house, the place he dwells in and on which his glory descends.
2. A Holy, Royal Priesthood
Peter says in verse four that we are “…a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And then in verse 9 that we are a “royal” priesthood.
We are a Kingdom of holy, royal priests. This language reaches all the way back to Exodus 19, then all the way forward to Revelation 1 and Revelation 5—where God tells us that we are a Kingdom of Priests, that that’s what he’s making.
What does that mean? A priest would minister before God on behalf of the nation of Israel. They would offer sacrifices for the nation, reaching out with one hand to God and with the other to the people. They had special access in the Temple.
Now, Peter says, God has done what he always said he was doing. He has made all of his people priests. They all have that kind of access to God. Each offers spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ.
This is not saying that we each atone for our sin, but that we ourselves are presented to God as living sacrifices, just as we are living stones, as Paul told us we ought to do in Romans 12:1–2. We present our whole selves, consecrated by the great High Priest, Jesus, to God.
The world is constantly trying to sell you insider access into some kind of priesthood. The priesthood of cool. Or the priesthood of success. They set up gatekeepers and bid you to present proper sacrifices so that you can pass in.
Have you felt that urge to grab onto yourself and author yourself into some new identity in order to fit into what someone is telling you you should be? I need to think like this, look like this, buy this product or the gatekeepers won’t let me in. Or if I’m already in and I stop, they’ll kick me out.
And Peter says, “You don’t need that. You don’t need access into their priesthoods. You have access to God through Christ!”
3. A Chosen Race & Holy Nation
As with each of these identities, this one would have been just shocking to a Jewish person in this time. Because Peter is speaking to a bunch of Christians who are most likely primarily Gentiles. And he looks them in the eye and says, “Through Christ, you are a chosen race, a holy nation.”
You are the people of God. You are his Israel. He rescued you from slavery at the cost of the Lamb’s blood. He brought you through the Red Sea of baptism to resurrection on the other side. He dwells in your midst, tabernacles among you. You are chosen. Holy. His.
As Paul would say in Colossians, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his Beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
And as with Israel, we’re not chosen for our might, our strength, or our power. No, we’re chosen for his good pleasure, and to prove his great redeeming glory. So that other people would stop and stare and say, “God chose them?! Those are his people?” Yes, so chosen so “…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
4. A People for God’s own Possession
This ties them all together. We are a people for God’s own possession. That’s what we are for, to be possessed by God. To belong to him.
There it is, right? You belong. Human beings long to belong, ache to belong, work to belong. We are born with it and we die with it. All of that gatekeeping and self-authoring is our attempt to become worthy of belonging. And God says to you, “You are mine. You are my possession—a people made for me.”
This is who we are, what God has made us. Now we need to back away a few steps and notice something at the center of this text. Because in a way, we started in the middle by talking about our own identities.
A Chasmic Antithesis
Notice something that characterizes Peter’s entire message in this section—this great, chasmic antithesis of faith and unbelief.
Now, I know that so far, I’ve told you that Peter aims in this passage to tell us who we are. But it would be foolish to miss what is actually the center of this text, which is actually not about who we are, but about who Jesus is. We’ll find that we can’t even begin to build a Christian identity without first getting straight on Jesus’ identity.
There is a passage in the Gospel according to Matthew that is an essential key to unlocking what it is that Peter is doing here, a passage Peter was eyewitness to. It’s from Matthew 21. In Matthew 21, Jesus enters the Temple, where he’s confronted by the chief priests and elders of Israel.
Part of Jesus’ response to them is to tell a series of parables. He tells the Parable of the Two Sons, where Jesus concludes that a prostitute or a tax collector who believes in himself will enter the Kingdom of God, while the religious elite who reject Jesus will not. Then, in verse 33, this is what happens,
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.”
Who are the builders who rejected the Cornerstone? They are the ones who slayed the Son of God—Israel and Israel’s leaders. As Jesus said it would be, the way was narrow from the nation of Israel into the Kingdom of God.
Peter was standing here listening in Matthew 21, and now looking back after the crucifixion and resurrection, he reaches out and grabs onto the same antithesis that Jesus was pointing to in order to show us that it still stands today.
Standing at the heart of the Parable of the Tenants and 1 Peter 2:4–10, along with the passages Peter quotes there—Isaiah 8, Isaiah 28, and Psalm 118—is a great, chasmic antithesis between faith and unbelief.
There are those who reject Jesus, the Son of God, the chosen Cornerstone of God, and there are those who gladly and joyfully receive the Son of God and build on the Cornerstone of God.
