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“The Invisible Church”

1 Peter 2:4-12
Bob DeGray
September 2, 2012

Key Sentence

The most important aspects of the church are spiritual, not visible.


I. We are living stones built on the Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-8)
II. We are a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5, 9)
III. We are the people of God who declare his praises (1 Peter 2:9-10)


Twenty years ago I began the message on these verses by referring to Trinity’s concerns over facility and ministry. As a church we were still trying to define ourselves: we had no facility, and only a vague idea what ministries and emphasis God was calling us to. So I began that sermon by promising I had found the answers to those questions:

“I've got good news this morning. I believe I’ve solved our facility problem, and I've figured out what our ministries ought to be. I mean, we've been working really hard on this issue of where we're going to meet, what kind of building, how much space we need, whether we need it during the week or just on Sunday. I've found the answer. And we've been wondering what exactly our ministries ought to be, where our outreach should focus, and what kind of structures would support that kind of ministry. Well, I've discovered those answers as well, and so I’ve drawn what our church ought to be right here on this poster board.” I then revealed a board that was completely blank.

In a more hi-tech way I want to do the same today. We’re still concerned about facility questions. Just Thursday the elders met, and we discussed this capital campaign we’ve been talking about, reviewed the recommendations that the committee had put together, seeking wisdom not only for how our facility should be improved, but what the timing and mechanism for that should be.

In the same way, we’re still concerned about ministry: How can our youth group reach teens? How can Awana be staffed and do outreach? How can we help homeless in our towns? We’re still working those issues. But in many ways the answer I gave twenty years ago is even more applicable: the poster board was completely blank because the most significant parts of the church are invisible. Here in 1st Peter 2:4-10, we have one of the most compact and profound descriptions of the church in the entire New Testament And what the text teaches us is that the most important aspects of what we are as a church are spiritual, not visible.

I. We are living stones built on the Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-8)

First as a church, we are living stones built on the Cornerstone. 1st Peter 2:4-8: As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you 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. 6For 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.”

7So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

We have a building to meet in, but at a much deeper level we are a building. We are living stones being built together into a spiritual house. Now the spiritual house for Old Testament Israel was the temple, and the tabernacle before it, which symbolized the promised presence of God. That presence is at the center of His plan for creation. From Exodus where he clearly promised that he would be their God to Revelation, which climaxes with the statement I love so much, “now the dwelling place of God is with man” the whole Biblical record is concerned with how God will be present with his people.

So Peter invites us to draw near in worship, not to the physical temple, but to the Living Stone, Jesus Christ, to come into his presence, to worship and serve. As we come to him, as we continue to come to him, we are being built into a spiritual house. The church isn’t built with brick, mortar, concrete and wood but with living stones, built from God’s people. And the house built with these stones is a spiritual house - the house where God dwells.

But Peter doesn’t focus on the building, on us, much as we’d like that, but on Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone. He quotes Isaiah 28:16, and Psalm 118 where God indicates he will give Zion a chosen, precious cornerstone. These passages are about Jesus: the New Testament explicitly calls him the cornerstone, the one in whom the whole building, the whole spiritual temple, holds together. In fact the word translated cornerstone is also translated as ‘capstone’ - the keystone of the arch. Jesus is the central reality of the church. Just as an arch cannot stand without the keystone, so the church cannot exist without Jesus.

Paul uses a different analogy in Ephesians: the church is a body, and Christ is the head. Without the head, the body is just a corpse. Without Christ, the church is just a bunch of dead buildings and lost people. And the tremendous contrast between a dead building and a living church, is that in a living church you have people who trust in Jesus.

Verse 6: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” You who believe in Jesus Christ, who trust him will always be a part of his living church. But for those who do not believe, he ends up being a stone that causes men to stumble, a rock that makes them fall. The Greek behind that phrase is scandalon, the root of our word scandal, sometimes translated "stumblingblock." Years ago Michael Card, wrote a song about this:

“Along the path of life there lies a stubborn Scandalon; snd all who come this way must be offended; to some he is a barrier, to others he's the way; for all must know the scandal of believing. He will be the truth that will offend them one and all; the stone that makes them stumble and the rock that makes them fall. Many will be broken so that he can make them whole And many will be crushed and lose their own soul.”

