Becoming a Spiritual House and Holy Priesthood
And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but 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 corner stone, and he who believes in Him shall 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 corner stone," 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.
As I sought the mind of the Lord about what we as a people would need from God's Word this morning, it seemed to me that the very next passage scheduled in 1 Peter is precisely what we need. It is not the only thing we need. But we do need it. And we need it badly. It is a Word about how to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. We will focus on verses 4–5.
How Spiritual Sacrifices Become Acceptable to God
Notice, in these verses, six steps in the way God gets spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him.
1. Jesus Christ, the Living Stone
First, in verse 4, there is Jesus Christ the living Stone. Peter calls him a stone because of prophecies in the Old Testament: "Behold I am laying in Zion a stone" (Isaiah 28:16). "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner" (Psalm 118:22). We'll come back to this.
2. Those Longing for Him Come to Him
Second, in verse 4 those who have tasted the kindness of the Lord (recall verse 3 from three weeks ago)—those who have tasted that the Lord is kind and now long for him the way a baby longs for milk—they now (in verse 4) come to him: "And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice [=chosen] and precious in the sight of God."
3. We Are Shaped into Living Stones
Third, the result of this coming to him is that we are shaped into living stones for use in a spiritual building. Verse 5: "You also as living stones are being built." Contact with the Living Stone makes us alive and fits us for our place in his architectural plan.
4. We Are Built into a Spiritual House
Fourth, when we come to the living stone and are shaped into living stones ourselves, we are built into a "spiritual house." Christ is the builder here. He builds individual Christians into a spiritual temple. It's spiritual because it houses the Holy Spirit. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16). That's a reference to the local church, not to individuals in this context.
What we see so far is that God lays this stone, Jesus Christ, in Zion, that is, in Jerusalem, and men reject it—crucify him—but God has chosen this stone and regards him as infinitely precious, and raises him from the dead and makes him an ever-living stone, and gives him the place of highest honor at the head of the corner. All of this to the end that Christ might gather a people who would themselves be alive like him and would make a temple, a church—an eternal dwelling place for the Spirit of God.
5. We Are a Holy Priesthood
Fifth, the greatness of the reality forces the imagery to break down. Not only are we living stones being built into a spiritual house for God's habitation, we are also a "holy priesthood." In other words, we are not merely the passive building where God dwells; we are also the active participants in worship. And not just participants, but a special kind of participant, the priests. All of you. This is the great teaching about the "priesthood of all believers."
We all—lay people and vocational elders—are the priests of this new spiritual house, and our privilege now as priests is to draw near to God with spiritual sacrifices. The priests brought the sacrifices into the tabernacle in the Old Testament. But now that tabernacle is replaced by the Christian church. The atoning altar is replaced by Jesus Christ and his shed blood. And the priests are replaced by you, those who believe in Christ.
6. Spiritual Sacrifices Are Offered to God Through Christ
Sixth, the goal of all this is that spiritual sacrifices would be offered which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Make sure Jesus gets his due right here. God's aim is that we offer him spiritual sacrifices (we'll talk about what that is in a minute). And we can only do that "through Jesus Christ." Jesus is the Living Stone. Everything hangs on our coming to the Living Stone. If we don't come to Jesus, the Living Stone, then we don't have life and we are not built into a spiritual house, and we do not become a holy priesthood, and we will not offer spiritual sacrifices. It all hangs on Jesus and connecting with Jesus—coming to Jesus. That's why Peter ends verse 5 with the words "to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
Jesus Is Infinitely Precious
This should cause us to love Jesus with all our hearts. He is the only way to God. He is the only way to be alive forever. He is the only way to be a dwelling for God. He is the only way we can do anything acceptable to God. This is why verse 7 says that he is precious, costly to us who believe. Yes, infinitely precious. There is no greater value in the universe than Jesus. He means more to us than anything or anybody.
Just think of all the people around the world who know there is a God. Nature declares his glory and their own consciences tell them it must be so. But they don't know how to do anything fully acceptable to this God—because they don't know Jesus. They try rituals and disciplines and sacrifices and vows and relics and virtues—but all in vain. Because God says (at the end of verse 5) the sacrifices that are acceptable to him are acceptable "through Jesus Christ." Not through human effort or human merit or human achievement. But "through Jesus Christ."
That's why Paul said in Romans 15:18, "I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me."
The preciousness of Christ to our hearts is this: through him we know God and come to God and experience the presence of God and offer acceptable sacrifices to God. Without him all is distance and darkness and wrath. Christ is precious, very precious.
What Are These Spiritual Sacrifices?
Now let's walk backward through some of these six steps and take another look at them.
What are these spiritual sacrifices that we offer to God through Jesus Christ (v. 5b). If that's the goal of everything else, it must be very important. What is it?
In Romans 12:1 Paul says that we are to present our bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual service of worship. That means, I think, that everything you do with your body is to be done as an act of worship to God. Whether you eat or drink or hammer nails or drive a car or make a meal or program a computer or read a book or shoot a basketball or mend a shirt—whatever you do with your body, do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Then it is your spiritual service of worship.
