"An Encounter with the Cornerstone "
(Delivered Sunday, April 27, 2008 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
We're continuing our look at the Gospel of Matthew this morning. Specifically, we look today at one of His parables—and it starts off with a 'bang'!
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Our Lord spoke this parable as He was being confronted by the religious leaders of the Jewish people in the temple—just a few days after He made His triumphal entry into the city, and just a few days prior to His death on the cross. Between those two events, He was doing such things in the temple as cleansing it of its merchandisers, healing the blind and the lame in its courts, receiving worship in it as the Messiah, and teaching the people within its walls. And the religious leaders were wanting to know by what authority He dared to do such things!
As we saw last time, He answered their question with a parable—and the closing lines of that parable soundly put them in their place. It pointed out that His authority had already been made clear to them through the preaching of John the Baptist—and the telling of this parable revealed their own refusal to believe the message about Him that God had given them through John. He said,
Think of it! He had just illustrated to these religious leaders, through a parable, that the worst people they could imagine—the scum of the earth—would enter the kingdom of God before they did; and all because the tax collectors and harlots repented at the preaching of John, but these religious leaders would not.
And then comes our passage today; where—with the authoritative force of a command—Jesus tells them, "Hear another parable . . ." (v. 33).
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I hope you can appreciate, dear brothers and sisters, that they didn't want another parable! They didn't welcome hearing anything further from Jesus! In fact, what they wanted most of all was Him out of the temple—and, if possible, off the face of the earth! He was utterly messing-up the whole religious system that they sought to protect—and over which they believed themselves to be the divinely appointed custodians. As the Son of His Father, and as the promised King of Israel, the temple was rightfully His (vv. 13); but as far as they were concerned, He was infringing on their territory! If they had any wish at all, it was certainly not for another "parable"! Rather, it was that they could laid their hands on Him and killed Him.
And as we know, in just a few days from that time, they would indeed get their wish.
But notice that Jesus doesn't begin by asking this hostile group, "Say; I have another parable. Would you fella's mind if I share it?" Whatever He had to say, He spoke with the authority of His Father; and He didn't need permission to speak what His Father would have Him speak in His own house! In the form of an imperative, He says, "Hear another parable . . ."
And I can't help but think of what an example He sets for us! We are His ambassadors in this world; and the gospel we declare is a message of good news to those who will receive it. But it's also a message that is not welcomed in this fallen world. It forces people to repent of their pride, and to admit our need for God's gracious work of salvation. Nevertheless, as unwelcome as it is, it possesses the full authority of the One who sent us to proclaim it—the One who said that “all authority” had been given to Him “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).
It would be inappropriate for us, then, to go tip-toeing around with our hat in our hand, asking if we may please have a hearing for the gospel. We should follow our Lord's bold, confident example as we proclaim Him to this world. We have a message from God that He has given us in His word; and we should confidently take our stand on His own authority, and say to our fellow man, "Hear!"
What a transformation it would bring about in our culture if we would faithfully do so!
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Now; I point that out, because I believe the way He begins this parable is in keeping with its intended impact.
Jesus didn't hesitate to make an encounter with Himself a “fork-in-the-road” experience for these chief priests and Pharisees. He clearly proclaimed who He was; and that proclamation made it necessary for them to respond. Either they would be brought to a place of broken-hearted repentance, and would bow to Him as Savior and Lord; or they would harden themselves toward Him even further, and set themselves against Him even more. There could be no middle-ground when it came to Him.
Let's read this entire passage together—not only the parable, but also the application Jesus makes of it at the end. And notice how it put His hearers at the fork of a decision about Himself.
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This passage speaks of Jesus as a “cornerstone”—the most important stone in an ancient building. It was the stone that held everything together—either as that stone that served as the corner-point of two connecting walls; or as the capstone that held an archway in place. Jesus is, thus, making it clear that He is the “cornerstone” on which the whole of God's household is built.
