By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
May 7, 2023
1 Peter 2:2–10 (ESV)
2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 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. 6 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.” 7 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,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 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. 10 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.
Today we are taking a detour from my commitment to speak from the Old Testament. I am doing this for the simple reason that the Old Testament reading this week is another from the Psalms, and after two straight weeks, I felt as it I was going to continuously repeat myself. That being said, the concepts that we have covered over the last two weeks still apply to what we will discuss today.
Today’s reading comes from the letter that Peter wrote to the church. Most scholars believe that Peter either personally wrote this letter, or that one of his closest students compiled the words that Peter spoke into this letter. Either way the historic tradition stands that these words come from Peter. Peter directed these words to the various churches in what we now consider the nation of Turkey. In the first century, Asia minor or Turkey, was in many ways the center of the church. The letters at the beginning of John’s Revelation were written to the seven churches of Asia Minor. And Peter wrote to five churches here as well. Of all the various letters or epistles to the various churches within the New Testament: Seven of Paul’s letters were to people from, or churches in Asia Minor. Peter’s first letter was to churches in Asia minor, and John’s letters were to followers in Asia Minor. This does not mean that the churches outside of Asia do not benefit from what is in these letters, I only bring it up because this was a significant place for the church in ancient times. It was the land between. To the east, deeper in Palestine, or Judea, there was tension between the Church which was largely Gentile and those that had Hebrew heritage. To the west, was the Empire and everything that goes along with that. Asia Minor and Greece became a haven for the church. It was a place of refuge between the centers of persecution.
It was a haven, but that did not mean that it was free from risk. Because of its distance from both Rome and Jerusalem it had bouts of persecution as well. Governors wishing to make a name for themselves in the Roman courts would at time take matters into their own hands and persecute people just so they could say that they were attempting to maintain the integrity of Rome. And often people like Saul would make their way from the religious center of Jerusalem and attempt to bring the church back to Israel. Saul, who we know as Paul, did not do this in Asia minor but this was the mission that he began before his conversion to Christ, and others took on that role after him. We can read about these throughout the book of Acts.
Asia Minor became this haven of sorts, it became a place where there was a libertarian view of life. I say this not in a political sense, but in the sense that there was liberal thought. People were free to interact with different ideas and concepts because they lived in a place where various cultures came together. Asia Minor even today is the crossroad between Europe or the West, and Asia the East. And because of this central orientation it became a hub of intersecting cultures and ideas.
Peter wrote this letter to encourage the people within the emerging church. At this time Peter was in Rome, most likely in prison awaiting his execution. Yet like Paul he had some freedom to converse while he waited for his fate. And he used this time not to rally people to fight for his freedom, but instead he taught that we should live our lives in a manner contrary to what the world would see as logical, we should be willing to take on the life of Jesus. Reflecting Jesus’s life, his teaching, his suffering, and his hope in whatever situation we might find ourselves in.
Peter begins this section by saying, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk.” For those of us that have interacted with scripture we might liken this phrase with what Paul wrote to the people in Corinth. Paul in that letter told them that they should long for real food and not milk. But Peter is speaking from a different perspective. Paul was speaking to people that had been associated with the church for a while, where Peter was speaking at an earlier time. When the church was just emerging and taking hold. Peter is speaking to people that have just taken the mantel of faith and are starting on a new path in life.
Peter is speaking to people new to faith and to illustrate this he speaks of something that most people have interacted with in some manner, an infant. Even if you have not had children yourself, we all know that infants need their mother’s milk. Peter is telling us that this is how we should be, we should long for the pure spiritual milk. This term “Spiritual Milk” is interesting. In the Greek language spirit or spiritual is derived from the root pneuma, which refers to air or wind. But Peter does not use a word like that here. Instead, he uses a word with a root in logos. Logos is something that is powerful in scripture, it is the word that John uses at the beginning of his Gospel. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” This is logos, “in the beginning was the logos and the logos was with god and the logos was God.” Peter uses an adjective form of the word logos, so it is Word milk. We know the concept here; we drink cows’ milk or goats’ milk. That means that it is milk from those animals. Peter is saying that the nourishment our emerging faith needs is milk that comes from the word, the word who is God.
