I remember when Jana and I first moved out of the town where I grew up in and had lived for 20 years to Birmingham, AL. I was there to go to seminary, and Jana was there to pay for me to go to seminary. She was also there because she was, and is, a very excellent teacher. So she began to teach 6th grade at Homewood Middle School with the students not realizing that she was only about 10 years older than they were.
I remember her coming home after the first day and recounting the story for me about how she introduced herself to her class, told them about her likes and dislikes, the rules of the class, and then asked if they had any question for her. And the students looked around at each other until one young man raised his hand and asked, “So who are you for?”
Jana didn’t know what he meant. But she quickly discovered that this was a very important question for the class. As she tried to diagnose exactly what this 10-year-old was asking, the other students sat up in their chairs, eager to know the answer.
Who are you for?
Eventually, she understood. This was a question that every student in that class had known the answer to since they were old enough to know the answer. It was a question about crimson or blue. About an elephant or an eagle. It was a question of loyalty. The student was asking who her team was – was she for Alabama, or was she for Auburn?
And at least in the minds of those 6th graders, there was not a third way. A middle ground. Allegiances must be declared, and those allegiances determined everything from friendships to apparel.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating a little bit. A little bit – but not much. This was – and is, I assume – still a very real question that is still asked not only by 6th grade students, but by perspective employers, would-be friend circles, and other networks.
The irony of the question, at least for the purpose of this blog post, is that acknowledging one of the schools would be incredible for one group and terrible for another. Had she raised her voice in a “Roll Tide!” or a “War Eagle!” she would have been met simultaneously with cheers and jeers. That crimson “A” was a mark of pride for some; a symbol of ridicule for others. The orange and blue were colors of joy and belonging for some, and inspired revulsion in others.
Now, if you’d permit me, let me take a left turn into 1 Peter 2 in which we encounter nothing as trivial as college football teams:
“Coming to Him, a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God—you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it is contained in Scripture:
Look! I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and honored cornerstone,
and the one who believes in Him
will never be put to shame!
So honor will come to you who believe, but for the unbelieving,
The stone that the builders rejected—
this One has become the cornerstone,
A stone to stumble over,
and a rock to trip over” (1 Peter 2:4-8).
Peter pictures Jesus as a stone. And in the pathway of life that every man, woman, and child walks, there is this stone in the path. Everyone encounters the stone, and yet the stone has different effects on different people.
We all approach this stone, and there are really only two things that can happen next. Either we stumble over the stone and continue on our way of self-determination and self-lordship, or something else. By faith, we believe. We trust. And we are transformed into something completely different.
This is what happened to Peter’s audience, and this is what has happened to you if you’re a Christian. In keeping with the illustration, we come to the stone and, by faith, we in turn become living stones. This is the message of the gospel – it’s not that we need a little help; it’s not that got off track; it’s that we are entirely wrong. And we need to be made entirely different.
We tend to treat the message of the gospel as a “destination” message – that is, that we were on the road to hell, and through believing in the gospel, our destination is changed. We are now on the road to heaven. That is true, but it’s incomplete.
We need to ask why we were on the road to hell. That’s because, simply, it’s the road we were on. We were born with sinful, dead hearts and placed on this pathway because it was the only one in front of us. In fact, if we wanted to get on a different pathway, then we would have to become a different kind of person. Jesus calls this being “born again.” When we are born again, we are both with a new family. With new tastes. With new priorities. Everything is new a different. This is why Peter says that Jesus is not only a stone, but the chief cornerstone.
The cornerstone was that stone in a building that gave shape to everything else. It’s what every other part of the structure was not only built around, but built off of. It gave shape, and Jesus does the same to us. There is no part of our lives that is not being shaped by Jesus.
We come to the stone and we are transformed.
This stone. The stone that lies in your pathway. The stone that will mean one of two things to everyone. Either we are defined by this stone, or we will stumble over it.