Be the Holy Nation
Section 2.5 of 1 Peter (1 Peter 2:4-10)
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For this is contained in Scripture, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNERSTONE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNERSTONE,” and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
The fifth and final sub-section of the second section of the First Letter of Peter is the final explanation of what believers are to be in light of their salvation and within the context of a world that rejects them. This final sub-section seems similar to the previous two sub-sections but there is not prescription of what not to do. Here, Peter is wrapping up the focus what believers are, or how they should be, now that they have come to faith in God through Jesus. He starts off by describing the people as “living stones” that are being “built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” He describes Jesus as a living stone, rejected by men, but viewed as precious in the eyes of God. By calling the people living stones as well, and making the reference to the temple through the concept of a “spiritual house,” Peter is trying to show the recipients that through their faith they are being formed into something new, something great, built upon the cornerstone that is Jesus Christ.
To further his point, Peter references Isaiah 28:16:
“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed.’” (NASB). Note the differences in word choice are related to Peter’s use of the Septuagint (LXX) in his quotation here.
The part that he is referring to in “This precious value, then, is for you who believe…” is “He who believes will not be disturbed (or disappointed).” Within the context of Isaiah’s passage, this statement is being made regarding God’s method of cleansing the nation of Israel due to its many failures. Those who believe in the Cornerstone will not be disturbed by the various actions God describes in Isaiah’s chapter that will thoroughly destroy those who have betrayed Him. One can see how this section would certainly ring true to the heart of a Jewish convert who is more than acquainted with the acts of the Romans in their inheritance. Again, this is another reason why some suggest the intended recipients are likely Jewish, however, it is also likely that here, Peter (being Jewish himself) is trying to make the recipients who are Gentile feel a full part of the Jewish community as well. The point here being that those who believe in the cornerstone will not be disturbed by the work that God is doing to separate those who are true to Him from those who betray Him.
Peter then goes on to point out what happens to those who do not believe. He begins with what is viewed as a quote from Psalms 118:22:
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief corner stone.” (NASB)
and continues with a quotation from Isaiah 8:14:
“’Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.’” (NASB)
Again, these strongly suggest a Jewish audience given the need for knowledge of these two passages in order to understand what is being explained here. In the Psalm, the notice of the rock being rejected is in light of verse 23 “This is the LORD’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.” This is to point out that even in the eyes of unbelievers, they will come to notice that the stone that was rejected has in fact become the chief cornerstone of something great. The fact that this stone, rejected by the houses of Israel because it did not meet their expectation, becomes the chief cornerstone of what God is working becomes something that they cannot get past. It becomes a stumbling block, it confuses them and makes them unable to accept its truth. He goes on to explain why this is, saying that “…for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.” The doom that he is speaking of is further explained in the Isaiah passage that he is bringing up in the minds of the recipients:
“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. They will pass through the land hard-pressed and famished, and it will turn out that when they are hungry, they will be enraged and curse their king and their God as they face upward. Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be driven away into darkness.” (Isaiah 8:20-22, NASB).
Now that is all fine and dandy, one might say, but what about us, what does this mean about us who do believe? Peter makes a significant statement in the next verse, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…” The first comes from many areas, but the most significant being Deuteronomy 7:6,
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (NASB)
This is referred to as “a chosen race” not out of some inclination for racism given the troubling context of our day. The use of “race” is to imply the concept of one tribe, clan, or family out of all of the families of the earth. This reference is not making some racist claim. Indeed, it is making quite the opposite! All who choose the Lord are welcomed into this family, this tribe selected out of all the tribes of the earth. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin, but everything to do with that fact that God has chosen you out of many other options, but he chose you! It continues from here in references to what many Jews would have immediate appreciation for, Exodus 19:6,
“and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (NASB)
But for what purpose are they called to be this? “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!” We are expected to go forth and speak of Jesus and God to all on the earth so that all may come to know God, not just us. This family chosen out of all others, this holy nation, this priesthood, it is not intended just for us, it is intended to be open enrollment for everyone! God expects us to be a shining light, just as he expected Israel to be as well. How much more so do we shine then when we are living obediently to His word and direction?
Peter goes on to put in a statement that would likely have raised a cheer and shouts of joy in the original recipients haven’t it read to them in a local gathering of believers at someone’s home. “for you were not a people, but now you are THE PEOPLE of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Here is where it is thought that Peter is writing to a collection of Gentile converts, however, many commentaries suggest a reference is being implied here to Hosea 2:23,
“”I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, And I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!‘ And they will say, ‘You are my God!'” (NASB)
The idea being that Hosea is speaking of the forgotten tribes of Israel, so to speak, or more specifically those tribes who lost their identity as God’s people due to the dispersion. In all honesty, I see no reason to quibble over such a point, as the statement is itself a powerful one for any who have read the prophets and who understand the Torah. For those who have not read these, Peter makes it clear the word is carried forward in the Gospel message that is preached to them. All of the intended recipients of this letter are now THE people of God. There is no care or clear delineation between one tribe or another, one color or another, one nation or another. They are all together one nation, under God. A people for God’s own possession. That is who we are now, that is who we have always been, and the door to enter and become a citizen yourself has always been open, and will always be open through to Christ’s mighty return!
This makes for a tremendous closing to a section that is meant to wake up and remind its recipients of who they are now that they have found their faith in God through Jesus because of His death and resurrection. The second section of Peter’s first letter is all about getting the readers to come to the realization that they are no longer members of their previous communities. Those with whom they once lived and followed are not like they are now. Those from whom they came now see their true ways as bizarre and they stumble across the truth when it is shown to them. It is a disturbance to their way of life, and as people of God, we should expect that! We should expect to offend those around us who live outside of the light, it is how they respond to the truth when it is shown to them. We should expect to have anger and hatred shown to us, as those types of people dislike the truth and would wish to destroy it. If we are to live the truth, then we must be prepared! We must stay of sober spirit, sober mind, and always ready to act! God is with us, and because of this, the darkness which surrounds us will attempt to squelch us. But the reality is that the darkness cannot overtake the light, but only run from it, or be overtaken by it.
For those believers who may be new to the faith, or perhaps you are just now returning to what you walked away from, know that you must be strong and courageous. When you chose to return to God, you chose to obey his truth, to apply it in your life, to live your faith. As you live that life, those with whom you once dwelt and lived will not continue to accept you. The way you live will call them out for what they are. The truth will cause them to stumble and they won’t like it. Purify yourself, that is, be Holy, separate yourself from the darkness that held you prisoner for so long. Do not allow yourself to fall back to old hurts and old habits. Choose to stay true! True to yourself, true to others, and true to reality as it is. Stay strong! As those who you once lived with needed you in order to sustain their style of living apart from God! When you walk away from them, they will come to try to bring you back. Do not let them! Instead, shine as the light of God in their life. Bring them with you into the light! Do not do it alone! You have a whole NATION of God’s people with you! You are now a part of the chosen people of God! Always remember that. May it carry you forward always.