But this takes on a unique sense when we think of it more deeply. Milk of the word, points to something that is rational or cognitive yet immaterial. It is like philosophy or theology. There is an interaction going on within our soul, or our complete true being, where we are wrestling with the concepts and growing into a new way of thinking and living. Word milk, is an invitation to a conversation with God.
Peter goes on and says, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” He is quoting from Psalm 34 here, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Last week as we considered the 23rd Psalm I mentioned that God is calling us to the green pastures to rest with him. This is what Peter is speaking of as well. To taste is to partake or experience. When we go to that place, when we rest in the Lord and experience his presence in prayer and worship, we taste something. David, in the Psalm, said he leads me in paths of righteousness. I mentioned that this is God giving or providing us with discernment and direction. We go to that place of prayer, we rest in the lord, we release before him the things that overshadow us, and he prepares before us a table or feast, in the presence of our enemies.
All these statements speak of a different lifestyle than what we see in the world. It speaks of peace, even as we struggle. For Peter, this time of prayer would be drinking of the milk of the word. And as we are in that place, as we experience it, we begin notice that the lifestyle of Christ is different.
We still have struggles. We may even walk through the gloominess of depression, but there is something different when we walk those paths with God. We are not alone. We have this sense deep within us, that even through the suffering it is not the end.
“As you come to him,” Peter continues, “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” Peter is drawing again from the Psalms and the book of Isaiah. “Behold I the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion… a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.” Jesus is this living stone of which Peter speaks, and Peter knows stones because that is what his name means. And Simon was given this name when Jesus reveled to him who he was. Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do they say that I am?” and the disciples answered, and then Jesus asked a second question, “Who do you say that I am.” This is when Simon said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” That statement is the rock that became Peter’s foundation. That statement became the foundation upon which God would build, and the gates of hell would not prevail against.
The cornerstone is important in ancient architecture. In the ancient near east, they did not use concrete like we do today. They had to begin their building projects with stones. And the cornerstone was the most important of all the stones within a foundation. The cornerstone is the one point from which all things align. If this stone is not flat and square it can cause the entire structure to be compromised.
Occasionally, while I mindlessly scroll through Facebook, I will see a meme about the power of a book. A small book is placed under one brick within a wall, and after several layers this one book has caused a significant shift in the overall wall. This same concept applies to a foundation when the cornerstone is not set properly. A wall may shift, and that shift becomes weakness.
Cornerstone can also refer to a different type of structure too. It can all mean a keystone. The cornerstone is for the strength of a wall, but a keystone is the strength of an arch. In both instances it is this one stone that bears the weight of the entire structure. Peter calls that stone, Jesus. And he is not merely a good concept or philosophy, but he is the living stone. Jesus provides the framework and strength to build life. And Peter says, “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus.”
In the second verse, what we translate as spiritual in reference to milk, comes from the root Logos or word. In the fifth verse, it is from pneuma, or air or spirit. When we grow because of the nourishment provided by the word, we are changed. We are brought together and become like the living stone chosen and precious to God. The cornerstone does not form a complete wall. A keystone, without other stones, will just lay on the ground. But when stones are brought together, when they are stacked and interlocked it rises. It forms a defensive perimeter, or it can become a structure that can withstand or even defy gravity. But the stones of a wall or an arch must be like that original corner or key stone.
When we are formed, molded, or cut to be like the original living stone, we work in cooperation with those around us. Each one of us doing our part, and as we work together our lives form the structure that can house the very spirit of God. It is in Jesus that we find our true self, the core of our being. When we draw to him, grow with the nourishment of the word. When we entrust our lives to him, we have a strength that goes beyond anything in the world.
But what about those that do not entrust their lives to Jesus, the living stone? What happens to them? Peter continues to quote from the Psalms and Isaiah as he says, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” And “A stone of stumbling. And a rock of offense.” Those that believe, or entrust, are joined together with those around them and they form a house, a strong house that will not be moved even in the winds of change. But the world stumbles because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
Chosen and destined. These words can be loaded with meaning among various church traditions. They can provide comfort or division. On one side of the debate are those that believe that in God’s providence we are predestined to either salvation or depravity. While others will say that scripture claims that Jesus has not returned because he wishes that all might believe and call on his name, that everyone has an opportunity to make a choice or decision. This is at the heart of the debate, because election in English is derived from the word chosen. The question is who chooses? And what is chosen?