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” The church is the church only when it accepts Jesus for who he is: If we reject the fact that Jesus is God, we are not the church. If we reject his role in the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are not his church. If we reject the fact of his death or resurrection, we are not the church. If we deny that he bore the just punishment for our sins, we are not the church. If we deny that the Bible bears true testimony to Him, we are not the church. There are many so-called churches today that trip over Jesus, rather than trusting Him.

Peter is convinced that believing in Jesus Christ is the most important thing you can do. In the section on salvation, chapter 1, verse 8, he says . . . “though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” Then a little further down in Chapter 1, Verse 21 he says: “through him [Jesus] you are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” And here he says : “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Believing in Christ, Believing in God, Trusting in Christ. That's the starting point for everything. If we are like Peter we will have a Christ centered faith. We won't discuss salvation, holiness, the church, or anything, without coming back again and again to Jesus Christ, his grace, what he has done, who he is, and our need to trust in him. So we are a spiritual building, but the focus of our attention is on Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, the head of the church.

II. We are a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5, 9)

In addition, Peter tells us that we are a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices that glorify Christ. This is first seen back in verse 5: 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. And you see it again in verse 9: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are more than just living stones, we are also a holy priesthood.

In Israel, the priests were a special group, the few who could enter the holy places of God, to offer sacrifices for the people to a holy God. And they themselves were to be holy, set apart for God's purposes. Now, we are the priesthood: each of us free to enter God’s holy presence: we have direct access to God through Jesus our high priest. So we ourselves, Peter says, offer spiritual sacrifices, not visible, and yet acceptable to God.

What might those sacrifices be? Clearly they are not Old Testament sacrifices of animals and grains as sin offerings, guilt offerings, thank offerings. Those sacrifices were important; they taught the severity and penalty of sin. But Jesus, in his death, completed and fulfilled everything intended by that sacrificial system. Hebrews says “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God . . . 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

So what do we offer as New Testament believers? I looked this up, and found four clear sacrifices. The most well known is probably Romans 12:1 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” You may have seen a T-shirt that says “The problem with living sacrifices, is they keep crawling off the altar.” We have to offer ourselves daily to God to prove the goodness and glory of following his will. We offer all of our lives, all of our time and energy to be used for His purposes.

Another New Testament sacrifice is found in Philippians 4:18 “I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” The gifts we give, are a sacrifice acceptable to God. In fact giving is part of our worship. The offering of sacrifices was a central part of worship in the Temple, and when we take an offering Sunday morning, it pictures our acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. We give generously and cheerfully, but also sacrificially and as an act of worship before God.

The third New Testament sacrifice is praise This one is found in Hebrews 13:15 “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Praise is a sacrifice that does not depend on our circumstances, but on recognizing God’s unchanging greatness. Whatever is happening or has happened to us, we can still offer a sacrifice of praise, because God's greatness is unchanging. That's why Paul and Silas can offer praise even in a Philippian jail. That's why we include songs and hymns of praise in our worship. Because it is something that we, as the church, can offer to the Lord, a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God.

Finally, doing good and sharing with others is a spiritual sacrifice Hebrews 13:16 “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”It's not only the work we do on Sunday morning that pleases God. We all know that God is pleased when we reach out in love and compassion to others. Paul says that it is a sacrifice that pleases God.

And that's all of them: offering ourselves, offering our resources offering our praise, and caring for others in God's name. These are the sacrifices the New Testament prescribes, these are the priestly functions we are to perform.

Now I was tempted to look for a biography, to illustrate these sacrifices through the life of an individual. But I realized we’re talking today about the church. It's not that each individual is a superman or high priest performing all these spiritual sacrifices. It's that we as a church, a corporate body, do these things to glorify God and build each other up. So I turned to Acts 2 and read the description of the Jerusalem Church, which evidenced all these sacrifices.

Their lives: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Their care for each other: “all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Their giving “they were selling their possessions and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Their praise “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people.”

