The Big Move: An Incarnational Life of Worship

To the Christian…
A sermon manuscript on 1 Peter 2:4-12, prepared for my worship class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

moving in to a new house

Introduction: A Stranger in a Strange Land

Two weeks ago, as Elaine sat in her boss’s office, the look on her face said volumes about her uncertainty and trepidation regarding her new assignment. A single, ambitious 34-year old professional – Elaine has been the company’s Director of HR for just over ten years. In that time, she has seen incredible changes, but over the last year, the most dramatic change yet had come to affect nearly every aspect of her job: the company is going global. When she started, they had only been in three locations (one of which was clearly the main office). But now – what seemed like only minutes later – they had offices all over North America, and were only 60 days away from the grand opening of their new Asia-Pacific headquarters. The company had merged with a Chinese partner, and was now in the process of integrating a whole string of offices on the Asia-Pacific coast into their operations.

Ever since the merger was announced, Elaine had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. And that meeting had been it. They had finally announced her new assignment: to move to Beijing for a minimum of one year, and there oversee the integration of all personnel from the merger, and to work with them to hire and fire others.

Now, two weeks later. Elaine finds herself in another conference room on the other side of the world … this one full of people who speak English only when they need to and whose culture is as foreign to Elaine as anything has ever been in her life. Looking around the room, she realizes … again … that there is only one other Caucasian present, and no other women. And the average age in the room can’t be less than 45. To say the least, Elaine is now a stranger in a strange land.

tourists seeking directionAs time passes, Elaine is faced with countless decisions about how to engage her new environment. Is it unfair of her to expect Chinese – or Filipino or Japanese (where other Asian offices are located) – people to adopt policies which were developed and tested in the US? Is it disingenuous for her to try to somehow “be more Asian” in her thought and action? How should she react to the fact that they view women totally differently than her US-based colleagues do? Is that okay? Does the corporate culture need to bend to them? Do they need to bend to the existing corporate culture? Both? Neither? Should she learn Mandarin? On the personal side, should she go out with them in the evenings and try to become more a part of their world? Should she wear new kinds of clothes and eat new kinds of food, or is it okay that she craves pizza and McDonald’s? I mean, who knew her distaste for fish would come back to bite her like this! Does she need to get over that, or is it okay to “be herself”?

Suddenly it seems like every decision she makes is now colored with 10 layers of complexity and complication. And she certainly doesn’t remember being this tired at the end of the day when she was back in New York.

Elaine is a fictional character, but as our 21st century world continues to shrink, her situation is being faced by millions of people all over the globe. And it’s not just in the business marketplace. Whether you realize it or not, you too are a stranger in a foreign land. Whether you live within 20 miles of where you were born, have never traveled internationally, or are a world traveler like Elaine, if you belong to Jesus, then this world is not your home. Like Elaine, you are living for a short time in a place very different from the place of your new birth, where you will spend eternity in the house God is personally preparing for you (John 14:2-3). And just as it did for Elaine, this reality can create an astonishing level of complexity and complication in our lives as we try to live in this world but not be of it (John 17:13-19). At the very least, it should dramatically affect how we perceive the world around us.


Primary Claim / Organizational Sentence

These past few weeks, we’ve been studying key passages in Scripture to help us cultivate a theology and life of worship. Today, we’re looking at 1 Peter 2:4-12. Here, the Apostle Peter, writing only a few years after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, instructs us that part of what it means to worship God is to live life as sojourners in this world, engaged in a very significant mission God has given to us. God has chosen us and sends us to live incarnationally in this world as strangers in a foreign land. Just as Jesus came to us and lived among us and brought (continues to bring!) the Kingdom of God with Him into this broken, hurting, darkness-loving world, so we too are called to bring the Kingdom of God with us wherever we go.

Scripture Reading

Our Scripture for today is part of a letter written by one of Jesus’ disciples and close friends. He intended it to be read to several churches that he and the other apostles helped to start in Asia Minor. We pick it up toward the beginning of chapter 2. To this point, Peter has been talking about how we are God’s children. He has excitedly described how we are called by God to be set apart for special use and how God has prepared an unimaginable inheritance for us in His Kingdom. He now turns to describing how the reality that we are God’s children should impact our daily lives by comparing us to Jesus.

Using some interesting metaphors which we’ll discuss and which should remind you of key concepts in Old Testament worship – keep an eye out for those – Peter makes the astonishing assertion that we are sent by God into this world on an important mission … in exactly the same way that Jesus was. Jesus came from God and was “incarnated” among us. He became flesh and dwelt among us. Most people in this room, even many of our friends who don’t attend church, know that. But the truth of the gospel doesn’t stop there. What many don’t know or don’t live out is the amazing reality that we too, as the members of Jesus’ body, are sent to be incarnate in the world … just as Jesus was. Jesus said (in John 20:21), “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And in our passage today, Peter unpacks a little of what that means.

