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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:The Stone the Builders Rejected
Text:Matthew 21:33-46 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Kingship
 
Added:2024-05-10
Updated:2024-05-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven 
In Doubt and Temptation
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“The Stone the Builders Rejected”
Matthew 21:33-46
 
When I was a young boy, growing up in a small town in Montana, there was a neighbor down the street who was a farmer. But his farm was a few miles away, out in the country. The farmer lived in town and would drive off to work on his farm out in the country. I remember as a child being very perplexed. My dad probably got tired of me asking, “Dad, if he’s a farmer, why doesn’t he live on the farm?” I mean, from a child’s perspective, don’t all farmers live on a farm?
 
But the farmer in Montana was living the way many wealthy landowners in the first century lived. Many wealthy landowners had vineyards and farms out in the country but they lived in the cities, often in quite lavish homes. They were wealthy people; they didn’t go off to work the way the farmer in Montana did. Instead, they hired property managers – “tenants” – who would oversee the work crews for them. They would arrange to split the profit from the vineyard proportionately. 
 
As an example, the tenants who managed the property would get a percentage of the profit from the vineyard and the rest would go to the landowner. The split of the percentage was agreed upon beforehand, sometimes fifty percent for each, or any other agreed-upon percentage. That is what verse 34 is speaking about when it says, “He (the landowner; ‘master of the house’ ESV)) sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.” The servants were sent by the landowner to get the landowners’ cut, fifty percent, or whatever other percentage had been agreed to.
 
That was a common practice in the first century. The people listening to this parable could identify immediately with what was going on. The people knew how common it was for wealthy landowners to lease out their land to tenants. The tenants would then manage the property and keep the percentage they were entitled to and give the landowner his percentage. 
 
However, as they listened to this parable, the people must have realized that the landowner Jesus was speaking about was unlike any other landowner. The wealthy landowners in the first century were known for their cruelty. They cut a hard bargain, and if the tenants didn’t come up with the agreed percentage of profit from the fruit, their lives were in real trouble.
 
By contrast, the landowner Jesus described was exceptionally patient. Verse 34 and verse 35 describe how at harvest time he sent his servants to collect the landowner’s share of profit, but “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.” No landowner in the first century would put up with that! Landowners were powerful and they would do away with any tenants who treated their servants that way. 
 
But not this landowner. Jesus goes on to say, in verse 36, “Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way.” The people must have been amazed by the patience of this landowner, and even more amazed when Jesus went on, in verse 37, to say: “Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”
 
Virtually all the commentators agree that the tenants believed the landowner had died. Why else would the son, who was the heir, show up when all the servants who had been sent were seized, beaten, or killed? When the tenants saw the landowner’s son, they figured he was coming to claim the vineyard as his inheritance. They reasoned that if they killed him, then in a probate court they could make a case for having the vineyard as their own. They could say to the judge, “We were the tenant farmers who worked in that vineyard for years and years. The landowner died. His son, the heir, also died. There is no one else in the family, so award the land to us. We have worked on it for many years.”
 
However, the tenants were obviously wrong if they assumed that the landowner had died, because in verse 40 Jesus asks, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”  The Pharisees replied, in verse 41, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end...and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” By their answer the chief priests and Pharisees – the Jewish religious leaders – were condemning themselves.
 
They were condemning themselves because the identity of the characters in this parable are clear: The landowner is God and the vineyard is Israel. In the Old Testament it was common to speak of Israel as a vine. It was an illustration that the people would latch onto easily. They would recall passages such as Psalm 80:8-10: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches.” Likewise, Isaiah and many other Old Testament writers referred to Israel as a vine.
 
That the landowner is God is evident not only from his ownership – for he is the sovereign Lord of all – but also from his patience which far exceeds the patience of any human landowner. Consider how God is described in Romans 10:21, where Paul quotes from Isaiah 65:2-3: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations – a people who continually provoke me to my very face…” The Apostle Paul quotes part of that passage in Romans 10 as he describes the unbelief of the Israelites.
 
Our God is so very patient, still today. Consider how patient he is with our nation, and how patient he is with us as individuals. Consider how patient he has been with you and with me! God’s patience is truly great. We sing of God’s amazing grace, and part of his amazing grace is his truly astounding patience.
 
The tenants in the parable refer to the Jewish religious leaders. They were given the responsibility of overseeing God’s kingdom in the Old Testament times. Yet they had been corrupt throughout Israel’s history. They were greedy, looking out only for themselves. They were quick to give the message that the king – or the people – wanted to hear. Ezekiel 34 is an entire chapter devoted to the corrupt shepherds of Israel. That chapter describes how God will bring judgment against the false shepherds and will himself become the Great Shepherd of the sheep through the giving of his Son, Jesus Christ.
 
