Artist Jessica Eastburn, using a mixed-media presentation, curated a show in Eugene, Oregon, and created a series of paintings that look like this [picture shown]. Now, there is a lot going on in there. I mean, you’ve got a duck, a woman’s face, a crazy phone-necked guy, a pickle jar, feet, hands painting nails, an acorn, hot dog, hamburger, shape/color/line going all over the place. And often when we come up against art, we often ask the question, “What does it mean?” Well, she helps us out. The entire series she called Imagery Overload. So, imagine having that above your piano, in your living room every day and walking in and seeing something like that every day. It’s imagery overload.
I wanted you to see that picture because when I read 1 Peter 2:1-8, the same thing is going to happen to you. It’s literary imagery overload. Peter goes crazy with the imagery here, and he uses it to explain his big point. But I think for us to understand it, what I want us to do is I’m going to read the text and see if we can figure out these images. So, I want you to try to count them. See how many images you get in eight verses, and then we’re going to try to explain them together. So, 1 Peter, 2:1-8,
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 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,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
So, how many images did you get? I get between twelve and fourteen, depending on how you count them — twelve to fourteen images. Peter pummels us with images, and for us to figure out his point, I actually think we need to unpack each one of these images first and get an idea of what’s actually going on in the text. I call this entire section, these eight verses, Metaphor Madness and Simile Silliness. You have to go back to fourth grade English class, where you were taught metaphors and similes, these comparisons, images everywhere!
So, I’m going to add to it. We’re going to talk about each image, and then I’m going to give you a visual image of it, and then we’re going to explain exactly what it means, Lord willing.
So, here we go. Image number 1, newborn infants. “Like newborn infants …” Think of this. This is a newborn infant [picture of an infant shown]. Yeah. He looks happy. Yeah, he’s giving the doctor a look. Why is that baby angry? His entire life has changed, but more than likely, he’s starving. He’s hungry. An infant is single minded, single minded, survival, food. That’s it.
The next image [picture of milk shown] “long for the pure spiritual milk” just a glass of milk. Now, nowadays we have thirty-eight types of milk. All kinds you can get. It’s our exclusive nutritional source. Think right now of the shortage of formula. Why is that a big deal? Because babies only eat milk or a form of it … exclusive nutritional source. You want us to grow up. He wants us to grow up.
This is what I think of when I think of growing up [picture of kids in adult clothes], kids putting on their parents’ clothes. They don’t fit. But one day when that kid grows up, they will. They will fit. It’s mature clothes that fit.
If you’ve tasted that the Lord is good, this metaphor that He gives us, “tasted.” What about this little girl [picture of little girl eating shown]? She already knows it’s going to be good. She hasn’t even tried it yet and look at that look on her face. That’s what we look like if you’ve tasted that the Lord is good.
This next one is probably the hardest and most odd for us [picture of stone as corner of a building], living stone, stone, cornerstone. Lots of repetition in the passage. It looks like this. This is something like what should come to our mind, that big rock in the corner. It’s that Jesus is a that. He’s a living foundation that’s worth building life upon. He’s worth building upon.
Then we are called “like living stones.” So, imagine a wall like this [picture of a stone wall] made up of stones, okay? But imagine something that strong and that hard and that durable was organic and could simultaneously be that strong but grow together at the same time. So, followers of Jesus are like their foundation. We’re living stones that grow together, that are built up into a spiritual house, Peter says.
Just people who are building … We can see construction all over the place. You can see that this [picture of a building under construction shown] is arranged by an architect into a spiritual building, a spiritual dwelling.
“To be a holy priesthood” [picture of priests shown]. This one’s very foreign to us, understanding priests. The original audience would have immediately thought of this. This is what they would have seen in their head, “I’m supposed to be a that? Holy priest? I’m supposed to be a distinct servant of God?” Is what he’s saying with this image.
