THE CROSS AND THE CORNERSTONE
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 3, 2019
9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
— Luke 20:9-18, ESV
The people to whom the Lord preached this parable included the irascible group of religious rulers mentioned in the first verse of the chapter, “the chief priests and the scribes with the elders.” The plain language of the parable was a pointed as a bird dog beholding a covey of quail. It is no wonder what happened a couple of days later.
The parable presented Israel with a most uncomfortable truth. Throughout their history, most of the Jews who claimed to have a covenant relationship with God did not. They dishonored the spirit of the Old Covenant, disobeyed the commandments of Scripture, and distanced themselves from a personal relationship with God. Then, when God came to them Himself, in the person and work of Jesus the Messiah, instead of putting Him on the throne they nailed Him to a tree.
For this grotesque sin judgment followed, along with mercy, for Israel and every other nation under the Son.
A Parable Pronouncing the Failure of Israel
The pictures painted by the parable would be particularly plain to a pair of Jewish eyes. The “man” is clearly God, the “vineyard” full of “tenants” is Israel, the three people named “servant” are the prophets of the Old Testament, and “my beloved son” is none other than the Son of God and Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The failure is four-fold, from Israel’s response to the three servants plus the Son. The first servant looking for fruit from the vineyard is Moses, the giver of the “law,” the first five books of the Old Testament. The second servant looking for fruit from the vineyard is David and Solomon, Psalms and Proverbs, all the books and history in the “writings” section of the Old Testament. The third servant looking for fruit from the vineyard represents the major and minor “prophets,” the third and final section of the Old Testament. The Son, of course, who comes at the conclusion of the Old and inaugurates the New, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Old Covenant did not fail Israel, Israel failed the Old Covenant. Moses was faithful and true, but within a generation after his and Joshua’s leadership, the whole enterprise was falling apart due to unfaithfulness on the part of the people. David was a man after God’s own heart and Solomon his son was wiser than a thousand Ivy league professors, but within a generation after their leadership Israel collapsed into civil war, led by a litany of corrupt kings, and surrounded by her enemies. The prophets were pure at heart, but in every generation of every prophet, Israel chose to ignore their message, then go on to suffer humiliation and defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Greeks and Romans. By the time the Messiah arrived, they were a spiritually bankrupt people led by liberals and legalists who could not interpret Scripture and did not recognized the signs of the times and the Son of God, who was staring them right in the face.
They did to Him just what the parable said they would do. “They threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Just outside the walled city of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day there was an execution site called “the place of the skull,” in Aramaic “Golgotha,” in Latin “Calvary.” A couple of days after this parable was preached, that is where the religious rulers of Israel, in conspiracy with the political leaders of Rome, would take Jesus and crucify Him on an old, rugged cross.
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
Within a generation of these events, God did destroy Israel. In AD 70, Roman armies invaded Jerusalem, tore down the temple, mowed over the walls, erased the city limits of Jerusalem, and obliterated the boundaries of Israel. Israel had failed. The Old Covenant was finished. A New Covenant, a new age of grace and mercy for all nations, including and beginning with Israel, emerged.
A Parable Presenting the Birth of the Church
Remember this parable is part of the gospel, which turns bad news into good. Jesus’ original audience included religious frauds and faithful followers, all of whom were Jewish. They knew Psalm 118:22. They just had not interpreted in the correct way. They would learn the gospel requires a rejected stone to come first before the chief cornerstone can be laid.
“But he looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written:The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’”
The rejected stone is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus used the Psalm to predict His pain, suffering, and death before He experienced it. He had actually done so many times before, as had the Old Testament prophecies He inspired. Out of all of the ingredients in that bitter cup, however, Jesus highlighted His own rejection.
Rejection may be the worst pain of all, especially when you know you are worthy of acceptance. You know you are the best qualified applicant, but someone else gets the job. You know you are a faithful and true wife, but your husband leaves anyway. You know you are the Creator and King of the universe, having given a special dispensation of grace and truth to Israel, and their leaders turn you over to the cruel Romans for capital punishment.
The great gospel irony is that Christ’s rejection by people resulted in God’s acceptance of people. The rejected stone hung upon a cross, and it is only through the cross that we can become living stones which are acceptable, forgiven, and free to follow God. Grace changes everything.
If the rejected stone is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, then the cornerstone is the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the completion of the gospel, and the beginning of the church (ref. Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6-7). The complete interpretation of the Old Covenant Psalm reveals Christ not as a victim, but the victor, architect, and head of a perfect New Covenant (ref. Hebrews 8:13).
Jesus is again predicting His future with the preaching of the parable and interjection of the promise of God from the Psalm. Yes, He would be rejected and despised, beaten and killed, tossed into a tomb. And yes, He would rise again on the third day, ascend to the right hand of the Father, empower His people with His Spirit, and build His New Testament church, Himself of course being the chief cornerstone.
A Parable Putting the Stone in Your Hand
Be careful, be very careful, how you handle the stone.
Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.’”
You would have to let the stone fall from your hand and drop to the ground in order to stumble and fall on it. Letting if fall is like saying you do not believe it. Trying to ignore it and walk around it is like saying you don’t need it. But the stone is too big, too consequential to disregard or disrespect. If you do, according to the word of God, the stone will break you to pieces. In the end, the stone will roll into view, gather God’s people who have been saved by grace through faith, and utterly and eternally crush the rest.
It is far better to make the rejected stone your own cornerstone. The cornerstone is the foundation of the foundation. Christianity is the complete acceptance of Christ, not just as a savior from sin and death, but as Lord of life, all of life, beginning with the foundations. The foundation holds your most cherished beliefs, which determine one’s morals and ethics, from which all the attitudes and actions of life flow. If God, God’s Son, God’s Spirit, God’s word, and God’s church comprise your foundation, it will be revealed on earth and be rewarded in eternity.
While we wait for the stone to roll back into view, it is the mission of the church to worship God by putting the stone on display in word and sacrament, liturgy and life. We want to put the stone into as many people’s hands as possible through the sharing of the gospel, and pray people don’t drop it and fall on it. We do not know how much time we have to do this. Time for Israel ran out at the first coming of Christ, time for the church will run out when we are gathered to Him at the second coming of Christ.
When Christ came the first time, few people believed, and Israel became a byword. When He comes again, I am convinced the percentages will once again be small, and I fear that the church at large will look like much like the Israel that rejected Jesus. As Churchill once said, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. The larger church today, like Israel of old, dishonors the spirit of the New Covenant, disobeys the commandments of Scripture, and distances her members from a personal relationship with God. How will most professing Christians even recognize Jesus when He returns?
You will see Him and you will know Him as the rolling stone that rocks the world and rolls in the new heaven and earth. Before the rock returns, then, we must be very careful how we handle the stone. Make sure He is your cornerstone.
Copyright © 2019 Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, All rights reserved.
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org