Jesus the Capstone

by LA UBF   09/19/2009     0 reads




Matthew 21:23-46

Key Verse 21:44

He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.

Read verses 23-27. When Jesus entered the temple courts and was teaching, what question did the religious leaders ask him? What point was Jesus making by asking them, “John’s baptism—where did it come from…”? What did the chief priests and elders reveal about themselves?

Read verses 28-32. Describe the circumstances in Jesus’ parable of the two sons. Who represents who in the parable? What does this tell us about the difference between what we say to God and what we actually do for God? What then was the problem of the religious leaders?

Read verses 33-39. What improvements did the landowner make? Why? What benefit did the “farmers” gain from renting this vineyard? What did the landowner want to see from his investment? What did he get in return for the opportunity he gave the “farmers”? What similar choices do we have?

Read verses 40-42. What question did Jesus ask those listening? How did they respond? What point was Jesus making by quoting Psalm 118 in verse 42? How were Jesus’ words in verse 42 fulfilled in real life?

Read verses 43-46. What does it mean to “fall” on the stone and be “broken” to pieces? What is the contrasting experience? What had the religious leaders chosen? What can we do to make the right choice?





Matthew 21:23-34

Key Verse 21:42

Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes'?”

Before we get deep into today’s passage I would like to share a couple thoughts on the key verse so as we proceed through the passage we can keep a couple things in mind. Let me begin by asking if anyone here today is an architect? In UBF we have lots of doctors but very few architects. However, the key verse today references several architecture terms that will be handy if we understand their meanings.

Let me first explain the meaning of a “capstone” and a “cornerstone”. These two types of stones were the most important stones in large stone buildings because they were the first and the last stones installed. The cornerstone was carefully chosen by the master builder for its size and shape. On many buildings the cornerstone was larger than the other stones because it was the starting point and from this large stone every other stone was perfectly aligned and built up. It was the master builders honor and job to pick the perfect cornerstone and once chosen build every stone on top of it. If any stone was not in perfect alignment with the cornerstone it would have to be removed and readjusted.

So what about a capstone then? The capstone was the very last stone installed on a building. The capstone was the culmination of all the smaller stones. As in the case of the Washington Monument (see illustration), every stone had to be built up in a perfect manner as to fit in with the capstone. If the building didn’t align with the capstone as expected, the building had deviated from its specification. A good builder never let this happen.

Our NIV Bible’s translation uses “capstone” in the key verse but most others use the word “cornerstone”. Why is there a discrepancy? It is because the original word connotes the idea of a chief stone. So some see the chief stone as a capstone and other see the chief stone as a cornerstone. Both are correct. God is building and executing a plan based on his Son, Jesus Christ who is the beginning and the end of this plan. Since God’s plans are based on Jesus Christ we want to keep a couple questions in mind as we go through the passage: Do my plans matchup with God’s plan and am I a partner with God through participating in his plan? So with a little background into the key verse let’s look at the passage.

By What Authority? (21:23-27)

In last weeks passage Jesus had entered the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves. He had driven out all those who where buying and selling. He had caused quite a ruckus, and now He's come back. He's not causing any damage today, but begins to teach the people.

Look at verse 23.

23Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. "By what authority are you doing these things?" they asked. "And who gave you this authority?"

When the chief priests saw Jesus back in the temple they immediately interrupted his teaching. "What authority do You have? Who gave it to You?" they demanded. Perhaps the chief priests were upset at Jesus’ boldness to come into the temple and teach the people. What right did he have to run everyone out and then come back and teach? Jesus was acting like he owned the temple himself, so the angered chief priests and elders demanded Jesus to prove his authority and whom it came from.

Questioning Jesus about his authority was an interesting angle to take because authority is powerful but it is usually limited by a jurisdiction. For instance, a police officer only has authority in his city. So the Bellflower police can’t come into Downey and arrest people because they don’t have jurisdiction. To the chief priests and elders were the ones who had authority in the temple area and they wanted to know by what authority Jesus was flipping over tables and teaching people in the temple. Maybe he could go around preaching in the countryside but the temple was their area of authority and they wanted to know by what authority Jesus was doing these things.