“Who offer spiritual sacrifices” [picture of a sacrifice shown]. Now they would have thought of sacrifices a lot — lambs, doves, altars, and stuff like that. But Peter is saying, “No, it’s not an animal anymore. It’s a spiritual action offered in thanks to God.” That’s what spiritual sacrifices are, a spiritual action offered in thanks to God.
Then he references the builders, the builders, people in construction [picture of construction workers shown]. I think of it this way. Builders, yes, they put things together, but their first job is to choose the construction materials. They’re the people who choose the construction materials that they then build.
And finally, a new stone image, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Imagine walking down a pathway that looks like this [picture of jutting rock in a pathway shown], and there’s that stone sticking up, and you hit it right with the front of your foot. You’re going down. It’s a stone of stumbling. It’s a rock of offense.
So, now that we got some of these images, I think we have some of the meanings, I’m going to reread the text, and I’m just going to put the images up here as I read, and let’s see if we can get closer into what this text is telling us. So, same thing, 1 Peter 2:1-8.
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to Jesus, 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,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word as they were destined to do.”
Peter, I think, uses imagery overload to communicate two primary messages to us in this section. Message number 1, start (not stop) being a baby. Start being a baby. And the second one is stand on (don’t stumble over) the stone. Stand on (don’t stumble over) the stone.
First, let’s talk about being a baby. In our culture, being a baby is almost always negative. “Stop being a baby. You are such a baby!” It’s a name-calling thing that even young kids do. Peter is using the idea of being a baby in a very positive way. How? By describing their single-minded focus on their nutritional source of milk. A baby’s relationship to milk is exclusive. It’s singular. It’s focused. For a baby to grow, it has to have milk. An infant will let you know that it wants food. It will let you know emphatically that it wants food. Its relationship to milk is unbelievably intense. So, Peter says to the recipients, these exiles, “Start being a baby! Long for the pure spiritual milk so that you can grow up!”
And I think in this moment, Peter is comparing milk to Jesus. Jesus is the pure, spiritual milk. He’s the singular source of nutritional, spiritual nourishment for his people. Jesus is the focus already of chapter 1 until the end of verse 8. He’s mentioned twenty-nine times, either by his name or by a pronoun. He’s the singular focus of the text. Long for him! As a baby wants a relationship with milk, wants to consume milk, we want a relationship with Jesus. We’re singularly focused on him for growth. We long for him.
A baby, as it consumes milk, grows up. It matures. It gains weight. It learns new things. We, in the same way, as we consume Jesus, we grow up into, not clothes, but our salvation. Now, important, that doesn’t mean we earn our salvation. It simply means that as we mature with our focus on Jesus, the clothes of our salvation fit better. Just like a child wearing its dad’s suit needs to grow up into that suit, so as we put on Christ, so to speak, like clothes, we’re going to grow up into his clothes. His way of life, his way of speaking, his words, his manner is going to fit us in a more forming way as we grow up into him.
And then Peter steps in and throws a curveball and gets us into a whole other metaphor — As we long for Jesus, the pure spiritual milk to grow up, Peter says as you long to grow up, you’re also being built up. You’re being built into a spiritual house. We’re like living stones, organic construction materials that’s being built into a spiritual house so that we can become priests and offer sacrifices. All of this kind of distant imagery for us — that we are a temple (people are now temples), that we are priests (followers of Jesus are now priests), and that our sacrifices are spiritual, not physical.
So, what we have to do here is time-travel a little bit. We have to go back in time and figure out how would they have responded to all of those images because they were much more common to them than they are to us. So, let’s think of it this way — for thousands of years, Jews and Gentiles alike knew that God’s presence and God’s priests and God’s offerings were performed by Jews only. Everyone knew that. Now Peter is saying it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish. Everyone is God’s temple if they believe in Jesus. Everyone is a priest who believes in Jesus, and all of us can offer spiritual sacrifices if we believe in Jesus. This passage is culturally radical. The Gentiles would have known the place of God’s presence, the temple in Jerusalem, they had one place where they were allowed to go in that building. It was actually called the Court of the Gentiles, but they were not allowed to proceed closer towards God’s presence on pain of death, a historian tells us.
