“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 and into His marvelous light.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this fifth Sunday after Easter comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of Peter’s first letter. Dear friends in Christ, the first lick on the ice cream cone, the first bite of the burger, the first sip of water on a hot day always leaves you wanting more, it never fully satisfies. A taste is never enough. You tasted the Lord’s goodness on the day of your Baptism, when the waters of salvation rushed over your head. You tasted His grace, His mercy, His salvation; you tasted His Holy Spirit, and as Peter says, that taste should leave you wanting more: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The first taste of the Lord’s goodness should leave you thirsty for more; it should give you a desire to drink ever more deeply, to receive that blessed nourishment each and every day. And so you come to Jesus, the only one who can satisfy your thirst, who has that spiritual milk to give in abundance. That’s why you’re here this morning; or at least it should be the reason you are here. You tasted of Christ on the day you were washed with the water and the Word, and today you have come to the One who satisfies thirst, the One who cannot be avoided, to whom all men must answer.
In the path of every person, standing between them and the future, lies a Stone. You cannot go around it, you cannot step over it; it is laid across the path of all, no one can avoid it. This isn’t the kind of Stone that you can ignore. Many think that they can simply hop over the Stone, that they can avoid doing anything with it, simply leaving it behind them and going on with their lives. But this is a Stone like no other; it will not be ignored, or jumped over, it must be dealt with in one way or another. This Stone divides humanity in two, it divides mothers and fathers from children, friends from one another, it splits communities and nations. This Stone divides all people, not because it wants to divide, but because people are divided upon it.
Every person who encounters this Stone lying across their path is changed. There is no avoiding it. Either the person is built upon that Stone, or they try to cast it away and find that it crushes them. There is no third option, no other path. Either the Stone is used as a cornerstone or it becomes a stumbling block. The Stone has no other effect. Many believe that the Stone can be a part of the house they build, maybe even set in a prominent place, but the Stone will not allow it. Either it is the cornerstone of the house, or it is a stumbling block, one or the other. This Stone is a cornerstone, it has no use anywhere else on the house; it will crush the person who tries to put it elsewhere. Either one is built upon the Stone, or the Stone becomes a stumbling block, period. Putting it somewhere else is as bad as casting it away; either the Stone is the cornerstone, or it is rejected by the builders, to their peril.
This Stone has been rejected before, it was tossed to the side by those who first encountered it. Peter calls it “a living Stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” This Stone was precious to God and chosen by Him, for this Stone was His own Son, sent into this world to be the long promised foundation of salvation. This Stone was of such great value to God that twice He called from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son!” But men made strange and none the longed-for Christ would know. They refused to build upon this chosen and precious stone, instead tossing it aside, putting what was chosen and precious to the God of the universe to death, even death upon a cross. The builders of Israel rejected the Stone sent by God, they stumbled over it, they tried to destroy what God gave them.
But Jesus, the rejected Stone, had predicted this; He had based His entire life and work on the words that Peter quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He knew that He would be rejected, that men would cast Him away. All humanity would be divided upon Him. But in being rejected, His Father, who sent Him, would exalt Him to the place of highest honor. He would be rejected by men, but in His rejection, God Himself would make Him the cornerstone. Three days later, the stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, and God’s chosen and precious Stone emerged victorious over sin and death. He emerged in glory, He emerged exalted by His Father, He emerged having triumphed over all His enemies; even death itself stumbled over Him and was crushed. He is now the deathless Stone, the living stone on which living houses are built.
“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.” The Stone, rejected by men but vindicated by God, is now the precious cornerstone of all who believe. Those who cling to Him in faith are built into a spiritual house, a house that will stand into eternity, because it is built upon a cornerstone that will never die again. Everything in that house depends upon its cornerstone; without it, the house would fall to pieces, but with this cornerstone in place, the house can endure the storms of this world, the assaults of Satan, even death itself. Each believer is a living stone on this house, built into a structure that has the promise of Christ Himself that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Those built on the cornerstone of Christ are then called by Peter a ‘holy priesthood.’ They are a house of priests, set apart from the world around them for service in God’s kingdom. Every Christian is a priest—and what do priests do? They offer sacrifices! This house of priests offers sacrifices to God, sacrifices that are acceptable only through Jesus Christ. These are the sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to God; these are also the sacrifices of love to the neighbor, kindness toward strangers, and service in one’s vocation. These sacrifices are acceptable to God only because the ones offering them are priests built upon the chosen and precious cornerstone. Priests are set apart, consecrated for the task of serving God and serving their neighbor, built upon the chosen and precious Stone. Peter quotes Isaiah: “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 one who is built upon the chosen and precious stone will not be put to shame; not so for those who reject Him. “The honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’” They reject the Stone by building with other materials, by setting other cornerstones. They toss the Stone aside, building with materials that do not last. They put trust in their own works, their ‘good life,’ no realizing that no work is good unless it is done by one built upon the Stone. They depend upon other gods or no god at all, choosing to anchor their structures upon themselves. Whatever the materials are, what they have in common is that they are not built on the chosen and precious Stone God sent into this world to be a sure and eternal foundation; that Stone will endure, along will all who are built upon it, while all other materials, all other structures, will pass away.
The Stone cannot be avoided or skipped; it cannot be tossed lightly aside. All who are not built upon that Stone as the chief cornerstone will find that it is “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” Peter says, “They stumble because they disobey the Word, as they were destined to do.” This stumbling has eternal consequences; those who stumble over Christ will find themselves standing before God on Judgment Day alone with their sins. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Either one is built upon the chosen and precious stone, and will stand for eternity, or one builds with perishable materials that will not last beyond the grave. There is no third option. Those who reject the Stone will find themselves crushed for eternity, for they have refused what Christ has done for them.
But not you, for you have tasted that the Lord is good. “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 and into His marvelous light.” In your Baptism, you were built upon Christ the cornerstone, rejected by men but exalted by God. You are now a chosen race; Jew and Gentile are together the people of God. You are a royal priesthood, set aside as His priests, offering sacrifices acceptable to God in Christ Jesus. You are a holy nation, a nation that transcends time and space, encompassing all who are built on Christ the cornerstone. And you are a people for His own possession, belonging once again to the God of the universe through the reconciliation of Jesus.
Your situation has changed dramatically, you have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” You were estranged from God in sin and darkness, but are now God’s people once again, shown mercy for the sake of Christ, who died and rose again for you. You have tasted that the Lord is good; His goodness is shown in sending His Son to win forgiveness, life, and salvation for those whom He loves. You have tasted that the Lord is good, come to the feast! Here the table is set for those who hunger and thirst for Christ, who yearn for what He gives. Drink deeply of Christ here in this place each and every week—one taste just isn’t enough! In the Name of the chosen and precious Stone, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.