Speaking about the church, Peter describes it as a spiritual house. He says, “Coming to Him [Christ] as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:4, 5. Another definition that the Bible uses of the church is that it is a temple. It is a spiritual building; and the material is not concrete blocks or marble blocks, as the temple in Jerusalem, but living stones—people. You can read about these living stones in Acts of the Apostles. There Ellen White describes these living stones as people who have been quarried, chiseled or cut out from the quarry of the world. They are brought as building materials to be laid up as a living temple—a living temple of living stones, as the Bible describes this spiritual temple of God’s church.
We are looking here at the Christian church and the question arises, How do Christians offer up sacrifices? Do they bring acceptable sacrifices to Christ? Yes, but it is a very special type of a sacrifice that they bring to God; and without this sacrifice, they will not be acceptable to Him.
Turning to Psalm 51:16, 17, we discover the sacrifices that are acceptable to God when offered by His people—those who comprise His church, this living temple. This is the psalm David wrote, you recall, after being reproved by the prophet for committing that terrible sin with Bathsheba. He realized that his sin had been discovered, and here he offered up one of those acceptable sacrifices to God. “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.” So what are the acceptable sacrifices that God’s people are to bring to Him if they are going to be living stones? They bring the sacrifices of a broken and a contrite spirit. In other words, they are repentant. And these are the sacrifices that they bring, trusting in Jesus’ merits.
Friends, we cannot be living stones in God’s temple if we are living in sin. The prerequisite to being a part of God’s temple is that they “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Let us also notice something else. Going back to God’s church as it was under the Jewish system, they were told time and time again to repent of their sins. They claimed to be God’s people. God had called them to fulfill a purpose; but their lives, time and time again, disqualified them from being living stones. Many times they brought sacrifices, they went through all the protocol, they did all of the outward things that were necessary; but with those burnt offerings, those sin offerings, there was not a broken and contrite spirit and they could not be accepted by Him.
The Jewish people had a literal temple of polished marble, but they missed the point that it was but a symbol of the living temple that they were to be. Speaking to them God said, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isaiah 1:16, 17. “Look,” God says, “you claim to be My people, but you are in sin. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil.”
The wonderful thing is, when we cease to do evil, the Lord is so merciful to us. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the Lord, ‘though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” Isaiah 1:18. Wonderful, precious, merciful God, even to those who are deliberately sinning against Him.
Sadly, the people had been bringing the wrong kinds of sacrifices. “‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord. ‘I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts?’” Isaiah 1:11, 12. They were offering the sacrifices, but it might as well have been a slaughterhouse. They did not offer them with a broken and contrite spirit.
What did God tell them? “Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.” Isaiah 1:13-16. Then He says, “Come now, and let us reason together. I want to forgive you, but it has to be on the right basis. I want to forgive you, and I will. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.”
Though God is a very merciful God, He expects certain conditions; and if we want to be a living stone in that living temple, we must abide by the conditions that He has laid down. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people [a peculiar people], that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9. Here Peter is using the same terminology which God had used in the Old Testament in referring to Israel. Speaking to Israel, God had said, “‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” Exodus 19:6
So, these living stones were to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood; but again, it was only under certain conditions. “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.” Exodus 19:5. Only in obedience could the people meet the conditions of the covenant.
Just as there were conditions to being a living stone in the Old Testament, there are conditions being a living stone in God’s spiritual temple in the New Testament. “That you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9. So, friends, if we are living stones, we are called to come out of the darkness and to show forth “the praises of Him” who has “called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
What kind of darkness is this speaking about? This is the darkness that Peter made reference to when he said, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8. Specifically, what does the darkness mean? “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.” Ibid., verse 11. So, the darkness is the unfruitful works; in other words, it is sin. You cannot be a living stone if you are still living in sin, if you are still in spiritual darkness. It just does not work.
The Bible uses some very specific terms to describe those who choose to remain in spiritual darkness and sin. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6, 7 The only way that we can be justified is to come out of the darkness and walk in the light.
Remember when Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem? There was the table of shewbread, the candlestick, the altar of incense, and the gorgeous tapestry veil. In the second apartment, the Most Holy place, there was the ark of the covenant, inside of which were the tables of God’s Law. There were the priests in their beautiful, gorgeous costumes; everything was according to the direction that God had given. But there was something missing. Do you remember? It was the presence of God, the Holy Spirit. God’s shekinah glory was to come down into that temple. Remember that wonderful prayer of Solomon’s as he knelt there before the temple and prayed? As he prayed, what happened? The glorious presence of God was seen to come down and fill that temple. Now that it was filled with the Holy Spirit, it was fulfilling the purpose for its existence.
