Keeping your hand on the touchstone of the season—the resurrection of the Lord—the preacher should take note of the reoccurring device Saint Peter uses in this pericope: Stones. The word “stone” occurs six times in five verses, and “rock” appears once. Seven stone references. But whereas stones/rocks may be understood as obstacles in the ears of contemporary auditors, for first-century Jews steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures a “stone” could have two quite different metaphorical meanings.

The first meaning evoked a long-standing belief that the temple in Jerusalem was founded upon a rock and, so, was the immoveable and permanent hope of Israel. Peter pulls on that meaning and will apply it directly to Christ.

The way Peter does this is by evoking a second metaphorical meaning, playing on the Hebrew word for “stone” — אֶבֶן — and its etymological relationship to the Hebrew word for “son” — אֶבֶן ,בֶן and בֶן. The idea was not original to Peter. Jesus Himself used this play on words in the parable of the tenants in Mark 12:1-12. There, Jesus tells a story about a “son” sent to his father’s vineyard to collect its fruit but is killed by the tenants of the vineyard. But the story does not end there. Instead, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22, saying: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Peter, following Jesus’ own teaching, quotes the same line and alludes to the same passage of Isaiah to make an unmistakable point: The Son is the rock or, put differently, Jesus is the Temple of God and, therefore, our one true hope, no matter the persecutions or hardships we may endure — nothing can upend the Rock of our salvation.

Jesus and Peter are themselves standing in a long tradition of asserting the promise of God to David that his son would build the Temple in Jerusalem, and this son of David would, at the same time, be the Son of God (2 Samuel 7:12-14). N.T. Wright brings these thoughts together: “The royal Son (ben) of God will build the Temple, says this prophesy [in 2 Samuel 7]. Yes, continues Isaiah, and He will do so on the proper stone (אֶבֶן).”

The Isaiah prophesy is one Peter quotes: “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’” This should strike us as quite familiar. It was quoted by Jesus in Mark 12:10 and Luke 20:17, but also finds its way into Peter’s sermon in Acts 4:11. Peter seems to be recycling his own preaching in this epistle to, “Amen,” the same point: Jesus is the cornerstone. The focus of fulfillment in each case shifts from a place and to a person. Jesus is the rock. Jesus is God’s Son and David’s son. Jesus is the new temple who establishes Jerusalem (the Church of God). Whoever believes in Him, writes Peter, “Will not be put to shame” (3:6).

The focus of fulfillment in each case shifts from a place and to a person. Jesus is the rock.

Following the proclamation of the Gospel comes Peter’s grand assertion: You will not and cannot be put to shame in the Christian life if you believe in the Rock, that is Christ. This belief is not in a Christ Jesus who is distant, in a faraway land. No, the temple Christ inhabits is His own body and His body has been expanded, as it were, to include both Jew and Gentile in the Church. Christ is in His body, the Church, and the Church is in Christ. One need look no further away than one’s baptism or their participation in Holy Communion to be reassured of this reality.

Then Peter piles on the implications for the identity of those baptized into Christ Jesus: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession,” all phrases evocative of Israel (see Exodus 19:3-6). However, this Israel is not merely one ethnic group (Jews), but includes all possible ethnicities; the Gentiles (see Hosea 2:23). Together, they are (we are!) heirs with Christ, receiving and inheriting God’s greatest possible gift to humanity — Himself!

To what end? Peter answers: “That you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light” (3:9). Proclamation of Christ’s excellencies, that is why. This proclamation is borne out of the experience and knowledge of such excellencies found in Christ’s Word, Sacraments, and sacred community; the Church.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in I Peter 2:2-10.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach I Peter 2:1-10.