Connections 05.14.2017: Stones

1 Peter 2:2-10

The symbolism and wordplay in this text fascinate me.

In verse 4’s simile, Jesus is “a living stone,” and in verse 5’s metaphor, Christians are “like living stones.”

Now, you know and I know that stones can’t live. We also know that we’re in the realm of symbols here, and in a symbolic world, stones can live if that helps the writer make the desired point.

But literalism dwells amongst the symbols. Jesus isn’t literally a stone, but he is literally alive. He is our resurrected Lord. We “serve a risen Savior; he’s in the world today.” And Christians aren’t literally stones, but we literally have new life because of the resurrected Christ.

So why does the text use these stone symbols? One reason is that stones are used in construction; the image of the church as a “spiritual house” (v. 5) works nicely with the images of Jesus as “the cornerstone” (v. 6) and of Christians as building blocks. Another reason is that the text cites several Old Testament passages that use stone and cornerstone symbolism (vv. 6-8, which quote Isa 28:16; Ps 118:22; and Isa 8:14-15).

Maybe another reason is that a stone symbolizes strength. The church is strong because it is built on the cornerstone of Christ and because its people are living stones like Christ.

In Christ, we can be strong in doing what we are meant to do: letting the world see who Jesus is (v. 9). We do that by living like Jesus did.

So how can we live like Jesus did? What gives us the ability to do so?

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus tells Philip, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (Jn 14:12-14). So we can live like Jesus did because we believe in him and because we pray in his name. When we believe in him and pray in his name, we can do what he did.

But how do we live like Jesus did? What will we do that Jesus did?

Acts 7:55-60 (this Sunday’s first lectionary reading) tells of Stephen being stoned to death. As it is happening, he prays to Jesus. He offers two prayers, and in neither of them does he pray to be delivered from suffering and death. It may well be that he could not pray such a prayer in Jesus’ name, because such a desire wouldn’t reflect who Jesus is and how Jesus lived.

Stephen’s first prayer is, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” His second one is, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

As the stones pounded the life out of him, Stephen prayed that Jesus would receive him and that the Lord would forgive his killers. He prayed the same ways Jesus prayed as he was being crucified (Lk 23:34, 46). In so doing, Stephen was a living stone that mirrored Jesus the living stone. Faith and forgiveness revealed the life and strength he had in Christ.

When people stone us for faithfully following Jesus, and we find ourselves trusting our lives to him and asking him to forgive the ones stoning us, then we’re being living stones.

And that’s how we literally live as symbolic stones.

Discussion

1. Why do you think people “reject” (v. 4) and “stumble” over (v. 8) Jesus?
2. Peter uses many terms to describe the church that the Old Testament uses to describe Israel. Why might he do this?
3. How do we “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (v. 5b)?
4. How do we “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9b)?

Reference Shelf

In formulating the crucial exhortation, 1 Peter draws an interesting parallel between Christ “the living stone” and the audience, which is addressed as “living stones.” Two important points are being made here. On the one hand, by comparing believers to Christ and by qualifying each explicitly as “living” stones, the author reintroduces the theme of new life and reiterates what was said in 1:3, namely, that new birth was made possible through Christ’s resurrection. It is as “living stones” that believers are to be associated with the “living cornerstone.” On the other hand, the theme of imitation, which becomes a major point later in the letter (see especially 2:21f), is introduced rather explicitly. Christians are to become part of God’s edifice precisely as “living stones” in the manner of their lord who is the “living stone or cornerstone.” Earlier hints concerning imitation, or at least comparison between Jesus and believers, are found in 1:2-3 and 14 where both are qualified as obedient children of the Father. The theme of imitation will climax in the author’s insistence that the addressees, in living a holy, new life as God’s people, are to be like Christ in confronting innocent suffering and abuse.

Earl J. Richard, Reading 1 Peter, Jude, and 2 Peter: A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000), 85.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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