Living Stones, Holy Priesthood

Who are you? There’s a deep question to get things rolling. Who are you? In the martial arts they teach you to know your center of gravity. If you know your center of gravity, you aren’t easily knocked over, no matter how hard you are hit. It allows you to stand firm in the midst of battle without being locked in place. You can move and act with confidence, because you know where your center of gravity is. If you don’t know who you are, you have no personal center of gravity. You’re easily knocked off balance by the slightest thing. You let other people define who you are, lay expectations on you, try to bend and mold you to their idea of who you are.

When we don’t know who we are, we tend to ball up on ourselves, assume a kind of fetal position with respect to the world. And we never mature, we never grow up, when we don’t know who we are. We have no sense of meaning, purpose, place. We simply exist and let others or our circumstances define us.

Who are you? Peter answers that question for some newly baptized Christians in his first epistle, part of which you just heard. They are newborn infants that need to nuzzle up to the breast of mother Church, to drink the pure spiritual milk of the Word so that by it they would grow up to salvation. They have tasted that the Lord is good. They have come to the table, still dripping wet from their Baptism, wearing white robes, oil running down their faces and onto their robes. They have come to eat their Savior’s body and drink His blood and taste that the Lord is good.

Now Peter tells them who they are as baptized believers: They are living stones built into a spiritual temple; and they are a holy and royal priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Another way of saying it: they are worshipers who worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.

They are living stones, and so are you. You probably never thought of yourself as a stone before, let alone a living stone. Stubborn as a rock, maybe. Jesus named Cephas “Peter,” petros, which means rock, but we know how solid he was. You are living stones. Not dead rocks, but living stones. Alive because you have come to the Living Stone, the rejected Rock named Jesus, the Stumbling Stone that God the Father laid in Zion that causes men who refuse to believe to stumble in their attempts to save themselves, and yet saves those who fall on Him in faith.

That’s how it is with Jesus and His death and resurrection. He’s the big Rock in the middle of the religious road. There’s no avoiding Him. You’re going to have to deal with Him sooner or later. Now or on the Last Day. And you can’t be agnostic about Him. Either you will trip over Him to your eternal shame and ruin, or you will fall on Him in faith to your salvation. He is the Way, and there is no other way; He is the Truth, and there is no other truth. He is the Life, and there is no other life.

He is God’s cornerstone, the elect one and precious. He is the eternal Son of God, the elect Son chosen to be the world’s Savior. Jesus is the only one who is elect in Himself. Everyone else is elect in Him; just as you are living stones only as you are joined to Jesus the Living Stone. Without Jesus, you are just a dead pile of rubble. In Baptism, God takes you, a dead rock, and makes you alive in Christ Jesus, a living stone. A precious stone, worth the price of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross.

Notice this. You are a stone in a temple; you are a priest in a priesthood. There are no loose boulders, no isolated priests. Stones have a building; priests have a priesthood. There is no such thing as an isolated Christian believing on his own or her own. The same Spirit who calls you also calls me and gather us together into congregations that manifest the whole gathered church.

Christians congregate. It goes with being baptized. You are living stones built into a house built by the Spirit, a Spirit-built house, the Church. It’s noteworthy that none of the descriptions of the church are individual in the Scriptures. No “I am the church, you are the church.” The church is always an aggregate whole – a body made up of members, a priesthood of priests, a temple of stones, a household of family members, a nation of citizens. When we congregate, especially to worship, we are doing the natural thing for baptized people to do. We are following the urging of the Spirit that calls us together. Even our Lord promises to meet us in congregations, where two or three are gather in my Name, there I am in their midst.

So let’s be done with this individualized “spirituality” that floats around today. Yes, if you were on a desert island all alone, there would be no one with whom to congregate, and Christ would still be with you. And if you brought a Bible along with you on your desert island, then that’s all the preaching you would have, and it’s all you would need. But we’re hardly on an island here, are we? And God is so much richer in His goodness toward us. He brings us together. He arranges to have the Word laid into our ears. The Body and Blood of Jesus put in our mouths. Taste and see that the Lord is good! And nothing tastes better than forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Name of Jesus.