Right then, the leaders of the Jewish people were having an encounter with Jesus—the Cornerstone of God's household. And in encountering Him, they were making the decision to reject Him. And we see the results of this rejection in this passage; that the kingdom of God was going to be taken from them and given to someone else. They rejected the cornerstone, and lost the whole building in the process.
In a similar way, everyone who encounters Jesus today must also make a decision about Him. An encounter is decisive; and that decision is unavoidable. He is set forth to us as the “cornerstone” that every man and woman absolutely must encounter. As He says of Himself in verse 44, “[W]hoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
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Now; look with me at how He presents this to the chief priests and Pharisees through this parable.
It tells a certain landowner who owned a vineyard. This man made every provision possible for the success of his vineyard; so that he could draw from it the fruit he wanted. Jesus says that the man first planted his vineyard, then set a hedge around it, then dug a winepress in it, and finally leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. And this gives as a picture of the ownership God held over, and investment He made in, the nation of Israel as His covenant people. As Isaiah 5:7 says, “the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.”
God the Father planted them. He called Abraham to Himself from out of a paganistic world; and promised to make him into a great nation. He cared for Abraham's offspring while in bondage in Egypt; until He delivered them from bondage and gave them the land of promise. He cultivated His precious covenant people; and protected them from their enemies. He gave them good statutes and ordinances that would bless their daily life; and set up His own tabernacle—His own dwelling place—in their midst. He entrusted its care to its priests and teachers—the “vinedressers” who were to teach the people His word and lead them in His ways.
The landowner had a right to expect the fruits of his efforts. But in Jesus' parable, when the man sent his servants to collect the fruit at harvest-time, the vinedressers abused those servants. They beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. And it may be that we can see increasing degrees of violence in this; because it is bad to beat innocent men, and worse to murder them, and even worse to execute them by stoning.
The landowner in Jesus' parable is gracious. He sent other servants; but they were treated the same. I believe we can see in this what Jesus refers to in Matthew 23:34-37;
Finally, the landowner sends his own son. “They will respect my son”, he says. And obviously, this is a picture to us of their rejection of Jesus—the Son of God who came into His Father's temple. The wicked vinedressers saw the landowner's son coming, and said among themselves, “Here comes the heir! Let's kill him; and then we will seize the inheritance. The vineyard will be ours!” They took the son of the landowner, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him! What a picture this is of what it says in John 1:11 of the Lord Jesus—that “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him”!
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Once the parable was over, Jesus asks the chief priests and Pharisees a question that bought the application of it home to themselves. He said, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”
And they gave an answer that—perhaps without their realizing it at first—completely condemned them. They said that the landowner would obviously come and “destroy those wicked men miserably”; or, as it is in the New International Version, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end”. What's more, they admitted that he would naturally lease the vineyard out to other vinedressers who would give him its fruit in its season.
And that's when He reminded them of what it says in Psalm 118:22-23; that “the stone [and that would be Jesus] which the builders rejected [and that would be the religious leaders] has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (v. 42).1
He is the chief stone of the Father's house. To reject Him is to reject the son of the landowner; and to be like those wicked vinedressers. By the chief priest's and Pharisees' own admission, it would be right for the landowner to take the vineyard from them and to give it to someone else. And so, Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it” (v. 43). Jesus used the word for “nation” that would referred to the Gentiles2; and the leaders understood the implications clearly. For Him to say that the kingdom of God would be taken from them and given instead to the Gentiles was—as far as they were concerned—an unspeakable outrage; even though, by their own admission, it would have been just.
And that's when Jesus presents Himself as this unavoidable “stone” that all must encounter. Jesus said of Himself, “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”3
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Let me briefly suggest a few lessons we can draw from this. First, we should know that . . .
I. GOD HAS SET FORTH JESUS CHRIST AS "THE CORNERSTONE" OF SALVATION.
In Isaiah 28:16, God speaks and says, "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily." And that precious cornerstone is none other than the person Jesus Christ.
He is the only stone that God has provided on which to build the household of His redeemed ones. In the Book of Acts, the apostles Peter and John were placed on trial for having healed a man in the temple—which resulted in a great disturbance, because many came to believe on Jesus as a result. And when the officials asked, "By what power or by what name have you done this?", Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said,
Jesus is given to us as the cornerstone; and there is no other! As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, we are “the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph. 2:19b-20).
