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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rejected Cornerstone (Luke 20.1-19, Psalm 118.22-29)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 23, 2014
Text: Luke 20:1-19; Psalm 118:22-29

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: "Andante" (J.S. Bach)
Song of Praise: "Praise is Rising/Hosanna" (Brown/Baloche)
Hymn of Praise: "The Church's One Foundation/I Lay in Zion" (AURELIA, ref. Youngblood)
Offering of Music: "My Prayer" (choir) (Rick Bean)
Our Song of Praise: "The Doxology"
Hymn of Sending: "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus" (ASSAM)
Postlude: "In the Cross of Christ I Glory" (Cherwien)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

We’ve been looking at examples of Jesus using the old scripture (his “Bible”; our Old Testament) in his teaching and ministry. He began his public ministry saying that he didn’t come to do away with the old scripture, but to fulfill it or “make it complete.” And as we move closer to his crucifixion and resurrection chronologically, we more and more see a move from him simply teaching that scripture more fully to actually embodying it and fulfilling it in his life and person. Today we will look at one of the exchanges between Jesus and the religious leaders. At the conclusion of that exchange, he will quote from Psalm 118, quietly clearly equating himself with what is being described in that ancient writing. Where this hits our lives most personally is that God’s Word is ultimately not instructional, but personal. It is not finally words of comfort or hope, but Jesus drawing near to comfort and bring hope when we most need Him to.

We begin with a crafty challenge from those set to take Jesus down.

Confrontation (vv. 1-8)
1 On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, 2 and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?” 3 Jesus answered and said to them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell Me: 4 “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” 5 They reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 “But if we say, ‘From men,’ all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they answered that they did not know where it came from. 8 And Jesus said to them, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Last week we talked about the “cleansing of the Temple,” when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and chased them, the animals, and the animal handlers out of the Temple courts. We looked at an early account of that in John and another account, just after “Palm Sunday,” in Matthew. As is often the case, we find Matthew and Luke narrating the same events and it turns out Luke also describes the Temple Cleansing right after Palm Sunday, in Luke 19. I mention that because it is what immediately precedes our passage today. It is one of mounting reasons why the chief priests and scribes are becoming increasingly hostile toward Jesus. People are turning out more and more to listen to him and he is now teaching in the Temple courts: “on one of the days while he was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel…” (v. 1).

So these religious leaders confront him – Luke’s word, not mine: “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things, or who is the one who gave you this authority?” (v. 2) What things? Well, it could be the healings, or chasing the group out of the temple courts, or his claim to be the Messiah, or his teaching in the Temple courts as one with authority, or all of these and more! But it’s not just a question of “who authorized this” but more “what right do you have to do all this?” They were, perhaps, looking for the kind of implicating words they would later take to Pilate; if Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, they could use that against him. And at this point, it seems clear that they were against him. They were no longer trying to learn and understand; they were trying to oppose and take Jesus down.

In good Jesus-fashion, his answer is a question. He answered, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from men?” (vv. 3-4) They thought they had sprung a trap on Jesus, because either way he answered their question could have been used against him. But he flipped the trap around on them, and they realize it only after he has put his question out there. If they granted the ministry of John the Baptist divine authority, they discredit themselves as unbelievers, for John had pointed to and lifted up Jesus’ authority; if they denied John’s ministry, the people would turn on them, for the people had believed John a prophet sent by God.

So they answered that they did not know and Jesus responded, “Nor will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” (v. 8)

What I Will Tell You (vv. 9-19)
9 And He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10 “At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, so that they would give him some of the produce of the vineyard; but the vine-growers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 “And he proceeded to send another slave; and they beat him also and treated him shamefully and sent him away empty-handed. 12 “And he proceeded to send a third; and this one also they wounded and cast out. 13 “The owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 “But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 “So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 “He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” When they heard it, they said, “May it never be!” 17 But Jesus looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone’? 18 “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.” 19 The scribes and the chief priests tried to lay hands on Him that very hour, and they feared the people; for they understood that He spoke this parable against them.
But Jesus was not done. He began to tell the people a parable. By turning to a parable, Jesus was able to answer the question out loud where the people could hear without springing the trap with a direct answer to the religious leaders. In fact, his parable doesn’t even answer the question of “by what authority”… at least not directly. He will appeal to scripture to do that.

No, the parable is a disguised judgment against the religious leaders. As with all parables, it just sounds like a story until you get to the “punch line,” the twist at the end that unlocks the meaning of the story.

So Jesus tells the story: a man planted a vineyard and rented it out to vine-growers while going on a long journey… (v. 9)

At harvest time he sent a slave to collect some of the produce, but the vine-growers beat the slave and sent him away. This happened a second and third time, with each slave being treated worse and worse. Finally, the owner sent his “beloved son”; but rather than respecting the son, the vine-growers conspired to kill the son in hopes of taking ownership for themselves. Jesus then asks the question: “What will happen when the owner returns?” (v. 15) And he provides the answer himself: “He will come and destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others.” (v. 16) And those who heard the story cried out, “May it never be!”

It is not immediately clear what the reason (or source) for that response is. Is it “the people” listening to Jesus in the Temple court? Is it the religious leaders? Is it everyone? And why the outcry? It is a horrible and tragic story – but is the outcry over the story… the death of the son and the owner’s judgment? Or is the outcry because some present found themselves IN the story as those who have rejected the prophets – and even the Son – of God?  Probably the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’ – some of all in such a diverse crowd.