Of course we know that Jesus has authority in the temple more than anyone. However, the chief priests had become so spiritual blind that they couldn’t see that not only did Jesus have authority in the temple but that he owned the temple. Their spiritual blindness wasn’t a recent phenomenon but was a long time in the making. So in responding to their question Jesus goes back a long time to the times of John the Baptist—to the time when they first derailed in knowing who Jesus really is.

Look at verses 24 and 25.

“Jesus replied, "I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25John's baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?"

This question put the chief priests and elders in a pickle because they hadn’t been baptized by John nor did they repent of their sins at John’s preaching. John’s ministry was clearly from heaven but the chief priests knew if they said, “It was from heaven,” Jesus would ask them, “Why didn’t you believer him?” They also knew that if they said John’s ministry was from man they would anger the people who firmly held John as being a prophet. So they just said, “We don’t know.”

Jesus here reveals that the questioning about his authority didn’t come from a real concern but from their lack of repentance during the time of John the Baptist. Had they repented there wouldn’t have been a question about his authority at all. Repenting at John’s preaching was the first step to get in alignment with Jesus. They totally messed up the foundational step in knowing Jesus and getting involved with his plan. But this was just the beginning for Jesus will use two parables to show that their rejection of John the Baptist was just a manifestation of their own disinterest in God’s plan.

Look at verses 28-30.

28"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard. 29" 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30"Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go.

This first parable is about a man with two sons. There was work to do in the vineyard, and the father told his first son to go do it. The first son said, “I will not.” He wasn’t interested in his father’s work and he didn’t respect his father’s authority. This first son had his own plans. Perhaps he wanted to go to the beach with his friends instead of going to work in the vineyard. So at the cost of ignoring his father’s will the first son went surfing all day. Yet, as he tried to enjoy a carefree time his conscience was stricken and eventually he left his friends behind and made his way to the Father’s vineyard where he tended the vines. This son repented of his selfishness and served his Father’s will and plan.

The second son was a lot different because when he was told to go work in the vineyard he said immediately, “I will.” He talked like an obedient son who was onboard to do his father’s will. Outwardly he was perfect but perhaps as he started walking to the vineyard he started thinking about all the work that needed to be done and the hot temperature outside. He may have just decided to take a nap under a tree where it was cool and relaxing. He wasted all day doing his own thing because deep down he didn’t respect his father’s authority and plan for the vineyard.

When we look at both sons carefully we realize that they both had little regard for the will of their Father and were more interested in doing their own plan. The only difference was that the first son repented of his rebelliousness and got in alignment with his father. The second son didn’t.

Thankfully, Jesus translates the meaning of the sons in the parable for us. The son who said, "I will not," but later went represented the "sinners", the tax collectors and prostitutes—those who made decisions to live lives of sin but afterwards repented and began doing the will of their Father in heaven.

And the son who said, "I will" - but didn't go - was symbolic of all of the religious people like the chief priests and elders, who pretending that they were working for God, but were in fact serving themselves. When John the Baptist came preaching for God he preached to both types of sinners. John’s message to repent applied to the religious leaders but they didn’t accept John’s message. Worst of all, as Jesus points out, the religious leaders didn’t repent even when they saw all the prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners repenting and submitting to God.

In a nutshell, Jesus is showing the chief priests and elders that they are rebels who question Jesus’ authority and yet had never submitted to God’s authority.

When we look at the mistakes of the religious leaders in the temple we can see that their problem is the common problem of all mankind. Without repentance our hearts become hostile to God and reject his rightful rule. The Bible teaches us that our hearts and our bodies are temples of God but where repentance is neglected one’s life becomes a den or robbers. Much like the chief priests who did not recognize Jesus’ authority, so in the absence of repentance the temple inside man rejects Jesus’ authority. We need to assess then how much is Jesus ruling in my temple? Is he welcomed here or is there strife between him and me.

Without constantly repenting we inevitably end up unable to do the will of God and act even as his enemies. This was the case of the chief priests as described in Jesus’ next parable.

Look at verses 33.

33"Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey.