What's more, Paul warned;
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; let's be sure that we boldly point people to Jesus Christ! Salvation is not built on religion, or on good works, or on philosophy, or on saving the environment, or on any of the vain things that the people of this world look to as alternatives. God has provided no other cornerstone! There is salvation in no other name!
Let's go into this world as ambassadors of Christ, and clearly point to Him!
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Second, we should understand that . . .
II. EACH PERSON MUST UNAVOIDABLY ENCOUNTER THIS "STONE".
I say "unavoidably", because it's the nature of the human heart, gripped with unbelief, to wish to avoid making a decision about Him. The same "cornerstone" is at the same time a "sanctuary" for those who trust Him, but also "a stone of stumbling and rock of offense" for those who will not. Isaiah 8:13-15 warns;
Shortly after Jesus was born, Joseph and His mother Mary were told, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against" (Luke 2:34). And indeed He is!
But try as people may to avoid doing so, each must make a decision about Him. He keeps intruding into this world because of the word about Him that continues to be preached, and because of the lives He continues to transform. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, the message of the cross of Jesus Christ "is foolishness to those who are perishing"; "to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God" (vv. 23-24). As Peter writes;
Jesus is the cornerstone of salvation. And a decision about Him must be made. When people hear about Him, they must unavoidably encounter the cornerstone. They must make a choice. They will either bow the knee to Him now in the day of grace, or bow the knee to Him on the day of judgment.
Dear brother or sister; let's love people enough to tell them about Him—and to let them face that decision that they must make
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And that leads us, finally, to the fact that . . .
III. THAT ENCOUNTER WILL EITHER RESULT IN A "BROKENNESS" UNTO ETERNAL LIFE OR A "GRINDING" UNTO ETERNAL DESTRUCTION.
It's fascinating to see how Jesus puts this in verse 44. He says, "And whoever falls on this stone will be broken . . ." (v. 44a). He speaks of the person "falling" as the one performing the action; and says that such a person will be, literally, broken into pieces.
And may I suggest that this is the way someone must come to Him in order to be saved by Him? When they encounter Him for who He is, they must become convicted by who they themselves are. They must fall before Him and say, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). They must cry out as Isaiah did when He encountered the Lord; and say, "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (Isaiah 6:5).
Once someone comes to the end of themselves in that way; once they becomes "broken" of all that they trusted in concerning themselves; once they fall upon the Lord Jesus, and admit their need for salvation, then—at last—they can be built upon the Cornerstone.
Jesus goes on to say, ". . . [B]ut on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder" (v. 44b). Here, it's the stone that performs the action of "falling"; and the result the stone has upon the one on whom it falls is to be, literally, ground up in such a way as to be winnowed away as the chaff—with nothing remaining.
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The great preacher and commentator Matthew Henry once wrote, "When those who hear the reproofs of the word perceive that it speaks to them, if it do not do them good it will certainly do them hurt." And here is an example. It's infinitely better to fall on the Cornerstone today and be broken by Him from our pride and self-righteousness, than to have that Stone fall on us later and crush us in judgment!
How important it is that today—while we can—each one of us makes absolutely sure that we have encountered the Cornerstone and have responded to Him by faith. He truly is the Cornerstone of salvation that each one of us must encounter!
1It's important to note that the passage Jesus here quotes about Himself is found just a few verses after the very portion of Psalm 118 (verses 25-26) that the crowds quoted about Him when He rode into Jerusalem a few days prior (see Matthew 21:9).
3Some ancient manuscripts do not contain verse 44. But since many other reliable texts do, and because its omission in some manuscripts is easily accountable as a copyist's error (possibly confusing the αύτόν of verse 44 with the αύτής of verse 43; and thus resulting in the omission of verse 44), and because these words are attributed to the Lord without contention in Luke 20:18, it seems safe to consider it a genuine part of the text.
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