The Stone the Builders Rejected

  Luke 19:29-44  

29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

About a thousand years before the birth of Christ, King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. All the stones for the Temple were precut at the quarry and delivered to the site, so that, “no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built” (1 Kings 6:7).

There is a Jewish folk-tale 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 this? It doesn’t fit anywhere. 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. They sent to the quarry for the capstone, but the word came back, “We’ve already sent you the capstone.”  Someone said, “What about that odd-shaped stone? Could that be the capstone?”

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 a song was made, Psalm 118, 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.

We used part of it as our Call to Worship, but read the wider passage to see it’s Messianic implications:

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

O Lord, save us; (literally, "Hosanna!")
O Lord, grant us success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

From the house of the Lord we bless you.

The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine upon us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.

You are my God, and I will give you thanks;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever (Psalm 118:19-29).

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 prophecy of Zechariah:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

So, they spread their cloaks on the road before him, to do him homage and honor.

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 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 this Jesus couldn’t be the King. He just didn’t fit the profile.  How could He stand against the cruel Romans and their almighty Caesar? "Jesus, Teacher," they plead, "tell your disciples to pipe down. Do you have any idea what the Romans will do if they hear of this? Are you trying to get us all killed?”

But Jesus says, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out" (vs. 40).

We can take that to mean that if human voices will not acknowledge Jesus to be King, then mute creation will take up the cry. But also, OT passages sometimes mention mute stones bearing witness when sin has been committed – in this case the sin of not offering praise when praise is due.

Jesus declares, "My disciples must bear witness to me as King. And if you yourselves refuse to acknowledge me, then the very stones 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 "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous 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 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 to the heavens; instead they will be literally cast down into a living hell. All because they refused to acknowledge him as God himself come to be their Lord.

In 1st Corinthians, St. Paul writes, "Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1:22). For the Jews, Jesus’ miracles meant nothing once he was crucified. And for the logical 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 savior of our own imagining.

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

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 savior over from Amazon, and can send him back when we get a King who doesn’t fit our desires. The fact is, there is no savior besides the God-Man who died on the cross. You must receive Jesus as your Lord as God presents him to you -- or be guilty of worshipping a false Christ who is nothing but an idol.

The Cornerstone came to Jerusalem and the leaders and the people rejected him. Just as he had foretold he was turned over to the Gentiles, beaten, spat upon, and crucified.

St. Paul says, "but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24). 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 human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

It may sound foolish, but God gives you his Spirit-breathed 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.

Jesus the King comes to you in triumph today. Bow before this King. Make him the Lord of your life. Make him your cornerstone—the foundation and unifying principle of your life. Have him and him alone as your chief joy and greatest desire.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 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. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame” (1 Peter 2:4-6).

Just a few days after he entered Jerusalem in triumph and tears, Jesus gathered his disciples together in an upper room to eat the Passover meal with his disciples.

Allow me to read from Luke’s account because we don’t often hear it:

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Let us gather around this table and celebrate our King—our Cornerstone—who gave his life on the cross for our sin and who rose again from the dead to give us new life.