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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jesus, the Stumbling Block (1 Peter 2.7-8)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
January 15, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Prelude on 'Aurelia'" (Charles Ore)
Hymn of Praise: "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less" (MELITA)
Song of Community: "This is Your House" (Dawson/Austell)
Song of Prasie: "The Church's One Foundation/I Lay in Zion" (AURELIA/Youngblood)

The Word in Music: "Scandalon" (Michael Card)
Offering of Music: "In Christ Alone/Solid Rock" (Travis Cottrell)
Song of Sending: "All I Have is Christ" (Jordan Kauflin)
Postlude: "Prelude and Fugue in A minor" (J.S. Bach)

Jesus, the Stumbling Block
Text: 1 Peter 2:7b-8; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

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

We are in 1 Peter 2 today. Just to remind you what is going on and what is coming, this chapter covers substantial ground in terms of teaching and application. Much of our series will be focused on Christian identity, that is, who we are as those who trust and follow Jesus Christ. That will come with all the names in the passage: living stones, royal priesthood, people of God, and so forth. But we started last week with verses 6-7, which first described who Jesus is.

Using building imagery and a quote from Isaiah the prophet, Peter described Jesus as the “precious cornerstone” which God put in the midst of His people out of His own eternal design and plan. We also saw, from Ephesians, that the foundation of that structure was God’s Word, spoken through apostles and prophets. We’ll return to that idea next week, when we look at the opening part of this chapter. We also saw, in the longer passage from Isaiah 28, that God’s building design also included the “measuring line” of justice and the “level” of righteousness, both found in and through Jesus, who bore God’s just judgment and grants to believers his rightness.

Today, we continue to verses 7-8 in 1 Peter 2. Peter continues the stone imagery, but turns to another picture of Jesus Christ. Jesus is who he is, of course, but Peter points out that believers understand Jesus to be the cornerstone of God’s plans and purpose, upon which God is building the living structure of the church. But now, Peter also recognizes that not all understand or see Jesus for who he is. Instead, those who “disbelieve” (v. 7) see Jesus as “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” 

Scandalous Jesus

First I want to introduce you to the image Peter uses. In good Jewish fashion, he says the same thing twice to emphasize his point. Jesus is a “stone of stumbling” – he is something that people trip over. You’ve all probably run into the literal version of this. Granted, you might have to be in the woods nowadays, but you’ve not been looking where you were going and you got tripped up over a rock. Not only do you stumble and maybe fall, but it’s embarrassing and it can hurt. That’s the effect Jesus has on some people. Peter would say particularly on those who disbelieve in God’s “building plan” and salvation history.

The second image is basically saying the same thing, but is a bit more literal. Even if you stumble over a rock in the path, you normally aren’t offended by it. No, the offense is the literal reaction some have to figuratively stumbling over Jesus. Let me be more specific.

There is plenty to trip people up when it comes to Christianity. There’s inconsistency and hypocrisy – really, all the ways we fall short of the ideals of our own faith. That’s real, but not what is in focus here. Jesus does take that on pretty regularly in his interactions with the Pharisees, so the Bible is not blind to that problem.

Rather, what is in view here are two primary stumbling blocks, and to that I would add a related third.

First, what is potentially MOST offensive, is the very purpose and nature of Jesus. The claim Peter has made, with backing from Isaiah, is that the one God over everything has an eternal and definite plan regarding human history. God has spoken into that history through His Word, and at the very heart of that purpose, plan, design, and will, is Jesus of Nazareth, Christ and Messiah, the very Son of God. What really is in view here is what many have indeed stumbled over, the declaration that Jesus is THE way, the truth, and the life – by Jesus’ own words, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Think what you will about the issues of the day or the requirements of God’s Word, the claims of and about Jesus are what you either build your life on or trip and curse. The word Peter used to describe the “offense” of the Gospel is scandalon, from which we get our word “scandal.” That’s more or less what he is saying Jesus is. If you believe, you understand that Jesus is the cornerstone of all God is doing in the world. If you don’t believe, Jesus, the Christian gospel, and scripture in general, are scandalous. 

Scandalous Word

Secondly, there are all the legitimately difficult teachings of Jesus and scripture – the things that rub against either human nature or the grain of culture – like repentance, monogamy, purity, or selflessness. Peter goes on in verse 8 to explain why people stumble:
…for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word…”
Not only does recognizing Jesus as the only way require submission to him, but God’s Word requires obedience. And that, too, is a stumbling block, and even offensive. I recall a letter shared with me by a friend just after coming to faith in Christ.
I grew up in the church. I knew the doctrines and all about Jesus and I thought it was all totally ridiculous. I thought, “How can you use the Bible to prove the Bible?” And with that, I easily dismissed it all. I never gave it much thought. I never looked deeper. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to know. I was so superior, so much better than those Christians, and it was such a joy to ridicule them, to hate them – it made me feel so smart and unique. I could rant and rail on and on about how horrible it was, about how evil, how unloving and judgmental. I didn’t care if that’s what it really was, or about actually searching for real truth. I created a straw man so I could burn it up every night and glory in my intellectual prowess. I could be amazed by my eloquent drunk-with-self arguments – at how easily I could disarm my pretend opponents. The beauty of my perfect logical masterpiece, lofty in grand, cosmic thoughts and ideas, was founded securely in the shifting sand of my delusion. I was god, or at the very least, if I were not, then god was very much like me.