Now, imagine being a Gentile follower, and Peter’s writing you in the middle of exile and saying, “Actually, you’re the temple of God. You’re a priest of God. And you can offer spiritual sacrifices to God.” They would have responded in a radical way. They wouldn’t have had the capacity to actually almost understand what he was saying. And I’ve tried to figure out a way to come up with modern, cultural equivalence of people who couldn’t understand good news that you told them, and here’s my best shot.
Peter’s saying Gentiles could be God’s temple is like telling a black family in 1860 that they are completely free to own land, vote, and be treated with equal dignity and rights as white families. That’s how radical it is.
Or it would be like telling a woman before 1919 that not only could she vote, but that she could be voted for and become vice president. Both of those realities (in 1860, pre-1919) would be so foreign that even if you delivered that good news, it would need reframing to be understood. It’s that radical.
For thousands of years, Jews and Gentiles knew that God chose to have His presence reside in the temple of Jerusalem. God’s presence was localized to be experienced. Now Peter is saying that followers of Jesus are mobile temples. We are the place where the presence of God is experienced as we take God out into the world.
For thousands of years, Jews and Gentiles alike knew that God was served by Jewish priests from specific tribes with specific jobs, and only one was allowed access to God’s most holy place, and that was only once a year. Now Peter is saying that followers of Jesus are all categorically priests. We all have access immediately to God through Jesus.
For thousands of years, Jews and Gentiles alike knew that God’s priests made sacrifices of lambs, doves, oil, bread, and other things donated to the temple. They were physical sacrifices displaying a spiritual reality. Now Peter is saying that followers of Jesus are continually offering spiritual sacrifices to God through their lives.
In the middle of this context, we can even see what some of those sacrifices could look like. Connor taught us so well last week, “Love one another. Love one another. Put away deceit, envy, and slander.” Those are spiritual sacrifices. To love others is to place that on the altar and offer it to God. To put away behaviors that destroy our neighbor is a spiritual sacrifice in worship to God. And Peter even lets us know why these spiritual sacrifices are important. I’m not going to be able to talk about all of it, but next week Peter is going to come back to it.
Our spiritual sacrifices … Peter later is just going to call it doing good, just doing good. These spiritual sacrifices are there so that when people speak evil against us as evil doers, they will see our good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. Our spiritual sacrifices serve others and point to God. That’s why we’re supposed to be a baby. Start being a baby. Long for Jesus as your complete, exclusive, nutritional, spiritual source for maturity. Be a priest, a household. Offer sacrifices as you live out this reality of following Jesus. Start being a baby.
Second thing, stand on (not stumble over) the stone. Stand on (not stumble over) the stone. And this is where Peter uses that term so many times, and at the risk of repetition, I want to read this part again, because it’s just a little hard and odd to take in. So, Jesus is the foundation. He’s that cornerstone. He’s the stone, a living stone.
“As you come to Jesus, 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, and to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:”
Now, Peter’s starting to quote from the Old Testament.
“‘Behold, I am laying in Zion [Jerusalem, God’s dwelling place] a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him [believes in Jesus, believes in the cornerstone] 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 2:4-8]
So, Jesus, living stone, a stone in Zion, a cornerstone chosen and precious, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. Peter grabs almost every reference to the idea of a stone — two times from Isaiah, once in the Psalms — Frankensteins them together and says this is about Jesus. Jesus is a living stone. He’s not a dead stone. He’s not a dead foundation. He’s a living one. He’s the cornerstone, that stone that is placed first in construction that makes sure everything is at the correct angle and the correct level. That first stone has to be perfect so that the structure will remain strong. Jesus is that cornerstone. He is that living foundation.
