Why God Laid a Stone of Stumbling
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.
What I would like to do this morning is draw out the main point of verses 6–8 and then encourage your faith with the way this truth applies to our present situation here at Bethlehem.
Last week we looked at verses 4 and 5 and saw how coming to Jesus, God's Living Stone causes us to be living stones and shapes us into a spiritual house for God's dwelling and makes us a holy priesthood so that we can offer spiritual sacrifices of praise and obedience that will be acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
The key was Christ. He is the Living Stone which is the foundation of this house and his life is imparted to all the little stones—us believers—who are built into a temple that throbs with life.
Now what we have in verses 6–8 are three Old Testament quotations to show where Peter got this idea of Christ as a Stone that God set down in Zion. But there is something remarkable about the way Peter quotes these three texts. He doesn't just quote them; he interprets them and gives them a tremendously encouraging twist for people in our situation.
Believing on the Stone: You Can't Lose
In verse 6 he quotes Isaiah 28:16 and says, "Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed." The point here is that if you trust Christ, God's corner stone, you will not be disappointed. This stone will not prove faulty. If you build your life on this stone, your life will not crumble in the storm. If you hide behind this stone, you will be safe. If you stand on the truth of this stone, you will not be ashamed. If you join with others in the spiritual house built on this stone, you will be proud of your foundation and your fellowship will stand. "Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed."
Then in verse 7a Peter draws out the lesson in his own words: "This precious value, then, is for you who believe." He takes the word "precious" from verse 6—"he is a precious corner stone"—and says that the preciousness is for believers. If you believe on this stone—if you trust him and bank your future on him—then he is precious, because you will never be disappointed in him or ashamed of him. Jesus will never let you down. Others may, but Jesus never.
Now that is a great encouragement: if there were a way never to be disappointed or a way never to be ashamed, wouldn't you want to know that way? Peter says: the way is to trust what Jesus will be for you as God's "chosen and precious corner stone." God says, "You cannot lose. You cannot be disappointed in having done this. You cannot be put to shame." That is tremendously encouraging.
Disbelieving the Stone: You Can't Win
But now, why not stop there? Why does Peter go on in the middle of verse 7 to talk about the negative side of things? Why not just stay positive and talk about the good effects of belief, rather than going on to talk about the negative side of unbelief?
Look at what he says in verse 7b: "But for those who disbelieve, 'The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone.'" Now what's the point of that? Here he's saying that not believing in Jesus is like rejecting the stone that God has laid as the corner stone. God sends his Son to be the main stone in the building of his church—his people. But some do not trust him; they reject him.
But what effect does that have on the purpose of God? This is the point: it does not defeat God's purpose at all. "The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone." The point is: If you believe on this stone, you can't lose; and if you disbelieve on him, you can't win. Human unbelief does not frustrate or defeat the ultimate purposes of God. If God plans for Jesus to be the chief corner stone, humans can betray him, desert him, deny him, mock him, strike him, spit on him, hit him with rods, crown him with thorns, strip him, crucify him, and bury him—but they cannot stop him from being what God destined him to be, the Living Corner Stone of a great and glorious people.
"Unto This You Were Appointed"
So the point of mentioning the negative side of unbelief is to stress that it cannot win. It can't frustrate God's ultimate purposes.
I think this is the point of the shocking verse 8 as well. Peter goes on to say (quoting Isaiah 8:14) that Christ, became "'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." Peter's words at the end of this verse are intended to sever the last strand of self-reliance: "to this—this stumbling, this disobedience—they were appointed."
In other words if any proud unbeliever should boast and say, "I have chosen my own destiny—my own disobedience and my own stumbling—to show God that I have the final and ultimate say in my life; I have the power of ultimate self-determination; and I can frustrate the purposes of God with my own self-determining will"—if anyone boasts in that way, Peter responds with the awesome words: No, you can't; you only think you can. But you will discover sooner or later that whatever you choose—and mark this, your choice is real and crucial—whatever you choose, "unto this you were appointed."
God and not man will have the last say. No mere human can thwart the ultimate purposes of God—not by belief or unbelief.
Why Does Peter Teach This Shocking Thing?
Now why does Peter teach such a thing? Why does he even bring it up? The reason is for our encouragement. What he means is that human choices cannot finally destroy the temple of God. They are not ultimate. A person can reject the chosen and precious Stone of Jesus Christ. But if they do, two things are still true:
- the stone will not be rejected by God, but will still be put in the place of honor and glory forever and ever as the chief corner stone; and
- the one who rejects the stone will never be able to boast over God that he frustrated God's ultimate design for his temple. Even unbelievers fulfill God's appointments. He cannot be defeated. He triumphs even in his own rejection.
The Lesson for Us in Our Situation
Now that's the lesson for us in our situation. God's great purposes for the building of his church, including Bethlehem, often come through seasons of rejection, but in the end he remains triumphant and none of us can bring his purpose to ruin. If we reject his way, we cannot destroy his plan. C.S. Lewis said once: "We all serve God inevitably, but it makes a great difference whether you serve like Judas or serve like John."1 In the end God is triumphant in our belief and our unbelief. He is triumphant in our obedience and our disobedience. Human beings, whether good or evil, rejecting or accepting, believing or unbelieving, cannot thwart the ultimate purposes of God. "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner."
God is calling us to trust him for this in these days at Bethlehem. And I want to give you a glance at some of the evidences of his triumphs in these awful and wonderful days.
