Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Welcome to the Priesthood, Part 1 (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Does the fact that all Christians are priests mean that I need to invest in an ephod?
(picture credit: http://www.messianic-torah-truth-seeker.org)

Dude, I'm totally stone
When it comes to doing apologetics (viz, showing people the rationality and logic of Christian Theism), those of us who enjoy it like to think of ourselves as playing many roles: author, activist, teacher, etc. Surely, one role that may not be in the front of our minds is temple. Yet this is exactly how Saint Peter describes Christians in 1 Peter Chapter 2. According to Peter, we believers are both a temple (collectively; individually we are stones in the temple) and priests serving in the temple. And it gets weirder. 

When one thinks about a temple, one imagines certain kind of people going there to worship. Worshipers at the temple are certainly devout believers, bringing sacrifices to God with a humble attitude, reciting prayers and looking for absolution, right? Not in God's temple. The people who come to God's temple (which is us, remember) to worship do so almost unwillingly, kicking and fighting against the God as they realize more and more the truth of Christianity, until finally they give in and break down, praising God for his goodness and mercy. 

Let's dig into this passage. As we go, we are going to unlock one of the key principles for doing successful apologetics. Remember, as you read, don't forget to think.

A new kind of temple 
1 Peter 2:4-5: As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you 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. 

First, we come to Jesus. Our attention is too often pulled in a million other directions by the distractions of life, but Peter reminds us of our top priority: coming to Jesus and seeking spiritual nutrition from him (cf. 1 Peter 1:2). And how Peter describes Jesus sets the stage for the rest of this passage. 

Jesus is a "living stone." At the aquarium store down the street from our place in Deerfield, Illinois, they sold "live rock," but that is not what Peter has in mind here. Peter will explain what it means for Jesus to be the "rock" a little later on, but for now see who Jesus is: he was (a) repudiated by men but (b) chosen valuable for God. Jesus is a "rock" that was rejected as worthless slag by people, but accepted as precious by God. Similarly, we are living, breathing stones chosen by God to be built together for his purposes. 

Believers are to be built together into a "spiritual house." This house becomes a holy priesthood. Like the Levites of the Old Testament system used to bring up sacrifices into God's temple, so Christians together form a New Testament priesthood. The sacrifices we bring are less of the bull and lamb variety and more of the heart, soul and mind variety. Peter says that these sacrifices are well-pleasing and acceptable to God, because of Jesus Christ. Remember, we came to him first. Now, everything we do as God's spiritual temple is filtered through God's acceptance of his own Son.
Christ the Cornerstone
1 Peter 2:6-8: For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,a cornerstone chosen and precious,and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” 7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”[a]8 and “A stone of stumbling,and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Next, Peter directs our attention to a mess of Scripture passages. The first is Isaiah 28:16. Again, here is the idea of Christ's value. He is priceless. He is the cornerstone of the temple. As believers, we first come with our lives to Jesus, and as the temple we are supported by the Christ cornerstone. This is two different ways of saying the same thing. Christ is not a cornerstone that can be moved or broken, and that is why "whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 

Those of us who believe in Jesus see his value as  priceless. But what about those who do not yet believe? This is where apologetics come in. 

For unbelievers, Jesus is still the cornerstone. There is no getting around Jesus' primary importance. However, for them the cornerstone is also a stumbling block. Those who have not committed their lives to Jesus trip over Jesus because they "disobey the word." In other words, they hear the Gospel and reject it. The good news about God's plan to save humanity (viz., the Gospel) is a message that requires more than passive intellectual assent. 

The Gospel requires commitment, and those who reject Jesus are disobeying God. And this kind of life--a life characterized by rejection of God--cannot be a smooth one. It is a life of "stumbling" and discomfort. To paraphrase St. Augustine, "their hearts are restless until they rest in God." 

According to Peter, non-Christians were destined to reject Jesus. However, their fates are not necessarily sealed. After all, every Christian on earth was once far from God, but has been reconciled to God through Jesus.  So there is still hope. And Peter describes how we communicate that hope to an unbelieving culture, next. 

To be continued...

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