How To Suffer Well [Part 5]

As you come to him…. —1 Peter 2:4

Peter is describing the grandeur of being a church together in Christ. The Lord was rejected by all the top people, and so are we. But he was chosen and precious to God, and so are we. There is grandeur to Christ, and there is grandeur to being a church together in Christ.

But my hunch is that some of us have never seen grandeur in a church. Peter is describing a kind of church some of us might not be able to connect with. This passage might sound like flowery language, because the only churches we’ve ever seen have been mediocre and petty and selfish. What people call “church” too often has nothing about it to make us say, “I need to stretch and grow, to fit into something this great.”

A big step toward revival is to destroy every concept of “church” that is ruining the church, and then to embrace a higher vision for what God is calling us to become. The church is not only the communicator of the gospel but also a part of the gospel. The Bible says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). He shed his blood for the church, and he knew what was worth dying for.

As we build Immanuel and plant more churches, we must not import into the present the low standards of the past. God wants to give us today something we’ve never experienced before. God wants 1 Peter 2:4-10 to stop sounding unreal. He wants us to experience this grandeur here together. God’s only strategy for world redemption is churches like this. That is God’s Plan A, and he has no Plan B. So much is at stake in the kind of church we are. Let’s think it through, in three steps.

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 [that is, a temple], to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. —1 Peter 2:4-5

Do you see that in the entire passage, Peter doesn’t tell us to do a single thing? He only tells us who Christ is and who we are. It’s as if Peter takes us by the arm and walks us up to a gigantic mirror, big enough for all of us together. It’s a biblical mirror. And as we look, we see ourselves with a new dignity, an exalted status, a high calling. “Church” starts looking different. We become a compelling church.

Verses 4-5 are the main point in the passage, and verses 6-10 back up that main point with quotations and images from the Old Testament.  Here in verses 4-5, three things stand out.  

First, “As you come to him.”  Who is this “him”? The Lord of verse 3, who tastes good. He is addictive. He is why we keep coming to church. And what I want you to see is that Peter introduces this whole passage about the church by saying, “As you come to him.” We don’t come to church, in order to be the church; we come to Christ, and we’re built up as a church. Immanuel is about Jesus, Community, Mission—in that order. Community does not come first. If we come to church just to be with one another, one another is all we’ll get, and it isn’t enough, and our hearts will inevitably grow empty and angry. If we put community first, we will destroy community. But we become a community of divine grandeur, as we come to Christ and submit ourselves to him. We come to him with all our sins and needs, moment by moment, and he receives us. I say “moment by moment,” because Peter does not say, “When you came to him” in the past but “As you come to him” in the present, constantly. We come out of ourselves and out of our self-importance, we come to him and his grandeur, and he builds us up. Community gets traction as we come to Christ.

He is why the worship service is the centerpiece of our life together as Immanuel. We also have community groups at 9:00 for new people, primarily. You know The Immanuel Guarantee: No one needs to feel new after their first visit. And you can quickly get past feeling new and start feeling connected by getting into a community group. But no group can substitute for Jesus. Come to him first and constantly, and he’ll make everything else real. “As we come to him.”

The second thing that stands out here is who Jesus is: “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” If it were up to a vote, Jesus would never win the election. He would never be taken seriously. Jesus is commonly perceived in our world today as a religious idealist whom we might admire but we’d never turn our lives over to him and actually obey him. But the truth is, Jesus is the cornerstone of a whole new world God is building. In fact, God is renovating the entire universe. It started at the resurrection of Christ 2000 years ago—a new burst of power in this world that isn’t going away until everything is new again. And Jesus is God’s foundation stone, so to speak, for his new project. We sinners tend not to perceive a deep foundation as interesting. We are more attracted to surface ornamentation. We must realize that, as we are now turning from that to follow Christ, we are coming to someone who is dismissed by all the smartest, coolest people. As a result, we lose credibility. But we don’t mind. Here’s why:

The third thing that stands out here is the grandeur Jesus is building, and he’s using us as his raw materials: “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.” Someday the whole universe will ring with worship. That is the grandeur we’re being caught up into. I remember how Johnny Cash described what he had built by his life: “You could have it all, my empire of dirt.” When we turn from our empires of dirt, including religious dirt, and come to Christ, what does he do? He takes us as we are and builds us into something magnificent.

What is a biblical church? Three things—a temple, a priesthood and sacrifice. Back in the Old Testament, God’s people had these things. Now in the New Testament, we are these things. Do you realize what we are together? We are a spiritual temple, where God puts his presence. We are a holy priesthood, connecting people with God. And we are offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ. He loves our worship, not because we’re perfect but because Jesus was perfect for us. Enter into what God is building. Do not be an onlooker in worship. Use this service to lift your sacrifices to God. Give him your heart and your voice and your mind. He accepts you, to the glory of Christ your Substitute.

But the fact that we’re involved in worship doesn’t make us Christian believers unique. Nearly everyone in the human race is trying to get to God somehow. Worship is a constant throughout history. We can think of the human race as building their temples for worship, billions of people working away, hoping God (or Someone/Something) will notice. Every human culture is people reaching out together, by faith, for some kind of ultimacy. So, we see the Hindu wing of the human temple, the Muslim courtyard, the Buddhist cloister, the humanist spire, the consumerist gift shop, and so forth. It’s all very impressive. We see some good ideas there. But there is a problem. The problem is, the foundation is wrong. God himself offered the builders a strong foundation stone. 2000 years ago he put it right there in the construction site, among the most expert builders with the best training and background. But the architectural committee rejected it. John Owen, a theologian from about 400 years ago, helps us understand what’s wrong down at the very foundation of most human effort and genius:

Look to the things of this world—wives, children, possessions, estates, power, friends and honor. How amiable are they! How desirable to the thoughts of most men! But he who has obtained a view of the glory of Christ will, in the midst of all these other things, say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).

