Teaching Series Introduction:
It’s a strange new world. When the world is all topsy-turvy, what difference does Jesus make in our lives? From the book of 1 Peter, we will rediscover the importance of being ‘strangers’ with purpose who make a difference in our world, all because Jesus first came to bring blessing and hope to us.
Title: Building For The Future
By: Andy Mackie
Date: 27 September 2020 (Online Service)
1 Peter (Chapter 2, verses 4 to 12)
In an individualistic society like ours, it can be easy to forget that we are part of something much bigger than me. God has set his precious people apart with a specific purpose. In a dark world, we have been given light for our lives to then transform the world.
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Hi, it’s great to be with you in this series, A Strange New World, and it very much feels like that, doesn’t it? Today I want to look at this phrase, “The living Stone” that we had read to us, what a weird phrase. We’re way more familiar with a phrase such as stone dead. I mean, that’s as dead as you can get, I think, stone dead. I don’t think you can get deader than stone dead. It’s certainly not living. It sounds like one of these kind of oxymorons, when you get to words that seem to contradict each other and you get a new phrase out of it. We get phrases like pretty ugly or virtual reality or elementary calculus as if you remember that or clearly confused, probably more often the case. Then there’s Andy Warhol’s quote, where he said, “I’m a deeply superficial person.” Maybe you can relate to that. Or Donald Trump’s “The budget was unlimited, but I exceeded it”. No, that’s not even an oxymoron. Is it? That’s just Donald Trump.
But moving on, it’s a living stone. What is that all about? Well, it’s a reference to Jesus here by Peter, but why a living stone? It’s not just any stone. Peter quotes from Isaiah who prophesied about this Messiah, Jesus Christ, hundreds of years previously, which is remarkable in itself. It quotes from Isaiah 28:16 and 17.
And the stone is described as a precious cornerstone. And the one who relies on it will never be put to shame or dismayed or stricken with panic. Basically it can be relied on. So that is good for this crazy season that we’re in. It’s very good news. Isaiah goes on, it says, I will make justice, the measuring line and righteousness, the plumb line. Often when a building is built, the first stone that is laid is the cornerstone or the foundation stone.
You know, all other stones are then set in reference to this stone. All the stones are on the left, maybe all the stones down that way and everything above it as well. It’s the reference point that lines everything up. But Isaiah refers to the measurements and the angles, not in centimeters and degrees, but by justice and righteousness, two things that our world desperately, desperately needs at every level of society. And even when we’re honest, our own lives. And so this stone, this cornerstone represents these fundamental characteristics of justice and righteousness, making things right in the world, if you like.
Imagine for a moment, if everything in the world was made right. I mean, all the wrongs were put to right in our world. I mean, I’m sure you’ve probably got your own mental list of where you’d want to start with that. If such a thing were possible. There is so much wrong in our world and often our lives, but imagine no pain, no war, no sickness, no loss, no injustice, no brutality or racism, no terrorism or trafficking, no abuse, no fraud, no disease, no lockdown, no tears, the list goes on and on.
No bad stuff anywhere in the world, what an amazing place that would be. And if that was on offer, many of us would want to be part of that. Many of us, would want to line ourselves up against such a cornerstone, if you like, such as stone, that could align such things. So hold that thought for a moment. Now words like justice can be quite abstract. And so as humans have developed ways of picturing such concepts, and sometimes we personify them. So for example, there’s characters, like the Grim Reaper, who represents death. He kind of trolls around in a hooded cape, creeps around with his sickle, looking for somebody to take out. We might have the concept of romantic love pictures in the character of Eros or Cupid, the little Valentine cherub, with a bow and arrow and the little heart tips, love heart tips arrow on the end of it, sitting on this cloud, firing it strategically around the place.
We might surmise, particularly teenagers, I don’t know. But the personification of an abstract concept, the concept becomes a person. And that is what the Bible reveals to us here. It’s a living stone. The concept becomes a person, justice and righteousness, making everything right is living. And it’s the person of Jesus. The Messiah. This is not just a concept to follow, this is not a set of rules to take on in life. It’s a person to follow. It’s a person to learn from. It’s a person to be changed by as we line ourselves up alongside him. And then Peter writes an amazing thing. He says, you also, you also like living stones are being built up into a spiritual house. God, this amazing master builder is including you in his great architectural plan of justice and righteousness for this world for making things right in this world.
