People are instinctively drawn to rocks, stones, and metals. Chances are many of the women in this room are wearing a small decorative rock on one or more of their fingers, perhaps on an ear, or hung on a chain around their neck.
We pave roads and sidewalks and pathways with rocks and stones. We dig into the ground to find beautiful rocks. And some rocks simply demand our reverence by their sheer size. Mt. McKinley in Alaska is over 20,000 feet of pluton rock, what scientists call intrusive igneous rock, believed to have been shoved up from beneath the earth’s surface, where it cooled and crystalized. McKinley is the tallest mountain on land in the world considered just from base to summit. But over a hundred other mountains many in the Himalayas are actually far higher in altitude. But they get running starts. For example, Mt. Everest, the highest point on planet earth is actually riding piggyback on top of 15,000 feet of other rocks.
The world is full of rocks. We throw rocks into lakes, we skip them across ponds, we pile them up and build houses and buildings. We decorate, adorn, glorify with rocks. Some gigantic rocks are full of lava, rumbling, stewing, steaming, exploding.
I remember shortly after moving to Alaska when I was nine years old, Mt. Redoubt, a rock of about 10,000 feet at the very top of the Aleutian island chain, began exploding. Scientists say that beginning on December 14, 1989 until around April 1990, the mountain exploded around 23 times, spitting lava and shooting ash for thousands of miles. On the day of the first explosion, a Boeing 747 enroute from Amsterdam flew right into the ash plume and had a complete engine failure. The crew was able to successfully restart the engines and make an emergency landing in Anchorage. Ash disrupted airspace as far away as Texas during those months. I vividly remember seeing the ash falling on cars and parking lots, thin layers of gray dust everywhere. It was common to see people walking around with facemasks.
Volcanoes are living rocks, alive with fire and smoke, and when they burp, they disrupt our world. Smoke is rock breath.
We punch holes into the sides of rocks and make tunnels and roads. We climb these rocks, jump off these rocks. We even carve faces on the tops of some of our rocks. We live on a rock that’s flying through space.
And the Bible teaches us to see the gospel in the rocks all around us. When you see a mountain range, when you look at the small beautiful rock on your finger, when you throw a rock into a pond, you should see the story of the Bible, the story of God’s love, the story of God’s mission to fill this world with His glory.
In the beginning, God created the universe and flung millions of rocks into motion, the galaxies of planets, moons, meteors, and space dust, millions of jewels sparkling in the heavens among the stars. And when Jesus spoke earth, He packed it full of glory rocks. When Adam woke up from the rock dust, he woke up on top of one glory rock, a mountain in Eden, crowned with a garden.
And minutes later, he was handed a treasure map, and the Lord pointed out into the distance: there’s a river flowing out of this Garden, and it divides into four, one of those is called Pishon, and it goes around the land of Havilah where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good. God suggested that he go find some and bring it back up to the Mountain and pile glory on top of glory. God was trying to start the first gold rush, but Eve got distracted by some shiny fruit and a talking dragon.
There were also onyx stones in Havilah, down the Pishon River for Adam and Eve and their sons and daughters. God buried precious stones, glory rocks in the earth and pointed the way. There would have been other rocks, piled up into mountains, crowned with clouds or snow, shimmering in the sunlight. And ever after the fall, the rocks would remind us of walking with God, the glory of God, ascending to the presence of God.
After the judgment of humanity in the flood, the new world once against sprung from a glory rock called Mount Ararat where the ark came to rest. Nimrod and his sons tried to make their own glory rock, a mountain cut out with hands, a city and an altar-tower that would stretch up into heaven, to make themselves a name, to make themselves all-glorious, like Adam and Eve in the Garden Mountain again. But God came down and ended their Babel project, and found an old man with a barren wife and promised him the glory instead, promised him a name, promised to build him and his family into a mountain that would fill the earth with its glory.
And though Abram was forced to wander and endured many trials, he was continually building altars, miniature mountains crowned in fire glory, little volcanoes with fire and smoke on top, ascending to heaven, and Abram was continually becoming his altars, continually cut and burned and yet continually growing rich in livestock and gold and silver. Even foreign kings were beginning to bring their gifts before him. And by the time his family went down into Egypt to live in Goshen, they were fairly wealthy, a small mountain range, with glory rocks on their peaks. And when God led them out of the land, they were given more jewels of gold, jewels of silver and fine garments and clothing. The small mountain range grew into a mighty mountain, crowned with the glory cloud of God, shimmering with glory rocks, emerging from the sea.
Israel came up out of the sea of Egypt like a new island formed by an exploding volcano, burning with the fire cloud of God’s presence, leaving a stripped and barren lava field behind. When Israel came to the Mountain of God, Mt. Sinai burning and quaking, they might have seen themselves dimly in a mirror. They were already a mountain on fire with the love of God, they were already a mountain of a nation, carried on eagles wings, filled with precious stones, glory rocks, covered in glory garments, God’s special treasure. God had gone down into the land of Egypt and found gold there, and the gold was His people, and He meant to refine them into a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, a crown for His own head, as a sign to all nations of what the world might become again, a sign of the glory He had planned for the universe. If they walked with Him, He would carry them high, He would exalt them, they would be His glory.