If you have your Bibles, please follow along in 1 Peter 2:4-12. I’m reading from the ESV.

As you come to him [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

(1 Peter 2:4-12)

Let’s pray, and then dive into the passage.

{ Lead in prayer, specifically for God’s revelation and for practical life-application in response. }

1) God chose and sent Jesus into the world on a mission

(1 Peter 2:4, 6-8)

Peter opens with “As you come to him, a living stone, rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious…” Because Peter has been talking about Jesus throughout chapter 1, we know the “him” here is Jesus. But what does Peter mean by “a living stone”? And what exactly is Jesus, the living stone, chosen to do?

Reading ahead, we see that Peter (in vv6-8) gives Jesus four closely-related titles that help us answer these questions. He calls Jesus “the cornerstone,” “the stone that the builders rejected,” “a stone of stumbling,” and “a rock of offense.” We’ll come back to the rest of these in a second, but let’s start with the term “cornerstone,” which would have been very familiar to Peter’s audience, even if it’s a bit foreign to us. So, what’s a cornerstone?

cornerstoneBuildings, especially large important ones, used to be made almost entirely out of stone – literally by laying one big carved stone on top of another. The first, largest and most important stone to be laid in the construction of any building was called the “cornerstone” or “capstone.” This stone had to be absolutely perfect – perfectly square, perfectly sized, perfectly placed, and perfectly level … because from this first stone, all the other stones in the building would be squared, sized, placed and leveled. If the cornerstone was off, then the whole building would be off. Think leaning-tower-of-Pisa kind of “off.” So, Peter is describing Jesus to be the first, largest and most important element in God’s architectural plan – the foundational ingredient or centerpiece of what God is building.

So what is God building? Cair Paravel castleIn the Bible, construction metaphors are often used to describe a fairly broad array of the works of God on earth. However, when the Bible talks about what God is building, it’s typically talking more about a state of being than a geographical place or building with four walls and a roof. What God is building is a place or state in which His Son, King Jesus, reigns supreme and uncontested, where all the brokenness of this world has been restored and redeemed, where people are reconciled to God and to each other, and where evil has been finally and forcefully defeated. My favorite term for this place is “the Kingdom of God.” But with a certain degree of poetry, Peter is referring to God’s kingdom in this passage as a building or “spiritual house.”

So, God chose His Son Jesus and sent Him into this world to be the first and most important element – the cornerstone – in building or bringing about the Kingdom of God – a place where we can finally live at peace with God and each other the way we were intended to from the beginning.

2) God chooses and sends us on a mission with Jesus

(1 Peter 2:5-10)

kings-and-queens-of-narnia1But God does not send Jesus on this mission alone. One of the staggering truths of the gospel is that we are chosen and sent by God on this mission with Jesus. The building that God intends to build consists of more than just the cornerstone. It’s the most important piece to be sure, and without it the entire building would fall apart. But it’s not the only piece. Though Jesus is in fact the all-powerful God of the universe, amazingly, He doesn’t undertake His mission to redeem the world by Himself.

Now I want to pause for a second to avoid confusion. When it comes to the work necessary to forgive our sins and make us clean and acceptable before God, the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for us is the whole story. It is both completely necessary and completely sufficient to save us from our sins and reconcile us to God. We do not add to that. I’m not saying that we are sent on a mission with Jesus because somehow Jesus isn’t enough. But for some unfathomable reason, God chose to make us partners (underkings) with Jesus in establishing His kingdom. In other words, it is an incredible act of love and grace that God chooses us for this kind of mission. It is not because we are worthy of it or because He somehow couldn’t have gotten it done without us. This is not fine print, it’s an extremely important distinction that I don’t want any of us to miss.

Okay, with that said, let’s continue on in v5 and see how Peter puts it. He says, “you yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house.” So, just like Jesus, we are chosen by God to be living stones. Note that we, the stones, are alive … we are not lifeless, unthinking, raw materials that God stacks into a wall or molds into a front porch, but alive and conscious and responsible for active participation in the building project. Look back at the passage… Our freedom and responsibility in this picture is so real and so available to us that most of the “living stones,” or (as Peter varies the analogy) “fellow builders,” do the unthinkable… we reject God’s cornerstone. refusal-to-workMost people want to build their own building in their own way or to dictate their own terms to God (the master builder) as He attempts to shape them and place them. And as a result, the perfect cornerstone, which should be the rule and guide for the whole structure, instead becomes “rejected by men” (v4), “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (v8).

