1 Peter 2:2-10 (Fifth Sunday of Easter—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
May 10, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is Epistle lesson from 1 Peter 2:
2Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it, you may grow up into salvation, 3if you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4As you come to him, the living stone, rejected by people, on the one hand, but in the sight of God, chosen and precious, 5you also as living stones are being up into a spiritual house, into a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For is says in Scripture, Behold, I place in Zion a stone, a cornerstone, chosen and precious, and the one who believes in him shall surely not be put to shame. 7Therefore, the honor is for you, for those who believe, but for those who do not believe, the stone which the builders rejected, he has been made the head of the corner and a stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal. They stumble because they do not obey the Word, for which also they were appointed. 9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, so 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 not you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Your identity is unbelievably valuable. Identity theft protection services in America is about a $2 billion industry. Having your identity stolen or misused also costs people dearly, not only from a financial standpoint. Your identity is important. It is who you are—your reputation, your individuality. And your identity is also important to God. In fact, it is He who gives you identity.
There are numerous texts of Scripture which identify us. We begin with one of the first, where the Creator says to Adam after he has disobeyed the Lord and fell into sin: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19 ESV). We heard this on Ash Wednesday as many of you received on your foreheads the mark of the cross with the ashes of palms. We are corrupted, fallen, sinful creatures. We are subject to both physical and eternal death as the punishment for our sinfulness and for our sins—the sins that we commit in our rebelliousness and the sins of omitting the good things we are commanded to do in love.
The first part of our identity is that of being sinful, rebellious, fallen, and corrupt. Luther sums it up—I am “a lost and condemned creature” (Small Catechism). But this doesn’t mean that I (nor you) are worthless. We have unique dignity and worth (identity!) as those who were created by God and were given dominion over His creation. Because we have infinite value to our heavenly Father, He decided even before He spoke creation into existence that He would rescue us from our fallen condition and condemned status as sinners.
God would change our identity from being dust to being a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). He would raise us from the dust of eternal death and hell and make us His own children by grace through faith in His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ. In our place, Jesus, like a “living stone,” St. Peter says, was rejected by people. He was a “stone of stumbling and a rock of scandal.” Peter’s close apostolic friend John penned in the opening of his Gospel, “[The Word, Jesus,] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10–11 ESV). Jesus, God the Son made flesh, “was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3 ESV).
Your grief and mine—the grief of sin, the agony of death and hell—Jesus endured on the cross in our place so that we who are but dust might rise to a new life, be a new creation, and have the identity of being children of God “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13 ESV).
Jesus purchased and won this identity for you by His suffering, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection which we celebrate every Sunday, the first day of the week! The blood of Christ cleanses you from all your sins. God declares you “not guilty”! You are saved, redeemed, made whole. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy!” And it is God’s grace and mercy given to you by the Holy Spirit through the means of the Gospel that bestows on you the identity of “child of God.”
That’s what the apostle Peter is describing in today’s reading. Peter talks about what being God’s child in Christ looks like by comparing you and me to “living stones.” First, remember Peter told us that Jesus is THE living stone. We who belong to Him by faith have been made into the likeness of Christ, and so we also are living stones. But we are not stones all by ourselves. We are “being built up into a spiritual house”—stone placed next to stone; stone put on top of stone. We’re being put together, built together, to be a spiritual house. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it, the concept of Christianity being simply a relationship “between me and Jesus” is totally foreign to the Scriptures! You and I and all our brothers and sisters with faith in Christ around this globe, including our departed sisters and brothers who have died in the faith, are one in Christ. We are united in Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” St. Paul also writes in 1 Corinthians 3 that you are “God’s building.” You can’t be a “body” all by yourself. You can’t be a “spiritual house,” a “building,” all by yourself. It’s simply not your identity in Christ.
That’s why your heavenly Father sent His Son to be your Savior from sin and death. It is Christ to whom you belong. It is Christ to whom you are united by Baptism. And it is to one another that you are also joined together as a spiritual house, indeed, a holy and royal priesthood—the “capital C” Church.
The Church is really the people who possess saving faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by the power of the Holy Spirit. We confess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” This Church is the Body of Christ, of which you are members, along with all those whom the Spirit, by the Means of Grace in Word and Baptism, has gathered to Christ in faith throughout the world. So you are most assuredly not alone in your faith, even when physically separated from other believers. You are Christ’s Church, the children of God, whom He has made into a spiritual house of Christians who have the task of “proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
A pastor began his discussion with prospective church members with the question, “What do you think is the main task of the church?” Some of the responses included:
“The church’s main task is to tell people about God.”
“The church’s main task is to teach God’s Word.”
“The church’s main task is to show people how God wants them to live.”
“The church’s main task is to help the poor and the underprivileged people of the world.”
While the Church does do all these things, the Scriptures teach that the main mission of the Church is to proclaim the excellencies of God in Christ. The number one mission of the Church, the people of God who have been called by grace to faith in Jesus as the Savior, is to proclaim the Good News about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Every Christian—each of you who confess faith in Jesus—is a “priest” of God, a member of the “royal priesthood of believers.” As such, you serve the King! You serve Christ as you exercise the privilege of sharing the Gospel with other people who have not heard it or who have forgotten it.
In your personal lives as Christians, you are daily given opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins! As priests of God, His Church, you have all the gifts and privileges of the Gospel, and you are able to use them in your daily lives to witness to Christ. And that’s all the more important in these days. People are looking for comfort, for hope, for care. And you, dear saints, have the ultimate in comfort, care, and hope—Jesus Christ. He alone provides rescue from the power of sin and death. He alone brings true peace to hearts and minds that are afraid and anxious. You have the gift of Jesus Himself to speak to others as you share His Word, as you tell others that it is Jesus who brings us out of the darkness of sin, disease, fear, and death into the light of life everlasting.
It is the Triune God who gives you your identity as His children—living stones, a spiritual house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people who proclaim Jesus Crucified and Risen for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation of all people. At the beginning of this sermon, we recalled the cross of ashes placed upon the forehead as a reminder that we were once in the darkness of sin and death. But now we are light in the Lord for we are in the Light who is Christ. At your Baptism, you were marked on your forehead and heart with the sign of the cross. This identifies you as one redeemed by Christ the Crucified. The water of Baptism washed away your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You are God’s child. You are His Church. You are His people who now proclaim the Good News in Jesus, giving others this message of forgiveness, new life, comfort, and hope. What an identity! Amen.