Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Stone the Builders Rejected

Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; Luke 19:28-44

ABOUT A THOUSAND YEARS BEFORE CHRIST, King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. All the stones for the Temple were precut at the quarry and delivered to the site. We can read about that in the Old Testament book of First Kings.

But elsewhere it’s recorded, that one day a shipment arrived that included a large stone with a very odd shape. The foreman, the construction administrator, the architect, the priest in charge of the work-- they all said, "What are we supposed to do with a botched-up stone like that? They must’ve made a mistake at the quarry!" So the builders had the unusual stone dragged over to the side of the jobsite, to be hauled away with the rest of the rubbish once the Temple was completed.

They went on with the work, until it was time to finish up the great lintel over the Holy Place. The work was all being supported by scaffolding up to then, but once that lintel was done, the scaffolding could be removed and the building would stand up by itself. The workmen looked and looked for the capstone, and they couldn’t find it anywhere. Till finally someone said, "What about that odd-shaped stone out in the rubbish pit? Would that fit there?"

So they went and looked at the rejected stone. They brought it back and lifted it up and sure enough, it was an exact fit! The stone the builders rejected turned out to be the capstone of the whole Temple!

And all the people, from King Solomon to the lowliest slave, marvelled at this. They recognised that the Lord had done this, to remind them that His foolishness was wiser than their wisdom, and His weakness better than their strength.

The builders had meant well. They wanted the Temple to be built. But they’d let their own ideas about how it should happen blind them to the way the Lord wanted things to be. They had to humble themselves and repent. And from what we read of the joy at the Temple’s dedication, I’d say they were happy to do so.

And a song was made, this Psalm 118 that we used part of for our Call to Worship, commemorating what the Lord had done. God’s people sang it every time they came up to the Temple in Jerusalem for the great feasts, especially when they came to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. "O Lord, save us!" the people sang; that is, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

Year after year they sang the song about the stone the builders rejected. Decade after decade, whenever God’s people Israel went up to celebrate the Passover, they sang of Him who would come in the name of the Lord. Century after century they sang, until one year, just before Passover time, a group of pilgrims came up to Jerusalem from Galilee. Their leader, a Rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth, directed some of His disciples to bring Him a donkey colt from a nearby village, a colt no one had ever ridden, that He might ride it into Jerusalem.

The followers of this Jesus knew what that meant. He was fulfilling the prophecies of ancient Scripture and declaring Himself to be Israel’s King. So they spread their cloaks on the road before Him, to do Him homage and honor.

St. Luke records that Jesus approached the place where the Jerusalem Road goes down the Mount of Olives. As He did, the whole crowd of disciples began to shout and sing Psalm 118 as they never had before: "Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!" Because now they knew, by the Holy Spirit they were convinced that this Jesus was at last the King and Messiah who was to come! His miracles proved it! King Jesus was about to enter the Gate of the Lord, through which the righteous may enter the City and the Temple courts! God’s King was coming! God’s King was here!

But not everyone was happy about it. There were Pharisees in the crowd as well, religious leaders of the people. To be fair, they were looking forward to the coming of King Messiah, too. They really wanted God’s kingdom to be restored to Israel. But it couldn’t come like this! Not now! Why, Israel wasn’t ready! Common sinners were breaking God’s Law every day! Corrupt Temple priests and Sadducees were perverting the Law to profit themselves! And how could it be a King like Jesus? How could He stand against the cruel Romans and their almighty Caesar? "Jesus, Teacher," they plead, "tell your disciples to pipe down! Are You an idiot letting them proclaim You as King? Do you want the Romans to come and arrest and crucify every last one of us?"

But Jesus says, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out!"

We can rightly take that to mean that if human voices will not acknowledge Jesus to be King, then mute creation will take up the cry!

But over and over in the Old Testament, we read of stones being called as silent witnesses against perjury and faithlessness. "O Pharisees," Jesus declares, "My disciples must bear witness to Me as King. And if you yourselves do not proclaim that to be true, you lie, and the stones of this Temple will cry out what liars you are!"

And there on the road to the Beautiful Gate, the righteous King Jesus began to cry out Himself, to weep violently, in fact. The people are singing the song about "This is the stone the builders rejected; it is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes!" Meanwhile, Jesus weeps over the City and its Temple. For He knows that He Himself is the rejected Stone. The builders were the leaders of the Jews, and oh, yes, they really and truly wanted King Messiah to come. But they wanted a king of their own imagining. A king of their own choosing. They probably could not have agreed among themselves what sort of king that should be-- but they definitely agreed that this Jesus could not be that king!

But Jesus is the King. And His sorrow is deep over Jerusalem and its people, for He knows what the consequences of rejecting Him will be. They could have had the peace of God; instead, they will suffer hideous war. They and their children could have been lifted up to the heavens; instead they will be literally cast down into a living hell. All because they refused to accept Him as God Himself come to be their Lord.

In 1st Corinthians, St. Paul writes, "Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." For the Jews, Jesus’ miracles meant nothing once He was crucified. And for the scientific Greeks, nothing could be more absurd than this story of a common Carpenter dying on a cross and being brought back to life again. They both rejected the Christ God had sent.

But now, woe to us if we think Jesus’ tears are only for the Jews of His day. Woe to us if we think Paul is talking only about Greeks and Jews of ancient times. No, we all fall into one of those categories. All of us are naturally prone to expect and worship a saviour of our own imagining.

What kind of false Christs do we Americans look for these days?

Oh, there’s the Christ of Social Activism. And the Christ of Family Values. The Christ of Pacifism and the Christ of Peace Through Strength. There’s the Christ of Enthusiastic Worship and the Christ of Curb-Your-Enthusiasm. The Christ of Capitalism and the Christ of Socialism. The list can go on and on, and yes, a lot of those things are good and important in their proper place.