As you align your life with him. Each one of us is born into this world with a nature that doesn’t naturally follow God. We inherit an inbuilt nature, that primarily looks after number one, which is me, but by coming to God through Jesus, we can trade that selfish nature for a new nature, for God’s nature, a new spiritual DNA with a new father, a new family, a new way of living. We simply turn the old nature over to God. We ask for forgiveness. We ask him to nail it to the cross, because Jesus has taken it for us and ask for the new which he freely gives. And he will adopt us into his family and build us into his plan. And so we become part of a new spiritual house. Now in Jesus’ day, Jerusalem, there was a literal temple made of stones.
It was the center of Jewish worship. But the Bible foretells that something new would happen. And Jesus backed that up by teaching the same things. And then Jesus himself describes himself as the temple that would be destroyed, which was fulfilled when he was crucified. But also that it would be raised again. Which surprised everyone, but was fulfilled by his physical resurrection. But the actual temple building, in Jerusalem, would also eventually be destroyed in 70 A.D by the Romans.
And in the meantime, Jesus is building a new temple. Not with bricks and stones, but out of people right outside it. In Acts 5:12, we read of the early church, the first Christians. And it says that they met at Solomon’s Colonnade, an area on the East side of the temple. Jesus was built on a temple, not of chiseled stone, but out of living stones, living people who have aligned themselves with Jesus, his followers. If you’re familiar at all with the Palm Sunday story, when Jesus comes into Jerusalem in that last week, before he dies, he comes in on a donkey, it’s in Luke 19:37-40, and he’s Jewish followers are celebrating.
And it says some of the Pharisees, the Jewish political religious leaders, said to Jesus, “Teacher rebuke your disciples.” “I tell you,” Jesus replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” The stones will cry, really? Well, he’s not referring to the rocks and stones along the roads, along the path, but all of the people that would align their lives with Jesus through the years, across the centuries, across the cultures, down all the generations to come, not just those with Jewish backgrounds of Jesus, they brought people from right across the whole world. People who recognize that this Jesus is the personification of justice and righteousness. He is the Savior of the world, who will make everything right. Over the summer, I’ve taken 40 days, I’ve been prayer walking across the entire city of Birmingham, every postcode of Birmingham, pretty well, partly as a gift of prayerful encouragement to the churches, and also to see what God is doing and to bring the city before him.
And I’ve met various people on my travels, other living stones. I think of Calvin and Pauline, good friends of mine down in Aston and passed their church there. Who’d been pulling people together to give a coherent church response to the issues of racial injustice. Battles ministry, to drug and alcohol addicted people, seeking to transform their lives. I heard of a little old lady called Pauley who lives in some shelter accommodation in Acocks Green, who before COVID, had started a lunch club in her church hall, but during COVID, was still ringing rounds her whole list of people, to encourage them, to pray for them, to listen to them, to talk with them. Many of them older than herself, or younger than herself. A team from an Indian Orthodox church in East Birmingham, ministering to others from their culture right across the city and running a nursery for the local community.
And all of these are living like living stones. Putting things right, comes in a whole number of dimensions, because Jesus wants to put things right between us and God so that we can know him as father, that we can walk in his blessing. He wants to put things right between us and others. When we’ve messed up our relationships, he transforms our ability to forgive one another because of his forgiveness for us, and even leads us to a place where we can bless our enemies. He wants to put things right between groups of people, healing rifts in society, men and women, black and white Jew and Gentile, young and old, and even between the nations. He wants to put things right between us and our environment, the world in which he’s placed us and gave us the care of. Putting things right, is what justice is really all about.
And Jesus is the one who exudes. That this is the cornerstone to align with. And he is the living cornerstone. And we can each be like living stones, making a difference where God places us. That is remarkable. So the old temple, it is destroyed in A.D 70, and this new temple, this new stone house made up of people, the early church, is being built. In fact, in Acts 15, we read that the early, mainly Jewish church, is trying to work out what to do with Paul and Barnabas’ non-Jewish converts to Christianity. And Peter speaks into it from the vision that God’s given him and it’s recorded in chapter 13. And then James sums up by quoting from the other prophet Amos 9:11-12. And he refers to the tent or the tabernacle, which was really a kind of a prototype of the temple.
