It is possible to have popularity but lack significance (cf. our celebrity culture), while it is also possible to lack popularity, but still have significance. We see this truth taught in the Parable of the Tenants (cf. Matthew 21:33.). Our focus in this message will be on Jesus’ concluding application of the parable, rather than the parable as such. What then is Jesus’ significance?
In this parable, a landowner plants a vineyard, encloses it, digs a winepress and builds a watchtower to ensure a successful harvest and then leases it to some tenants (Matthew 21:33). They refuse, however, to give the owner his share of the fruit from the harvest:
Matthew 21:35–36 ESV
35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.
The parable describes the consistent pattern of rejection that the leaders of God’s people had meted out to God’s servants, the OT prophets.
No real surprise then that when the owner, a picture of God, sends his own son, a picture of Jesus, he too is rejected:
Matthew 21:37-39 ESV
37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
These wicked tenants wanted to become lords of the vineyard (JFB).
Disastrous consequences follow for these tenants. They are described as ‘wretches’ who will experience a ‘miserable death’ and lose their rights to the vineyard:
Matthew 21:40-41 ESV
40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 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.”
It is striking that, according to Matthew 21:41, it is not Jesus but the hard-hearted religious leaders who deliver the sentence of judgment on the tenants (‘They said to him’)! So obvious is the injustice of the matter that even they are outraged by the actions of the tenants. The owner is entitled to the fruits of the vineyard. Their condemnation is justified. As such, the religious leaders ‘unwittingly pronounced their own condemnation’ (JFB).
But, according to Matthew 21:45-46, even though these religious leaders knew the parable was spoken against them, they remained opposed to Jesus, such was the hardness of their hearts.
While Jesus’ rejection in the historical context is no surprise; it fits the historical pattern, his subsequent exaltation is. In the verses that follow, Jesus quotes
Psalm 118:22-23 to make the point.
Matthew 21:42 NIV
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “ ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
Jesus is the ‘stone that the builders rejected’ now 'become the cornerstone'! Rejected by men, Jesus is exalted by God! (NIGTC) This is what the Scriptures teach, and this is something we can only describe as unexpected in the historical context.
Let me quote from a commentator. He says: It describes how “something or someone, rejected as useless, comes to be accepted as essential” (Davidson 1998: 386).
Given the importance of building correctly, the decision to use a stone deemed inappropriate by the construction workers causes considerable surprise.
The cornerstone was the keystone that gives shape and stability to the entire building. It is the most important stone of all (ES).
God made Jesus this cornerstone. His Person and work is thereby portrayed as absolutely central and essential to the purposes of God on earth! Apart from Him, the building would not reflect His glory, nor achieve His purposes.
Notwithstanding this, Israel largely rejected Jesus. Even in the church, Jesus is sometimes side-lined; He, the true Cornerstone, is viewed as non-essential. Consider, for example, the church in Laodicea that Jesus critiques in the Book of Revelation. Jesus is portrayed as being ‘outside’ the church, and knocking on the door to be let in (cf. Revelation 3:20)!
Today in numerous ways we see the same thing happening in the church where the music or the pastor, or even a commitment to a certain brand of theology can shift the focus from Christ. These things can become the ‘cornerstone’ of a ministry (cf. Adrio Konig’s The Eclipse of Christ in Eschatology). You can show concern for theological truth, but forget that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (cf. John 14:6)!
But Jesus, as the cornerstone, should be respected and exalted in our midst. His Person should remain ‘marvelous in our eyes’! It is for this reason that we memorialise the Lord’s Supper as a regular sacrament in the local church, to ensure we never lose focus on who and what matters most for us as believers, Jesus and His death on our behalf (Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me!’)! He is the One that enables us to enjoy the vineyard without the threat of divine judgment (cf. Matthew 21:43).
Christ is recognised as ‘the cornerstone’ chiefly when we receive Him as our Saviour and Lord. Believing the Gospel and producing its fruit brings honour to God and His Son! But if you reject him like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, disastrous consequences will follow; He will become for you a ‘crushing-stone’! It really does matter how you respond to Jesus!
The crushing stone
You cannot reject Christ, the cornerstone, with impunity:
Matthew 21:44-45 NIV
44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.
It is worth considering the OT background to this stone imagery (cf. Isa.8:14-15). In Isaiah 8, ‘the Lord of hosts’ is the stone...
Isaiah 8:14-15 ESV
14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.”
Notice the many who will stumble, fall and be broken are in ‘both houses of Israel’, a reference to the northern and southern kingdoms of God’s OT people. And what was true in OT times, will become true in NT times. This is the pattern referred to in the Parable of the Tenants. But God’s people will not be spared God’s judgment if they reject God’s ‘cornerstone’!
Those who do not appreciate the place of the stone face retribution in more ways than one. The stone is clearly a very large and solid one. Anyone who falls on it will be crushed, while the person on whom it falls will be pulverized.
There is some ambiguity with respect to the stone. People can fall on it, suggesting a stone laid on the ground like a “cornerstone,” but it can also fall on people, suggesting the “capstone” placed at the center of an archway to complete the structure (NTUOT).
So this is a judgment parable that calls you to flee the judgment to come by giving God’s Son his rightful place in your lives.
What then is Jesus’ significance? Our text depicts Him as both the cornerstone and crushing-stone; He is Saviour and Judge! Of course, Jesus is far more: Prophet, Priest, King, Messiah, Lord, Son of Man, Son of God, Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, High Priest, the Lamb of God… the list goes on and on. Indeed, Jesus, on the road to Emmaus, pointed out that all the OT pointed in some way to His Person and work(cf. Luke 24:27). He is truly worthy of our heartfelt devotion and praise:
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”
So the Q you must answer: Do you value Jesus as God intended? Do you recognize Jesus as the cornerstone? Do you make a ‘fuss’ about Jesus? Is He central to your walk with the Lord? Illustration: BI application conversion testimonies: How is Christ portrayed?
Can you say with the Apostle Paul as he says to the saints at Philippi:
‘For to me to live is Christ… My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better’ (Philippians 1:21,23)
‘I glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh’ (Philippians 3:3)
‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8)?
Do you value Christ Jesus in this way? The proof? Are you producing the necessary fruit of obedience? No fruit, no faith! You can know about Christ, but not know him as Saviour and Lord. Deception is possible!
Matthew 7:21 ESV
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Don’t be like those tenants who will stand before God without excuse on Judgment Day! Honour the Son so that you might enter and enjoy the blessings of God’s Kingdom. Nothing is more important especially during this time of the pandemic where life has become so uncertain!