The servants who were sent to collect the fruit, and the profit from the sale of the fruit, represent the faithful Old Testament prophets. While the false prophets often lived in the lap of luxury in Old Testament times, the true prophets were disdained and persecuted. Consider Jeremiah. He was imprisoned, put into stocks, and lowered into a cistern sinking deep into the mud below. The king publicly burned his scrolls. He was ridiculed by the people to whom he prophesied. In Jeremiah 18:18 they said, “Let’s attack him with our tongues and pay no attention to anything he says.” The servants of God, just as this parable teaches, were terribly mistreated and often killed. 
 
In the parable, the identity of the Son is also clear. The Son is Jesus Christ. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him,” the Scripture tells us in John 1:11. Instead of receiving him they did just as Jesus described in verse 39. They took him and threw him out of the vineyard. They took him out of Jerusalem, away from the temple, away from what represented the kingdom of God, and on Mount Calvary they killed him in the most cruel and humiliating way imaginable. They crucified him between two thieves and cast lots for his clothing.
 
Needless to say, there is a consequence to such actions. Jesus points out that the kingdom of God, revealed in the Old Testament only to Israel, will be taken from them and go throughout the world, to the Gentiles, since Israel rejected him. By his question in verse 40, Jesus got the Pharisees to condemn themselves with their answer in verse 41: “‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’”
 
And in verse 43 Jesus goes on to reinforce the truth of what he made the Pharisees admit: The vineyard would be given to other tenants who would care for it and produce fruit. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
 
As the chapter closes, we see that the Pharisees realized that Jesus had spoken against them. Verse 45 and 46: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.”
 
But the parable wasn’t spoken just for the Pharisees. We might be tempted to look at the parable as a historical piece with a specific application to the religious leaders of the first century. We might say, “Jesus put them in their place with that parable.” But, of course, God’s Word applies not only to those living in the first century but to those of us who live in the twenty-first as well.
 
Christ, The Cornerstone
 
The parable teaches, first, that Jesus, rejected by Jewish religious leaders, is the capstone (also correctly translated as the cornerstone) of the kingdom of God and the true church. In verse 42 there is a variation in translations. The 1984 edition of the NIV uses the word “capstone” which is the stone that holds the arch in a doorway together. Without the arch there is no entrance. Without Christ there is no entrance into the kingdom of God.
 
The ESV (and most other translations including the 2011 NIV) use the more familiar word, “cornerstone.” (Both words can be translated from the original languages). The cornerstone is the large stone at the corner of a building’s foundation. It is the most crucial stone that is laid because all the other stones rely on the placement of the cornerstone. In other words, Christ is integral to the church and to the kingdom of God. He is the foundation for the entire kingdom and for the true church of all the ages. As noted by the Psalmist and repeated by Jesus in verse 42, “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
 
It is marvelous! It is the message of salvation: The One rejected by the religious leaders, and by many of the people of his day, has become the cornerstone of the church, bringing salvation to people from every tribe and nation!
 
And by way of application, whenever we think of the church we must think of Christ as the cornerstone. We can easily fall into the trap of identifying the church by its pastor or their council or by the congregation or denomination. But the local church doesn’t belong to the pastor, or to the elders and deacons. Oversight and responsibility are given to office bearers in the church, but office bearers are never the cornerstone or capstone. Jesus alone is.
 
If we thought about that more often, we would be more eager to worship our God publicly for we gather in a place where Christ, “the stone the builders rejected”, has become the cornerstone, the capstone. He is the One who holds up the church and is the entrance into the kingdom of God. How marvelous is that! What a privilege to gather together with other believers to worship him!
 
If we thought about that more often, we would also be more confident in the future of the church. The church universal, which includes our local church, is in perilous times. Many of us in our lifetimes have seen a tremendous cultural change. Fifty years ago, in our culture, Christians were respected and the majority of people attended church and sought to worship the Lord. Needless to say, that has changed dramatically over the decades. I can appreciate the title of a recent Ligonier conference: “Overcoming the World: Being a Christian in a Post-Christian Culture.”
 
That’s an accurate description of where we are. And sometimes we look at the true church, including our own local congregation, and say, “How fragile! What hope do we really have for the future? How can the church on earth, our own included, survive as our culture becomes increasingly hostile to the word of God?”
 