It was a mobile version. It was a kind of, and you could carry around with you and you could set it up anywhere in the wilderness, as a place of worship for God. And he says this, he says, “I will rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild and I will restore it. That the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles,” that’s the non Jews of our world, “who bear my name,” says the Lord who does these things. And so therefore James concludes, he says, don’t make it hard for these people to turn to God, you know, let everyone in so that they can know me. And so the church, this new spiritual house made up of those of us who believe and follow Jesus, has a purpose. And the purpose is this, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord.
And if you are just turning to God, if you just connecting with the church, then you are to be welcomed in, because God wants to cement you into this spiritual house. Whose very foundation, whose very cornerstone is about making everything in the world right again, led and empowered by God. And that will start with your own life. And as we are set apart to live for God, as we saw last week, God’s spirit changes us and makes us Holy, a Holy nation, verse nine, definitely not about self-righteousness, but it is about being like Jesus, a holiness that should attract others. People who are no longer living as consumers, but those who are looking to serve God and serve others. People who are positively expressing the fruits of holiness. The fruit of the spirit, the Holy Spirit, is love and joy and peace, is patience, is kindness, is goodness, is gentleness, is faithfulness and self-control.
Expressing those positive fruits of holiness is dependent on God’s Holy Spirit in our daily lives for faith. He’s leading, living right lives and abstaining from sinful desires as Peter puts it. And Peter says, in 1 Peter 2:8, he says this, he says “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.” The missional thinker, Michael Frost puts it like this, he says “The purpose of the church is to alert people to the universal reign of God in Christ.” To alert people to the universal reign of God in Christ. There’s basically a non-negotiable fact, now whether people believe it or not God reigns. So how do we alert people to that? We can announce that, we can declare it through our conversation, through our preaching, through public praise and worship.
And we also do it by demonstrating it. We demonstrate that the reign of God and what the reign of God looks like. When God’s reign is complete and unfettered and invisible to everyone, what does that look like? Surely it’s a reign and rule of love and grace and justice and peace and mercy. And so therefore, we are to go and demonstrate those very things, show people what the world to come looks like, here in the midst of the disorder of this world. We have to alert people to the reign of God, by speaking of it and demonstrating it. I love the image of going to the cinema, if you can remember such a pastime. But if you can imagine what the world will one day or might one day be like when Jesus has put everything right.
That is like the main upcoming feature film. And therefore, we are to live lives a bit like a trailer for that upcoming feature. And when you watch a trailer at the cinema, you might turn to someone and say, “Oh, I love to look at that film. Do you want to go and see it?” And so people ought to look at the church. They ought to look at each of our lives and they should see a trailer of this world to come, the Kingdom of God. They should see love and justice, grace, mercy, kindness, as well as celebration and joy and all sorts of nice flavors. They should see us and say, I like that. I want to see the whole thing. That is the purpose of church. Like Jesus, to personify these fantastic concepts of the Kingdom of God, as we let him shape us and live his life through us.
When I was at school and I’ll finish with this, I did a project by the Wild West and how the pioneers moved across America. And in one particular spot on the Eastern slopes of the Rockies, there was a large dirt covered rock sticking out in the middle of the trail. Wagon wheels were always breaking on it, people were always tripping over it. And finally, someone dug it up, got it out of the way. And they took this old stone and they rolled it off the trail and into a nearby stream, quite a large stream. It was too wide to jump over. And so people started to use the storm to step across the cold Creek. And it was used for years like that, until finally one settler came and built his cabin near the stream. And he moved the old stone out of the stream and he placed it in his cabin to serve now as a doorstop.
Anyway, the years passed, the railroads were built, the town sprang up and the old settler’s grandson went East to study geology. And on a visit to his grandfather’s cabin, the grandson happened to examine the old lump of stone and discovered within it, that big lump of dirt and rock, was actually the largest nugget of pure gold ever discovered Eastern slopes of the Rockies. And it’d been there for three generations. People had never recognized its value. To some, it was a stumbling stone to be removed, to others it was a stepping stone, and to others, it was just a heavy rock, but only the grandson saw it for what it really was, a lump of pure gold. And Jesus is the precious rock God has given us, the cornerstone, the living stone. So will you come to the rock today? Will you build your life upon him? One day you will discover Jesus will either be a stepping stone that gives you access God, or he will be a rock over which she stumble, so close and yet so far. The choice is yours.