Encouraging Words from Friends of Bethlehem
"I am struck by the spiritual maturity and godliness that I have observed. Because of what has happened and how it has been handled, things are beginning to seem more real to me. Sin seems more real. Spiritual maturity seems more real. Prayer seems more real. The possibility of church unity seems more real. And God, while no less unfathomable, seems more real.
"I wrote you [Pastor John] about a year and a half ago listing five things that I was looking for in a church. I concluded by saying that I was beginning to sense that I had found what I had been looking for. Today there is no doubt. Yes, I am baffled and grieved and torn and saddened by what has come to light. But I am glad that it has come to light. I do not want in any way to minimize the sin that has taken place. 1 Samuel 2:12–4:22 (Eli's sons, God's judgment on them and Eli, Ichabod) has added much to my soberness and fear as has Acts 5:1–10. But at the same time I have been overwhelmed by a spirit of humbleness, truthfulness, brokenness, gentleness, fear (of God), and love manifested throughout the body in general and particularly in the elders. O how I have longed to be a part of such a church! O how wonderful it will be when the bridegroom has finished purifying his bride!"
"Satan doesn't need to attack lukewarm or health and wealth prosperity churches. He needed to infiltrate Bethlehem.
"The church's handling of the crisis is Biblical and God has begun a work here. Miracles and healing. I know of two instances where visitors on [February] 13th were profoundly reached.
"The service last Sunday (February 13, 1994), full of prayer, worship in song and your words of Biblical wisdom from Revelation was both a healing balm and a call to introspection and repentance.
"God will forgive, heal and work it out for good."
"We were able to witness love, love for God and His people, hatred of sin, the desire for and the beginnings of (by God's grace) reconciliation of a fallen brother, brokenness, dependency on God—we witnessed the manifestation of the Spirit of God in His people.
"I don't know everything that happened, but it was obvious that hearts were broken. Recrimination will probably come, and maybe that's good as it gives the Body an opportunity to undergo a 'sifting out.' Maybe very little good will come out of what your congregation has experienced—God knows. I just want to say, as a brother in Christ, that it was very apparent to us that the ministry occurring at Bethlehem has the mark of God. We could see Him in the people, the elders, and in the pastor. Thank you for the blessing of allowing us to worship with you in such a difficult time."
—A friend from Indiana
"I hope you won't misunderstand what I am about to say, as I am having difficulty putting my feelings into words. Though last Sunday was a dark day for Bethlehem, still as I shared in the service, I felt so privileged to be there. At that moment, I knew there was nowhere else on earth that I would rather have been than at Bethlehem Baptist Church. It was a fearful and wonderful thing to be in the presence of a God who is holy and pure and righteous and just. So much of what we Christians say and do reflects our lighthearted attitude toward God. We talk about Him as though He was a chum or a buddy and so rarely do we consider the side of Him that despises iniquity and won't tolerate sin. I was greatly humbled to sit among the people at Bethlehem on Sunday and be reminded of Who God really is.
"Secondly, I was deeply encouraged to witness the corporate attitude of grief and confession, not only from your staff and elders, but from the entire congregation. Though we considered the sin of one, God's searchlight examined my heart as well.
"God must love Bethlehem Baptist very much. He could have left this sin undisclosed so that it would have grown and festered. Yet, He apparently chose to have it revealed so that He could cleanse, forgive and heal, and make the church whole once again. You have a wonderful fellowship at Bethlehem; and though we don't belong to your church, we have a special love for it."
—A friend visiting from another local church
"The church I grew up in was fraught with sin. Even as a middle school and high school student I was aware of an ongoing affair in the church that was not acknowledged or addressed for years. When it finally was, no discipline took place, and nothing changed. The affair continued, more secretly. I know everyone at that church was affected by that cancer, and many other cancers, growing unhindered among us. That is why I am so grateful to God for your willingness to risk your personal friendships with Dean, risk Bethlehem's excellent music ministry, risk the reputation of our church, risk the congregation turning against you, and probably risk much more. Thank you for your honesty and commitment to truth and godliness. I have been overwhelmed in these meetings with the love I have for you, the leaders of this church."
"Please be encouraged that your pain and prayers have not been in vain, because the Lord is at work in our hearts, as well as the hearts of hundreds of others at Bethlehem as a result of this season of humiliation. Your sensitivity and obedience to the Lord has been made evident, and all your decisions regarding disciplinary matters have been vindicated."
"To the staff, elders and people of Bethlehem:
'I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord' (Psalm 27:13–14).
'Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us: He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him. So let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rains that water the earth' (Hosea 6:1–3).
"As certain as the dawn of this day is the certainty that God will go forth and bring the spring rains of comfort and restoration and healing and renewal at Bethlehem.
"Saddened and sobered, yet praying with and for you in great hope."
—A friend from Michigan
Tonight we take up the question of how the organ plan relates to what has happened in recent weeks. As the staff went away on retreat this past week, some of us felt that we had walked out into the clear blue sky of hope after the tragedy of our loss, only to turn a corner and find a monster waiting for us—namely, the entanglement of the organ in seven years of deception and adultery.
But God met us with some encouraging Scriptures that I will share with you tonight that helped us interpret with hope what that image means. All I will take the time to say now is that there is good reason both from 1 Peter and from our recent experience to believe that God will triumph at Bethlehem, and that the miracle of deliverance and unity that God worked for us on Monday morning February 7, when Dean confessed, is the kind of miracle we may anticipate tomorrow as well. May God fill this church with the same spirit of passionate prayer that he did three weeks ago.
1 I can't recall the book in which I read this quote but the substance of it is found in The Quotable Lewis, edited by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, #1170.