And then we, like him, we are living stones that God, the awesome Architect, takes and places on that foundation, on that cornerstone, and builds us together into a spiritual temple that houses God’s presence. And we’re organic construction material. We’re able to grow together into this place, God’s house, made up of a whole lot of mini temples that are all growing together into one house.
And then Peter focuses on the stone, but primarily on how we see the stone or how we respond to the stone. And he’s really clear about God’s view of the stone two times. God’s view of the stone, God’s sight, as God sees this stone, sees Jesus, it’s chosen and precious. It’s chosen and precious. But in men’s sight, it’s rejected. It’s rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious. God sees Jesus as chosen and precious construction material. Jesus is worthy of being built upon.
One of my best friends has been in construction, remodel, all types of stuff for years and years. One thing I’ve learned from him, as someone who isn’t in that, is you can buy a whole lot of wood for a project, but that doesn’t guarantee that everything you purchased you’re going to be able to use. Some of it is bent. Some of it has a bad knot in it. Some of it is just trash, and it’s to be discarded.
Jesus is worthy construction material. He’s chosen and precious. He’s worth being built upon. He can actually do his role of being the foundation of God’s temple, of God’s people. He’s worthy of trust. But the text tells us that not all believe that to be true. Not all agree with God. There are these builders that reject God.
So, who in the world are the builders, these people who choose construction material? Well, Peter in Acts 4 has another moment where he uses the same stone language. He and his friends are hauled before this council because they healed a guy, and the council wants to know, “Hey, how in the world, in whose name, under whose authority, under whose power did you heal this guy? We want to know right now.” So, this is Peter’s answer. He says to this council, how did you heal?
“By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified … This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” [Acts 4:10, 11]
So, in this moment, Peter specifically names this group, this council, the people who oversaw the crucifixion of Jesus, as builders.
But in 1 Peter 2 he broadens the definition of builder. The foundation, Jesus, the stone, can just be rejected by men, not just this high council that existed and put Jesus to death, but just by men. Every one of us is a builder. We’re all attempting to build our life on something, everyone. No matter what your belief system is, you have some type of foundation, you have some set of beliefs, you have some worldview, some guiding principle, some spiritual intuition. Whatever you want to define it as, everyone has something that they’re building their life upon that lets them choose the course of their life, the decisions they make, their moral code, how they’ll act. Everyone has a foundation. Everyone believes. But what do we believe in?
Peter is saying we have a foundation, a cornerstone, that in the sight of God is chosen and precious. Believe in it, or you do not believe in it, and you reject it. For Peter, there’s not a neutral position. It’s those who believe and those who don’t believe.
And to emphasize that Peter changes the way he uses the imagery of the stone. The stone’s role changes. When we reject the stone as chosen and precious, a living stone, rather than being that cornerstone, the foundation that’s level and straight and worthy of being built upon, the stone then becomes the stone of stumbling or a rock of offense.
If you were here in July, you heard me use an illustration the last time I taught of me doing some trail running, and I stepped on a large stone, rolled my ankle, and sprained it really bad. It took about six or seven weeks to get over all of it, right? In that moment, I did not believe that stone was chosen and precious. I did not call it chosen and precious. I called it other things in the moment. It hurt. It was a stone of stumbling. I planted a foot on it, and I stumbled. Peter is telling us when it comes to Jesus, stand on him. Believe he’s worthy of being built upon. And if not, you will trip over him. He will make you stumble.
So, we’ve seen these myriad of images that Peter pummels us with. We’ve seen that he uses those images to tell us start being a baby and stand on (don’t stumble over) the stone. So now, what did Peter want his original readers and what does he want us to do with that content? What do we do with it? Well, I think two things in line with his main points.
