WHAT DOES GOD'S CHURCH HAVE TO OFFER?
Dear Christian friends,
People like to church shop. I have never been in that position. Church shopping can be like going to a buffet line. You pick what you like and leave behind what you don’t like. The problem is in a buffet line you can spend a lot of time at the dessert table and not get what you really need. A mega-church not far from here (No, it’s not North Point), used to advertise that it had 163 ministries. Instead of the buffet line being all the different churches in the area, the buffet line was only on their campus. In other words there should be something you like when you have 163 entrees.
The early Christian church made things pretty simple. After Pentecost the church members “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Sounds pretty basic to me! They taught and loved the Word of God; they enjoyed their bond of faith; they received the sacraments and they prayed.
Today we hear Peter speak to us as he has done the last couple of Sundays from his first epistle. He says some awesome things about God’s Church, his body of believers, where the Word and Sacraments are offered. We can see God’s church is not about aerobic classes or softball teams. He answers the question of “What does God’s Church Offer?” 1) She offers Jesus; 2) She offers a place for you.
God’s Church has always been about Jesus in the Old Testament and in the new. In the Old Testament Jesus interacted with the Old Testament people in a kind of veiled way. Let me explain what I mean.
In the Old Testament he came to certain people as the “Angel of the LORD” – not as an angel of the Lord but as THE Angel of the Lord. He also made himself known through representations or pictures; we call them “types” of Christ. For instance, the High Priest in the temple was a type or picture of Jesus. The priest interceded for the Old Testament by performing sacrifices and approaching God for the people. That’s Jesus. He sacrificed himself and intercedes for us even to this day. The lambs sacrificed daily were pictures of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus came to the Old Testament people through the prophets and the Word that he speaks.
Jesus interacts with us of the New Testament. He comes to us through his Word and sacraments. He came to us in the waters of baptism and continues to do so in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper as he gives us his body and blood.
By virtue of Baptism we were born again and made a new creation. Through the Word preached and taught faith in Jesus is created and strengthened. The Word and sacrament is the channel by which the Holy Spirit works in us to connect and strengthen that relationship to Jesus. Peter says here, “As you come to him, the living Stone-- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him…”
We have come to the Living Stone – Jesus Christ. What an unusual title – Living Stone! That title for Jesus impresses upon us his permanence and indestructibility. The Rock of Gibraltar is a symbol of an insurance company. It claims it will always be there for you. Only Jesus can make that claim. He is there for us eternally.
He remains the same and doesn’t change. We get the piano tuned a couple of times a year. Mr. Gillis does it electronically, but piano tuners used to do it with a tuning fork. You hit the tuning fork and a middle ‘C’ comes forth. No matter how many times you hit it, no matter when you hit it, there comes middle ‘C.’ It never changes. That’s the beauty of the Living Stone too. He never changes. The Bible says of Christ, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” He is reliable. His promises remain the same. He is the living STONE.
He is the LIVING stone because that’s exactly what Jesus is – living. That’s why this reading is in the post- Easter season. Remember again the announcement, “He is not here. He is risen.” There is nothing better that anyone can hear that Jesus lives. There is nothing better that the living can hear than to know that Jesus lives. You have a major problem? We have a living Savior who can do something about it. When people are dying he can do something about that too: “Because I live, you will live also.” He is our LIVING stone.
In fact, this stone comparison is the theme. He compares Jesus to three types of stones, He quotes three Old Testament passages; Here is the first, “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Jesus is the cornerstone and the one who trust will be blessed beyond imagination.
In today’s world the laying of a cornerstone is basically a ceremonial thing. The cornerstone of a building has a flat face and dates the construction of the building. Sometimes the cornerstone is hollowed out and filled with artifacts like newspaper clips so that, when opened years later, people remember what life was like.
There was nothing ceremonial about a cornerstone that was speaking about. The cornerstone was the first and largest stone laid at the beginning of the construction. When it was quarried it was cut and shaped to be just right. It was put into place with extreme care. It determined the straightness of the building.
