Peter uses the metaphor of “building stones” in verse 4 to introduce the theme of Christ’s rejection by His contemporaries despite His being chosen by God and honored by Him. He was so honored that when Jesus’ contemporaries condemned and executed Him, the Father vindicated Him and resurrected Him from the dead. Jesus, then, has been established as the cornerstone of the edifice God is erecting (verse 7), and that edifice is a temple for His habitation.
Peter now makes it all very personal. This is not just something which happened to Jesus there and back then. There is not only a single block to this temple. All who are baptized into Christ are made living stones. And they are not randomly tossed around the job site or left as a heap of stones here and there. No, the living stones that they have been made are fitted into the Holy Church, God’s new Temple, not made with hands, but fashioned by God Himself as a new creation, as the place where the Lord Himself dwells with His people. Paul mirrors Peter’s metaphor when he writes in Ephesians 2:19-22:
"So then, you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."
It is of some interest how “cornerstone” could also be translated “capstone,” intimating the Christ is the beginning and the end of our understanding of temple theology both in the Old Testament and the New Covenant. It is a theology that informs the understanding of every person baptized into Christ. They, “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5).
Significantly, these “living stones” (verse 5) should be aware, like it or not, they will suffer as the Living Stone Himself has suffered, not despite being chosen by God but because they are chosen by God. So, being in the Church cannot be a matter of narcissism or the assertion of rights associated with identity politics. The politics of the baptized have changed in terms of allegiance. Christ holds the baptized’s ultimate allegiance — χριστός κύριος, Christ is King. This means their lives, at one point or another, are going to run contrary to the expectations and ethics of the world. In other words, the experience and destiny of those united to Christ are bound up with the experience and destiny of Christ, and that includes His defame, humiliation, and persecution by His contemporaries. As He was mocked, ridiculed, and rejected, so too all those united to Him ought to expect at least a little of the same.
Being in the Church cannot be a matter of narcissism or the assertion of rights associated with identity politics.
Part and parcel of Christ’s rejection was His association with sinners and those considered subhuman — Samaritans and Gentiles. Christ, in His person, annihilates racial identification as primary. He unites in His body and through the distribution of His body a motley group of ethnicities. As the sovereign of a new humanity, He demands that one’s basic and most irreducible self-understanding becomes Christocentric and corporate. Hence, Paul in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Preachers would do well to leverage the image of the living stones being built into a single, transcending-through-time-and-location, spiritual house which bespeaks of the unity, significance, and purpose of all believers. These concepts are essential for Christian self-understanding and interpersonal relations. God has given preachers and, indeed, all believers a metaphor by which we may rightly understand race relations in Christ as opposed to fashionable oppressor/oppressed categories. Shared identity in Christ establishes a more profound and enduring familial relation among believers from diverse ethnicities than anything conceivable. It turns out that demographic identifiers only fragment, artificially label, and polarize. Baptism into Christ unites a full spectrum of people by forging a new race of human beings from among the only race the Bible acknowledges — the sinful descendants of Adam. Consequently, the Bible permits racial categorization only along these lines: The baptized into Christ and those God desires to see baptized into Christ. There is the baptized and those yet to be baptized. All other categories of racial identification amount to incipient forms of racism. There is only one race, the human race, and only one divide conditioned by compassion, those who are in Christ and those to be as we are. As Saint Paul said to King Agrippa: “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).
The Bible permits racial categorization only along these lines: The baptized into Christ and those God desires to see baptized into Christ.
Consider that the primary attribute of a temple in first-century thought was its holiness. Just as God’s presence sanctified the temple of Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit sanctifies the Christian community, setting it apart as God’s own — no one more justified or regenerated than another. The unity of the temple is derived from God’s presence in and through the Cornerstone, who is made manifest to us, in our midst, through the Word and the Sacraments. The Word and the Sacraments, too, are for all and not a matter of possession or reservation for a privilege group. The chalice is passed from Christian to Christian, not black to white or Republican to Democrat. The waters of Holy Baptism are applied to humanity — age, status, standing, education, socio-economic classification notwithstanding.
There is one single Temple into which all believers are built. Preach it. Preach it against the machinations of actual, as well as feigned or contrived narrative racism. The Christian Church is not primarily a social organization, but rather the new Temple where the transformed lives of believers are offered as sacrifice to the glory of God. The imagery of the living stones being built into a single unit implies that the significance and purpose of the individual Christian cannot be realized apart from community and communion with other believers. Coming to Christ means coming into relationship with the baptized, not only in one’s own generation but also by being united with believers of every generation, who likewise have been built into God’s grand building project. The structure will be completed only when the scaffolding of human history comes down and the Kingdom of Christ is revealed in all its glory, on a day which “no man knows, neither the Son, but the Father only” (Mark 13:32). Because this is in fact the case, preachers and all Christians ought to be willing to take it on the chin, suffer some alienation, endure some mocking from the pundits of identity politics for asserting there is only one race and that, in Christ, this reality is reinforced through baptism’s demographic eviscerating power.
The Apostle Peter says, under divine inspiration, all those clothed with Christ through Baptism, become “a chosen race” (verse 9). Preachers would do well to articulate “a chosen race” in light of the Old Testament. The Hebrews were selected by God as a “chosen race,” but not for the purpose of becoming exclusive xenophobes, but the beginning of a new kind of humanity. It was a humanity intended to be radically inclusive of all who acknowledged the lordship of YHWH. But they failed in that. In fact, Jesus is constantly charging the Jews of His day with racism, of precluding the Gentiles from God’s Temple. God, then, does one better than working through ethnocentric Jews. He remakes Israel. He makes a new Temple of living stones. There is a new chosen race of people consisting of not merely Israelites but a new exodus people, released from the captivity of sin, death, judgment, and the prevailing blinding ideologies of the world.
Peter makes the radical claim that those who united to Christ Jesus through Holy Baptism—whether Jew or Gentile, black or white, Latino or Asian, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, smoker or non-smoker, fit or flabby—though from many races, constitute a new race of those who have been born again into the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Here is the foundational cure for the evils of racism in human society, faith in Christ as definitive for racial identification.
But to what purpose are we made a chosen race of every race of people? Verse 9 tells us: “That you may proclaim the mighty acts of the One who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light!” The mighty acts of God have been and are accomplished in Christ. What He has done is mighty. What He does is powerful. He forgives. And it is this power of forgiveness the world has lost. They have traded it for legal demands for “tolerance.” The law defines such pseudo-ethics, not love and not the fruit of the Spirit. Christians, on the other hand, are called to live in the reality of right and wrong where, unlike Eastern religions which deny the reality of pain and suffering, we know too well they are real and really part of our experience of reality and truer still how we are usually the cause of pain and suffering. Christ entered this world of pain and suffering and brokers a way of reconciliation with God with one another not based on statutes demanding (upon pain of cancellation or legal retribution) or tolerance of the demographically labeled, but forgiveness based on divine love. I do not just tolerate you and you do not just tolerate me: We forgive one another and accept one another as a forgiven family, a family built up on the Cornerstone.