III. We are the people of God who declare his praises (1 Peter 2:9-10)

Peter is saying that these important aspects of what we are as the church are spiritual, not visible; living stones, being built together into a spiritual house, focused on the Cornerstone; a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ. And finally, Peter says we are the people of God who declare his praise. Verses 9-10: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Peter reaches back and structures this whole paragraph with phrases from the Old Testament, phrases of promise to Israel. He starts in Exodus, Chapter 19, where God says to Israel: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are some of the most precious promises God ever made to Israel. But now, Peter says, they apply to us: we are a treasured possession, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.

Now wait a minute Peter, you say, are you sure this is legitimate? After all, weren't these promises made to Israel? Shouldn't they be fulfilled to Israel? Well, yea, they should; and in fact they have been, and will be fulfilled for Israel in clear and visible ways. We saw many of them concretely fulfilled when we studied Revelation. But remember, we’re not talking about the visible here, we’re talking about the spiritual. The church has promises of her own, but also participates in the spiritual aspects of the promises made to Israel.

You can see this from the example of Hebrews 8. The writer to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah, “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is a promise to Israel, but the writer of Hebrews applies it to the church, and it is clearly true for all believers. In the same way, when we read Peter we should rejoice that we participate in the promises made to Israel, Not in a material, physical sense, but in a spiritual, invisible one.

We rejoice in these promises made to us: we are a chosen people. God had said to Israel, ‘you will be my people, and I will be your God.’ Now he says it to us. We are a royal priesthood: we've already talked about the spiritual sacrifices we offer. We are a holy nation: Peter said we were to be holy as individuals, and here we see we are to be holy as a community - God’s holy nation.

Peter goes on in verse 10 to quote from Hosea. You remember that Hosea married the harlot, Gomer, and they had several children. God told Hosea to name one of them Lo-Ruhamah or 'I will no longer show mercy' Another was named 'Lo-Ammi' or 'not my people.' Because of their sin, God said he would no longer show mercy to Israel; they would no longer be his people. But in chapter 2 of Hosea God says “I will show mercy to the one I called 'no mercy.' I will say to those called 'not my people,' 'You are my people.’

This is the promise that Peter applies to us: Once we had not received mercy - we continued to live in sin and deserve judgment. But now we have received mercy - our sins have been forgiven and our judgment paid. Once we were not the people of God, but now God has made us - you and me - his own.

Why has God done this? Well, as usual, Peter gives us an 'in order that.' Verse 9 ‘that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ We were saved that we might worship the greatness of God. It is right for God's people to declare all his excellencies, his virtues, the perfections of his being In fact, God's purpose in redeeming us is not simply our rescue, but that we might glorify him.

Wayne Grudem, who wrote my favorite commentary on 1st Peter, says “Seeking our own eternal well being, right though that is, could never provide a truly satisfying goal for life. The answer to our search for ultimate meaning lies in 'declaring the excellencies' of God, for he alone is infinitely worthy of glory. Redemption is ultimately not man-centered but God-centered.”

And don’t miss the word ‘declare’ or ‘proclaim.’ We are the church standing before the world declaring the praises of our God. This is the God who has made us a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession; And it is right and fitting that we give him the glory in our worship and in our hearts, and in our lives and in our witness to others. Grudem goes on to say that this purpose of redemption is too often thwarted by our silence or self-congratulatory pride, ‘but even brief association with a Christian whose speech fulfills this purpose invariably refreshes our spirit.’

Many of you will remember Ed Lewis, who faithfully attended Trinity until he passed away a few years ago. Ed wasn’t always like that, but he was often a person whose attitude and words glorified God: and they refreshed my spirit. Are we that kind of people? Are we the people that declare the praises of him who brought us out of darkness and into his wonderful light. We have been given so much: chosen race; royal priesthood, holy nation; his own possession. Shouldn’t we also be a people who declare his praises.

So what am I trying to do with this Scripture? I'd like to plant a new and better image in our minds, of who and what we are as a church Because the things we do as are church, are built on our image of the church. So imagine the cornerstone, standing right here. And built out from it is this rectangular building of stones. That's the church, with Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone.

Now in your mind change the building stones to the people of the church, standing with hands linked, and focusing on Jesus. That's us, that’s the church: living stones, who focus on Christ. And that group of people does two things: they turn inward, to Jesus, and offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Him. and they turn outward, to the world, and they declare his excellencies.

That's the invisible church made visible. That's the church I want us to be.