My arguments, my intellect had nothing to do with truth, but it had everything to do with my clinging to my old life, and my fear of real honesty! What a horror I was if I looked at myself with honest eyes! What a fool I was! Like an ostrich with my head in the sand I had been saying, “I don’t care about reality, I only care about what I want!” I was like a child, stamping my foot on the ground with arms crossed saying, “I don’t care if it would be better, I won’t let you make me happy because I’m mad, I want what I want, and I don’t even know what that is, but I don’t have it so I’m angry!”
How true Peter’s words: “This precious value… for those who disbelieve… [is] a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word….” 

Foolishness and Truth (1 Corinthians 1)

I mentioned a third, related “stumbling block.” That is the seeming foolishness of all this. Listen to 1 Corinthians 1:18…
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…”
If you have been in the Church or been a Christian for a long time, it can be hard to realize just how foolish even the basics can seem. If you ever meet someone for whom church is a new experience, ask them about it. Or imagine what it must be like to come into a church service and hear something like a room full of people chanting the same mysterious words all together at once, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth….” or singing together, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” And those are just a few examples. Take the real core message of our worship, what Paul is naming here as ‘foolishness’ – the cross of Christ. We hang it up on display, we eat little bites of bread and drink little cups of juice and talk about the body and blood of a man who was tortured and executed 2000 years ago; one who died for many. Foolishness, right?

Peter already linked disbelief with disobedience. And that disobedience is one of the defining characteristics and symptoms of the sin that the Bible keeps talking about. In the Garden of Eden, God said, “You may go and do anything, just don’t do this one thing.” And Adam and Eve disobeyed. Each of us repeats this choice in relation to God. We choose ourselves – my way, my pleasure, my preference – in short, we disobey or reject God’s own invitation to life and relationship.

Jesus Christ says to all, “Come, believe, and follow me.” The same disobedience toward God that says, “No!” plays itself out in a ridiculing and rejection of the invitation and the one giving it. “Come and believe what? Follow who? You have got to be kidding!” That same verse in 1 Peter 2:8 that talks of disobedience implies an alternative. If disobedience to God’s Word causes us to stumble over Jesus Christ, then obedience to God’s Word leads us toward faith in Jesus Christ. Those who believe, we are told, see the “precious value” in Jesus Christ.

In 1 Corinthians, we hear the truth of the “foolish” message:
Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe… the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
What does all this look like in a person’s life? Listen to more from the same personal testimony I read earlier:
In all my arguments, in the mountains of ash from the thousands of straw men I had devoured with the flame of my hate, there stood one immovable fact. A fact that could not be ignored no matter how much I railed against it: the reality of the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ dying on the cross for anyone (not even necessarily for me) didn’t fit in my perfectly thought out arguments. That one act alone obliterated my cries of “Hate! Unloving! Evil! Judgmental!” That one act alone cried out “TRUTH!” That one act alone cried out “Come to me!” “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” That one act alone when brought before my mind mid-step in my dance of joy on the grave of the made-up religion I so hated called my self-proclaimed intellect a coward, a child, a fool.
The truth is that God has loved us lost and hurting children enough to send us a means of help and hope, rescue and literal salvation. And we, as smart as we think we are, are better characterized before God as angry little children than wise and thoughtful mature men and women. God said that he would destroy the wisdom of the wise. Indeed! 

The Power of God for Salvation

I love the way the Apostle Paul summarizes all this in 1 Corinthians:

The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

It breaks my heart that so many can only see foolishness or be scandalized, even more so that those same ones are perishing. This is not something to revel in or be possessive about. In order to share the hope of life and rescue with as many as possible, we must risk becoming seen as Jesus was seen. We must risk becoming “fools for Jesus.”

Once more, from the testimony:
Praise Jesus! He showed me what a fool I was! Now, praise God, I can be a fool for Christ. But that phrase, while accurate in the eyes of the world, really makes no sense. In reality, I’m not nearly fool enough for Christ. In actuality, the more a fool I can be, the more reasonably I am truly behaving. It is only a paradox in the eyes of the world because the world is so lost and so far from reality, even as I once was. I am being seen as a fool for Christ by the world, yet in truth and by the grace of God, I am making the first wise choices I have ever made. All glory to Jesus Christ – apart from whom there is no wisdom, only folly; apart from whom there is no hope, only fear; and in whom is all joy, all contentment, all peace, and all love.
“Foolishness to those who are perishing and the power of God to those who believe.” Indeed, and sometimes in God’s mercy and grace, the same person can tell of both. Amen!

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