The foundation of every human life and every human culture is worship—of something. That foundation is so deep, many people hardly notice it. But at that foundational level there is an assumption. What most people take for granted is that God is there to enhance my enjoyment of the good things of this life, but God himself is not the prize. God is my steppingstone to get what I really want. God is a useful tool, not a soul-satisfying taste. That blasphemy is the foundation of the worship God rejects, even if it calls itself Christian. And it’s a shaky foundation. All these good things will fail us.

But God in mercy has come to us in Christ, to build something new—a new culture that prizes him above all else and finds him to be all-sufficient. All over this world’s construction site workers are leaving the world’s project and coming over to the rejected cornerstone. Many people are seeing him in a new way. They feel the uncertainty of what they’re building, and they want a closer look at the reject. As they get up close, they discover that it’s not just any stone. It isn’t granite or even marble. This is a precious gem, a diamond. God had a reason for choosing Christ as the new beginning of everything. And we are building our lives now on that foundation. We are learning to humbly fit into God’s new temple. He has to chisel us here and there. But this worship does have God’s approval all over it, because what makes our worship acceptable to God is not our perfection but Christ’s perfection for us.

The only worship God accepts is through Christ. That’s the exclusivity of the gospel. But anyone worshiping God through Christ is acceptable to God. That’s the inclusivity of the gospel. The style of our worship is secondary; the one through whom we worship is everything. If you’re worshiping God this morning with a heart that prizes Jesus as your precious treasure, you please him, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. 

God is calling us to Christ, to build us up into a temple, a priesthood and sacrifice. And as we come, he is pleased. Let’s leave behind all small concepts of how to be a church. God is building grandeur. Now, in verses 6-10, Peter reaches back into the Old Testament to show us our high calling.

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,”

and       

“A stone of stumbling,
    and a rock of offense.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. —1 Peter 2:6-8

I want to show you two things here. One, it is a privilege to believe in Jesus. Some people reject him, even some people in Zion—that is, the city of God, church people. But we accept the stigma of wholehearted devotion to Christ. Here’s why: “Whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” That is stated in the Greek text in a most emphatic form: “Whoever believes in Christ—no way can he let you down, no way can you end up a loser!” Friday evening Jani and I were watching TV and a commercial came on, advertising a prescription medication. And half the commercial was taken up warning us about the side-effects: “This is a great medication for solving your problem. It might kill you. But be sure to ask your doctor.” The gospel has no warning label. There are no side-effects to Jesus. We let him down, and he forgives us. But he cannot fail to live up to everything your deepest being longs for. That’s why Peter says, “So the honor is for you who believe.” Some people think you’re stupid for pinning all your hopes on Christ. But the truth is, it’s an honor. Let’s never feel sorry for ourselves. What an insult to Christ that would be! That’s the way we used to think, and it trivialized not only Christ but also his church. When you see a dysfunctional church, you can be sure the people there are not thinking, “It is such an honor to belong to Jesus Christ!” They are probably filled with self-importance. We repent of that, and we say to him, “It’s just a privilege to be involved!” Then the grandeur enters in. It’s that simple. A high view of Christ creates a noble church.

Two, there is no grandeur for those who dishonor Jesus. Peter says, “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” What is Peter saying? He is saying that Jesus Christ is the key to every human destiny. Those who say No to him do not defeat him. Even those who crucified him unwittingly served the deeper purpose of God. Don’t ever think that, if you reject him, at least you’ll have the satisfaction of getting your own way. Maybe you remember the old poem “Invictus”:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Oh really? Who gave you that idea? If you oppose Christ, the more angrily you rage against him, the more unwittingly you will serve him.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. He loves you and wants to bless you and include you in his new world forever. Do you know where God gets new worshipers? From the darkness! Verses 9-10: 

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 2:9-10

 

We exist to proclaim the excellencies of Christ to a world that doesn’t see him that way. The Bible says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 145:3). How we do church reflects on Christ. Let there be nothing slipshod or shabby or sloppy about this church. So many churches live at the level of a yard sale. At home? “Nothing but the best will do.” At church? “Whatever!” Christians who say they serve the Excellent One show up late, serve half-heartedly, and it’s obvious they don’t care. That way of doing church needs to die. It dishonors Christ. But excellence can proclaim his excellencies.

Here’s why we do care. He’s been good to us. We are a chosen race; God has pressed us deep into his heart. We are a royal priesthood; God has given us the dignity of his presence. We are a holy nation; God has set us apart. We are a people for his own possession; God cherishes us. We were swimming around in our own nothingness, not even wanting God, and God said, “But I want you,” and he made us his people. We knew nothing of the mercy of God. We thought he owed us. We were so arrogant. We resented him for his many failings as God. But he didn’t wipe us out. He showed us mercy in Christ. He took us in our deadness and our rage and he forgave us and made us alive to himself. And now he is building us together into grandeur, for his glory. That’s the new picture of ourselves that we see here in this biblical mirror.

Let me conclude by addressing those of us who haven’t yet come to Christ. You have to be disturbed by these words: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” Jesus is offensive, because he means to be. But he only offends our pride and our despair. Jesus will either be your foundation stone or your stumbling block. But he will stand, because he is the future of the whole universe. And right now, he is opening the door for you to enter in. He loves you. He wants you. He died to absorb into himself your guilt. See him there on the cross, suffering what you deserve. Receive him with the empty hands of faith, and he will make you a person of eternal grandeur.

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