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Identity and Purpose in Exile (1 Peter 2:4-10)

Series: 1 Peter (Living in Exile)

I’ll never forget the feeling I had when Jose Altuve hit his third homerun in the first game of playoffs in 2017. I was with Taylor at the game. And when the Astros won the world series, I cried. I felt like I was apart of something so much bigger than me. We crave to be part of something that matters, something that is bigger than us. We take pride in the country we are from and the city we live in. We fly a flag and we wear the colors of our favorite teams. And when the thing that is bigger than us is successful — when the Astros win it all — we feel like we are apart of something that matters.


But this craving to be apart of something can be hijacked by Satan. He wants to find “innocent” ways of injecting our lives with “meaning” and “purpose.” He wants to hijack why we are here, what we represent and the image we bear. Satan can use the Astros and the Texans, our school and our company, the United States, political parties and activist groups, and so much more to hijack why we are here. 


But Peter has spoken to us about how we are part of a family created by God’s imperishable seed. After speaking to us about how we ought to have a brotherly love for one another, Peter drills into us a clear picture of who we are together and what our purpose is together. We will see two pictures of who believers are and one picture of the end unbelievers are destined for.


Stones and Priests in a Spiritual House for Offering Sacrifices (vs. 4-6)

Peter uses Old Testament Scripture throughout today’s text to make his points. Here, he quotes Isaiah 28. In Isaiah 28 God indicts Jerusalem and her leaders because they think they can reject God’s word and still cheat death. So God promises that a storm is going to pass through and their deal with death will be annulled. But, as Peter quotes, Isaiah says that this doesn’t mean Zion is completely doomed. God is laying as a foundation a tested stone - and that stone isn’t going anywhere. Those who are full of unrighteousness and lies will be swept away. But those who believe in and cling to this foundation, this stone — the storm will not sweep them away. Cling to the foundation stone of Zion and you’ll be just fine.


But how in the world is someone to do that? The implication of Peter and Paul as they quote Isaiah 28 is this: the foundation stone, the cornerstone of Zion is the God-man Jesus. Everyone is building their cities and “temples” to honor their great name and the names of their gods. They will all fall. Even the Jerusalem below will fall. But God is building Zion for his honor and Jesus is its foundation. Cling to him, believe in him and it doesn’t matter what storms come against the cities of this world, they cannot touch us.


So Peter grabs onto this image of God building his city Zion and this spiritual house. You have come to this living stone and you yourselves are like living stones being built into my spiritual house. Not only that, you are a holy priesthood in this spiritual house here to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. 


I love the stones image because Peter is addressing Christians who are scattered all over the place living as a minority culture in a world that is hostile to them. I can imagine that from ground level, they seem to be a silly, disorganized band of radicals who will never collectively amount to anything at all. And don’t we feel like that at times? Massive forces play tug-of-war for this world and sometimes I feel like we are just a forgotten, scattered mess of nobodies eating crackers, drinking grape juice, worshipping an executed criminal. But actually, from heaven’s view, we are all stones being built together as one great spiritual house on Jesus the foundation, the cornerstone. And just as he was rejected, we will be. And just as he is chosen and precious in God’s sight, we are too. And God promises that no matter what, the spiritual house he is building, the Zion that he is constructing: it’s going nowhere. In Revelation 21, we see that project finalized: the completed new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven.


I love this image of us being priests because of the purpose and meaning it infuses into everyday life. Through Jesus we have also been qualified to be priests who offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. The priests of the Old Law lived all around the tabernacle and they were charged with bringing holy offerings from the people to the throne of the Lord. But they could bring wrath on themselves and the congregation at any moment, so they had to be very cautious. We are now the priests who constantly live before the throne of the Almighty God. What sacrifices are we bringing? When we worship God with both our mind and our heart, it is a sacrifice acceptable to God. It matters. When we serve and love one another for God’s honor, it is a sacrifice acceptable to God. When we forgive sins, when we kill sin, when we repent of sin, when we stand up for real justice in an unjust world, when we do our jobs as for the Lord, when we instruct our friends and children in the Lord and bring them to him — it matters. We are bringing sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


So God has bestowed us with great honor. We are stones in a spiritual house that will not fall. We are priests bringing sacrifices that will be accepted by God. But not everyone receives this honor. In verses 7-8 Peter is going to weave together the messages of Old Testament Scriptures to show those who reject Christ are doomed to fall.


Unbelievers Reject God’s Cornerstone Stone and Stumble (vs. 7-8)

The picture of the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone comes from Psalm 118. In Psalm 118 David says that the nations surrounded him on every side, but the Lord helped him cut them down. His enemies had made a foolish mistake. Builders who don’t build on the cornerstone are going to build a house that will crumble. Similarly, nations that reject God’s true king will fall because of it.


The “stone of stumbling” image comes from Isaiah 8. In Isaiah 8, everyone is terrified of the conspiracies surrounding the shifting powers in their world. They are running around frightened — but nobody is trembling before Yahweh. They are ignoring him. So God says, I’m a rock that’s a sanctuary. Run to me and you’ll find shelter. But, he says, I’m also a rock of stumbling. Those who don’t fear and dread him as they should will stumble over me and be broken.


