Weekly Meditation - 14th May 2017
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
If we have ever felt that Jesus’ words to the Pharisees were harsh, we can see them justified in the story of the death of Stephen. Stephen – called to account for his belief in Jesus, to the Jewish Sanhedrin – had spoken to them of their ancestry, of the founding of their faith and of its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus (Acts 6:8 – 7:53). Their reaction was to 'gnash their teeth at him' (7:54) and, when he spoke of seeing heaven open and 'the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God' they yelled 'at the top of their voices' , then had Stephen dragged out and stoned to death (7:57-58). This episode demonstrates the way in which the Christian message polarized people, with some willing to give their lives for it, while others 'covered their ears' (7:54).
A few decades later, when persecution of Christians had become widespread and intense, the apostle Peter wrote to some fellow-believers of the value of their faith and of its strong foundation. Christians at that time can be forgiven for wavering; what had begun as religious opposition by the Jews had grown into severe persecution by the mighty empire of Rome that judged the Christians to be subversive to Roman rule. Peter’s words are timely, therefore, for the persecuted First Century Church, and they are relevant to us also, at a time when the Western Church is beset not with persecution but with apathy and contempt. Peter urged the people to crave 'spiritual milk' – the knowledge of God’s word – like hungry babies (2:2). He reminded them that although Jesus had been rejected by ignorant men, he was 'chosen by God' and 'precious' (2:4) and therefore worthy of their trust and their worship. Calling Jesus 'the living Stone', Peter revealed that his followers also could be like living stones (2:4,-5), built not into a visible temple but into 'a spiritual house'. God had once called the Jews to be his chosen people, 'a kingdom of priests and a holy nation' (see Exodus 19:5) but now Christians were to be the 'chosen people', the 'royal priesthood', the 'holy nation' belonging to God (2:9).
Peter recognised that the truth about Jesus divided people, just as it had at the martyrdom of Stephen. To those who believed, Jesus was 'the chosen and precious cornerstone' foretold in Scripture (1 Peter 2:6/Isaiah 28:16). But for those who did not believe, he became 'a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall' (1 Peter 2:8/Isaiah 8:14).