The Great Architect’s Cornerstone
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 21:40-41 (Holman) “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?” “He will completely destroy those terrible men,” they told Him, “and lease his vineyard to other farmers who will give him his produce at the harvest.”
Using a brilliant tactic, Jesus let the religious leaders be their own judge and jury. Voicing their own verdict and sentence, they unwittingly predicted their own rejection. They wanted the inheritance, to live for themselves, to be their own boss, to obey no one else, especially Jesus.
God, granting them their awful freedom, let them have their way, and their success ruined them. The leaders lost the very advantages they craved.
They believed if they could be unencumbered by Jesus, all would be well. They thought, “If they could get this unwelcome and persistent voice silenced, they could go on in the comfortable old fashion” (Maclaren). They could then live without remorse of conscience, with pleasure without guilt.
Beware! We think if we could get rid of Jesus and the Bible, we could do as we want, and be happily free, but we quickly learn we are our own worst tyrants. You will be surprised at how harsh a taskmaster you can be on yourself; ask any addict. May we never live for our cravings. They will destroy us. Sin is the surest way for sinners not to get what they really want.
Matt. 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes?”
This quote, found in Psalm 118:22-23, barely precedes the praise the people proclaimed at the Triumphal Entry (118:26). The leaders had for sure read this quote. Many of them probably had the whole Psalm memorized.
Their problem was, they had never meditated on the passage. Without reflection and application, we lose the benefit of reading the Bible. It is a living book. We need the Holy Spirit who inspired it for us to illuminate it in us. We need to let Him help us see ourselves in light of what we are reading.
Cornerstones have in our day taken on ceremonial implications, but in Jesus’ day they were the main building block for any structure. They were large stones builders set in place when they began constructing a building. In Jerusalem, for instance, the temple’s southeast cornerstone is 24x5x3 feet; the southwest one is 32x3x2 feet. A cornerstone’s importance could hardly be overstated. Every other stone was set in place using the cornerstone as a reference. It literally determined the arrangement of the entire structure.
Jesus was drawing a word picture for the religious leaders. He wanted them to envision a potential cornerstone that had been taken from the quarry and tried in a particular spot. It was deemed unsuitable and cast aside, but in the end the rejected cornerstone became the building’s most important stone.
Jesus’ meaning was easy to figure out. He was claiming to be the cornerstone of God’s Kingdom, the One on whom its existence was built and depended. The leaders, thinking Jesus was not good enough to be the cornerstone, rejected Him, but the Great Architect quickly overruled them.
The leaders, representing all unbelievers of all time, including you and me, rejected the cornerstone by crucifying Jesus. They cast Jesus aside, and nailed Him to a cross, but God restored the cornerstone by resurrecting Him.
He was telling the leaders, “I know I’m a stone in your way. You will fling me away, but I’m important nonetheless.” “Strange words from a Man who knew in three days He would be crucified! Stranger still that they have come true! He is the foundation of the best part of the best men” (Maclaren).
For the Church to be all it could be, God’s first choice regarding it had to be a good cornerstone. As the Master Architect designed the building, He looked throughout the Universe seeking the perfect stone, and found but one.
Only One could tie all the stones of the Kingdom together and bear their full weight. No angel or human passed this test. Only God-made-man would do: being human, Jesus was of the same substance as the other stones in the building. As God, He was able to bear the full weight of the wall.
Laying the cornerstone was usually a celebration, much like turning the first shovel of dirt is in our culture. This was supposed to be a party. People came to have fun. Men rejoiced, women sang, children danced; but when the chief cornerstone of the Church was laid, the scene was tragic; men beat their chests, women cried, and children jumped back in horror.
Even angels wept. They clothed their harps in sackcloth, and sang no songs. They had celebrated when the world was made; why were they not happy now? The answer is easily stated. “That stone is imbedded in blood” (Spurgeon). Despite a humiliating planting, it became the chief cornerstone.
Once imbedded, the cornerstone held. It succeeded. God poured the foundation of the Church around it, built the superstructure of the Church on it, and it held. It stayed steady, and did not falter. I’m grateful God one day put this stone of a preacher’s son in the Kingdom wall, and Jesus held firm.
Jesus cements believers together. He undergirds us, serving as our unshakable foundation. Anything we build without Christ buckles in time, but whatever we build on Him never fails. A dramatist has Julian the Apostate, the last Roman Emperor that tried to annihilate Christianity, say, “To shoulder Christ from out the topmost niche was not for me.” In real life, his dying words were, “Thou has conquered, O Galilean.” Julian, the religious leaders, and all other unbelievers learn Jesus always wins.
Matt. 21:43-44 “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken
away from you and given to a nation producing its fruit. Whoever
falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it
falls, it will grind him to powder!”
By throwing Jesus out, the religious leaders threw themselves out. God brought Jesus back by the resurrection, but the leaders remained out.
Nothing could have been more heart wrenching to the leaders, or made them angrier, than this warning from Jesus. God’s Kingdom would be transferred to Gentiles. Having God’s work taken from us is a terrible judgment. Can any fate be worse than becoming useless to God?
The transfer of the Kingdom’s Center is a sad thing to ponder, but also a horrific reality: Jerusalem to Antioch to Rome to Germany to England.
Then, as early as the 1660s, John Trapp, the Puritan preacher, weighed as a possibility the Gospel was “travelling for the West, for the American parts”.
Where is it heading now? Will revival keep it here, in “the American parts”, or will it move on to China or Nigeria or South Korea or elsewhere?
The picture of the cornerstone crushing its opponents presents a doom so severe that we must get the Gospel out. If we fully realized how serious lost people’s situation is, we would give mission/evangelism higher priority.
Matt. 21:45-46 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His
parables, they knew He was speaking about them. Although they
were looking for a way to arrest Him, they feared the crowds,
because thy regarded Him as a prophet.
The leaders did not fear Jesus, the Son of God, but did fear the people, a rabble that proved fickle. On this day, in our text, they protected Jesus. But soon, the ones who had been crying out “Hosanna!” at the Triumphal Entry, and who were now calling Him a prophet, would be yelling “Crucify Him!”
On a personal level, I find a measure of consolation here. Not even Jesus won everyone. This should encourage us when difficult days come.