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. (1 Pet. 2:4–5)
Jesus is a living stone, rejected by men but chosen and precious in the sight of God. Peter reminds his readers that Jesus knows what it’s like to be marginalized and rejected by the world; in God’s sight, however, he is chosen and precious.
Jesus is a living stone—a mixed metaphor to make us stop and think! Stones are normally pretty solid and often heavy; they aren’t known for their life and organic properties. But Jesus is a living stone, stable and steadfast, but nevertheless alive. We might think back to the “living hope” of 1 Peter 1:3, a hope based on Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.
These verses are full of Old Testament temple imagery. The temple in Jerusalem was hugely significant for the people of Israel under the old covenant. It was an enormously impressive building, constructed with magnificent stones and built on a hill so everyone could see it. This was where God dwelt with his people, but, because of his holiness, it was also where priests had to offer sacrifices to secure that relationship with him. The temple identified them as God’s people and established their corporate life and purpose in the world. But here in this passage Peter reminds these marginalized Christians that their collective identity and purpose in the world are centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s the living stone of God’s house.
We too are like living stones being built into a spiritual house. The corporate dimension is deliberate. We’re all like living stones; we too were once dead but have now been made alive and are being built together into a spiritual house where God dwells by his Spirit. You can’t build a house out of just one stone. Many stones are needed. But the stones need to be brought together in one grand design.
When you’re building a house you need to buy lots of wood or bricks or stones, and when the building project is finished, there may be some left over, perhaps in a pile nearby. But the leftover bricks and stones are not part of the house. Only the ones incorporated into the structure make up the house. We believers are the living stones, made alive in the Lord Jesus and through him built up as a spiritual house. No longer do we need a temple of stones; we are the living temple, united in Christ.
This is an important corrective to our very “me-centered,” individualistic culture. The world doesn’t revolve around you or me! It revolves around the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s the architect of this house, and we are his building materials. We are individually called, but acceptance of that call means we now belong to one another and have an important group identity, the sum of which is more significant than each individual part.
Some people think that if they go to church, then they automatically belong to the Lord Jesus. That’s not true, of course. In fact, it’s the other way round. You cannot belong to the church unless you first belong to the Lord Jesus. But if you belong to Christ, then you also belong to his church—not just the local church but also the universal church, made up of all God’s people from all over the world and through all the centuries. Jesus, the living stone, is building his living stones into a house where God dwells by his Spirit.
We Belong to Each Other
This means that we need each other. We can’t live the Christian life on our own. We need to be part of a local church, not just showing up every now and again but fully involved and committed to God’s people in that place. We often talk about “going” to church, don’t we? But actually, we don’t “go” to church like we go to the shopping mall or to the dentist. We don’t go to church; we are the church. We go to a building. Once we’ve understood that, it will change the way we think about our brothers and sisters, who are the church with us.
I recently went back to visit the church family where I was working 10 years ago. It’s a church in central London and full of young people, most of them younger than 35. It was great to see how these friends are still walking with the Lord and persevering in all kinds of difficulties and trials.
One of them, a woman called Jill, had been on the fringe of things when I was there. But as I talked with her that morning, it was clear to me that something was different; she was now more involved and more committed to the church family. I asked her what had brought about this change, and she told me that her mother had died unexpectedly a few years ago, and her father soon after that—and the church family had been wonderful. They’d gathered around and supported and prayed for her in ways she could never have imagined.
These family tragedies helped Jill to see that she also belonged to another family, a family that was becoming more and more important to her. But then she realized that the time would come when one of the church family would need her support and love and prayers. She said it was as though a light bulb had been turned on in her head: “These people have shown me that I’m part of their family, which means they are part of mine.”
What a wonderful testimony to those brothers and sisters in that central London church! They are not just Jill’s brothers and sisters; they are ours as well. If we belong to the Lord Jesus, then we belong to each other. Jesus is the living stone, and we too are like living stones being built together into a spiritual house. We have a group identity and purpose that are bound up in him.