So God intends somehow to incorporate our active cooperation and thereby to build us all into His great spiritual house – which is to say, to bring about His Kingdom. What exactly is He calling us to be and do as our part in this construction? To find out, look back at v5. God says,”[you are being built up as a spiritual house], to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And later in v9, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession.”

Now we’re getting to specifics… we are a holy priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. Breaking this down, I see at three key concepts that might help us better understand the mission on which God is sending us…

A) We are holy

fine china silver dinner settingWe see that immediately in the text: “a holy priesthood” and “a holy nation.” To be “holy” means to be different, peculiar, unusual, set apart for special use. Like the fine china that you only break out when you are entertaining guests of great importance or the outfit that you only wear on special occasions, we are set apart by God for His special use. We don’t use the fine china for everyday dinner in front of the TV. We don’t wear our best clothes to work in the garden. And neither has God chosen to send us on a mundane or unimportant mission in building His Kingdom. We are not optional decoration on the facades of His building. We’re load bearing members in its internal structure. We are necessary, special and set apart for a particular reason that God Himself determined was vital before the world began. And as such we should stand out in this broken world. We should live peculiar lives … lives that are different … the kinds of lives that make others question “Why do they do that?” in the best possible way.

B) We are temples and priests

small-churchSo, we are holy or set apart. But for what specific purpose? Precisely in what way should we be “peculiar”? We already saw we are being built into a spiritual house – what we could call a “temple.” But here Peter is also saying that we are God’s “priests.” I think these terms still need some explanation. Remember when I said a few minutes ago that you should be watching out for Old Testament worship terms? Well, here they are!

Peter’s original audience, listening to this letter being read in their church 2,000 years ago, would have been flooded with very clear Old Testament worship imagery here. In those days, people believed that they could only worship God by coming to a specific, literal, physical temple building. The temple was where God lived, so the temple was where the people went to meet with God. But even then, the people didn’t go before God themselves. Not directly. They came before a priest, and the priest went before God. The priest was a special class of person in their society, specifically appointed by God, to “mediate” between God and people. In our terms, we might say that the priest “facilitated” or “brokered” their relationship with God. Finally, people literally brought animal sacrifices with them as a common part of worship. We’ll talk more about that next week. For now, let’s unpack what Peter means by calling us temples (“spiritual houses”) and “priests,” and how these terms relate to God’s mission for us.

neighbors-eating-together2Like Jesus (the ultimate Temple), we are called to be God’s temples in this world – meeting places between God and man. Ultimately, people don’t come to a building to find God, they come to Jesus. And we are the body of Christ. As God’s presence was once located in the Old Testament temple, it is now found perfectly in Jesus, so it should also be found in us. When people are around us, they should feel like they have in some degree been in God’s presence. One of the many metaphors that the Bible uses to describe this is that we should be smelly. We should smell like life to those who want to live and smell like death to those who are determined to have their own sinful way with their lives … which means they’re continuing to die (2 Corinthians 2:16). We worship God by smelling like God, so that people wonder when they’re around us… What’s that smell!?

neighbors-talking-over-fenceAlso like Jesus (the ultimate Priest), we are called to be God’s priests in this world – mediators between God and people. People can’t carelessly, recklessly approach God as if He were just like us. The Bible says that God is an all-consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Anyone who wants to come to God must come first to Jesus, because Jesus stands between them and their sin and God’s transcendent holiness. Jesus ushers people into God’s presence. They come to Jesus to worship God. And we are the body of Christ. Therefore, when people come to us looking for answers … looking to us for more than busy schedules, tough days at work, and wild parties. We are to usher them into God’s presence. In an ultimate sense, your pastor isn’t more of a priest than any of us are. We are all responsible for knowing and rightly representing God’s word in the circumstances of life. We all rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, and bear each other’s burdens. We all hear our neighbors’ confessions, encourage them to seek forgiveness, and assure them of absolution from sin. We all intercede for our friends and even our enemies. We all lead people to God, because we are all the priestly servants of God, whom He has chosen and set apart for special use.

C) We are in this together

neighbors-eating-togetherAnother important point I want to briefly mention is that Peter clearly sees the Christian life as a team sport. He uses a number of plural terms in our passage, such as race, priesthood, people and nation, and pretty much every pronoun is plural. He clearly sees us all as interconnected and interdependent with one another. I love the way Peter says it in v10: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” The life lived in Christ is the life lived in community, by the mercy of God. We should not be individual stones off by ourselves trying to be whole buildings; we are built into a spiritual house together with many other stones, all patterned after and aligned to the cornerstone, Jesus.

3) The mission is to live incarnationally

(1 Peter 2:9-12)

neighbors talking

What do all these thoughts – being set apart as holy, serving as God’s temples and priests, and being reconciled together as the body of Christ – have in common? Perhaps many things, but what I think Peter intends us to notice here is that they are otherworldly. They stand out as peculiar in this world. They smack of heaven!

