The Cornerstone and His Living Stones

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“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 Peter 2:4–5).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Back in Matthew 16, Jesus said to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered for the disciples and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He was absolutely right, and so to Peter Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (vv. 15-19).
It was an enormous, God-given confession of faith. Peter proclaimed that the foundation of the Church is nothing and no one else than Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Now, to make sure that nobody came up with the silly idea that Peter was the foundation of the Church, or that the bishops who followed after him were to be the supreme priest who must be obeyed, the Lord clarified this through the words of no less than Peter himself:
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” (1 Peter 2:4-6).
So there. Peter proclaimed it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Cornerstone on which the Church is built. But what does this mean?
Today the laying of a cornerstone has a mostly ceremonial purpose. The stone’s face bears the year of construction, and it is often hollowed out for a time capsule. But the real structural value of the cornerstone is to serve as a point of reference for the rest of the building. The cornerstone is the first and largest stone above grade. As such it must be measured, sawed, shaped, and fully mortared into place with great precision. That first stone will determine the straightness of the building’s lines of depth, width, and height. If the cornerstone is off a little, the whole building will end up looking crooked, or even be structurally unsound.
In the same way, Jesus Christ is the standard of straightness in our lives. In a world full of Satan’s lies and deceptions, the Word of the Lord remains straight and true. His Word of Law cuts through all excuses and moral compromises and holds us all accountable to God’s unchanging standards. His Word of Gospel cuts through Satan’s lies about our own worthlessness and despair, and holds before us the unchanging love of the crucified and risen One. Whoever builds his or her life along these true lines will never regret it.
Jesus is the Cornerstone on which the Church is built. Without Him there is no Church, because He is the Savior who shed His blood and gave His life on the cross for the sins of the world. All those who believe in Him are forgiven for their sins; and they are living stones being built upon Him into a spiritual house, a temple of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Christ Himself.
As for those who do not believe in Jesus and prefer to cling to their sin, St. Peter gives an important warning: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the Word, as they were destined to do.”
The second part of this last verse seems a little confusing to some people, as though God predestined some people to be condemned. But this is the result of an unclear translation. The word “destined” here is better rendered “appointed.” God our Father wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Whether or not people believe God’s Word, they were appointed to be under it. Everyone is subject to God’s Word whether they wish to be or not, whether they know they are or not. If anyone rejects God’s gift of grace, then they will be subject to His judgment. If they do not rejoice that Christ is the Cornerstone who has redeemed them from sin, they will find themselves crushed for eternity—because the Savior stood ready, offering them forgiveness so that they might be built into His Church; and they opted for sin and death instead.
But crushing judgment is not for you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; for you are living stones, redeemed by Christ and built into His Church. Forgiven for your sins, you will not be ashamed, for the Lord has only blessings to speak of you, as St. Peter proclaims: Once you were just scattered sinners, not even a people; now you are His people because He has made you so.
When we become Christians, when we are born again through water and the Spirit, we are given a new identity. Like Christ, we become living stones, and it is Christ’s goal to mortar us together into a spiritual house called the holy Christian Church. Isn’t it interesting that we are called stones rather than bricks? Bricks are all alike; stones are all different—in color, size, and shape. But even though we are all unique, there is a place for each of us in God’s building—and God, as the Master Builder and Architect knows exactly where to put us.
And, get this—we have become not only part of the great temple of God, but we are made priests to serve in the temple, holy priests, holy through the blood of the Lamb. In Christ, God has chosen you to be His holy nation, His own special people. He has made you a royal priesthood.
A royal priesthood…what does that mean? Well, in the Old Testament, priests were called by God to make sacrifices at the temple. These included thank offerings and sacrifices for sin. Priests also had the privilege of entering the temple of God’s presence. Priests offered prayers to God on behalf of the other people.
