************ Sermon on Psalm 118:22 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 2, 2017
"The Rejected Stone"
"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone" (Ps 118:22). Or, a better translation, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."
The image has to do with the building of the Temple. As the foundation was being laid and the walls erected highly trained stonemasons carefully chose the stones used in construction. Some of the stones were rejected as unsuitable building material -- either they were too big or small, the wrong shape, the wrong color, or didn't appear strong enough.
Now, no stone was more important than the cornerstone. The cornerstone was the principal stone placed at the corner of the building. The cornerstone was usually one of the largest, the most solid, and the most carefully chiseled of any of the stones. The strength of a building lies in its corners. The integrity and unity of the whole building depended on the cornerstone containing exactly the right lines. If the cornerstone was not exactly right, the entire building would be out of line. For that reason, builders inspected many stones, rejecting each one until they found the one they wanted.
Our text is quoted verbatim five times in the New Testament and paraphrased once. As we continue to observe Lent we look at how our text has been fulfilled in Christ.
I The Rejected Stone
A Let's begin with a literal translation of the original languages. Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek of this passage contain the word "the" that we find at the beginning of our English translation. "The stone the builders rejected ..." "The" implies that there is one stone the builders have rejected. Yet this is not the case. Many stones have been rejected in the building of the Temple. "A stone the builders rejected ..." is a better translation.
Now, let us apply this idea of many rejected stones to what we are told in the New Testament. One of Jesus' great criticisms against the Jewish leaders is that they were constantly rejecting the prophets, murdering them because of the witness they bore:
(Mt 23:37) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you ..."According to Jesus, there are many rejected stones.
Look at Jeremiah. Jeremiah's message aroused great hostility and death threats, especially in his home town (Jer 11:21). Even his own relatives conspired against him and betrayed him (Jer 12:6). His persecution increased in Jerusalem when a priest named Pashhur had Jeremiah beaten and put in stocks for a day (Jer 20:1-2). Jeremiah laments that he has become a laughingstock to the people and a target of mockery (Jer 20:7). After this, spiteful men obtained the king’s approval to arrest Jeremiah for prophesying disaster. These men then lowered Jeremiah into a cistern where he sank into a layer of mud (Jer 38:1-6).
Consider John the Baptist. His message was met with hostility by the leaders of Israel because he warned them to repent. When John told Herod Antipas to repent he was thrown into prison and eventually beheaded.
B It should be clear by now that the "builders" are not mason workers. Neither Jesus nor Paul nor Peter -- all who quote Psalm 118 -- are talking about a construction crew. Rather, they are talking about the spiritual leaders of Israel. They are talking about the Pharisees and Sadducees and the leaders who make up the Sanhedrin. They are talking about the priests and elders. They are talking about civil leaders like Herod Antipas.
These are the builders that have rejected the stones set before them. The image portrayed by the psalm is that there was nothing wrong with the rejected stones. They weren't crooked, porous, too small, too big. Yet, the builders of Israel refused to listen to their voices.
C "A stone the builders rejected ..." This prophecy especially finds fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. He, above all others, is the stone rejected by the leaders of the people. Christ's bitterest enemies were the spiritual leaders of Israel. They hated Him with a passion. They rejected His claims to be the Son of God. They could not accept Him as Messiah. They argued He did miracles by the power of Beelzebub. Early in His ministry already they began to plot His death.
Look at Herod the Great. Just as his son Herod Antipas could not accept John the Baptist, so Herod the Great could not accept Jesus. Remember what he did? When he heard from the wisemen and the chief priests that the Christ was born in Bethlehem, he killed all the baby boys two and under.
Jesus especially is the stone rejected by the builders. Peter makes this so clear before the Sanhedrin. Peter was teaching at the Temple. He healed a man who was lame from birth. He was arrested by the leaders of Israel. Before the Sanhedrin he was asked to explain how he performed such a miraculous cure. The rulers said to him, "By what power or what name did you do this?" (Acts 4:7). Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered,
(Acts 4:10) "It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed."Then Peter interprets the words of our text:
(Acts 4:11) "He is 'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.'"And he added,
(Acts 4:12) "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."Peter says the stone rejected by the builders is Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and the builders were the rulers in the Sanhedrin and all other religious and civil rulers in Israel.
The builders of Israel rejected Jesus. And, they rejected those who followed Jesus. Stephen was the first Christian martyr on record, and this is the statement he made to the builders of Israel that cost him his life:
(Acts 7:51-52) "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (52) Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him."The builders of Israel had him stoned to death for this statement.