That’s Jesus! He is our standard of straightness. We need that. Satan’s mark is all over the world. His deception and lies are all around. So easily the world falls for them. So often we fall for them. His word cuts through Satan’s lies. His Word cuts through all the excuses and rationalization of our sins. Yet Jesus doesn’t leave us feeling guilty and hopeless. He forgives fully and freely. He cuts through the feelings of worthlessness left behind by our sin. The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.
The second stone, “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” This is a quotation from Psalm 118. I know I get into a discussion with one of our members who says that the capstone is different, but it is also known as the keystone or the wedged-shape stone at the top of an arch. It bears the weight of both sides coming down on it. Knock out the capstone or keystone and the arch will collapse. That’s Jesus. Knock him out of your life and you got a mess.
That’s what many, too many, do. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone.” The builders that are being referred to are the Jewish religious teachers. They were to build up Israel spiritually. But they didn’t do it. They rejected the capstone. Without Jesus, everything collapses. Guilt remains. There is no hope when life is over. Keep Jesus as the capstone of your life.
And that leads to the third stone. Jesus is “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” For the unbeliever Jesus becomes a stumbling block. While the Bible says assures us in John 3: 16, 17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him, it goes on to says in verse eighteen, “But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” While Christ promises unlimited blessings to those who believe in him as their Savior there are in comprehensible curses for those who want know part of him. Don’t blame God. That is the choice of those who choose not to believe. But the church is there to offer Jesus. As members of God’s church that is what we are here to offer.
He offers you a place in his kingdom. While he is the cornerstone of a spiritual structure called the church, he lets us know that we as Christian people we are part of that structure. Peter says, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” A number of years ago our sonBen had reconstructive nose surgery. He had a nose that only a mother could love. When he came out of surgery, he had a hard time clearing his head from the anesthesia. The nurses tried to awaken him but he didn’t want to wake up. As one nurse tapped his shoulder to rouse him, she noticed his strength. “He is a rock.” Judy and I were left to waken him. It didn’t work for us either. I thought that I would try to appeal to his ego. “Hey Ben, wake up. The nurses said you were a rock.” Still under the influence of the anesthesia, he said, “Why do they think I am dumb?” Ben! That was meant to be a compliment, something good.
When the Lord calls us living stones he is not insulting us at all. God says we are part of the spiritual structure called the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. We, too, are living stones built around the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. Together we work together to build on to the church.
As living stones we have also been given wonderful titles. The first is “We are a chosen people. He chose you by the power of the Spirit to be part of his church. In other words, the fact that you know Jesus was not a shake of the dice or fate or good karma or your own effort. Our good and gracious God chose you.
You are a royal priesthood. You are both royalty and priests. You have been adopted into his royal family with an incredible inheritance to come. You are priests meaning you have full access to God free to communicate with him through prayer. You serve him daily by caring for others and letting his name be known.
We are a holy nation. By faith In Jesus Christ we have been set apart as a great army. We are a nation that far surpasses the people of Israel who lived under a monarchy. We are a universal nation of holy people, sinless because Jesus lived and died to make us holy, seen only by our God.
We are a people belonging to God. We are near and dear to him. We are his possession because he paid for us with his blood.
When I was in college I refereed some flag football games for nine and ten year olds. There were a few dads who tried to live out their athletic dreams through their sons. I remember one father riding his son all through a game. The more the father rode him, the more nervous the son played and more mistakes he made. The team lost and after the game I saw something incredibly cruel. After the game the father told his son he would have to walk home because his son needed to “think about it.”
I wondered what the son thought as he walked home. My father is ashamed of me. He doesn’t want me to ride in his car. He doesn’t want to be around me. Our God doesn’t do that. We don’t deserve to be called his children, but by his grace and in his love Jesus came to walk in our shoes to make us his own. We are precious to him. He made us his own by taking matters into his own hands. He rescued us personally. At Baptism he put his name on us. He gives us his word and sacrament to keep us as his own. We are indeed “a people belonging to God.”
We are his church. The church of which we are part has a purpose that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We are living stones, not dead weight. We are called to be active. The spiritual house of which we are a part is living organism to do his work by sharing with others who he really is and what he has done.