I understand the debate surrounding these concepts. And like many things when it comes to theology, I have my belief, but I will encourage you to seek your own answers. But since this is part of this passage, I will speak on it.
When Peter says that they stumble…as they were destined to do. He is speaking of the way or path. I want us to consider a plane flying or a ship sailing in the sea. The pilot plots a course and if the pilot holds to that course the vessel will reach a known destination. What happens when the wind blows and pushes this vessel slightly off its original course? A few inches or degrees of vector can cause us to miss the mark, or sin. Some of our ancestors set course for Jamestown and due to a storm blowing them off course they ended up in Massachusetts instead of Virginia.
That speaks of something unintentional. Peter, the Psalmist, and Isaiah are not speaking of the unintentional, but of rejection. Rejection speaks of finding something unfit. This speaks not of stones with bad angles, but willfulness. I have worked many jobs in my life. But one job I enjoyed was with a landscaping company. While working for this company, we were often asked to build walls with natural stone as well as with brick. When building a wall with natural stones, the angles and sizes are not uniform. Yet after nearly twenty years I can drive to the houses we built those walls, each still stands. The builder chooses a stone to place, and the builder chooses which stones to put next to that stone. Each of these stones works with one another and they revolve around the central stone chosen by the builder to set the course. When Peter speaks of rejection, he speaks not of the unique aspect of the individual but of a willful avoidance.
This all goes back to the very beginning. In Genesis, we are told about the creation of the heavens and the earth. In this story on the sixth day, God reached into the mud and formed man in “their image,” male and female, he created them. He then took Adam and placed him in the garden. Humanity was chosen from the very beginning to dwell with God. We were created to bear God’s image, to reflect his character. But there was a willful rejection. God’s original plan was taken off course. This did not deter God. He still chose from the very beginning, but now the choice now requires a path back. This is where Israel comes in. Throughout scripture Israel is called the chosen people, and they are. It is through them that God’s path is revealed. From the moment God called Abraham until the end of time there will be a remnant of people that can trace their linage back to that day. They will never be replaced. But chosen or elected does not mean saved. We know this because Israel went into exile. They rejected God, and God allowed their rejection. This, however, did not deter the course that God established. Israel’s election was for the messiah, the anointed one who would reverse the curse brought about by our spiritual ancestors. Like the stone chosen by a builder to determine the wall, God built and directed Israel through history to get to Jesus. After Jesus that direction continues.
Peter says, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” This reflects the very words spoken about Israel, but there is a difference. The church does not replace Israel, nor is Israel the church. They are both stones, but are they living stones? Are they contributing to the continuity of God’s course or are they disobedient to the word and set themselves on a destination apart from God?
Karl Barth says in his Church Dogmatics:
an elect man is in any case elect in and with the community of Jesus Christ; elect through its mediacy and elect to its membership. The people of Israel is elect in its Messiah, Jesus, and the Church in its Lord, Jesus. Thus every election of individuals is an election in the sphere of the community—on the basis of the fact that this sphere is both established and marked out in the election of Jesus Christ. It is an election which in one way or another is mediated by the ministry of the community instituted by Jesus Christ—an election to participation in the ministry of the community
Both Peter and Barth speak of the community. We, the living stones, are being built into the temple of God. The place where the image of God can be seen and praised. We are honored, as Peter says, not because of who we are, but because of who we have believed and entrusted ourselves to. The chosen living stone, Jesus. It was Jesus, the word, that all of Israel was directed toward, and it is Jesus, the word, to whom we can trace our foundation. We are called to be part of something greater, a community, a people, a nation. Not like the nations of the world, but a nation devoted to our original call. We are called out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Will we be nourished by the milk of the word? Will we taste and experience the life and lifestyle of Jesus? Will we live in the likeness of our living stone? God set a course during the foundation of history to bring us to this point. And each of us has a choice to make. Will we return to God, or will we trip over ourselves?
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