It wasn't just the builders of Israel who rejected Jesus. Most of the people of Israel did as well. Remember Good Friday? It was far too easy for the builders to whip the entire crowd into a mob demanding that Pilate crucify Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul, in the years that followed only a small remnant of Jews became Christians and were saved (cf Romans 11:1-5).
Furthermore, Israel is not the only nation that has rejected Christ. Political and religious leaders in all nations on earth today have rejected the moral and spiritual authority of Jesus Christ. Israel still rejects Him; all the Arab and Muslim nations reject Him; all secular nations reject Him; Russia rejects Him; China rejects Him; all the nations recognizing one of the other world religions reject Him. And, let us admit that many of the builders/leaders of America have rejected Him as well. There is only a remnant in America who have truly accepted Christ, and the rest have rejected Him.
Sad to say, what is true for America is even true for the American church. Often those who are entrusted with ruling the church prove to be the worst of workmen. In church after church we see leaders rejecting the words of the prophets and apostles. They find ways to argue against male headship and install women in church office. They reject what Scripture says about homosexual sin and support gay marriage. They approve of abortion though the law and the prophets clearly forbid this. They say nothing about divorce and live-in relationships. They even approve of other religions and claim all paths and all religions lead to God and heaven and eternal life. But Peter says "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12). These words are utterly exclusive. There is no other hope, no other way, and no other name than the name of Jesus. If we would be saved, it is through God’s way.
The world, and even the church, is hostile to Christ so He is the rejected stone.
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, He is "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." That's what Peter says in his letter. They stumble and fall to their doom. They stumble and fall into the fires of hell. They stumble and fall because they disobey the message (cf 1 Pet 2:7-8).
My brothers and sisters, dear friends, do not be like the builders who rejected God’s Stone of salvation! Do not reject Jesus Christ. Do not stumble over this rejected stone. Unlike the leaders, unlike Herod, unlike most people, come to Him in repentance and faith.
II The Cornerstone
A Look at the next half of our text. The stone the builders rejected "has become the capstone." Or, as I said earlier, a better translation is "has become the cornerstone."
I try to imagine the scene in my mind. The stonemasons are at the rock pit looking over stones. They reject stone after stone: too big, too small, crooked, not strong enough, out of alignment, not level. Every stone they reject is put to the side or marked. Finally they have selected all the stones they need for building the Temple. However, when the actual building project begins what is set in place as the cornerstone? Much to their surprise and even shock, one of the stones they have rejected is set in place as the cornerstone.
I mentioned in my introduction that the cornerstone is the most important stone in the building. The cornerstone is the foundation for the entire building. By it the entire building is unified and joined and gets its strength. Upon it the entire building is built.
B The New Testament makes clear that Jesus is the cornerstone. I mentioned earlier what Peter said about Jesus before the Sanhedrin. Before the Sanhedrin, Peter quotes from Psalm 118 and identifies Jesus not only as the stone the builders rejected but he also identifies Jesus as the cornerstone (cf Acts 4:11).
Jesus, the rejected stone, has become the cornerstone. The Greek New Testament adds an interesting twist. In the Greek "cornerstone" becomes "head stone of the corner." To be "head" means to be "first, chief, primary." Jesus is the head stone of the corner. He comes first. He is chief. He is primary. He is the stone that is placed first, apart from which no other stone can be laid. And in Him the whole building holds together.
Here is a question we need to ask: The cornerstone of what? Jesus is the head stone of what? Peter supplies the answer. After he quotes our text from Psalm 118 he says,
(1 Pet 2:5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.The building is the church. Christ is the cornerstone of the church. Christ is the first and primary stone of the church. He is the foundation of the church. In Him the building is joined and holds together. Which means no stone can be part of the church unless it is in alignment with Him. Which means the strength of the church lies in Jesus. Which means Jesus is the head and ruler of the church. Which means Jesus is our sure foundation.
C "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Ps 118:22). Take note of what the psalmist says next:
(Ps 118:23-24) the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. (24) This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.The LORD has done this. The LORD has made the rejected stone the cornerstone. It was part of His plan from the beginning. And He fulfilled the plan through the actions of wicked men who put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross (Acts 2:23). But God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him to His right hand where He is head of the church and rules all things.
"This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." We rejoice in what God has done. We rejoice the rejected stone has become the cornerstone, the head of the church, the foundation of the new creation. We love to sing these words. We apply them to every day the Lord has made. We apply them to Easter's resurrection. We apply them to the day the Spirit came. These words fit the entire time from Easter on. "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
"The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone" (Ps 118:22).
In this season of Lent we see here the two responses to Jesus. Either people reject Him and stumble over him. Or they recognize Him as the chief cornerstone.
Do you, along with most people, reject Him? Or, do you rejoice in the day the LORD has made because you recognize Him as the cornerstone?
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