This parable like the last is short but is rich in meaning. Again, we find ourselves in a vineyard. A vineyard means there is lots of potential but lots of work. There is also a person of authority but it’s a landowner this time instead of a father. Much like a father who has authority over his house this landowner has authority over his land. The landowner has big plans for his land to produce a profit so Jesus tells us how he invested a lot of money to build a wall, a winepress and even a watchtower around his vineyard. It was like the Mercedes Benz of vineyards! The landowner then rented the vineyard to some farmers with the expectation that they could keep the fruit of the vineyard as long as they paid the landowner his share. We don’t know what kind of deal the landowner struck with the farmers but it was surely a sweet one. The farmers were totally blessed because they obviously didn’t have their own property and here this landowner was going to rent them the Mercedes Benz of vineyards! Wow! They were so blessed but something quickly went wrong.

Look at verses 34-36.

34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35"The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 

What went wrong here? Probably things starting falling apart when the landowner first went on his trip. After some time passed by the farmers who rented the vineyard started thinking of themselves as owners more than renters. Their attitudes changed and they entertained a false sense of ownership over the vineyard. In their minds it didn’t really belong to the landowner it belonged to them. They were in charge and so their word was rule.

This kind of self-appointing and high-jacking is common place. For instance, in every place I have worked, whenever the boss leaves early or misses a day; everyone in the office goes bananas and starts acting less like employees and more like little Napoleons. They talk together on and on, act rude to customers, play jokes with the intercom system and go home early. When the boss is gone many employees try to exploit the situation in as many ways as possible.

After developing a sense of entitlement the farmers acted viciously towards the servants of the Landowner. They totally refused to pay the servants and in fact beat and killed them. After this occurred, the landowner sent another wave of servants to collect the fruit but they were treated the same way.

Look at verses 37 through 39.

37Last of all, he sent his son to them. 'They will respect my son,' he said 38"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.' 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

We can’t help but notice the patience and extreme suffering the landowner endured to collect his fruit. He gave so much to allow these farmers to have a vineyard and now he has lost so much. Still the landowner didn’t lose hope that these farmers would repent and do the right thing. Look again at verse 37. In all hope the landowner says, “They will respect my son.” And he thereby sends his son to the farmers.

Unfortunately, the presence of the son only made their motives more clear. When the son came the renters said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” What a bold and evil plan to rip-off the vineyard by killing the landowner’s servants and even his son.  

Jesus concluded this sad and shocking parable with a question in verse 40, “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 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.”

Ironically, the chief priests and the elders just foretold their own downfall after they would soon have Jesus crucified in a matter of days.

In this parable the vineyard represent the nation of Israel including all its people and potential. The farmers renting the vineyard are in fact the religious leaders who exercised authority over the nation. They were the ones whom God had allowed to take charge but who also used God’s resources for themselves. 

Jesus’ parable shows us that when our heart is corrupt we can’t be good tenants. When we do not bear fruit there is nothing we can look forward to when Jesus comes back. The downward progression of the religious leaders first began with they didn’t personally repent and believe in Jesus Christ, then they didn’t keep their hearts clean, then they didn’t bear fruit and then they forfeited their chances to bear fruit and get a lasting reward in the kingdom to come. Finally they were shut-up from the kingdom of God. Jesus gave this final conclusion in the next verses.

Look at verses 42-44.

42Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the Scriptures: " 'The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes' 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. 44He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed."

At this moment Jesus was falling down on the religious leaders by cursing their future prospects and by revealing that they like the withered fig tree would not bear fruit ever again and that the ministry of the Kingdom of God would be given to a people who would produce its fruit.” We know historically that the ministry of God was taken from the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem and transferred to the first Christian church. For it was the former sinners, tax collectors, former prostitutes who carried the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. Why did God do this? Why did Jesus come down so hard on the religious leaders to the point of cursing them? It was the consequence for rejecting Jesus’ authority over their lives. Jesus is the Son of God but these men ignored it. By rejecting Jesus’ authority over their lives they lost all of their authority to serve God’s kingdom purpose.

In conclusion, today’s passage is a great blessing because we can learn from the mistakes of the religious leaders to always humbly submit to God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ. It reveals many important questions that we must honestly ask ourselves before God. 

1. Are the plans I have in sync with God’s plan to reveal Jesus Christ?

2. Am I participating in God’s will as an active partner?

May we continue to be like the good son who did his Father’s will and like good farmers who gives the landowner his share of the fruit.

One Word: Jesus the Cornerstone.