But Jesus isn’t done; the “punch line” of the parable has not yet fully landed. Looking at those around him, he adds to his parable this conclusion: “What then is this that is written: ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief corner stone? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.’” (vv. 17-18)

Will the religious leaders (or people!) reject a stone God has chosen for His purpose? Will they become guilty of acting against those the owner of the vineyard has sent, even his own “beloved Son?” Jesus final words step a bit out of story and seem to say, “Yes, if you reject what God has chosen, you will be broken to pieces and scattered like dust.” In so many words, Jesus is warning, “Be careful that you are not standing against God and acting in your own interests.”

What we do know is that the scribes and the chief priests understood that he “spoke this parable against them” (v. 19); and they tried to lay hands on him that very hour, though they feared the people. They not only got an answer to their question – what right do you have to do all this – they got a warning; and it didn’t go over very well.

For Those With Ears to Hear (Psalm 118)
22 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief corner stone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. 25 O Lord, do save, we beseech You; O Lord, we beseech You, do send prosperity! 26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord; We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. 27 The Lord is God, and He has given us light; Bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. 28 You are my God, and I give thanks to You; You are my God, I extol You. 29 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting. ~Psalm 118:22-29
I would describe Jesus’ parable as a “what I will tell you” response to the original question. But I think there is also a “for those with ears to hear” response as well. It is located in Jesus usage of the one half-verse from Psalm 118. It was not only known by any Jewish person of Jesus time, but was actually being sung and read on the very day or two these events are happening. It’s like this Psalm is the “song of the day” at this point in Passover week; people might even be reciting or singing it on their own as they walk around. It describes the procession up to the Temple, the very route Jesus and the people had traversed from the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday up to the Temple where Jesus cleaned house and then remained to teach.

Starting in Psalm 118:22, which Jesus quoted, the Psalm goes on to declare that the REJECTED stone has become the CHOSEN chief cornerstone and is “the Lord’s doing… marvelous in our eyes.” (v. 23) There’s the answer to the “by whose AUTHORITY” question! But there is so much more! Verses 25-26 are what the crowd shouted to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9) “Hosanna” is the Hebrew word translated, “save us, please!” You can see that in the first line of v. 25. With these words, Jesus has already been hailed by the crowd as the SAVING ONE and MESSIAH sent by God! As we read on, we read that God has “given us light” (v. 27) – bringing to mind Jesus as the “LIGHT of the world” and the “LIGHT of Life.” And v. 27 concludes with the image of “binding the festival SACRIFICE with cords to the horns of the altar.” This is why this Psalm was used during the literal and figurative procession towards Passover; it had in mind the sacrifice of the Lamb. And Jesus is on his way to make this sacrifice once and for all.

There is much more that can be unpacked in Psalm 118. My point for today is that for those wanting to trap Jesus, they heard him evade their trap and then indirectly condemn their motives with a parable. For those with ears to hear, listening for what God was saying, there was so much more! Jesus DID answer the question about authority: he was sent by God. Jesus DID answer the question about his identity: he was not only the one that would be rejected, but the one God established as “chief cornerstone” of what God was building. He also was the heir, the Son of the Owner, the very Son of God. And he also DID indicate the way in which he would fulfil God’s plans: he was and is the actual fulfillment, the embodying, of the Psalm 118 procession and the Passover itself: the Light of Life and the very sacrifice offered for the sin of the world.

It’s Personal

Having said all that, what I hope you take away from this is not just a “now I understand some of the interplay between Old and New Testament a bit more” or “I can wow my friends with a new Hebrew word.

What I hope you can hear in all this is that there is so much more than words and knowledge and insight. Jesus isn’t just explaining Old Testament to us. He’s not just teaching us better ways to live and love, though all that is true. What I hope you hear, though, is that Jesus is not merely instructional, but personal. And that is Good News we really need.

Jesus is personal means that when you feel lost, he doesn’t just have information about where to go; Jesus gets up to look, seeks and finds, and goes out to search and rescue. Jesus told stories about that because he was describing the way he really is. And if you are the one in a hundred lost or the one hungry and alone in the scrub or the one who can’t find your way home, there is real help and hope.

Jesus is personal means that when you are in the dark – in all the ways that can happen – Jesus doesn’t just have some cheery words to brighten your day, but is himself the light you need. He is someone you can talk to, listen for, hang on to, and trust in. Not words, but a person; not an ivory tower god, but one who has suffered and struggled and bled and cried.

Jesus is personal means that when you are weeping, you are not alone; for even with all that he knew of resurrection, power, life, and healing, Jesus wept with his friends Mary and Martha when their brother and his friend had died. He is not a creed about life everlasting, he is flesh and blood and friend and brother, though to be sure he is also God.

And Jesus is personal means that even when you think you’ve got him nicely trapped in a box of your own making, right where you want him to take out or leave, Jesus loves you enough to step right out of that box and remind you that he’s MORE than a plaything or hobby to be controlled, defined, or dismissed. That this gives him the right of judgment should wake us right up and makes us more than a little nervous; that he chooses to show us persistent mercy and grace and pursue us in love will overwhelm us with thankfulness, if we have ears to hear it and eyes to see it.

Which reminds me of the end of Psalm 118:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.

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