But Jesus our King won’t let us limit and define Him! It’s not like we’re ordering a saviour over the Internet, and can send Him back when we get a King who doesn’t fit into our plans! The fact is, there is no saviour besides the God-Man who died on the cross. You must accept Jesus as your Lord as God presents Him to you-- or be guilty of worshipping a false Christ who is nothing but an idol. You must put yourself under the protection of King Jesus, or suffer the judgement your sins deserve.

But how can we see who He is? How can we accept Him?

Friends, our eyes are opened by the call and mercy of God. St. Paul says, "But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." The crucified Carpenter is the King of the Universe! The stone the builders rejected holds the entire Universe together! "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength."

It may sound foolish, but God gives you His Spirit-inspired Word, that you might read and hear what He has given you in Christ. It may sound weak, but He sends His Holy Spirit to your mind and heart, so you can shout "Hosanna!" to King Jesus and really mean it. By the power of His Spirit God builds Jesus into your life and makes you realize that without Him, you are nothing. By the wisdom of His Word, Christ builds you up with all other believers to become a holy Temple to your Lord and God.

But maybe you have never claimed Christ as your Lord. Friend, King Jesus comes to you in triumph today. Don’t put your fingers in your ears and tell His ministers to be silent! Let go of your private ideas of what Jesus should do and be for you! Why remain under God’s wrath? Accept your God and King just as He comes to you: humble, sorrowing over your sins, and crucified and risen again for your sake. Accept Him, and enter into the joy of His kingdom. Welcome Him, and be saved.

Brothers and sisters: Jesus is the stone the builders rejected, and He has become the capstone. He is the Lord’s doing, and He is marvellous in our eyes! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna, amen!

[Preached Palm Sunday, A.D. 2007. Image "Christ of the Boulders" by Paul Judson, reproduced from]


Brian & Terah Lites said...

I would like to know if you have any information on the, "Elsewhere it is recorded" part of this sermon. I would like to know where you find the story of the stone being rejected for the temple.


Blase said...

I would also like to know more about the original source of this story, does anyone know?

HermitTalker said...

Nonsense story no historic basis. Stick with the metaphor JESUS.

HermitTalker said...

Nonsense story, no historic record. Stick with the metaphor JESUS and reflect on HIM

Anonymous said...

actually if I read the story literally, it sounds like whoever sent the stones to the site had created one that fit in that spot. it's like saying a miracle occurred when the last piece of the puzzle fits perfectly in the last remaining hole - it was designed that way, even if we didn't see it when the puzzle started.

Unknown said...

I searched for hits on how Solomon's Temple was built to see where a "capstone" might have fit in the architecture. I came across another quote of this story, described as a paraphrase of a rabbinic parable, but no source is given. The cornerstone mentioned in Isaiah 28:16 may also be Messianic; there it seems to refer to a true "cornerstone" whereas the depiction of the stone in this article is more that of a "capstone." It is a little hard to imagine how the "cornerstone" can be rejected, since it is the first stone laid, or how the "capstone" would be sent first without explanation, and would just happen to fit exactly at the end of the construction. Perhaps someone could shed more insight from a knowledge of construction at the time, or research on the architecture of the Solomonic Temple. Note that the Temple was built by Solomon (after David), and the Psalm may have been written by someone else or updated later for use in worship at the Temple. Then again it may have been envisioned ahead of time by David.

Unknown said...

I have seen this story resourced for several years as a traditional Rabbinic midrash, and most recently coming for the lips of Rabbi Ray Vander Laan. As with many parables told by the rabbis through the centuries, it is by design virtually impossible to pen down a "source" in the sense that that our 21st century mindset wishes we could. The point of the story lies not in historical fact, but in how the rabbis creatively used their history to speak truths to their people, just as the need for a historical Good Samaritan,Lazarus and Rich Man, Prodigal Sons, etc. totally misses the point of Jesus' teaching as he engaged in the time-honored teaching tradition of parable.
The story makes clear the point that unless God build the house it will fall; we should follow His design and have Him as the foundation of our lives.
The inclusion of the idea of the rejected corner in Ps 118:22-23, as well as the NT writers quoting from it no less than four different times (putting on the lips of Jesus at least three of those times), and the allusion in Job 38:4-7 to God being the One who 'laid the corner' of Creation, should be enough for us to not reject the midrash and it's intent.

Unknown said...

This is a cute story circulated around involving Jewish tradition with respect to the rejection of the cornerstone with many variations. However, the one actual source I found for this 'tale' is Ellen G. White’s "Desire Of Ages" on page 598. I personally need a source superior to the founder of, at best, A Heterodox Christian denomination, or at worst another thriving Laodecian Age cult. This woman was a false prophetess and example of the deception in the church created when you violate foundational doctrine (see 1 Tim. 2:11-12, 1 Cor. 14:34-35).

True Disciples of Christ should stop propagating this without any tangible sources (except poor Ellen). It’s not in the Bible! At least provide a reference to Rabbinic Midrash where this is espoused. Scripture shows that the laying of the cornerstone of the original temple was a most solemn event (1 Kings 5:17; 6:37; 7:9). Well, what about the 2nd Temple? Scripture records the solemnities with a sanctifying ceremony (Ezra 3:10-11; Haggai 2:15,18-23; Zechariah 3:9; 4:9-10; 8:9). Rabbit Trail: the scriptures in Zechariah are an excellent typology for Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; and 5:6 along with the seven manifestations of the Holy Spirit identified in Isaiah 11:2.

Anonymous said...

I've got the same problem with this. Wish someone could point to someone with at least a bit of authority in the Jewish historical understanding of the "stone the builders rejected."