1 Peter 2:7,8 – The Problem of Unbelief

I think one of the most difficult things about believing in Jesus is the fact that so many people don’t.
Day after day we go to work and are surrounded by people who dismiss Him; day after day we turn on our televisions and watch people who reject Him; day after day we read in our newspapers about people who don’t believe in Him. Our lives are filled with people who ignore, minimize and reject Jesus; people who simply do not believe in Him.
And their lack of faith often wears on our faith.
Sometimes it plain wears it out. I’ve known people, and obviously they didn’t have a true faith, but they had a type of faith, they grew up in a Christian home and when they were in the safety of their parent’s home they didn’t question the faith because everyone else around them believed, but then when they went out on their own, they suddenly discovered that there were a whole lot of people who didn’t believe in Jesus and that many of those people who didn’t believe in Jesus were really, really smart. And that lack of faith, causes them to abandon the faith.
Other times though, and this is probably more true of us; the world’s lack of faith doesn’t tempt us to abandon the faith, but instead it does cause us to become really, really, really uncertain it.
With everyone telling you are wrong, it’s easy to start wondering if you are right. To believe, but not to be completely sure.
The world’s lack of faith is one of the greatest hindrances to our faith. Whether we are talking about rejecting the faith or becoming uncertain about it; the world’s lack of faith can easily shake ours.
What I would like to do is consider why the world’s lack of faith shouldn’t cause us to become uncertain about Christ or even pessimistic about what God is doing in this world. One of my primary goals as a pastor is to build our faith and I want to accomplish that by looking at two reasons the world’s lack of faith shouldn’t shake ours.
The first reason is found in verse 7.
We might have grounds for concern if the world’s unbelief could somehow frustrate God’s plan. If God wasn’t able to accomplish what He planned to accomplish because of people’s unbelief, I’d say we’d have a basis for being uncertain and pessimistic.
But it can’t.
The world’s unbelief has no effect on God’s Plan
That’s a pretty awesome statement. It’s also hard to believe, especially when you look out there and you see so many people who are living their lives completely ignoring God and Christ, and you are like how can God possibly accomplish what He wants to accomplish when so many people reject Him?
Well think about what Peter tells us in this text.
1.) He prophesied that He would lay a stone in Zion, the cornerstone for the spiritual house he was building;
2.) He sent Jesus to be that stone;
3.) But the builders rejected Jesus as the cornerstone.
They crucified Him actually.
Now did the fact that the builders rejected Christ as the cornerstone like that stop God from being able to use Him as the cornerstone? What difference did the builders rejection of Jesus make on God’s plan? Did their lack of faith frustrate it?
Not at all. Not even a bit.
Peter says matter of fact, “…the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” They said this can’t be the cornerstone, no, no, no. This won’t work. This won’t work. But it’s the cornerstone.
They took the stone that God sent and tossed it aside, but in doing so, they tossed that stone right into the place God had prepared before the world for it. They got together, and they plotted to frustrate God’s plan, but God used their very plotting to frustrate their own plans; causing their rejection of Jesus Christ to accomplish the exact opposite of what they intended it to accomplish.
If you stop and think about it, if it weren’t so sad, the whole situation would be almost humorous.
What did the Jewish leaders think they would accomplish by crucifying Jesus?
They were trying to destroy Him – put an end to Him.
You can imagine the joyous conversations they had with one another the day after they hanged Jesus on the tree.
“I guess we finally did it. We showed Him. Who was He to go around making the claims He was making? He’s dead now. He can’t save anyone!”
You can be pretty confident they were saying things like that the day after Jesus was crucified because of the kinds of things they were saying as he was being crucified. Luke tells us, the Jewish leaders scoffed at him and said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.”
Ha! Ha!
They thought that by crucifying Jesus they were making it impossible for Him to be the Messiah.
But what did the Jewish leaders really accomplish by crucifying Jesus?
The exact opposite.
They enabled Him to be our Messiah. They helped Him accomplish His purpose. These leaders thought they were crucifying Jesus because He wasn’t the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy; but by crucifying Jesus they actually played a vital part in His fulfilling Old Testament prophecy.
They just couldn’t stop Jesus.
No matter what they did. “They betrayed Him, denied him, mocked him, struck him, spit on him, hit him with rods, crowned him with thorns, stripped him, crucified him, and buried him – but they could not stop Him from being what God destined him to be, the Living Cornerstone of a great and glorious people.”
Unbelief a reason for uncertainty – to fear that God may be frustrated?
No, God will be God. And no matter how hard men try to take His place or change His plans, He will accomplish what He desires to accomplish. No matter what evil men do – God is able to use it to accomplish His good purpose. Jesus is proof! Unbelieving men did the worst thing that anybody could ever do – they crucified Jesus. You take all the violent crimes, the evil atrocities that have ever been committed, and they do not compare to this one – the crucifixion of God’s perfect Son. And yet God took the worst thing that men have ever done in the history of the world and used it to accomplish the best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world for men.
