Rev. Mahtani is the eastern home missionary of the PRC. This article is the text of his dedication speech at the opening of the PR Mission Office in Pittsburgh on June 10, 2000.
Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord. That church is made up of the elect of God, described in Scripture as sheep that the Father has given to the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ. There are, of course, other beautiful descriptions of that church in Scripture. She is the Bride of Christ for whom Christ laid down His life and for whom He will return on the clouds of glory at the end of time.
Here in this passage God’s people are described as stones, lively stones, in the spiritual house of God.
Today we are gathered to rejoice with thanksgiving that God is establishing His church in our midst here in Pittsburgh. Presently we are known as the Protestant Reformed Mission of Pittsburgh. Now we have an office. A few years ago we had not heard the true gospel of grace. Then we heard the Reformed faith and became a fellowship. A few years later we became a mission and, the Lord willing, some day we will become a full-fledged church. But what I want to do for a few moments this afternoon is to remind you that the church is not the building that we hope to occupy someday. The church is you. You are the building of God; and the grand opening of this mission office is the proof that God is already building His church here in Pittsburgh.
Undoubtedly, when the apostle Peter speaks of the church as the spiritual house of God he is referring toIsaiah 28 and particularly to verse 16 of that passage. Jehovah promised that He would lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a precious corner stone. Now the apostle points to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of that promise, for by His death, resurrection, and ascension He Himself has fulfilled all the promises of God to establish the glorious city of Zion, the Old Testament type and shadow of the New Testament church. The Son of the living God is the Rock of the church. Flesh and blood will stumble at this stone, as Peter so clearly tells us in this passage. We must be sure of that: this stone will be rejected of man. No one, humanly speaking, will receive our report. All will turn away. But to whom the Father reveals this marvelous truth, Christ is precious. Blessed therefore are ye, Jesus said to Peter, who confessed Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto you, but my Father which is in heaven.
Now notice, with that in mind, how verse 5 begins: “Ye also. Since Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior is the living stone, the life-giving stone, ye also the people of God are as lively stones. If the Jews thought their temple in the Old Testament was beautiful, made up of all kinds of precious stones, let them hear this. The fulfillment in the New Testament is far greater; the foundation is the very Son of God, and the building blocks, the bricks that are laid, and the beautiful variety of stones which make up that church are the saints of God, washed in the blood of Christ. Stones which themselves were hard, stubborn, and dead are now living, regenerated by the Spirit, and made the spiritual house of God!
Yes, a house is usually made of brick and stone, or wood, or other physical material. But God’s house is different. That is why we read in our text that the church is a spiritual house—that is, not earthly, not physical, not carnal, not fleshly, but spiritual. A spiritual house ye are, where God is pleased to dwell by His Word and Spirit. Zion, the city of God, was the type, but ye are the fulfillment. God dwells in His church with His beloved people, His sheep, His elect. They are His lively stones in His spiritual house.
At the end of Ephesians 2 the apostle Paul describes the church in the same way. The church is built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone (Eph. 2:20). Paul goes on in that passage to describe the New Testament church as the temple of the Lord, where God is pleased to dwell so that we are now the habitation of God through the Spirit. Imagine that! The church is the house of God. That, of course, is the crux of the covenant of God. He comes to dwell with His people in Jesus Christ. He did this in the Old Testament in types and shadows. Finally, in the fullness of time, He sent His Son, Immanuel, God with us! Now, after His death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father’s right hand, He continues to dwell with us by His Word and Spirit. Then, finally, on that glorious day, in the new heavens and new earth, the tabernacle of God will forever be with men! What a privilege to be a lively stone in the spiritual house of God!
That is what we must remember, and for that we must rejoice on this happy occasion. God is building His spiritual house in our midst. He is gathering His lively stones from Pittsburgh who have come and are coming by faith to Jesus Christ, the living stone. God, by His Word and Spirit, is cementing them together so that His holy temple may be built in our midst. Ye also are lively stones. How true. We look at this place—the books, the pamphlets, the tapes, being made ready for display. All the cleaning, carrying of books, organizing—how did that all take place? This is only the outward manifestation, the proof. The real blessing is that God has given us lively hands and hearts, willing to dedicate themselves to the establishment of a Protestant Reformed church in Pittsburgh.
Because God has raised up these lively stones by the wonder of His grace, we can expect that there will be development which will result in a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ in this place. Because there is a love for the glorious doctrines of grace so clearly revealed in the Scriptures and so beautifully presented in the Reformed creeds, we can hope for a Protestant Reformed church to be established here in Pittsburgh. We may not be many in number, but let us not despise the day of small things. What is important is that we continue to grow spiritually, that we continue to be lively stones in the spiritual building of God. Then numerical growth will also come, if that be the will of God.
