There are several ways to understand Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew’s Gospel, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
The way Peter wrote about it revealed his own interpretation: believers are to see themselves as ones hewn from God, as living rock with a special unity, built upon the Cornerstone of Christ, and as a priesthood whose purpose was to serve and glorify God, remembering his own vivid experience of being named a rock of faith by Jesus.
A Holy Priesthood
be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.1 Peter 2:5 (NRSV)
Peter had in mind the sacrifices the priests made every day on behalf of the people, as described first in the book of Leviticus. Sacrifices were offered as tithes, thanksgiving, fellowship, and propitiation for sin. But the scriptures also describe spiritual sacrifices:
- Money and material goods to be used for good—in ministry, in charity, towards missions, and overall the work and works of God
- Prophesying and confessing God’s name
- Doing good
- Sharing with others
- The offering up of ourselves as “living” sacrifices
All of these sacrifices can only happen in fellowship with others as you and I are built into God’s spiritual house, fitted together with other believers, worshiping together, being equipped for ministry together, taking part in the church’s evangelism, praying for the body, and serving the body together. You and I experience holiness in community by revealing holy living in relationship with others.
This was Jesus’ example as he taught, healed, restored, and cared for people throughout his public ministry, the lesson he taught the disciples at the feeding of the five thousand, and Jesus’ restorative words to Peter at the end of John’s gospel.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”Jesus to Peter, John 21:15-17 (NRSV)
A Rock in the Way
For those who put their faith in Christ, the Lord is the chosen and precious cornerstone. Jesus is also the capstone, the final stone that completes an arch, holding all the other stones in the arch together in perfect balance. Every believer is built upon the foundation and true square of the cornerstone, and all believers are held in place by the perfectly positioned and balanced capstone. For the believer, Jesus keeps us true.
But [Peter went on to say],
for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner,”
“A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.1 Peter 2:7-8 (NRSV)
The first of those scriptures came from Psalm 118:22, and the second from Isaiah 8:14. During the forty days right after his resurrection, Jesus had opened up the scriptures to his close followers to show how the sacred writings pointed to him, and were fulfilled in him. Peter drew on that teaching to show how the same stone, precious and chosen, straight and true, could also act as a stumbling block in the way of those who reject Jesus.
From Isaiah’s prophecy, Peter was also stating a spiritual law: when people are determined to go on the path of disobedience to God’s word, God gives them over to their own evil desires and delusions, their way is darkness, so there is nothing for it but to stumble and fall—They cannot do otherwise without God. Destined, here, means set like a die that has been cast. The results can be no other way.
A Chosen People
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Once you were not a people,1 Peter 2:9-10 (NRSV)
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
In contrast, those who are in the light of God’s grace will see; instead of stumbling and falling, they are joined to God’s precious stone. You and I have been made into a new people, called out of all the nations, all walks of life to be made into something entirely new.
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.1 Peter 2:11 (NRSV)
More and more, as you and I display our spiritual genetic heritage, holiness, we are going look different and feel different. We are no longer of this world, this is not home, this world is a temporary place, we are just passing through on the way to our true home. You and I, by virtue of our new birth, our birth from above, have become citizens of the kingdom of light.
That is why Peter raised the bar from not only not conforming to evil desires, but to refrain from even -having- evil desires.
Does that not sound impossible?
It seems the only thing that can replace a desire, or a want, or an affection, is a desire that is stronger, displacing the first one. A simple experiment shows the truth of this. If I offered you a dollar, you probably would find you wanted it. But if, with my other hand, I now offered you ten dollars . . . exactly! You would find you want the ten dollars more.
Evil desires can be replaced by stronger desires that are for good. But this is certainly the Lord’s divine work as we open ourselves to the movement of God’s Spirit within us, drawing us away from the things we used to crave and towards the good desires welling up by the Holy Spirit.
Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.1 Peter 2:12 (NRSV)
This word ἐποπτεύω, see, in Greek refers to careful scrutiny over a period of time, to “be admitted to the highest grade at the mysteries.” this is no surface judgement, but the kind of up close and personal observation that sees who you and I genuinely are.
The privilege of salvation comes with the responsibility to grow in holiness
This continues the theme of being born anew, to crave the pure spiritual milk of the word, and to be built up into the house of God. Now mature in faith, as we serve God.
[Roman arch, circa 90 AD | By Steffen Schulz – originally posted to Flickr as Vulci Ponte dell Abbadia, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6692647%5D