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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jesus, the Cornerstone (1 Peter 2.1-10; vv. 6-7a)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
January 8, 2012
Some Music Used
Service music by Coincidence Maybe?

Jesus, the Cornerstone
Text: 1 Peter 2:1-10; vv. 6-7a

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we are beginning a new series that will take us through January and most of February. Each week we will be in the same New Testament passage: 1 Peter 2:1-10. I preached on one phrase from this passage last Fall and commented at the time that there was so much more in that passage. So, we’re back!

Broadly, this passage is full of imagery, meant to help us understand who Jesus is and what it means to belong to him. So, we’ll begin today with building imagery with its roots coming from the prophet Isaiah. Next week we will see the challenge (even offense) of the message about Jesus. And then in the weeks that follow we will move through a series of images to help us understand our Christian identity. This is simply another way of saying who we are as those who trust and follow Jesus Christ.

That’s where we left off on Christmas Eve and Christmas – that Jesus was not just the quiet little baby in the manger, but that he was born to show us the face of God and born to die so we might live. I promised that we would focus on what it means to belong to Jesus, to listen, believe, and follow; and that is what this series is about.

Today I want to focus on verse 6, which quotes the passage from Isaiah 28 that you heard in the call to worship:

“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Like a cornerstone, this key verse establishes the whole passage by describing who Jesus is. Much of the rest of the passage will deal with who WE are in Jesus, but first we must know who Jesus is. 

The Choice Cornerstone

Both Isaiah and Peter use this strong imagery: God has a long-standing plan, God is building something, and there is a key component of that plan that is at the foundation and heart of what God is doing. We find out, of course, that this key component or corner stone is Jesus. But that is just the first important observation to be made. What is equally significant is that Jesus was God’s plan from the beginning – from eternity, in fact – and was set in place and history with all the wisdom, design, and purpose of God’s perfect will. We also read in Ephesians 2:20, which describes more of God’s design, that we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone." The message of the prophets and apostles forms the content of scripture and is the foundation, indicating the shape and form of what God would build.

The reference to Zion makes a connection to what we studied this past Fall – the covenant with Abraham. Way back in Genesis, God promised Abraham land, descendants, and blessing in order to bless the world. Later in the Old Testament, Zion (AKA Jerusalem) became the demonstration of this covenant promise as the visible center of God’s presence and blessing of His people, populated by the descendants of Abraham and positioned to influence and bless the nations of the world. From Zion, or Jerusalem, King David ruled God’s people as King. To Zion, or Jerusalem, Jesus would come to die, that we might live.

It was there – Zion, a physical place in time – that God was at work. This was foretold back in Isaiah and was fulfilled before the eyes of Peter and the other Apostles.

And between Isaiah and Peter, listen to all the words used to describe Jesus, the corner stone: choice, precious, tested, costly, and firmly placed. These are vivid words that add to our understanding of both Father and Son. This is what God the Father did in sending Jesus into the world. He firmly placed the tested and precious Son into the midst of His people as the perfect fulfillment of the ancient promises and prophecies. And in doing so, God invites our belief and obedient service. 

The Extended Image: God’s Measure and Level

I wanted to take a moment and look further at Isaiah 28. Peter quotes this passage, which would have been well-known to any Jewish readers as part of their scriptures. As is often the case when the New Testament writers quote the Hebrew scriptures, it is helpful to explore the original context of the quote. Isaiah adds a bit of imagery not included in Peter’s quote. In Isaiah, God also brings a measuring line and level to the divine building project. The measuring line is justice and the level is righteousness. Since Peter asserts continuity between the ancient promises and prophecies and what God is doing through Jesus, it is fair to consider that Jesus not only serves as the corner stone of God’s building, but that righteousness and justice would also be found in close proximity to the life, teaching, and ministry of Jesus.

And indeed, Jesus IS the righteousness of God: he is perfectly obedient and perfectly RIGHT with God, which proves to be our salvation because we will all face the holy justice and judgment of God. Our lives, actions, and thoughts will be measured by God’s measuring line of justice, and as Romans teaches us, we will all be found short of that measure or mark. Our only hope – our only salvation – is being identified with Jesus, the only righteous one. He will make us level, or right, through his own righteous obedience. Through him, we can stand before God’s judgment and be credited with HIS righteousness. That is what saves us! 

Hope through Faith: Death Defeated

There is another very important phrase in Isaiah 28 that is not spelled out in 1 Peter 2, but is significantly true of Jesus. Speaking through Isaiah, God says (v. 18), “Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand.” What God was announcing through Isaiah was the very Gospel itself. God had designed a plan to save His people from death itself.

What does it mean that they had a “covenant with death” and a “pact with Sheol?” That is part of the basic Gospel message as well. We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and the consequences of our sin and disobedience is death… so much so that we might be described as having a deal with death. It is unbreakable by us, but not so for God. And all that God has intended and designed is that we might be set free from death to life.

The great implication of God setting a cornerstone in the midst of His people is that God has made a way for us to have life. How can we have this life? Both Isaiah and Peter mention BELIEF in this context. The one who believes, says Peter, will not be disappointed. This doesn’t mean that a Christian will never be disappointed. Instead, it refers to the greatest disappointment, that we might die apart from God and not know the righteousness of Christ. What this verse does promise is that through FAITH we can have HOPE. 

Those Who Believe and Those Who Do Not

Our focus today ends with the first part of verse 7: “This precious value, then, is for you who believe…” But the verse continues to address those who disbelieve. That’s what we’ll look at next week. For those without faith and those who refuse to believe and follow Jesus Christ, they experience Jesus entirely differently. Looking at the same data, hearing the same story, considering the same Jesus, believers see a foundational cornerstone in the plan God has designed and been building throughout the whole scope of human history. Those who do not believe not only see something much less; using the same kind of imagery, they experience Jesus as a “stumbling stone” or stumbling block. He is something to trip over, something that trips them up. Next week we will look at the rest of verse 7 and verse 8 and a bit more at why some people stumble so over the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Before we get to the rest of this passage and before you can consider who you are in Christ, each of you must consider who Jesus was and is. Is he the heart of it all or does he keep tripping you up? I’d invite you to read and re-read this passage and the one from Isaiah 28 this week. Consider the Bible’s claim and story – that God had an eternal plan that was focused on the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ. Not only is he the cornerstone for the work God is doing in the world and not only is he the cornerstone for salvation, but he – Jesus – is the starting and ending point for faith, belief, and hope. Amen.

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