I want to pray. I’d love to invite you to join with me or just to close your eyes really, and to hold your hands out prayerfully, to receive as I pray for you. I’d love to pray for you. So close your eyes, if you want to hold your hands out and we pray.
Come spirit of God, minister to each one now. Let each one see you as gold. Let us see just how precious you are. I see just a glimpse of what this world could be. If things were made right. Lord God, I don’t want to be part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution. Forgive me when I get it wrong, empower me to get it right. Show me how to live this week, so that I can be a trailer for your Kingdom. Let your spirit fill me and overflow in my family, in my community, in my workplace, in my zoom calls, to my neighbors, to my friends and let justice flow and righteousness to my world in Jesus’ name. Amen.
There is strength within the sorrow. There is beauty in our tears. And You meet us in our mourning, with a love that casts out fear. You are working in our waiting, sanctifying us. When beyond our understanding, You’re teaching us to trust. All Your plans are still to prosper, You have not forgotten us. You’re with us in the fire and the floods. You’re faithful forever. Perfect in love. You are sovereign over us. You are wisdom unimagined, Who could understand Your ways. Reigning high above the Heavens, Reaching down in endless grace, You’re the lifter of the lowly. Compassionate and kind. You surround and You uphold me. Thank you Lord. And Your promises are my delight. All Your plans are still to prosper. You have not forgotten us. You’re with us in the fire and the floods. You’re faithful forever. Perfect in love. You are sovereign over us. All your plans are still to prosper. You have not forgotten us. Thank you Lord. You’re with us in the fire and the floods. You’re faithful forever. Perfect in love. You are sovereign over us. Sovereign over us.
Even what the enemy means for evil, You turn it for our good. Yes, You turn it for our good and for Your glory. Even in the valley, You are faithful. You’re working for our good. Yes, You’re working for our good and for Your glory. Even what the enemy means for evil, You turn it for our good. Yes, You turn it for our good and for Your glory. Even in the valley, You are faithful. You’re working for our good. Yes, You’re working for our good and for Your glory. All your plans are still to prosper. You have not forgotten us. You’re with us in the fire and floods. You’re faithful forever. Perfect in love. You are sovereign over us. Yes, You are sovereign over us. You are sovereign over us.
The ‘stone’ is a ‘cornerstone’ of justice & righteousness: Isaiah 28:16-17 says of it “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumbline…”
Often when a building is built, the first stone laid is the cornerstone or foundation stone. All other stones are set in reference to this stone -in all dimensions. But Isaiah refers to the measurements and angles being not in cm’s & degrees but by JUSTICE & RIGHTEOUSNESS. Things that our world desperately need, at every level of society and even our own lives.
This ‘living’ stone, this living corner-stone, represents these fundamental characteristics of justice and righteousness personified in Jesus – making all things right in the world. Imagine if everything in the world was made ‘right’. I’m sure you’ve got your own mental list of where to start – there is so much that is wrong in our world and often our lives.
Peter writes… “that we also, like living stones….”
- If each of you could change some of the evils and injustices of this world, what would your top 3 things be? (each write down, then share).
- Take turns to share ‘why’ you have picked these areas.
- What overlaps are there, and what differences are there between your lists?
- Taking 2 or 3 of the overlap areas first, what do people think are some of the underlying problems that lead to each of these, cause each of these or encourage each of these?
- Have a similar conversation with 2 or 3 of the other areas people mentioned.
- What are some of the things that could ‘make things right’ in these areas / reverse the injustice?
- What one action or next step could you take individually to try to change one/some of these?
- What one action could you take as a group to try to change one of these?
Acts 15:16-17 (quoting Amos 9:11-12) is used by James to show the reason for the church is….”that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord.” or as 1 Peter 2:8 puts it… “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Effectively, the purpose of the church is “to alert people to the universal reign of God in Christ”, and we do that by speaking of it with our words, conversations and public worship, and by demonstrating it (that is his kingdom rule of love, grace, justice, peace, mercy) to the world around us, like a ‘cinema trailer’ for the main feature.
- How can you (a) individually and (b) as a group do these over the coming months in this ‘pandemic’ season that we’re in.
- Pray for one another.