First, as an exile, focus on your food. Focus on your food. It’s as if the exiles and we need to do a daily spiritual food journal. What are we consuming in order to grow? Be like an infant, single-minded focus, pure spiritual milk, Jesus. That’s what Peter’s saying. It’s that … Focus on your food. Jesus supersedes all nutritional sources. He’s what helps us grow. So, think of it this way, Jesus supersedes preaching, books, podcasts, conferences, discussions. Jesus, his actual person, the actual real-person Jesus, is our primary nutritional, spiritual resource. We can consume all of those other things and they’re great. I’m glad you’re here. I love preaching. But Jesus way supersedes my ability to communicate, to build you up.
We can consume other good spiritual resources to grow and not have a mind on Christ as the end. And do you know what Paul calls that? Paul, in another book that he wrote in the New Testament, he just uses this little, funny phrase. He says, “knowledge puffs up.” You can learn a lot of spiritual stuff, and if Christ isn’t the focus of that, you just puff yourself up with knowledge. But if those many spiritual resources are focused on getting to know who Jesus is and how he will fuel you, that’s money. That’s being an infant.
We too, as modern-day exiles have to focus on our food in an age where everything is available to us at the touch of a finger on a phone. To what degree is your life Jesus-centric? Are you more focused on behavior than Jesus? Because your behavior changes through Jesus. Are you more focused on knowledge than Jesus? Jesus informs your knowledge.
At the end of an exile, if you’re kicked out of anything, if you’re exiled from a club, from your own family, from a group of friends, you long for what you were kicked out of. We long for a relationship with our creator, and that happens through Jesus. With single-minded focus, we focus on Jesus as our food, as our fuel. And we do that in embracing the way we’re described — this radical identity as a temple and a priest and a person who can offer spiritual sacrifices. It is weird language for us, but it’s so rich at the same time, that God is looking at you and saying, “You’re one of my priests. You’re my temple. You’re my dwelling place. You are the place where people can experience my presence.” You! If you believe in Jesus, that’s literally what you are!
That type of radical embrace of a radical identity, it just shifts everything. It lets us live radically. And I think it’s not that hard to live radically anymore. Do you want to know how Peter says to live radically? Do good. Live in this world that we’re all in and do good. The author of Hebrews puts it this way, and I think it’s brilliant. Remember to do good.
“Do not neglect to do good and share what you have, for such sacrifices [there’s our word] are pleasing to God.” [Hebrews 13:16]
So, what sacrifices does God want from his priests? Do good and share. That’s not rocket science, is it? And it’s that behavior that is seen by a watching world who, even when they accuse you of being evil at one point will go, “But look what they’re doing.” You’re evil. “But look what they’re doing.” As an exile, focus on your food.
Second, as an exile, focus on your foundation. What are you standing on? Do you believe Jesus is worth building your life upon? Is he a chosen and precious foundation in your life? If he is, awesome! Go back to point one, start being a baby.
If you’re not believing, if you’re not standing on Jesus as your foundation, then here’s my request to you. Would you take a moment to genuinely consider what your foundation is? And we want you to know we love if you would stay and wrestle with that question with us here even as you try to figure out what it is. But what are you building upon? Everybody’s building on something. What is your chosen foundation? What are you building? What does inform the way you live? What does drive you to create whatever moral code you have? And then would you risk holding your foundation up against the person and reality of Jesus Christ who died for you? And you will probably see he is a chosen and precious foundation for your life.
So, if you don’t believe, I’d love for you to believe that he’s worth building your life upon. If you do believe, focus on Jesus and grow up into who God’s making you to be. These things are so, in some ways, they’re so beyond words that Peter could have kept coming up with more images and more images and more images, and we still wouldn’t have cracked the surface of understanding how beautiful and chosen and precious and powerful it is to put our lives on the foundation that is Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.
Spirit, would you highlight from your Word? We trust that you preserved this Word for us. We trust that you can open it up to us. Would you help us? Would you glorify the Son in this passage this morning? Would you let us see what we need to see about ourselves from this passage this morning? Would you allow us as a people, as mini temples, who are part of your house, to display the presence of God in our community so that on the day of visitation, on the day that you visit us, everyone will look at you and say wow! I pray this in your name. Amen.