But why the desire to see such a spiritual house established among us? Yes, for the spread of the gospel of grace. Yes, to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. But what really is the chief purpose of the church? I will remind you: The worship of God! In fact, our desire to spread the gospel also through this office, our commitment to defend the Reformed faith, and everything else we do, is and must be rooted in this one central and chief purpose of the church: Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices! God’s church is called out of darkness into His marvelous light for this purpose—that she may show forth His praises! That is why, as verse 9 tells us, she is a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation.
If we forget that the worship of God is the chief end of man, and the chief end therefore of the church, we will surely go astray. If we make growth the chief end, and sacrifice true worship, we are in deep trouble. Yes, even if we make the defense of the truth our sole objective, and forget that the underlying motive of that defense is the pure worship of God, we will go astray. God, and the worship of God, must be at the center of our church. The worship, the praise, the adoration of God is the sole reason for the existence of this spiritual house.
As lively stones we do many things. We defend the truth, we witness of His truth, we cooperate to do what needs to be done. But at the heart of it must be worship of God. Because we love the worship of His name we want to defend His truth. Because we love the praise of His name we want to spread the gospel of grace so that all the people would praise Him. But the root of it must be worship. That must be the ultimate purpose of this spiritual house. We must remember this for ourselves, for our children, for those whom God will add to our number.
Do you love to worship God? Are you increasing in your love for the Lord’s day? Do you love to hear the sweet sound of the gospel under the faithful preaching of His Word? Is it your delight to sing His praises in the psalms? Then indeed God’s church is being built! Then indeed we are as priests offering spiritual sacrifices to God. Then indeed a Protestant Reformed church is in the making in Pittsburgh.
So I ask you this afternoon, are you behaving as a priest should behave in God’s house? Ye are a holy priesthood, according to our text. A priest is dedicated to the service of the temple. He is to be consecrated by the oil of anointing to sing praises to God, to read the law, to magnify the name of God himself and to lead others to do likewise.
One of the great truths of the Scriptures restored to the church through the sixteenth century Reformation was the priesthood of all believers. It is true that there are special offices in the church, to be filled by the men whom God is raising in our midst as officebearers. But it is also true that we all partake of the office of Jesus Christ as prophets, priests, and kings. We are lively stones in the house of God.
Jesus Christ has come as our perfect Priest, and no sacrifices need to be made for the atonement of our sins. In fact, that is the gospel of grace we hold so dear. Salvation is by grace alone. We humbly confess that God is sovereign in all things, especially the salvation of His church. So we do not need to earn our salvation. It is free. It is grace. We make no sacrifices to earn or merit salvation. No, not one sacrifice needs to be added to the perfect work of Christ. All our tears, all our deeds, all our labors—they are not necessary as far as our salvation is concerned. Salvation is of the Lord, from beginning to end.
But yet we are as lively stones, a holy priesthood—because whomsoever God makes alive, He also makes holy by His Spirit, and such lively stones are consecrated now to the worship of God. We bring now not offerings for sin, but thank offerings, expressing our gratitude to God for what He has done! We sing His praises, we honor and adore Him, we obey and serve Him, out of a new heart and new mind. We are recreated in Christ. If He as the living stone is consecrated to God, to do His will, so must we also be, as lively stones founded on Him, abiding in Him, being built upon Him, the chief corner stone.
That is why we must conclude also with the only possibility. It is not of us. It is according to His mercies that we present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in the sight of God, as Romans 12:1 teaches us. Our text tells us that too: “acceptable to God by Jesus Christ!” Many want to insist on our accepting Jesus Christ. They say the most important thing is our decision to believe. But really the Scriptures have it the other way around. We are made acceptable to God in the beloved. We are by nature sinners. We are by nature enemies of God. We are unable and unwilling of ourselves to worship God. But now we are made lively stones, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. How? We have been made acceptable, pleasing to God through Jesus Christ. He is our blessed Savior. He is the corner stone, elect, precious in the sight of God. And now He is become to us also precious, for we are lively stones only because of Him, the living stone.
Let us not be ashamed to acknowledge this. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man can come to the Father but by Him! All of our salvation is dependent upon Him, the precious corner stone. Many will stumble at this stone, but to you who believe He is precious. And you have believed in Him because ye are chosen, ye are His royal priesthood, an holy nation, to show forth His praises. Living stones!
One day in perfection this will be our worship too. Salvation, honor, glory be unto our God and to the Lamb which sits upon the throne. Let us learn to do that now. This is the purpose of Christ’s church on this earth. This is why we want to see a PR church established in Pittsburgh. As lively stones (and we hope you others will join us), let us rejoice with thanksgiving as we continue to labor together for the fuller manifestation of God’s spiritual house in Pittsburgh. Amen.