You are a stone built into a spiritual house. You have a place and a purpose, and without you, the building is impoverished, the priesthood is lacking. Every baptized man, woman, and child has a place and a purpose in the Christ’s priesthood.

You are a chosen race, as OT Israel was once a chosen group of people. Don’t think of “race” the way we commonly do. Rather, a chosen group, selected to show God’s mercy to sinners to the world. He chose you. You didn’t choose Him, He chose you. You say, “But I didn’t do anything.” That’s right. He chose you to show the world that it’s by grace and not by works. You say, “But I’m not a very good person. Why would God choose me?” Precisely the point – to show the world that it’s not about being good, that God is merciful to sinners, that He justifies the ungodly.

You are a royal priesthood – kings and priests. You say, “I don’t feel like a king and a priest. No one treats me like king and a priest.” That’s right. That’s why you have to be told; you wouldn’t know that. You are kings in Christ’s kingdom; priests in His priesthood. But don’t priests wear robes? You do. “As many of you as were baptized into Christ Jesus have been clothed with Christ.” You wear Christ like a robe. I wear a robe to remind you of the baptismal robe you wear. You could all wear robes, but then you’d have another excuse not to come to church on Sunday. I’m happy if you don’t wear beach clothes.

You say, “But don’t priests do religious things?” And that’s where your old Adam has you tricked. He’s very religious that old Adam of yours. He thinks you have to get religious. Spiritual sacrifices are what Paul calls “living sacrifices,” the worship of your day to day life. Your vocation, your calling as father, mother, son, daughter, worker, citizen, worshiper. This is the liturgy of life. You’re a priest. You consecrate stuff with the Word of God and with prayer. All that ordinary stuff of your day to day work is holy because you are holy on account of Christ.

It begins in worship. Priests gather for worship, and your priesthood is to hear the Word, receive the Body and Blood, and offer your spiritual sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. That’s how you “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” That’s what’s happening in the liturgy when you say your “amen.” You’re doing your priestly work, offering spiritual sacrifices, not to atone for your sins but because your sins are atoned for by Jesus’ sacrifice. That’s why your sacrifices, your worship, is acceptable to God. It comes to the Father “through Jesus Christ.”

It extends through all your life. Priestly work doesn’t just happen on Sunday morning or whenever you come here. Priestly work goes on where God has called you to be a priest – at home with your children, in your community, in your workplace, in the classroom, on the playground, with friends, family , coworkers, neighbors. You are priests of God blessing, teaching, praying. Baptism permits you to worship God, to pray, to praise, to give thanks, to bless others, to teach others. That’s what priests do.

The mother nursing her baby, the father teaching his children, the worker doing excellent work, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker are priests to God in Baptism, offering up their work, their lives and bodies, as living spiritual sacrifices through the one atoning Sacrifice of Jesus.

You are a holy nation. God’s nation. The United States isn’t God’s nation; it’s just another nation among the nations in the eyes of God. Israel today is not God’s nation. God’s nation is the Church, His baptized believers united with Christ in His death and resurrection. You are a holy nation. You may be American or a citizen of some other country, but that’s your temporary citizenship. Your permanent citizenship is in God’s nation.

Once you were not a people. LIke Hosea’s son – Lo Ami – not my people. What a thing to name a son. Not my people. Once you were outside of God’s mercy. Like Hosea’s daugher – Lo Ruhamah – not mercied. What a thing to name a daughter. Not mercied. Imagine Hosea calling the kids for dinner – Not my people, Not Mercied. I’m sure the neighbors loved it.

That’s what it means to be outside of Christ. You are not God’s people, you are not mercied. That’s what happens when in unbelief you trip over the the stumbling Stone. Not my people; not mercied.

Who are you? You know who you are. You are living stones in God’s temple; a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. You are God’s prized possession. You are baptized into Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen, and reigning Lord. He is the source of your identity. He is your center of gravity. Built on Him, baptized into Him, believing in Him, nothing can knock you over.

In the name of Jesus,
Amen

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