Remember Elaine, and her move to another culture? I think that’s a weak (but hopefully useful) way to visualize what it means to be living in one world but to be from another. Peter goes on to say something similar. Let’s look back at vv9-12 of the text:

[You are chosen] … that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

In a number of different ways, Peter is saying here that this world is not our home. He is clear that we live in this world, but we are not of this world. Jesus said the same thing in John 17:16, as He was praying for us all these years later. We are not owned and operated by this world; we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. We live here temporarily, but we are not at home here; we are sojourners and exiles. We are passing through.Temporary Housing Units We do not embrace earthly passions (conforming to this world); we acknowledge that they are at war with our very souls … so we resist them with all the power of God who lives in us (we are transformed by God’s Spirit). We live peculiar lives among our neighbors so that they would see God and come to Him.

How, exactly? Looking at the remainder of the passage, I see three specific marks of the incarnational life of a Christ-follower. Let’s run through those quickly, and then we’ll close.

A) We proclaim God’s excellencies

good-neighbor1God is excellent. His mercy and grace are excellent. His love is excellent. His power and authority are excellent. His Kingdom is excellent. His law and ways are excellent. The fact that He has “called us out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v10b) is excellent. Living incarnationally means that we proclaim these excellencies – with our words and our lives.

Jesus said, “Go and tell the world about me – about how excellent I am – and teach them to be with me and follow me wherever I go” (Matthew 28:19-20, my paraphrase). When our words and our lives show who God is and what He’s done, then people see Jesus for who He really is. And when people see Jesus for who He really is, they fall in love with Him and follow Him and want to be more like Him. This is a key part of our mission.

B) We pursue heavenly passions

Prayer-Ministry-GroupLiving incarnationally means investing in heavenly things, rather than earthly things. We invest in success as God defines it, rather than as the world does. This means prioritizing God’s ways over the world’s ways. Over time, we care less about orienting our lives around climbing corporate ladders, being the most important kid on the playground, seeking revenge when wronged, watching the latest trendy show, etc. Instead, we love others even when it hurts, and focus more on God’s definitions of significance than worldly definitions of success. We trust God to provide for us, rather than clawing and scraping and scheming to look out for #1. We live generously instead of hoarding what we have. We get excited about purity, rather than about careless or ungodly living. We spend our time on things that glorify God not entertain or stimulate our flesh.

The momentary thrills and pleasures of this world are less and less attractive, because we have found true, lasting, abiding satisfaction in Jesus. Leaning into this far better reality is also part of our mission.

C) We live honorable lives

good-neighbor2Finally, living incarnationally means living honorably and seeking justice. We act with honor and do what’s right, even when it costs us. We see people the way God sees people, even when that makes us unpopular. If we love Jesus, it changes us. Where we would once have lied to get ahead, now we tell the truth, even if it hurts. Where we would once have cheated and connived to get our way, now we live out the law of God in honorable and peaceful living. And it’s not just about better action, it’s about a new perspective that wars against inaction. If we love Jesus, it becomes increasingly difficult to act unjustly or to ignore the injustice we see in others. We find it harder and harder to look the other way when we could have helped or to step back and let others stand in the gap when someone is hurting, afraid or oppressed.

People around us are watching to see if all this talk about Jesus really means anything. We can’t say we love Jesus and not treat others the way Jesus did. The Christian life calls for action … for honor, for justice, for integrity, for compassion. A life of worship that demonstrates this kind of godly concern is part of our mission.


We’ve covered a ton of ground, and I suspect it might be easy to get somewhat overwhelmed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When she moved to China, Elaine felt a significant increase in the complexity of life. And we can feel that way too. While it’s true that mission-minded people can discover whole new layers in the choices of the Christian life, it’s also true that God does not leave us to make these choices alone. The wisdom and companionship of His Word, His Spirit and His people are our ever-present help and guide.

So, armed with these, as we go out today, remember that we live in this world, but we are not of this world. We will be here for such a short time, and then we will be with God forever. But it is for this time and this place that God, in His wisdom and power, has chosen us. As He sent Jesus to all mankind, He has sent you to your neighborhood, your school, your office, your home … to show the superiority of life in the Kingdom of God. So, while we are here, let us live among our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and friends as Jesus lived among us. Let us proclaim God’s excellencies, pursue heavenly passions, and live honorable lives, so that they will see Jesus in us, come to Jesus, and find in Him life in all its fullness.

{ Close in prayer, specifically that God would a) receive our worship in our attempts to live the gospel, b) would keep His promise to empower us, and c) would bear fruit from our meager efforts to live incarnationally. }

About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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