So what do you do? As priests, you offer sacrifices. But let’s be clear what this means: you don’t offer sacrifices for sins, because there aren’t any of those left. Jesus was the only, ultimate Sacrifice for sin. His blood atones for all the sins of all the world. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit—you come to Him with repentant hearts in order to receive His grace. You offer your bodies as spiritual sacrifices. You offer your time, talents, and treasure. The goal of these acts of stewardship is the same as Jesus’ ministry: to draw all people to Him, who alone is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
Now, much of this happens in your vocations, your callings in life. As part of the royal priesthood, God has given you tasks to do. He uses you as His instruments to serve people in this world. If the Lord has given you the vocation of parent, He delights to see you reading stories to your children. If the Lord has given you the vocation of farmer, He delights to see you grow crops and raise livestock. If the Lord has given you the vocation of health care professional, He delights to see you give care to patients. If the Lord has given you the vocation of student, He rejoices to see you work through the story problems in Algebra 2.
Even a little baby, just born and baptized, is part of the royal priesthood. As he eats and sleeps, he is doing what God has given him to do in his vocation of “baby.” With every breath he takes, he testifies to God’s miraculous gift of life. Sometimes at 2:00 a.m., he proclaims the Lord’s wonderful gift of vocal cords so that we might speak His Word. Make no mistake: Such a baby is so precious in the sight of God that He has given His only Son to redeem him. By the mortar of water and Word, he or she is a living stone  built upon the foundation of Christ Jesus.
So it is also for your fellow Christians. Set free from sin by your Savior Jesus, you are set free to serve those around you, and this is part of your sacrifice of praise, your offering of thanksgiving. It often looks quite ordinary in the eyes of the world, because it’s how God set things up ordinarily to run.
However, dear members of the royal priesthood and living stones in the house of the Lord, you also have a greater sacrifice of praise: you have the privilege to proclaim that your Savior has “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light,” who made you His people by His mercy. While it is the pastor’s vocation to proclaim the Gospel from the pulpit, it is your great joy and privilege to declare that Good News, too. Some of this is done as you sing hymns and confess creeds to one another in worship, and much of it is done as you share the hope that you have as the opportunity arises within your own vocation(s).
And there’s more. As priests had the privilege of drawing near to the Lord in the temple, so you enter into His presence, too. No, you cannot see Him: as the temple curtain hid His glory in days of old, He veils His presence in water, bread, and wine. But in His Word and Sacraments, He draws near to you. He brings you into His presence to give you forgiveness and faith and life.
Since these are the blessings that God showers upon you, then you know what sins you are called to avoid. It is far too common for one to say, “Since I am a Christian and saved by grace alone, then I can indulge in all sorts of sins and worldly pleasures without harming that faith.” This is simply wrong: Christ has set you free from sin, not to sin. You are free to do good works. To return to sin is to say that you do not want His mercy. It is to say you do not want to be a living stone or of the royal priesthood. This will lead to your judgment.
Since you are set free to serve, rejoice to go about the vocations that you have been given. It is far too common a sin for Christians to hate their daily routines, rather than give thanks to God for the opportunities to serve others. It is further far too common for Christians to forget that their daily lives are service to God, and thus they hold their God-given vocations in contempt as they look for something more to do within the Church to give their lives meaning and purpose. But work in the church is no more holy than the work done in your daily vocation.
As a royal priest, you are set free to come into the Lord’s presence. Do so often and joyfully. It will always be a great temptation to believe that, as a living stone in the Lord’s house, you do not need the means of grace so much. But a priest who never goes to the temple isn’t really a priest, is he? To deprive yourself of God’s Word and Sacraments is to deprive yourself of your Savior’s gracious presence; and if you deprive yourself of His forgiveness and life, you will eventually turn into a stone-cold brick that is cast into a rubbish heap and lost.
No, dear fellow members of the Lord’s royal priesthood, this is not for you. You’ve been set free from sins to live in the Lord’s marvelous light. And so, where these temptations still lead you into sin, you quickly confess them with this glad confidence. So that God would not reject and despise you for your sin on Judgment Day, Jesus allowed Himself to be despised and rejected on the cross. So that you might obtain mercy, Jesus received no mercy, but all of God’s wrath on the cross. So that you might live in His light, He endured darkness and hell.
Christ has done all this, so that He might be your Foundation, the Cornerstone on which you, His living stones are built to be His spiritual house, His temple, forever. Indeed, you are His chosen generation, His royal priesthood, His holy nation, His own special people. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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