But it was hard for Israel to see that they were already becoming the Mountain of God, so He came down and drew it more clearly on them. He organized the tribes, three tribes to the north, three tribes to the south, three tribes to the east, three tribes to the west, with the Levites in the center, around the tabernacle, the snow-cloud peak on the Mountain, with smoke continually rising from the majestic height. Israel was the mountain of God, moving through the wilderness. And the High Priest was covered in jewels, named for the tribes of Israel. Israel was God’s crown of jewels, His Mountain robed in glory. But they didn’t see and they complained, but God still showed them how He was their Rock, and He caused the rock to gush with water in the wilderness. Israel could become an Eden again with rivers of life flowing out to the ends of the earth.
With God as their Rock leading them into the land, one man would chase thousands, but without Him, if they turned to other rocks, other gods, other mountains, other altars, they would be chased, they would be buried in slavery again. And it happened again and again. But the judges always came, rescuing, saving against all odds, outnumbered but victorious because God was the Rock of their salvation. God always came digging Israel out of the ground again and again, God coming for His treasure, coming for His gold.
One shepherd boy understood and chased a giant and knocked him down with one smooth stone. And he spent his life chasing more giants. He was a man after God’s own heart, a man whose trust was in God, His Rock, His Fortress, His Precious Treasure, His glory-mountain. And He led Israel to gather at Mt. Zion shouting and singing praises, an altar on fire with the sacrifices of praise, and he left plans for his son to crown another mountain with glory and worship. And Solomon obeyed the voice of his father and went treasure hunting. He dug the glory gold and glory silver from the hills and valleys. And he filled Israel with precious stones, gems, glory rocks, and the nations began to come, began to bring their glory in. But just like the first Eden, sweet talking serpents showed up right on schedule and there were more tempting Eves, and soon, Solomon left off searching for treasure and bringing glory to the mountain of God. And the mountain and all of its glory slowly slipped back down into the sea, the glory departed into the bellies of dragons and great fish.
But the prophets always said that the mountain would rise again. One prophet stood on a mountain surrounded by enemies and called fire down on a soaking wet altar. Mt. Carmel was a volcano for a few moments, a glory mountain on fire, a flash of the Exodus, Mt. Sinai where God proclaimed His covenant love for His people. The mountain of the Lord’s house will be established as the chief of the mountains, Isaiah sang (Is. 2). The nations will say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord. The Lord promised to make every dwelling in Israel a mountain on fire, covered in smoke by day and fire by night. Every home will become a volcano of the Spirit, an altar of worship, stirred up and rumbling with love and joy and peace and patience. And one prophet buried in Babylon saw how the mountain would come. It would come like a stone cut out without hands slung like a rock from a sling to topple the kingdoms of men. And the stone would grow into a mountain that would fill the earth (Dan. 2).
And the stone came, conceived by the Spirit, cut out without hands, and the nations began coming almost immediately, bringing gold, bringing treasures to crown him. But he came both to be Israel, the true and faithful mountain of God, Abraham’s family and yet, He was also God come to unearth Israel buried beneath sin and death and darkness. Jesus came as the Great Treasure Seeker, and He came seeking the treasure of the people of God. He dug up Israel from blindness and deafness, from leprosy and demon possession, and the grave itself. But those were just small pictures of the great plan. And so God our Rock, God our Fortress was struck on the cross so that Living Water would flow out of Him for us and for all nations. He was struck and broken so that His flesh would become bread for the life of the world. They tried to bury our Treasure in the ground again, the Lord of Glory under a big rock, but God always comes for His treasure, always comes for His gold, always comes for His glory-rocks to build them up into His glory mountain. And that time was no different, and three days later, God dug up His beloved Son and began to build a new Mount Eden in this world. And when Jesus ascended in glory, He poured His fire-glory out on all His people, turning them all into altars, living sacrifices, walking-talking volcanoes burning with His presence, precious stones shining with His glory, crowned with His wisdom. And all the other mountains are being throne down, cast into the sea, crumbling into nothing. But ever since the first Magi, the first Wise Men, the nations have all seen the Light, seen His glory piercing the darkness. Because when Jesus our Rock was lifted up and struck, He began to draw all men to Himself.
All who come to Him, He breaks and reshapes and refines, so that they may be built up into a new Spiritual House, a New Mount Zion, a new Eden, a Glory-Mountain, coming down out of heaven. Don’t you know that this is why God burns you? Why God strikes you? Why God cuts you? Why God breaks you? He does it like a wise and faithful Master Builder, because He’s purifying you, burning away the dross, shaping you into a gem to wear on His crown, a stone in the walls of the New Jerusalem, part of the pavement of sapphires, the walls of gold and diamonds.
But this means that all of the rocks, all the precious metals and stones and gems, all the mountains are not accidental, not extraneous, not just random details. Peter is not just looking for good analogies. He’s talking about reality. He’s talking about the real world. Jesus really is the Chief Cornerstone, and all those who do not trust in Him will stumble on Him, be shattered on Him, but all those who love Him, who hope in Him will be broken and shaped into glory.
When Paul tells the Ephesians that they have been brought near by the blood of Jesus, he’s talking about glory-rocks. The Gentiles are now glory stones that God has dug out of the ends of the earth and put them on the robe and crown of His Son, our Great High Priest. Now we are all being built up into a house of God through the Spirit, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner stone (Eph. 2). In another place, Paul tells the Colossians that in Jesus are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). All the rocks and gems and gold in the world always pointed to and reflected the glory and wisdom of God. Israel was always getting distracted and hunting for glory elsewhere, looking for wisdom in other mountains, other lands. But Jesus is our mine, in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is why we love His Word, the Bible.