But this quote from Psalm 118, “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone – the cornerstone –; the Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes,’” gives us great encouragement. The One who is the cornerstone of our church, the foundation on which the church is built, is also the One who has assured us that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the true church. It is indeed a marvelous privilege to be in the true church, in that spiritual building built on the cornerstone of Christ, the Stone rejected by the religious leaders of his day!
 
But how do we know that we are members of God’s Kingdom? Is it because we publicly professed our faith? Or is it because we were baptized? Or is it because our membership papers are in a local church? All those things are important. But the way we know whether we are truly members in the kingdom of God, and in the true church of all ages – as we look to Christ alone for our salvation – is that we also look in the spiritual mirror and see evidence of spiritual fruit in our lives. 
 
That’s how Jesus put it in verse 43, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” In other words, we are known by how we live our lives. The trait that shows if someone is in the kingdom is the fruit of their lives. As Jesus said earlier, “Thus by their fruit you will recognize them…” (Matt. 7:20). And again, in John 15:16, he said: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”
 
The Pharisees had a marvelous profession of faith. They could tell you how deeply they believed in God, how sincerely they read his word, how carefully they tithed to his kingdom. They could go on and on, but they were like that fruitless fig tree: they had leaves, but they had no fruit.
 
Unfortunately, there are professing Christians just like the Pharisees. The warning of Jesus rings across the ages to all of us. It reminds us that our walk – the fruit of our lives – is just as crucial as our talk, our profession of faith in him. 
 
But as we look in the spiritual mirror of God’s Word, we need to first look to Christ in saving faith. If we base our assurance on the fruit of our lives we will always be shaken. Why? The fruit of our lives will always be decayed and spoiled by our sin. Consequently, our consolation and assurance are found by looking to Christ alone. But the two are inseparably connected. All those who truly look to Christ with saving faith will produce spiritual fruit. Their faith will be evident by how they live.
 
The Reformers had a helpful phrase or slogan. They said, “We are saved by grace alone in Christ alone by faith alone – but not by a faith that stands alone.”  In other words, true saving faith will always evidence itself as genuine by its works, by its fruit, just as James 2:17 points out: “Faith without works is dead.”
 
A third application: Those who reject Christ will be crushed by him. In verse 44 Jesus says, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
 
The first part of the verse describes how those who reject Christ in this life will be “broken to pieces.”  In other words, living apart from Christ doesn’t lead to the happiness, fulfillment, and the great life that the world would lead you to believe you can have apart from Christ. And if there isn’t repentance in this life, then in the life to come – at the judgment – those who have rejected Christ will be crushed; the proper and righteous judgment of God will be placed upon them eternally.
    
Yet the Stone that crushes those who reject Christ is precious to those who believe in him. Peter describes it this way in 1 Peter 2:6-8, as he quotes from Psalm 118:22, as well as from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16:
 
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.”
 
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
    has become the capstone,”
 
 and,
“A stone that causes men to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.”
 
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
 
Those verses remind us that there are only two ways to view Christ: For those who reject him and refuse to repent and believe in him, he is a stone of stumbling which leads to eternal damnation. But to those who by grace have true saving faith in Christ alone, he is the most precious treasure in all the world.
 
The Lord has revealed himself with great patience to us, just as he did to Israel so long ago. But the day will come when it will be too late to trust in Christ alone for salvation. The Apostle Paul reminds us, in 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2:
 
As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. 
  For he says,
 
“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”
 
I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.
 
Rather than stumbling by refusing to trust in him alone for salvation, may you and I find him to be that “precious cornerstone,” knowing that “the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  Amen.
 
 
bulletin outline:
 
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’? - 
Matthew 21:42 (ESV)
 
                 “The Stone the Builders Rejected”
                               Matthew 21:33-46
 
I.  In the parable of the tenants:
      1) The landowner is God; the vineyard, Israel (33)
    
 
      2) The tenants are the Jewish religious leaders (33, 45)
 
 
      3) The servants are the Old Testament prophets (34-36)
 
 
      4) The Son is Jesus Christ, “the stone the builders rejected” (37-39; 42)
 
 
II. The point Jesus makes is that the kingdom of God, revealed in the
      Old Testament only to Israel, will be taken from them and be given
      to the Gentiles, since Israel rejected Him (41, 43)
 
 
III. Applications:
      1) Jesus, rejected by Jewish religious leaders, is the Capstone (1984 NIV) and
          the Cornerstone (ESV), of the Kingdom of God and the true church (42)
 
 
      2) The trait that shows if someone is in the kingdom is the fruit of their
           lives which only springs from saving faith in Christ (43; Romans 1:5)
 
 
      3) The stone that crushes those who reject Christ (44) is precious to
           those who believe in Him (1 Peter 2:6-8)
 
 
 
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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