To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
1 Peter 2:4-10
In the name of our risen Lord Jesus, dear people of God!
It is a striking carving in the center of the altar. It is a picture called “The Pelican in her Piety.” It is a symbol of Christ and his work of salvation. As medieval legend has it during a time of famine the mother bird plucks open her breast and, at the sacrifice of her own life, feeds the young her blood. So the mother pelican is a type of the self-giving Savior, who gave up his lifeblood so sinners might live. This is what we learn about our dear Savior once again in these incredibly comforting and encouraging words from the Apostle Peter before us today. Through these words the Holy Spirit comfortingly reminds us: You are the people of God! As such you are: 1) Recipients of a powerful message. And 2) Chosen by mercy to praise Jesus!
Jesus is our living stone! He was dead but now is alive! He is the rock on which the entire Christian church and our salvation is built. There is no way of getting into heaven except through him! Yes, Jesus is THAT important! This fact makes the opening words of this portion of Scripture so powerful. As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – 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. “As you come to him . . .” Peter writes. How do we come to him? He finds us. He came to seek and save the lost. He seeks us by sending his Holy Spirit into our hearts through Word and Sacrament. So the Small Catechism states, “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel . . . “ What an amazing thing that we should belong to Jesus! That he should love us so much he laid down his life for us – the wandering sheep!
This connection of faith that the Holy Spirit brings to life in us makes us into living stones like Christ, so that by his grace we are included in the Holy Christian of Church, the Communion of saints! But there is more! We are not only declared holy in God’s sight because Jesus has washed our sins away, we are also a holy priesthood! We have the honor and privilege of serving as priests. This means we can go directly to our heavenly Father in prayer. This means we have sacrifices to make daily – but this is no chore – it is a joy! We are privileged to belong to God as holy ones and serving ones. Yes, in Jesus, we are saints and priests! Make sure you understand this though! It is not on our own merit that we are saints and priests, the only way we are acceptable before God is through Jesus Christ.
So let’s talk about Jesus! Peter continues with a series of quotes from the Old Testament, quotes about Jesus. For in Scripture it says: “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. 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,” And, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for.
In a quote from Isaiah Jesus is first described as a chosen and precious cornerstone. A cornerstone is carefully chosen by the stone mason and it is precious because it sets the line for the wall – it makes the building straight. For the mason will line up everything else on the basis of this stone. Jesus Christ is the standard of straightness in our lives. In a world of confusion and endless information with varying degrees of accuracy – the Word of our Lord remains straight and true! His word of law cuts through all the excuses and rationalizations for sin and condemns us – holds us accountable to God. His word of gospel cuts through all of Satan’s lies about our worthlessness and despair and holds before us the constant love of our Savior who died and rose again! Whoever builds their life around this straight cornerstone will never regret it!
In a quote from Psalm 118 Jesus is described as the capstone. The capstone is the center stone in an arch – the stone that bears all the weight to keep the arch from falling to the ground. Jesus is the capstone of our lives. He bears all the weight of our sin and guilt. He keeps us going and sustains us in trouble. He is always there for us to lean on! You see, to those who believe, Jesus is indeed precious!
In another quote from Isaiah, Jesus is described as “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” This is truly a sad description of what happens all too often. Think of the tears Jesus shed over Jerusalem when he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” The most monstrous thing about the sinful nature is that it makes us stubborn to listen to what God says. The sinful nature leads us to tune out and reject the message of Jesus. So to those who reject Jesus, he becomes something that makes them fall. The message of warning is powerfully clear – woe to all who reject Christ!
My friends in Christ, this tells us that it is all about the message. It is the Gospel message that makes us God’s people. It is the Gospel message that keeps us as God’s people. So the message is of greatest importance. So as we serve as priests we will encourage each other to listen to the message of Christ crucified and risen from the dead! We will encourage each other to keep on meeting together in this sanctuary to hear the voice of Jesus in his Word, to be reminded that we are God’s children through Holy Baptism, and to receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. This is our priority. For without the message we are lost!
We are the recipients of a powerful message. A message that has called us out of the darkness of sin and unbelief into the light of eternal life! A message that sustains us in the faith in spite of the fierce opposition of the devil, the world, and our own flesh. A message that we are privileged to share with the people living in darkness around us to call them to the light of eternal life through faith in Jesus! This message has made us God’s people. This message preserves us as God’s people. This message is what we use to call others to follow Jesus with us!
You are the people of God! You are people chosen by mercy to praise Jesus! So Peter writes, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Notice how precisely and completely the life of God’s people is summarized here! In one short paragraph – the purpose of our lives as God’s people is presented. We are the chosen ones – that is chosen by his grace alone! There is nothing in us or about us that caused God to choose us – it was only and completely an act of his grace. You are chosen as a priest to serve God. How? Declare his praises! Declare those praises here in song and prayer. Declare those praises in the world as you share Jesus with the people around you. You have this high and noble privilege that by the grace of God you are his priest! You are chosen as a holy nation – yes, you are saints: people set apart for God, made holy – all of your sins are washed clean by the blood of Jesus! You are chosen as God’s children – from holy Baptism on through eternity you belong to God as his own dearly loved child!
A change of status is yours as God’s people! You have gone from being guilty as sin to being not guilty in Christ! You have gone from being undeserving of anything but eternal punishment from God to being the recipients of his undeserved love! You have been given so much – a new attitude toward God as well! You know him as your dear Father in heaven, the one who sacrificed his only Son for you! You have a want to approach to his Word – as in you want to do what he says in his Word.
So this is it – the priesthood of all believers. There is no need for the Old Testament priesthood – God’s people are all priests. You have the privilege of serving him! You can do his will because you are connected to Jesus by faith. You are his holy people and he his equipped you with what you need to serve him. So why even have a pastor? God’s people certainly can do it all!
Oh, but wait! The public ministry is another gift from God to his priesthood! While all believers have the ministry of the keys to forgive and retain sin. While we are all charged with preaching the gospel. God also calls some to serve the church on behalf of believers. This is the gift of the public ministry. The two are not in competition – they work together to praise Christ! So each of us should boldly exercise the office God has given us and encourage our brothers and sisters in the faith to do the same. We are God’s people! As such we have been given a powerful message and have been chosen by God to praise Jesus! Lord help us always appreciate such gifts! Amen.