Unbelief is a problem; but it’s not a problem for God, it’s not a problem for Jesus – it’s a problem for the unbeliever. People may ignore, dismiss, and reject Jesus just like the Jewish leaders did, but their rejection of Jesus doesn’t say anything about Him – instead it says something about them – because the unbeliever’s evaluation of Jesus Christ doesn’t affect God’s evaluation of Him. Their evaluation of Jesus Christ definitely does however affect God’s evaluation of them.
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” Peter says and “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”
When people reject Jesus they pick up the stone God sent and toss it to the side, only to trip over it as they walk away and come crashing down themselves as a result. They make a choice not to hide in the rock that God has provided to protect them; and that rock comes crashing down on them, destroying them.
So when we go to work and we talk to people about Jesus and they just don’t care – that shouldn’t cause us to question our faith. When we look at what’s going on in this world, it shouldn’t cause us to become pessimistic. Sad perhaps, but not cynical or dismayed or hopeless.
That’s what the disciples felt when Jesus was hanging on the cross. But they were wrong. They didn’t understand this truth that was so clearly revealed after Jesus rose again, the lesson Peter teaches us here – the world’s lack of faith can’t hinder God from accomplishing what He plans to accomplish – and so it shouldn’t hinder us from believing in Him. Which is reason number #1 the world’s lack of faith, shouldn’t shake yours. It has no effect on God’s sovereign plan.
In fact, and this is really reason number #2, it is part of God’s plan. It’s not merely that God can use the evil actions of men and women to accomplish His plan; it’s that He often chooses to use their actions to accomplish His plan.
Understand this.
When men and women reject Jesus Christ; they choose to do so deliberately and willfully. There’s no reading 1 Peter 2 without recognizing that the decision to reject Jesus is a decision God holds people completely responsible for. People choose not to believe. People choose to be disobedient. Their unbelief and disobedience is an act of their will that God holds them completely responsible for.
This world is not one big puppet show where God sins through people. People willfully and deliberately choose to not believe God. People willfully and deliberately choose to disobey God.
No man, no woman, no one will be able to stand before God on judgment day and blame Him for their own unbelief or for their own disobedience. They will not be able to blame Him because it is absolutely impossible for God to sin. They will not be able to blame Him because it is absolutely impossible for God to tempt anyone to sin. They will not be able to blame Him because they are real people, making real decisions.
And yet…and yet…
Even as proud men and women willfully and deliberately choose to reject God’s plan, to disobey His Word; even as proud men and women make real, responsible, decisions to act against His will – God accomplishes His will in and through them. As men and women act against the will of God God accomplishes His sovereign will through them.
If you want proof of that, you just need to come back to 1 Peter 2:7,8.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’” Here it is – “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
Underline that last phrase.
There are at least two different ways people interpret it. The first you’ll like, the second you won’t. But if you can quiet your heart and let God be God the one you don’t might become the one you do.
There are some who would say Peter’s point is that God destines those who disobey the Word will stumble. That it’s the judgment that He destines. Even the MacArthur Study Bible says, “These were not destined by God to disobedience and unbelief. Rather these were destined to doom because of their disobedience and unbelief.”
Now I can understand why some might lean towards that interpretation, I honestly am tempted to myself; but as you can tell even in our English translations, that interpretation is not the most natural way to read these verses. You have to do some pretty fancy Greek gymnastics with your eyes closed to make this verse say that. The most natural way to understand what Peter is saying here is that even the stumbling of unbelievers ultimately is not outside the sovereign will of God.[1] As one scholar puts it, “God has not only appointed that those who disobey the word would stumble and fall. He has also determined that they would disbelieve and stumble…”?? The unbelief of men cannot stop God from doing what He wants to do because God has decided to use the unbelief of men to do what He wants to do.
Now that’s one of those thoughts that you are going to have wrestle with for a while. To take these two truths and see them as one. Men responsible for their sin and God sovereignly using it for His own purposes.For the person struggling to see how those two fit together, I would say again, you’ve got to go to the cross. Think again about exactly what occurred.
Men were responsible for delivering Jesus up to be crucified. Can’t we say that? Who delivered Jesus up?
We could say – it was Judas – he betrayed Jesus; we could also say it was the Jewish leaders – they hated Jesus and took Him before Pontius Pilate. Peter he says, speaking to a group of people in the book of Acts, “you have taken Jesus by lawless hands, have crucified Him and put Him to death.” You! You! You!
But…who delivered Jesus up to be crucified?
We could say God delivered Jesus up to be crucified. Peter does. In the same breath, where he holds men responsible for delivering Jesus up, he goes on to say in Acts 2:23 that Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.
You have taken Jesus, you have crucified Jesus, you have put Him to death. Just like God planned.
So here we are – face to face with the dilemma of 1 Peter 2:8.
