Luke Lesson 80 (2021)
JESUS, THE CORNERSTONE
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.’?”
Today’s event occurred while Jesus was in the Temple courts. In the previous passage, Jesus challenged the corrupt Jewish religious authorities by forbidding and removing their temple business. He rebuked them, saying, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.” (19:46) Instead of admitting their wrongdoings and hypocrisy, the Jewish religious leaders tried to trap Jesus. They asked him, “Tell us by what authority are you doing these things; who gave you this authority.” (20:2). Being fully aware that they would kill him soon, Jesus continues his teaching in the temple courts.
The Parable of the Tenants in today’s passage horrifies us because it illustrates the pattern of the rebelliousness of God’s chosen people Israel. The question most of us might have is, “Can we be blessed by God and yet rebel against Him?” We might think it’s impossible to do so. But it’s often God’s chosen people who rebel against God the most. History proves that people whom God blesses can be rebellious and disobedient against God’s will. This morning, may we think about what Jesus meant when he said, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and what kind of relationship we, as Christian disciples, should have with Jesus the cornerstone.
Look at verse 9. “He went on to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time.’” When Jesus spoke this parable, the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah Chapter 5 was in mind (Isaish 5:1-7; Psalm 80:8-15). Isaiah 5:1-2 states, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up, 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 for good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” (Isaiah 5:1-2)-(Pic#1) Here, the man who planted the vineyard represents God, and the vineyard refers to the nation Israel. The farmers represent the chief priests, and the teachers of the law, to whom the vineyard was rented out (20:19).
Look at verses 10-12. “At the harvest time, he went a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.” Here, the servants present the prophets whom God had sent to the people of Israel, like the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, John the Baptist, etc. The tenants should have respected these prophets and sent them back with some of the vineyard fruits. All the vineyard owner wanted was some of the vineyard fruit, which was a reasonable demand. But they mistreated God’s servants. These tenants abused their privileges far more than one could have ever imagined. The Prophet Isaiah was sawed in half, Jeremiah was stoned, Amos was beaten to death, the Prophet Zechariah was murdered behind the temple's altar, and John the Baptist was beheaded (Heb. 11:36-38). Their treatment of the servants in Israel’s history was surprisingly disturbing.
So, now what did the vineyard owner in the parable do? Look at verses 13-15a. “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Well, God, who is all-knowing, should not have entrusted these hopelessly evil tenants. But he still sent his own Son, Jesus, hoping that his tenants would respect him. Did it work? Of course, not.
So why would God, who is all-knowing, do such a seemingly foolish thing? Well, it shows that God is patient, extremely patient. He kept on sending his precious servants to his misbehaved tenants, hoping that they would come back to their senses. And now his son was killed. When I think of the owner’s patience, I feel that it was unreasonable and not wise. If someone betrays you and your trust once or twice, you will stop trusting them because the pattern of abuse is more severe than a mistake. Sorry to say, we assume that certain people are not worthy of our trust. So it does not make sense to me that God, who should have known better, still sent his son to these helplessly wicked people.
Why do you think God did what he did? I don’t think there is an easy explanation. It seems, however, that it reveals who God really is. God’s unchanging trust shows something about God himself and that God’s genuine love and trust never change despite what we have done. Love is to trust. It’s unreasonable but amazing. It reminds us of what Apostle Paul said about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” The epitome of God’s love is the sending of his Son, Christ Jesus, to this world, who suffered and died on the cross. Romans 5:7 and 8 state, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
But how did the tenants respond to God’s love and trust? They betrayed God’s love and trust and killed his son. They killed him, believing that the inheritance would be theirs if they killed the son. The sickness of these religious leaders was far more severe than we think it was. It was an illusion, the distortion of their ideas and perceptions. I believe that not all people who live in an illusion can be called wicked. Sometimes, the deterioration of our brain function can cause us to suffer from dementia or other cognitive disorders. Yet, these religious leaders’ illusion seems intentional and progressively developed due to their greed and selfishness.
