Peter’s first letter was written to new Christians, scattered throughout the land. These particular “new Christians” were former Gentiles. They were not Jewish, and had no background in the historic faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They didn’t know of Moses, or the Law and the Prophets. Peter couldn’t use traditional stories of Exodus or the Kings to illustrate what he needed to teach.
So, in this passage in particular, he strings together seemingly unrelated metaphors to teach his readers about their faith. He chooses milk, stones, and priests as images to teach his readers what it looks like to follow God. They are images that he took from his faith, from what he had learned – and they became a bridge to reach a new group of people.
By looking at this passage, we can see the same. We are reminded of the need to “translate” the faith into understandable terms, maybe terms we are not accustomed to using. We must do this in order to reach a new generation of people and make them disciples of Christ.
We are aware of how our world is changing; norms and customs on which we older folks might might have learned to rely no longer apply. The people we are called to reach may not understand, remember, or value the same things we understand, remember, and value. We, ourselves, may feel so tossed around and confused that we need new terms by which to understand how to live as Christians in the world.
Jesus did as Peter does in this letter. Jesus used items and images that his hearers would understand. So, let’s look at Peter’s three images and see if maybe our imaginations will be stirred.
1 Peter 2:1-10
Therefore, get rid of all ill will and all deceit, pretense, envy, and slander. Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Thus it is written in scripture:
“Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed.”
So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
“Therefore . . .”
The thoughts that follow are connected to something that written before. In 1:22-23, Peter says that believers are set apart from others by their salvation. They are to love each other “deeply and earnestly”. Therefore they are to rid themselves of the things that get in the way of loving each other in that way – “Ill will, deceit, pretense, envy, and slander.”
“Instead . . .”
If they aren’t to act like they acted before they were “set apart” by belief in Christ, how are they to act?
“Desire the pure milk of the word.”
We hear that phrase and assume that Peter is talking about Scripture. The only problem is that the people who received this letter didn’t read. They were Gentiles, former pagans, so they did not know Scripture. Even if they knew of the Scriptures, even if they wanted to read them, even if they knew how to read them, they couldn’t. The Scriptures were located inside the Temple or synagogue.
Why would Peter encourage them to do something that they would never have been able to do? “Pure milk of the word” must mean something else.
There are people in our world, our town, who have the same relationship to Scripture.
They may not even know what a Bible is. They may not understand the words on the page (depending on the translation, their “first language,” or their comprehension). They may believe that only preachers read the Bible. They may have decided that the Bible is not something they should be interested in. When we encourage them to believe, maybe there is a step before “read the Bible.”
Maybe the first step is to help them see the Bible in us.
“A living stone . . .”
The stone Peter describes is living, rejected by humans, but chosen and valuable to God. These stones are being made into a temple – the physical reminder of the presence of God. Is there a better description of us – or any potential disciples?
Rejection is powerful – whether it comes from others directed toward us or comes from us directed at parts of our own life we’d rather not acknowledge. All of us, any part of us, that is rejected is never rejected by God! In fact, any or all things rejected by us or by others is chosen and valuable to God!
Before we instruct others to read the Bible, we must first show how the Bible’s words have come to life in us!
We must be the living, breathing, chosen and valuable presence of God!
But we are also a “stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes the fall.” More often than not, our example is counterproductive. We are most often and example of how not to live.
“A holy priesthood . . . A royal priesthood . . .”
The idea that we formerly non-believing, formerly rejected, lost people could become the means by which God is known to this world is radical! “Radical” means a far-reaching and thorough change to the fundamental nature of something. That is exactly what has happened here. The whole reason we are set apart, made into the visible and living stones which build the presence of God, is so that “we may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called us out of darkness into his amazing light.”
Putting it all together:
Once we are saved by God’s grace, and put aside all the evil actions of non-believers, we desire – we crave – the sustenance that God provides. (Like a baby wants milk.) The way we get that sustenance is through the living and active faith of others – as they become the presence of God, so do we. All of us together become a “spiritual temple” through which all others can experience the God’s wonderful mercy and amazing grace.
Going from “rejected” to “chosen,” from “no people” to “God’s people,” makes a radical change in us. By our actions, we call others out of darkness into light.