JESUS THE REJECTED STONE, THE CORNERSTONE
Luke 20:1-19 Key Verse: 20:17
“Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone?’”
In the previous passage, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a colt as the Promised Messiah on Palm Sunday. As the disciples accepted Jesus as their king and praised, saying, “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, so those who accept Jesus as their savior will praise God and be willing to be an instrument of Jesus as their Lord, like the colt, carrying Jesus to the world. What a wonderful life with Jesus who rules us with peace, love and humility! Moreover, Jesus cleansed the temple courts through driving out those who were selling in there and restored its function through teaching the word of God there.
Today’s passage is the result of Jesus’ purifying the temple and teaching in the temple courts. Jesus’ answer to the question of where his authority comes from and the consequences of not accepting God’s ownership and kingship is on a personal level. May God bless each one of us to accept God’s ownership of life! There are two parts.
Where Jesus’ authority comes from (1-8).
According to the timeline, after the Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem, and he will be the Paschal lamb on Friday as it is prophesied. Only a few days left for Jesus on earth. What did he do, spending these precious days before his death? What would you do if you had less than a few days to live? What is your bucket list? Look at verse 1. Jesus was teaching God’s word and proclaiming the good news in the temple courts. Why? It is because Jesus came to this world to save people through the good news, the gospel. Through hearing the word of God, people can be saved. Jesus is fulfilling God’s mission to the end of his life no matter what. Jesus’ word was life-giving. All the people listened to God’s words with delight and hung on them. Jesus’ teaching was convicting the hearts of people to repent of their sins and believe the good news.
There is one good example among us, Missionary Anastasia. Recently her country came under attack by Russia and fell into war. Her sisters and their children could not move to a safer place because one of her sisters is sick. As civilians are also being attacked, they are in danger, and M. Anastasia confessed that she could not but shed tears when she was talking to them and even while praying for them. Yet, she did not stay in that sorrowful heart in a terrible situation but came out to teach the Bible to a student and even shared her life testimony of how Christ saved her and blessed her with her high school students she teaches. In spite of all these sorrows, she is fulfilling God’s mission. I also pray that I may teach the Bible and proclaim the gospel of Jesus, overcoming difficult situations and to the end of my life.
But some people were very unhappy about what Jesus was doing. They were the chief priests and teachers of the law, together with the elders. They were basically the people who got money out of the business Jesus drove out from the temple courts. They planned to kill Jesus but could not do it because they were afraid of the people who hung on to Jesus’ words. But they came up with a good question to challenge Jesus. Look at verse 2. Yes, it was an authority issue. All the temple works should be done by a high priest, priests and Levites according to the Law of Moses. A high priest should be chosen from among the priests who are descendants of Aaron. But Jesus was neither a descendant of Aaron nor of Levi. They thought that Jesus had no authority to drive out the business they made. Moreover, Jesus received no theological education through the teachers of the law or Pharisees. Also, they thought that Jesus had no authority to teach in the temple court either. Therefore, they asked, “Who gave you this authority?” It seems that their question is reasonable.
What was Jesus’ answer to them? Look at verses 3-4. Instead of answering them, Jesus asked a counter question about John’s baptism. “He replied, ‘I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?’” What was their response? Look at verses 5-7. If they say “from heaven,” Jesus would tell them, “Why didn’t you repent and believe him?” If they answer, “Of human origin,” people would accuse them because they believed that John was a prophet. They knew what they were doing. They had neither repented nor accepted John the Baptist as God’s messenger. They were in a dilemma and finally gave their best answer, “We don’t know.”
What was Jesus’ answer? Look at verse 8. Jesus would not give them answer because they would not recognize their sins. They would not accept God’s word and God’s servant. If they examined themselves and Jesus, they could recognize that Jesus’ authority came from God. Just as they rejected John the Baptist, they rejected Jesus. In fact, they received the same answer that they gave to their own question, “We don’t know.” Their hardened hearts were the answer, rejecting God’s message of repentance.
This is often the answer from a lot of people who will not accept the gospel of Jesus. They do not repent of their sins but justify their sinful life, even though they know what the Bible says. Even though God’s word through his servant convicts them in their conscience, they would say, “I don’t know what you are talking about. In my own logic, it is not sin but building a good relationship.” Some mass shooters say, “It is not me but mental illness made me shoot people.” Some say, “I don’t know. People made me to do it.” When you meet such people, what would you do? Should we give up? What did Jesus do to such people?
Jesus became the Cornerstone (9-19)
Jesus did not give up on them; rather, he gave them a parable to help them to understand himself and their own sins. Look at verses 9-10a. A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent his servant to collect some fruit of the vineyard as yearly rent from the tenants. It is the owner’s right to collect rent from the farmers. In history, many owners of land have collected a high percentage of the harvest. According to current statistics in 2021, in central Illinois the rate of rent is about 60% of the harvest. But this owner would not take that much but only some, maybe 10%. What would you do if you have to pay only 10% of your harvest to the owner, and 90% is in your pocket? Good deal!