Verses 15-16 illustrate what would happen to the nation Israel and its religious leaders. Look at verses 15b-16. “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’ When the people heard this, they said, ‘God forbids!’” The owner of the vineyard was no longer patient with his tenants. He came to destroy those who killed his son. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD was evidence of God’s judgment on them. Since then, the nation Israel had lost its privilege of being God’s vineyard. The blessing was transferred to other tenants. God’s vineyard is the church in the New Testament time. Now, we know that God’s chosen people include all people born again by the blood of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:9-10; Rev. 1:6) However, the church must be careful so that she does not lose her position. Apostle Paul warns about it in Romans 11:20-21, “Granted. But they (the Jews) were broken off because of unbelief, and you (the Gentiles) stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”
When people heard the horrible destruction of rebellious tenants in the parable, they sensed the inevitable doom of the future was coming toward them. So they responded in unison, “God forbids!” which means “Oh, my God. Don’t let it be!” or “It should never happen!” It seems that many of them were still in disbelief, wishing that what Jesus predicted would not actually happen to them. I can understand that kind of sentiment.
When the Twin Tower in Manhattan fell on September 11th, 2001, it was surreal (Pic#2). I was in doubt for a while and couldn’t believe what had happened right in front of my own eyes actually happened. Now, after 20 years of the horrible event, the world has been changed even more drastically. Recently, we have been hit by an unprecedented pandemic, and even after 18 months, we are not out of the woods yet. What concerns us more now is that due to the variations of the Covid-19, especially the Delta variation, the infection rate is skyrocketing. Now, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is going on without spectators. Due to global warming, we hear the news of wildfires, catastrophic rainfalls, and floods worldwide. According to some scientists, the damage done by global warming may be permanent and not restorable. When I heard them saying these things, I said in my mind, “God forbids!” Honest, it’s scary.
So what will happen to the world, our lives, our future, and our children’s and grandchildren’s future? It’s so uncertain and unpredictable. So what can we do? Nothing much because we are not in control of all these things. I don’t want to say, “Don’t worry, everything will be okay!” But what I can say is that we should not fail to put our trust in Jesus. Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s redemptive history. Look at verse17. “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?” Here, “the stone the builders rejected” refers to Jesus Christ, “the builders” represents the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ time. The Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus because they thought he was useless and didn’t fit into their blueprint. So they threw him away. But according to Jesus, their rejection fulfilled the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Jesus immediately quotes from Psalm 118:22 by saying, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (17) The Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus as a useless stone. Still, God placed him in the vital position of the entire building, which is God’s redemptive work and history.
The truth is that Jesus is the cornerstone, a sure foundation of our salvation. Isaiah 28:16 states, “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.” Jesus, the cornerstone of our salvation, is our security now and forever. We need to trust him moment by moment and more and more. According to Apostle Peter, Jesus the cornerstone is the Livingstone. He encourages the early Christians to come to him and be built into him. 1 Peter 2:4-5 state, “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Jesus is the cornerstone that brings salvation for those who trust him, but those who remain in rebellion against him will be crushed and smashed. Look at verse 18. “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” It does not mean that Jesus will destroy unbelievers one-by-one literally. Instead, the life of sin and unbelief is self-destructive. It reminds us of what Apostle Paul said in Romans 2:6-8. “God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who, by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”
Look at verse 19. “The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.” It’s heartbreaking and tragic to see that these highly privileged people turned against God. Here is a lesson we should not fail to take from today’s passage. We are concerned about receiving many blessings from God. It is not wrong to want to be blessed by God. We should be. However, today’s passage warns that highly blessed people can become rebellious and displeasing to God when they become greedy and selfish. It’s sad to see many people, including Christians, live in an illusion, thinking that they would not have to give an account for what they have done in this world. Living in such an illusion brings severe consequences into our lives. Therefore, our primary concern should not be on getting more blessings. Instead, we should focus more on following the will of God.
God’s will for each of us is not necessarily to become rich and famous in the world. It is to be like him and be united with him in his death to experience everlasting life now and forever. The most outstanding achievement of our life is Jesus Christ. Our Lord Jesus is not only the cornerstone but the Livingstone to which we are attached by faith. Therefore, we can always rejoice and be thankful, and let us be spiritually alert in prayer.