The Stone the Builders Rejected

 2023-4-2 Sermon      The Stone the Builders Rejected    Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 and Matthew 21:1-11 by Pastor Teddie McConnell
It might surprise you to learn that verses 22 and 23 of Psalm 118 are the most quoted Old Testament verses in the New Testament. Not the more familiar psalms like 23 or 100, or stories like David and Goliath. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” These verses about the construction of a building aren’t even what one might expect to read in the context of the rest of a psalm that gives thanks to the Lord and asks for salvation. God apparently whispered in the writer’s ear, because it’s here for a prophetic purpose. This text appears in Matthew, Mark, and twice in Luke as predictive of the ministry and salvation of Jesus Christ.
Literally, the cornerstone of a building is the first foundation stone set in place at the corner of two walls, and the rest of the building is built on top of it. It’s often decorated with the date of the construction and meant to be a show piece. This is why the builders would be extremely particular about which stone to use, choosing one that was not only strong, but pleasing to the eye, an expression of their pride in their work that would successfully create a large building.
Maybe this comparison to a stone that was rejected is more appropriate than we might think. We like to imagine Jesus as tall, handsome, well-spoken and charismatic, an ancient days superhero, but even John the Baptist had doubts about Him after a while. While he languished in prison, John sent some of his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you really the One?”
After years of picturing the Messiah as a literal savior of His people from the oppression of the Romans, Jesus’ outward appearance and behavior may have been disappointing. His resumé as an obscure lower-class carpenter who worked in His dad’s shop and as man who had never married – scandalous by itself- was not what they had hoped for. As a rabbi, He told parables that puzzled many of His listeners without offering any explanations, except what He later told His disciples. Even Pontius Pilate wondered aloud why the Jews thought He was a threat. He never spoke about overthrowing the government, never physically hurt someone else. He just promoted that radical concept of loving and forgiving your neighbor, even on the Sabbath, even when the Pharisees didn’t like it. Come to think of it, Jesus did sometimes call the Jewish leaders hypocrites. Scandalous!
And then His rejection as the chief cornerstone was completed at the cross, where He was mocked, abused, and killed. He was thrown on the refuse heap with the other less-than-perfect stones, considered of no value. A verse that seemed out of place in Psalm 118 became the perfect analogy for how God made Jesus into our Savior. He wasn’t a king in the usual way, but went meekly to his death like a lamb to the slaughter. Unlike a lamb, though, Jesus knew what His fate would be. He went anyway.
He could have decided not to ride into Jerusalem in triumph before the crowd. He could have disappeared from the arresting soldiers. After all, when He first preached in Nazareth and proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah, the people who had known Him all of His life wanted to throw Him off a cliff, and He slipped out of the crowd unnoticed. But Jesus chose to follow what He knew in advance would be His destiny. He knew where the disciples would find the donkey foal. He knew what to tell them to say so they could take the donkey and its mother away.
His ability to ride a young colt without it bucking or putting up a fuss was one more demonstration of the power Jesus had to bring peace, to be another kind of king. It was Passover, and the song the crowd sang was Psalm 118, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Jesus came to fulfill all of the prophecies, including one from Zechariah 9:9 of a triumphant and victorious king coming to the people, gentle and riding on a donkey colt, one who will command peace to the nations. At least the Passover pilgrims who threw down their coats and palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna!” had figured out some of who and what Jesus was. As Jews, they knew the role of the rejected stone all too well, treated as second-class citizens by the Romans and the Gentiles alike. Jesus gave them hope.
Jesus knew that the accolades and the cries of “Hosanna” would be short-lived. The fickle crowds would fade away. Even the disciples would desert Him. But for this one day, He received the praise and glory that was His due.
Jesus showed us that our love should be selfless and peaceable, not saber-rattling or domineering. Jesus came not only to bring peace, but also to be our peace. His entry into Jerusalem from the east was a dramatic contrast with the procession that happened on the opposite side of Jerusalem that same week, when Pilate entered from the west with Roman soldiers to prevent rebellion during Passover. That parade included mounted and marching soldiers in full battle regalia, ready to put down anything even remotely like an uprising. The two kingdoms were opposites, Caesar’s of ruthless domination as opposed to Jesus’ kingdom of peace, love, mercy and justice.
Matthew wrote that the whole city was asking, “Who is this Jesus?” Matthew likened the uproar in Jerusalem to an earthquake. Some in the crowds described Him as the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, someone through whom God spoke. Even then, they underestimated Him.
            Matthew repeated throughout his gospel that Jesus was a savior, much more than a teacher, a preacher, and a healer. When Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded without hesitation. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus told him he would be the rock on which he would build his church, the chief cornerstone of something new.
            Are you feeling like the stone the builders rejected, sitting on the refuse pile? God can turn you into the chief cornerstone of a new building, helping you be strong enough to support the weight of two walls. You can become a success in unconventional ways by supernatural, divine means. God works through materials that wouldn’t pass today’s safety inspections, because God is the catalyst for the process of converting sandstone into marble and turning people no one expects to succeed into the foundation for God’s kingdom. God’s plans for you may not be grand or monumental. But you may be the best support for someone in need. You don’t have to do things alone, as so much of our culture suggests. You can be part of the grander work of God in this church. You can be part of God’s team, one of mutual support and fellowship through the Holy Spirit.
            Are you worried that you might fail? God can equip you and use you, especially when you work with a team of other believers for mutual support. When you rely on people, keep in the back of your mind that they are human, too, and probably won’t live up to your expectations. Forgive and go on, and when you  fail, ask for forgiveness and carry on, as well. If we can’t offer each other grace, we need to study the words of Jesus harder. Pray for God’s perfect will, and thank God in advance for answering your prayers. Let Jesus be your king of peace. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
            Are you feeling unworthy? You don’t have to prove yourself worthy, just acknowledge that you owe your life and future to God out of gratitude for Christ’s redeeming grace. Even the disciples fell asleep, fell away, denied Jesus. Give thanks that God loves you and gave a Son to die for you in the condition you’re in right now, just the way you are, worthy or not. And God can forgive you for whatever you’ve done. Run home to God’s loving arms! We are God’s children and heirs of a king!
Are you afraid? Don’t react out of fear. Act out of faith. Believe and be ready for God to do a new thing. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and keeps his promises. What looks frightening to us may also be part of God’s plan. Jesus followed through with God’s plan even though he knew he would suffer terribly. I don’t believe that suffering is something God wants for us. There are times, though, when suffering can’t be avoided and teaches us things we need to learn, tempering us like steel is tempered in a fire. Don’t let fear stop you from doing God’s work.
It occurs to me that suffering, especially as we near the end of our days, is like the pain of childbirth, which makes a woman determined to make it stop by doing the last, most painful step, forcing the child from her womb, to get it done. The pain at the end of our days reminds us that to go through death will be a relief from the trials of this world. The fear of death recedes, and the promise of new life in Christ comes to the forefront. Jesus’ suffering made it possible for us to die in full anticipation of the new life to come, when we’ll be crowned as His royal heirs, then cast our crowns at his feet. We’ll sing with all the saints who’ve gone on before us, “Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good. His steadfast love endures forever.”

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