Did the tenants give some to the owner? Look at verses 10b-12. No, they refused to give any fruit and sent away the servant empty-handed. Instead of kicking the tenants out of his vineyard, the owner sent another servant. But they did worse than before, beating and treating the servant shamefully. Yet the owner sent a third and they even wounded him and threw him out. Who is the man, the owner in the parable? Who are the tenants?
Isaiah 5:1-2 says, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” Here the man is God, and the farmers are the people of Israel. God gave the Promised Land, which was flowing with milk and honey, to the people of Israel. In his time God sent his servants to the Israelites to come back to God; to love him, honor him and thank him. Instead, they mistreated his prophets. In his great mercy, God sent other prophets and seers, saying, “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God.” (2 Kings 17:13-14) But they treated them worse.
If you are the owner of the vineyard, what would you do to the tenants who mistreated and killed your servant whom you sent to collect the rent? I would sue them and put them in jail to the maximum sentence, doing my best. What did the owner do to the tenants? Look at verse 13. Instead of destroying the tenants, he decided to send his one and only son. He expected that they would respect him. If I were one of the owner’s friends, I would tell him plainly, “Don’t you get it? They even mistreated and harmed your servants. They will not respect your son either. Just send an army and destroy them now. Three strikes and you’re out!” But when we look at the heart of the owner, we see that the owner’s intention was not some fruit of the vineyard but the tenants’ recognition of his ownership, respect and love relationship with them through giving a little to him.
Did they understand the owner’s intention and accept the son? Look at verses 14-15. No, they did not understand the owner’s intention but did worse to the son. They threw him outside of the vineyard and killed him, thinking that the vineyard would be theirs forever. They thought that they became the owner when they killed the owner’s son. How foolish! Jesus asked them a question, “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them?” Then he gave an answer, “He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” Jesus’ message convicted the heart of the people. The people knew that Jesus was speaking to them about God’s judgment on those who reject God and his servants and cried out, “God forbid.” God’s message should convict the sinful and rebellious hearts, but those who hardened their hearts would not repent, trying to avoid God’s judgment.
How did Jesus convict them further? Look at verse 17. This message was for the people who reject Jesus as he looked directly at them. In this passage, they were the religious leaders of the time. Jesus explained that this is fulfilling the prophecy made for him in Psalm 118:22. The stone is Jesus Christ. The builders are the Israelites. God chose them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation in order to build God’s plan for world salvation. Though God sent his servants again and again, they rejected them. Now, this was the state of the religious leaders’ heart. In spite of all the evil they had done, in his great mercy God sent his Son Jesus Christ in order to receive their recognition of his ownership, respect and love relationship, but they rejected him, thinking that the temple is theirs to make money out of it. In the book of Acts 2:23, Apostle Peter explained it to the fellow Israelites, saying, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of the wicked man, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible to keep its hold on him.” In spite of their rejections, God’s plan has to be fulfilled. Even though they rejected Jesus as their Messiah, Jesus will be the cornerstone. In ancient construction, the cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a building, which all other stones depend on for their stability and trueness. Jesus will be the cornerstone of God’s world salvation work. How? God raised him from the dead and destroyed the power of sin and death.
What does it mean to us? Jesus is the stone the builders rejected, who has become the cornerstone of our salvation. Salvation is found in on one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. For the rebellion against God is not only the problem of the religious leader of Jesus’ time but to all human beings. Romans 1:20-23 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claim to be wise, they become fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” God has revealed himself in the nature that he is the Almighty creator and owner of the heavens and the earth. Even though people see them clearly, they do not recognize God’s ownership, glorify God and give thanks to him. When they do not, they began to worship idols made by man or idolize another human. They degenerate themselves under birds and animals and reptiles, even worshipping them. Therefore, the Bible declares, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The righteous and holy God has to punish sin in a human being. The result of sin is God’s eternal punishment. But God in his great mercy sent his Son Jesus Christ through the nation Israel as he promised, in order to save all human beings from sin and eternal death. Through faith in Jesus, we are saved from sin and Jesus becomes the cornerstone of our lives. We should build ourselves and our church on the cornerstone, Jesus Christ. When we trust in him, we will never be put to shame. Moreover, we become living stones, building God’s world salvation house in Christ. Amen!
Look at verses 18-19. Jesus gave a warning, that those who against the cornerstone will be broken into pieces. Yet those who are broken can be mended when they come to Christ. If Christ is against anyone, he or she will be crushed. Even though God sent Jesus to save them from the power of sin and death, if they reject him to the end, they will be crushed in eternal punishment only. The teachers of the law and the chief priests knew that Jesus was speaking the parable against them. It was the time for them to repent, but when they did not repent, they hardened their hearts and wanted to kill Jesus. But they could not do so because they were afraid of people who believed in Jesus.
Through today’s passage, we learned what Jesus did at the end of his life, where Jesus’ authority comes from and who Jesus is. Jesus is the cornerstone of our salvation and by faith in him we also become living stones, being used by God for his world salvation. We should live under Jesus’ authority, not in human authority. Under Jesus’ authority, we know how to live right under human authority. May God bless each one of us to teach the Bible to the end of life as Jesus did. Amen!