Jesus wanted to make the apostolic church a habitation for His Spirit; but before Pentecost could take place, those stones had to be made ready to be a fit habitation for the Spirit. For three and a half years Jesus had labored with these men. They were privileged above every other group of people; but the very night that He knew that He was going to be betrayed, there was strife over who was the greatest. He had been grooming them, preparing them to be this building that He could pour His Spirit in, that, like fire in the stubble, they might take the gospel to the then-known world; and here they were, His very last night, contending as to who would be the greatest?
It was customary, as you recall, for someone to wash the feet of the guests. As no one was willing to do it, Jesus got up and, laying aside His robes, got down upon His knees and started pouring out the water. Those last few hours of the life of Jesus were the culmination of what He was seeking to accomplish for them. This act did more to turn those men around than anything else.
You know that whom the Lord loves He chastens, reproves, and prunes. Have you ever received some chastening and reproof? Has God been pruning you recently? Friends, we have to submit to this process because it is part of the polishing that prepares us to finally become the recipient of the latter rain just before Jesus comes. Jesus had to reprove and correct His disciples very often so that they might become qualified to be these living stone, and He has to reprove us.
Well, something did happen to the disciples. As they saw the wonderful love of Jesus, as they beheld that love, that unselfish, self-sacrificing love for them, it just broke them completely. They witnessed the love that He had for them when they deserved it the least. This is the only thing that can break the stubborn, human, sinful heart that rises up against reproof. So there they were in one accord, and God was now able to fulfill His purpose through them. This is why we are told that every day it would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour on the life of Christ, particularly the closing scenes. (See The Desire of Ages, 83.)
When we make the same complete surrender to Christ, friends, as the apostles and the believers did, then God will be able to give us that full outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and He will finish this work very quickly. We are told in Testimonies, vol. 1, that back in the 1850s, which was even before the Seventh-day Adventist Church had taken its name, that Jesus could have come. All of this shows that, while God is willing to use organization and all of our modern methods of communication, he does not need them. He has means of getting this message out that we do not even understand. What He does need is a people who are surrendered. It may be only a few, as in the apostolic age when there were just twelve apostles and a few followers. Though few in number, through the power of Christ, in a few short years they reached the world. Friends, He will do the same today if we will be yielded and allow ourselves to become those polished stones.
About 1859, James and Ellen White were concerned about the spiritual condition of God’s professed people. They thought they were the Philadelphia church, the church of brotherly love; but James and Ellen White came to the conclusion that the church was in the Laodicean state. James White wrote some articles in the Review and Herald and said, in so many words, “Folks, we are Laodicea. We are poor, miserable, blind, wretched, and naked; and we do not even realize it. We need to accept the reproof of the true witness.” James and Ellen White wondered if the people of God would receive this reproof.
By and large, they did; and as they accepted that reproof, they started to get down upon their knees and pray. They started to confess and repent of their sins. They started to receive from Christ that rich cup of grace that they needed. At the very same time that the people of God were surrendering to Christ, there took place out in the world and across this nation a great religious revival. Historians are at a loss as to how to describe how it happened, but it is well chronicled. Even in the stock exchange there were prayer circles.
At the time that this great revival was taking place in America, Ellen White wrote, “As this message affected the heart, it led to deep humility before God. Angels were sent in every direction to prepare unbelieving hearts for the truth.” Testimonies to the Church, vol. 1, 186. God was sending His angels out to work upon hearts and minds and consciences of multitudes of people to prepare them to receive the loud cry of the third angel that was about ready to be given by that little nucleus of Adventists.
Sadly, the people of God did not persevere. They pulled back, and the great work that God was wanting to accomplish came to almost nothing. Then in 1861 there was a civil war. Half a million sons, brothers, and fathers were swept into oblivion. This need not have been the case. Jesus was ready then to pour out His Spirit upon His people, to fill that living temple with the latter rain. That message would have gone around this whole world, and the Lord would have come.
Friends, Christ is still longing to prepare a people to receive the latter rain and give the loud cry of the third angel. When it comes, if we are to be a part of it, we must be among those who have been willing to submit to reproof, to counsel, and to correction that comes through the Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy.
“The church is the repository of the riches of the grace of Christ; and through the church will eventually be made manifest, even to the ‘principalities and powers in heavenly places,’ the final and full display of the love of God.” Acts of the Apostles, 9. May the Lord help us to be those who are part of this, who see it as part of this grand and final display of the love of Jesus Christ.