READ PSALM 118:17-24
Here is a little Bible trivia for you: the Old Testament is directly quoted 695 times by the New Testament writers and, if you count strong allusions to the Old Testament, over 4,000 times. One of my seminary professors, Dr. Roger Nicole, writes: “It can therefore be asserted, without exaggeration, that more than 10 percent of the New Testament text is made up of citations or direct allusions to the Old Testament.”
The passage in the Old Testament quoted more often than any other by the writers of the New Testament is Psalm 118:22-23, with ten direct references. It reads: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. When a text is repeated that many times in God’s Word, we should take note and listen. It is key to unlocking and understanding both the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and His final vindication.
Interestingly, Jesus is the first one in the New Testament to quote this passage! He arrives at the Temple in Jerusalem and finds Himself in a verbal confrontation with the Jewish leadership of the day. A heated exchange breaks out between the chief priests, scribes, and other religious leaders over Jesus. They gather around Him, plotting and scheming against Him, trying to trap Him with hostile questions.
In the midst of this heated exchange Jesus tells a little story about a vineyard, some tenants, and a stone, often called the Parable of the Tenants:
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. Matthew 21:33-46
When Jesus quoted the Psalm, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” all of the chief priests and scribes got the message. “He’s telling this story about us!” they said.
Why was Jesus making this parallel between the vineyard tenants and the priests and scribes? God had entrusted to the leaders of Israel in that day the stewardship of His creation, the stewardship of His cities, and the stewardship of leading His people. The leaders were the tenants, Israel was the Lord’s vineyard, and the Lord is the owner.
The Lord had sent prophet after prophet after prophet to these leaders of Israel. And how did they respond? “The tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.” John the Baptist was the last one, beheaded by Israel’s reigning king, Herod Antipas. God, as the owner of the vineyard said, “I’ll send my son, and surely they’ll listen to my son.” But instead, they plotted His arrest and murder. Ultimately, they would see Him crucified between two thieves. The tenants rejected the vineyard owner’s son.
Now here is an interesting little play on words that you would not catch unless you spoke Aramaic, the language of Jesus. The word for “stone” in Aramaic is eben. The word for “son” in Aramaic is ben. The wicked tenant’s rejection of the son (ben) is equivalent to the builder’s rejection of the stone (eben)—the Cornerstone. When you reject the Stone, you reject the Son.
But wait! There’s good news in this story: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” God has taken the Stone/Son that was rejected by the builders and made It/Him the Chief Cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing,” the psalmist writes, “and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
When have you seen something or someone that was rejected or tossed aside turn out to be very important? What was your reaction? Have you ever seen the Church work like living stones, built together to be a place for God’s Spirit?