Does the fact that what they did was according to the plan of God mean they aren’t responsible for doing it? Does the fact that God was sovereign over their actions mean we can blame God for them?
It might help you to think about this from the opposite perspective.
Since we have been saved through Jesus’ death on the cross, and these men were the ones who crucified Him, should we give them credit for our salvation? Since Judas was the one who delivered Jesus up to death, and since the Jewish leaders put him to death, and since we are saved through Jesus’ death, should we praise Judas and the Jewish leaders for our salvation?
Of course not.
There is just as little reason to blame God for Judas’ and for the Jewish leaders’ crime as there is to honor Judas and the Jewish leaders for the salvation God provided through it. Just because these individuals killed Jesus doesn’t mean they deserve the credit for our salvation and just because it was according to God’s plan that they did so doesn’t mean that He deserves the blame for their sin.
The fact that God is able to, and chooses to take the real decisions of men like Judas and the Jewish leaders to do evil and use those real decisions to do evil to accomplish His good purpose is not a reason to get angry at God, but rather a reason to praise Him. It’s not a reason to be discouraged, but to be encouraged.
That’s the whole point of this shocking statement in 1 Peter.
Why does he even bring this up? That we might take heart.
He wants us to know we have no reason to be pessimistic or uncertain in the face of human unbelief; that we don’t have to wring our hands and hang our heads – because human unbelief cannot win. How could it win? Human unbelief cannot defeat God’s purpose, no matter how hard it tries, because God has chosen to use that unbelief to accomplish His purpose. Even the unbeliever, through his unbelief, is forced into serving God and accomplishing His will. “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand…” None.
Which gives us as believers a reason for certainty – no matter how bad things get.
And things do get bad. I can’t imagine what life must have been like for these early believers receiving this letter. Hated, mocked, persecuted, rejected. Homes taken away, friends killed. The circumstances of their lives were completely uncertain. But Peter writes to let them know, their faith in Christ needn’t be. The world’s lack of faith didn’t need to shake their faith.
And it doesn’t have to shake yours.
Your life may not be as difficult as these early believers, but your faith can take a beating just the same. Spend much time with unbelievers, and it’s easy to become uncertain. Perhaps not to reject your faith, but to have serious doubts about it. To allow the world’s unbelief to cause your belief in Christ to waver.
I’m very concerned for you about that.
This is real life and I know that’s a struggle. It’s not wrong to wrestle with truths, it’s not wrong to wonder, it’s not wrong to fall on your knees and say God I believe, help my unbelief.
Unceasing uncertainty about Christ over the long haul can be spiritually devastating.
Spiritually devastating, because when you are uncertain about something – what do you do with it?
Not much.
This is why it’s so important you build your faith. So many of the problems in our spiritual lives, can be traced back to one root problem – uncertainty about our faith. When we are uncertain about our faith, we have a very difficult time living it out.
I have a t-shirt, I got it in a race a few months back and it’s bright lime green. I kind of like it so I’m not willing to throw it away but I’m just not sure about it because it so bright so I never wear it. I put it on sometimes but before I get out the door, I always go back to my room, toss it in the closet and change into something else. Which is I think a good way to describe what many Christians are doing with their Christian faith. They are not willing to toss it out; but they certainly aren’t living it out. It’s like this lime-green shirt that they want to wear but they are so concerned about what other people think and so unsure about it that they will only wear it when nobody else sees.
They are not happily and courageously and joyously proclaiming Christ and living for Him because they are uncertain.
And the thing is, they feel like they have good reason.
After all, look at the circumstances of their life. Look at this world. What reason does all the unbelief and evil in this world give you for faith? Pick up a newspaper, read about all the terrible things people are doing to one another. If the world were a little nicer place and there were more believers then there might be reason for confidence and certainty, but with the world the way it is, with the world abounding with unbelievers, why should I be certain? Why shouldn’t I be pessimistic? Why should I go out there and tell people about Jesus? Why should I make the sacrifices I know He wants me to make in my life? What reason do I have to be confident?
Because God will be God. Because no unbeliever can bring His purpose to ruin because God has so chosen to use their unbelief to accomplish His great plan! Because as John Piper puts it, “Men may reject His way, but they cannot destroy His plan…In the end, God is triumphant in men’s belief and unbelief, He is triumphant in their obedience and their disobedience. Human beings, whether good or evil, rejecting or accepting, believing or unbelieving, cannot thwart the ultimate purposes of God. ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner.”
When the fact that so many people don’t believe in Jesus tempts you to stop believing, to become uncertain or even pessimistic, I challenge you – go back to the cross. Center your thoughts on your Savior. Remember that the world’s rejection didn’t stop God from doing what He wanted – in fact – He used the world’s rejection to accomplish His perfect plan!

[1] One Greek scholar puts it like this, “All attempts to explain away the statement as if it meant only that they were appointed to this by just and natural consequences of their own acts, are futile.”

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