“The Rejected Stone Is Our Cornerstone” (Luke 20:9-20)

Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 3, 2022

“The Rejected Stone Is Our Cornerstone” (Luke 20:9-20)

In our text today, from Luke chapter 20, Jesus is teaching in Jerusalem during Holy Week. Everybody is in town, Jesus, as well as his enemies, who are conspiring against him, plotting to get him arrested and put to death. The tension is so thick you could cut it with a knife. Jesus addresses that tension, with his enemies right there, listening to what he says. And what Jesus says in our text, he puts in two parts, using two different images. The first image is that of a vineyard, the second is that of a stone. The first part is the Parable of the Vineyard and the Wicked Tenants; the second part has to do with “the stone that the builders rejected.”

Let’s start where Jesus does, with the Parable of the Vineyard. “A man planted a vineyard,” Jesus begins. The vineyard image was a familiar one for the people of Israel. Several times in the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as a “vineyard.” The idea is that the owner of the vineyard is the Lord God. And as the owner, the Lord has a right to expect good fruit from his vineyard, that is, from his chosen people.

The most famous example of this is in Isaiah 5, the so-called Song of the Vineyard: “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.” And as a consequence, then the Lord says what he will do to his vineyard: “I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. . . . For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!”

The message is clear. God had graciously chosen Israel to be his people and had supplied her with every advantage of his grace and favor. His purpose was that she would produce good fruit, things like righteousness and justice, but instead she turned out only sour grapes. As a result, the nation would come under God’s judgment. And in that case, the judgment turned out to be the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and the Babylonian Exile.

So now Jesus picks up on this vineyard theme in his parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while.” Again, God is the owner, Israel the vineyard. Israel has been entrusted with the privilege of managing the vineyard as tenant farmers. But they don’t own the vineyard; God does.

The owner has a right to expect fruit from his vineyard, so he sends a servant to go and get it: “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.”

Notice what happens. The tenants beat and send away the first servant. You would think the owner of the vineyard might get angry and force those evil tenants out. But no. He sends another servant. Again, they beat him and send him away, having treated him shamefully. Now you would think, after this repeat offense, surely the owner will kick them out. But again, no. He sends a third servant. They wound this one and cast him out. The tenants’ behavior is getting worse, more brazen as the story goes along.

The servants in this story stand for the whole line of prophets that the Lord sent to Israel, prophets like Elijah and Jeremiah and so on. The prophets called Israel to repentance and faith, which was the kind of fruit God was looking for. But by and large, Israel did not receive God’s servants, the prophets. Instead, they shamefully mistreated them, rejected their message, and, in many cases, persecuted the prophets personally.

This happened time after time, as reflected in the story. So now, in view of this repeated rejection and mistreatment of his servants, what will the owner of the vineyard do? That, in fact, is what the owner asks himself: “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.”

As often is the case in his parables, Jesus stretches reality a bit to make a point. Because this is something that would not happen in real life. What owner would put up with this type of outrageous behavior for so long? And then, after the cruel treatment toward his servants, who would send in his own son to risk the same sort of rejection and danger? But that’s what this owner does. And that’s exactly what God has done. The Lord had put up with Israel’s rebellious behavior for many centuries. But instead of wiping them out, as he had the right to do long ago, the Lord was giving them one last chance. Now he is sending them his own Son. “What shall I do? I will send my beloved son.”

Here is one greater than the prophets: Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself. The one of whom the Father said, “This is my beloved Son.” God’s own Son comes to God’s own people. They ought to respect him. In his character, in his teachings, in his miracles of healing and mercy, Jesus has clearly manifested himself as the one sent from God. Surely Israel will respect him!

“But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.” Keep in mind the drama of what’s happening here as Jesus is telling this story. Jesus’ enemies are right there, in the midst of plotting to do just what the wicked tenants were planning to do: kill the owner’s son, that is, kill Jesus. So, through this parable, Jesus is making it plain that he knows what they are plotting. What’s more, Jesus knows that their plot will be successful. They will, in fact, kill him.

The tenants do indeed throw the son out of the vineyard and kill him. Now again the question comes: What will the owner of the vineyard do? Jesus gives the answer: “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” And that’s what happened. The wicked tenants did meet the end they deserved, and the owner did give the vineyard to others.

After the Jewish nation officially rejected Jesus, their doom was sealed, their time was limited. About forty years later, in A.D. 70, the Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple; not one stone was left upon another. The Jewish nation lost their position as keepers of the vineyard. God gave the vineyard to others: to the church, which soon became largely Gentile. Israel had rejected Christ and thus forfeited their status as keepers of the vineyard. No longer would they be God’s chosen people for carrying out his mission in the world. Now that distinction would go to the church.

And this should be a cautionary tale for us. How are we doing as stewards of the vineyard God has entrusted to us? Are we yielding the fruit God desires: repentance and faith, love and good works? Do we recognize that the church–our church–is God’s church and should be serving the purposes that God intends: that the gospel of Christ is first and foremost, that the ministry of Word and Sacrament is what we do, and everything else revolves around that? It is a great undeserved privilege we have to be the keepers of the vineyard, and with that privilege comes great responsibility.

Now, going back to our text, Jesus shifts the imagery from a vineyard to a stone. He quotes a verse from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” “The stone that the builders rejected”: That of course is Jesus himself. And the supposed builders would be the Jewish religious leaders–the scribes and Pharisees, the chief priests and elders–who rejected Jesus and now are plotting to put him to death. And they will have their way with him. Later that week, they will have him arrested and killed.

But now comes the big surprise: The stone that the builders rejected “has become the cornerstone.” The rejected stone becomes the cornerstone! This is a picture of Christ’s vindication and victory! Jesus was rejected and arrested and put to death on the cross. But this was part of God’s plan. God used their evil to achieve his good. And God’s good plan is good for you! For by his death on the cross, Jesus has atoned for your sins and won your forgiveness. Through the death of the Son, the heir, you do in fact share in his inheritance: resurrection and life everlasting.

And so now the risen Christ is the head of the corner. He is the head of the church. Christ is our cornerstone. In ancient architecture, the cornerstone was the key to the whole foundation. It was specially shaped and selected for its perfect lines, because everything else will literally be built off it. The cornerstone will determine and govern the angles for the whole building.

And that is what our Lord Jesus Christ is for the church. He determines everything that is built around him. He rules and governs all things for the good of his church–that’s us. And this is the best thing there could be for us. For you and I who are baptized into Christ–we are joined to Jesus, we are connected to him. We draw our life from him. We are his temple of living stones. Friends, the good news today is this: “The Rejected Stone Is Our Cornerstone!”

Published in: on April 1, 2022 at 3:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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