Zoom out and see the big picture here. David is the king the nations could have submitted to, but they were all cut off because they fought against him. God is the great king of the whole earth that Israel should have dreaded and sought refuge in, but they feared everything else, ran, stumbled on him and were broken into pieces. Peter is now merging these images and applying them to King Jesus. People who disobey God’s word do not believe in and give allegiance to King Jesus — for that they stumble and are destroyed.


Why do this? Why can’t Peter just stop judging everyone and just focus on who we are? The Spirit of God in Peter knows that when we see the destiny of unbelievers, it helps us have compassion on those who fall. Furthermore, it helps us see who we are more clearly. It builds our group identity. And that’s important because there is always the danger that the new Israel will become like the old Israel and stumble over King Jesus.


In our pluralistic society it’s pretty easy to adopt the wrong understanding about people who say “no” to the gospel. Sometimes we can think they are innocent people on neutral ground. “Hey, my faith isn’t their thing. No big deal.” And to be clear — we aren’t to be rude or arrogant. But let’s also hear Peter clearly. Those who encounter Jesus can never stand on neutral ground. Those who do not believe in Jesus are rejecting the true king of all and they are rejecting the foundation stone of Zion — the only city in which there is any security. To reject Jesus is to sin and to ultimately be destined to stumble and fall and be broken. 


The world is a mess because it has not been built on Jesus the cornerstone. This is what happens when we reject God’s stone for God’s city. Are we a mess too? Let me insert Paul’s plea to the Corinthians here. What are we doing yoked together with people who have rejected the very foundation stone of God’s house? Yes, we should witness about Jesus to them. But if they keep rejecting Jesus, they will fall. If we are arm-in-arm with them, they will bring us crashing down with them. We have been granted such an honor — let’s not throw it away with the world! Peter has one more identity-building image for us in verses 9-10.


Chosen Race, Priesthood, Nation to Proclaim His Excellencies (vs. 9-10)

This text is awesome. Israel was God’s special possession to stand as priests between him and the world. They were nothing from a worldly perspective — idolaters and slaves — but God brought them out of darkness and made them something. And here Peter weaves together at least three Old Testament Scriptures (Exodus 19, Isaiah 43, Hosea 2) that talk about God’s special purposes for Israel and he applies them all to us.


Here’s why that is so significant. First, this means we receive the promises that were granted to Israel. You know all those prophecies that speak of how God is going to forgive Israel’s sins, restore their land and make them powerfully reign over their enemies? Those promises from Daniel about how the people of God will rule over the beastly nations? Those promises about how God would grant Israel mercy and make them his priests, his representatives once again?By having the faith of a true Israelite, we have become heirs of all those promises. This is one reason why the gospel turned the world upside down — Gentiles rejoiced along with some Jews, but some Jews were straight up angry. 


Do we see how insanely merciful God has been to graft us into his plan? Who are we that we would inherit the king and the hope of ancient Israel? Who are we that we would be granted the honor of becoming the true Israel of God?


Second, this is so significant, because as Peter talks about here, this means we now get to adopt the purpose of Israel. Once, we were called, “Not my people,” but now we are called “my people.” And we have been given a charge: proclaim the praises, the excellencies of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.


We can so often forget why we are here and who we represent. Satan is trying to hijack our meaning and who we represent. We scratch and claw for some sort of significance in something greater than us. And in our craving to be apart of a community, a project, a team, club, country, political party, school, company that means something — if we are not careful we will give our whole hearted allegiance to “big things” that do not perfectly reflect Christ’s values and do not exist to magnify Christ’s name. We become the Astros and Texans guy, the Republican or Democrat guy, the activist guy, the Longhorns-Aggies-Razorbacks-etc. guy, the United States guy, the guy or gal that’s going to change the world with our new invention or medicine. And though we would never admit it, maybe we look at ourselves and our world a little too much through these lenses. Oh, I see nothing wrong with flying the flag, wearing a sports shirt, voting for Trump or Biden, hash-tagging BLM, or doing good things that have an impact — but only if we refuse to give any of our hope or identity to these things.


We are ambassadors, priests representing the name of our God and it is in our partnership with him that we make a real impact on the world. Our labor in the Lord “is not in vain.” We are bridges to help the world see how marvelous God is. That’s why we’re here. 


Why can this be tough? It’s tough to proclaim God’s excellencies when we don’t see how excellent God is. If we are going to proclaim God’s excellencies, we have to see them! This is why I love the word of God. Every text gives us a fresh view of how great our God is. (This is why I love have the best job in the world — you pay me to tell you and others how great God is.) As we meditate on God’s word consistently, what happens is we carry these VR goggles with us everywhere and we start seeing the greatness and majesty of God behind everything.



If we struggle to embody this identity — stones in God’s house, priests to sacrifice to his name, a nation devoted to proclaiming God’s praises — it’s time to become more acquainted with our magnificent, holy God. It is time to fall in love with him — for the first time or all over again. In the words of Paul, it is time to see how worthless everything else is in comparison to knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. It is time to see how beautiful everything becomes when Jesus is our life. We don’t have to be nobodies. We don’t have to search high and low, scratching and clawing to become someone of significance in this world. In Christ, we are a people. And with us, God is building an everlasting house and city on the foundation of Jesus, and it will never fall. Let us surrender our identities and purposes to our great God.

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