Praise and Thanks
It might include singing or speaking words of praise as in Hebrews 13:15, "Continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name." So the spiritual sacrifices are the praises and thanks of God's people alone and in group worship.
Acts of Love
Or it might include acts of love like giving and sharing. For example, in Philippians 4:18 Paul receives gifts of support from the Philippian church and says, "I received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God." And in Hebrews 13:16 it says, "Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."
What We Do From, Through, and For Christ
What then are spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ? They are the deeds you do, the words you speak, the songs you sing—when you do them spiritually. That is, when you do them in reliance on the power of the Spirit, according to the will of the Spirit, and for a manifestation of the Spirit—which is a manifestation of Christ.
What We Should Ask About Our Worship
This is clearly a word to us about our worship here at Bethlehem. Is it spiritual? Are the sacrifices we offer spiritual sacrifices? Are we leaders in worship spiritual people? Do we sing in the power of the Spirit, and according to the will of the Spirit, and as a manifestation of the Spirit of Christ? Do our instrumentalists play their instruments in the power of the Spirit, according to the will of the Spirit, and as a manifestation of the Spirit of Christ? Do I preach in reliance on the power of the Spirit, according to the will of the Spirit, and as a manifestation of the Spirit of Christ?
Is our worship spiritual? If it is not, it is not acceptable to God. If it is, he will accept it, not because it's perfect—it never will be in this age—much less because it's refined or well-crafted, but because it comes "through Jesus Christ." Spiritual sacrifices are sacrifices from Christ and through Christ and for Christ. They get their power from the Spirit of Christ, they get their content from the Word of Christ, and they have their goal in the glory of Christ. And they flow only from a heart devoted to his power and his Word and his glory. And that is the only kind of worship God accepts.
Spiritual Sacrifices Offered by a Holy Priesthood
The second step in moving backward through the six steps is that these spiritual sacrifices are offered by a holy priesthood. That's not the pastoral staff, that's not the elders, that's not the choir; it's you the people. Look at verse 9: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood." This means that you all have access to God through Jesus Christ. You do not take your sacrifice to the priest and watch while he takes it to the altar or to the tent of meeting with God. You all are called by God to approach the altar and the throne, and to make your own personal sacrifice in personal life and in corporate worship.
And therefore you must be holy (1:15). You must be set apart for God. Cleansed by the blood of Christ through faith, and dedicated to relentless and ruthless opposition to sin in your life. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. You are a priest to God. You are a part of a worship team, called "the holy priesthood." Without this God-wrought holiness we do not offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The Holy Priesthood Is Also a Spiritual House
Third, this holy priesthood is also a "spiritual house." You are all living stones built by God into a spiritual house, that is, a temple made for the presence of a holy God. Listen to the way Paul said this in Ephesians 2:19–22
You are . . . of God's household, . . . Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
The main thing here is that we as a church are meant by Christ to be a corporate dwelling of God in the Spirit. It's true that each of us is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). But there is more of God to be known and enjoyed than anyone can know in isolation. We are being fitted together, Paul says, for a temple and for a dwelling of God by his Spirit. There is a presence and power and manifestation of the Spirit of God meant to be known in this gathering of worship that we do not know at any other time in isolation.
We are not just isolated living stones. We are, verse 5 says, being built (by Christ—"I will build my church") as a spiritual house. The stones are meant to so fit together in this house called Bethlehem that something whole, something more than a collection of individuals comes into being—a temple, a dwelling of God by his Spirit.
And O how jealous I am to see that happen more than it ever has.
How Are We Being Built into a Spiritual House?
And to that end let me just return to the strategy Peter focuses on for this to happen. He says in verse 4, "And coming to Him [Christ] as to a living stone, rejected by men, but chosen and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built." How are we being built into this spiritual house? By coming to Christ.
Now be careful here. This is not a reference to conversion—that initial coming to Christ, though that it awesomely important and I pray some may come this morning for the first time. It is a reference to daily, hour-by-hour drawing near to Christ as a strong, living Person.
Notice, verse 4 flows out of verse 3 and refers back to it with the word "him." Verse 4: "Coming to HIM"—to whom? To the one whose kindness you have tasted—how good it is. This helps us get a good handle on what "coming to Christ" means. Verse 3 is an incentive in both directions. It motivates verse 2 and it motivates verse 4.
If you have tasted the kindness of the Lord—then (v. 2) long for the Word of Christ the way a baby longs for milk. If you have tasted the kindness of the Lord—then (v. 4) come to Christ.
Coming to Christ is what you do when you long for his Word the way a baby longs for milk, and, longing for it, come to it and feed on it and find Christ in it. "They feast on the abundance of Thy house and Thou givest them drink from the river of Thy delights" (Psalm 36:8).
If we are going to be a spiritual temple for God's presence, and if we are going to be a holy priesthood, and if we are going to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, then we must day-by-day, hour-by-hour come to Christ. We must taste his kindness by feeding on his Word—his promises, his commands, his teachings, his warnings—until we are so filled with him that his Word will dwell among us richly as we teach and admonish one anther with thankfulness in our hearts to God.