The ones who reject what God has chosen end up crushed, shattered, and brought to nothing. The ones who receive and build on him can never be shaken. A cornerstone was the first stone laid in constructing a large building. It was a massive, costly stone, one that had to be totally perfect. It had to be plumb, square, and set just right, or everything else you built off of it and on it would be endangered.
Peter wants you to see that Jesus is like that—the Cornerstone of cornerstones. He is the Cornerstone, and we are the living stones built on him. Do you see what this has to do with identity, why Peter in this text weaves the Cornerstoneness of Jesus to our identity as the people of God?
Think back to Sartre and that idea of Existentialism—that we are the authors of our own identity. What Peter would say to that idea is that you can’t build an identity on any other Cornerstone without the building collapsing in on you somewhere and some time.
Think of all the ways we try to build on all kinds of alternative foundations, all of the things we try to cobble together into an identity: Politics, hobbies race, social class, university we attended, hometown, family—or even theological camps and Christian tribes.
These are all great and good things when they aren’t asked to hold the weight of identity. But the moment we try to cobble together the essence of our existence from any of them, they crumble like the walls of Jericho.
Living stones. A holy nation. A people for God’s own possession. Royal priests. These identities, resting firmly on the Cornerstone of Jesus Christ—now these will hold.
God called us out of the darkness of our own self-authoring and into marvelous light of his naming, adopting, identity-bestowing grace. And listen: What were we doing down there in the darkness? We were busy with hammer and anvil and homemade forge, alchemists in pursuit of golden identities from the lead of human activity. The fundamental problem with all homemade identities is that, because they’re born from the instinct of sinful self-identification, they always make me the god at the center, and the star of the story.
We end up telling a story in which we’re not stones on the Cornerstone; we are the Cornerstone. And God may be invited in at some point in our story to serve some kind of sidekick role. The buddy with the well-timed joke. But we are the real hero. But that’s not how it works. Try that and the real Cornerstone will crush you. That’s what the Pharisees did! “We want a Messiah, a God, who will affirm our rule and help us accomplish our goals!"
Jesus didn’t come to help you succeed in living out a homemade identity—because he loves you! He came so that you and all of the fake “yous” would die. Die and then rise, renewed. Reborn. Resurrected life. New self, new identity.
Build your identity and worth and purpose on anything other than God’s chosen Cornerstone, Jesus, and you build with balsa wood sticks on an active fault line. But if you come to the Cornerstone of God, Jesus Christ, then God will build you up like Living Stones in an eternally secure house and then he will live there! Astonishing.
We Are What He Is
How is it that God can do all of this? The reason Peter can look at you and say, “Chosen race! Royal priesthood! House of God! Holy nation!” is because you are identified with, built on, and found in Jesus Christ.
Maybe you noticed, but these identities we’re identified with are nothing short of Jesus’ own identities. He is the Cornerstone of the true Temple. He is the immortal and irreplaceable High Priest—the only High Priest who is also a sovereign, a King. Did you catch that? Priests couldn’t be Kings in the Old Testament. But we can be royal priests, because Jesus is our King and our High Priest. He is the true Israel incarnate, God’s chosen race and holy nation. He is the head of the body, the Church—God’s possessed people.
This is why you can stand in these identities with bold and sure confidence and assurance—because you aren’t keeper of these identities. You can only stop being identified by these identities if Jesus ceases to be these things. It’s union with Christ that makes the people of God the people of God!
By Mercy, For Glory
Before we leave this morning, notice that Peter points us to the beginning and the end of these identities. The beginning of these identities, the mercy of God:
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
-1 Peter 2:10
Mercy is the beginning of your newness, and mercy alone. And what is the end of it? What is this people-creating-mercy for?
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.”
-1 Peter 2:9
We are the renewed people of God, living stones and royal priests and holy people—by mercy, for glory.
And so when, by the mercy of God, you walk out of the darkness of sin in repentance and into the cleansing light of forgiveness and grace—you proclaim the excellencies of God and his Christ.
And so when, by the mercy of God, you present your body as a living sacrifice, acceptable to God by the grace of God—you proclaim the excellencies of God and his Christ.
And so when, by the mercy of God, you refuse to proclaim the excellencies of idols pretending to be gods and walk in holiness as God’s holy priesthood—you proclaim the excellencies of God and his Christ.
And so when, by the mercy of God you, like a priest, herald the free grace of God to sinners, pleading with them to repent and believe God and so be washed clean—you proclaim the excellencies of God and his Christ By mercy, for glory, we are his people. Taste and see, Refuge, that he is good.