16 So this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation;
the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary on the Old Testament says this about the architectural function of the cornerstone. “Israelite Iron Age designs made increasing use of cut-stone masonry, replacing the rough boulders and rubble construction of earlier periods. A finely shaped block of stone was inserted that became the cornerstone in order to provide stability and to bind two adjoining walls together. It would have been a larger stone than those normally used. Its insertion often required special effort or rituals. Its large, smooth surface was a natural place for inscribing religious slogans, the name of the architect or king responsible and the date of construction. So the cornerstone could also serve as the foundation stone.
Isaiah is prophesying about a stone which would be the very foundation of all that God is going to build. But earlier on Isaiah had foretold another rock.
The cornerstone is also a stumbling block
ISAIAH 8 13 The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.
14 He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured.’
This passage in Isaiah is an echo of Psalm 118
22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone;
23 the LORD has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.
24 The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.
So here we have a rock, a cornerstone, a rock which would be a stumbling block even though the builders would reject it. Psalm 118, Isaiah 8 and Isaiah 28 would become very important in the way the Earlly Church understood Jesus.
CHRIST is the cornerstone
Jesus himself applied that Old Testament picture to himself in the parable of the tenants in the vineyard. He himself is the stone that the builders rejected
Luke 20 9 He went on to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. 10 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. 12 He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.
13 ‘Then the owner of the vineyard said, “What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.”
14 ‘But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. “This is the heir,” they said. “Let’s kill him, and 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 kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.’
When the people heard this, they said, ‘God forbid!’
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written:
‘ “The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone”?
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.’
The parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard is an allegory of the ministry of Jesus. The Vineyard is the Old Testament picture of God’s chosen people the nation of Israel from Isaiah 5. The story of how the tenants refuse to pay the rent even when the owner sends his own son is a picture of how the leaders of the Jews rejected God’s Son Jesus, threw him out of the vineyard and even killed him.
And Jesus ends the story with a quotation from Psalm 118 showing how the Old Testament had foretold that rejection. ‘ “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”?
Jesus knew He would not be spared any of the suffering and rejection human beings experience even though He was the Son of God. Jesus went up to Jerusalem in the full knowledge that He would be rejected and killed. But still He went! Jesus was the stone which the builders rejected!
This saying went on to become very important as the Early Church tried to understand the significance of the last week of Jesus’s life.
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone/’ Some modern versions use the alternative translation. ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’ It is interesting how the 2011 New International Version generally prefers cornerstone when the 1984 translation had capstone. In ancient architecture the capstone was different in shape from all the other stones in the building. But it was perfectly shaped to fit in place and complete the building. Roman arches were built from two columns of stones and where they meet in the centre a triangular stone sits like a wedge in the middle to balance the two sides of the arch and hold them up. That is the capstone. If you remove the capstone, the whole arch falls apart. So the capstone is the most important stone. It would often carry an inscription with a date or the name of an important person. But it was not just a decorative stone. The capstone really was the essential element in the design which holds the whole structure in place.
‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’ – the most important stone in the arch. ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ – the most important stone in the whole building. Either way, the most important stone. And the Early Church saw the capstone or cornerstone as representing Jesus
ACTS 4 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is
‘ “the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.”
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’
Jesus is the cornerstone – the capstone – the foundation stone!
The cornerstone of the church
1 Peter puts the quotations from Psalm 118 and Isaiah 8 and applies them to Jesus.
1 Peter 2 4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
“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.”
7 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,” (psalm 118)
8 and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” Isaiah 8:14
Jesus is the cornerstone – the foundation of the church.
Ephesians 2 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
The church is God’s new community and his forever family. When any person is saved they become part of God’s new community, the church. They are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, (2:19)
This is God’s cosmic masterplan – we are all united in Christ.
built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (2:20)
Each of us are the bricks God is using to build a new kind of temple.
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. (2:21) And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (2:22)
The old Temples were built of stone. The New Temple is made of living stones and God lives in us by the Holy Spirit!
Phillips Brooks wrote, “Slowly, through all the universe the temple of God is being built. And whenever, in any place, a soul by freewilled obedience, catches the fire of God’s likeness, it is set into the growing walls, a living stone.”
The church is God’s new Temple – and Christ is the cornerstone – the foundation stone.
The cornerstone of our faith – a sure foundation
Romans 9 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33 As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
Romans 10 The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: 9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
So we can build our lives on the rock of Christ, who is the cornerstone of our faith – and when we do we will never ever be put to shame. God will never let us down.
The cornerstone of our lives
1 Corinthians 3 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.
So we should be aiming to build our lives on Christ the cornerstone, the capstone, the foundation stone. Jesus – the stone who the builders rejected. Nevertheless in God’s cosmic masterplan. The foundation stone of the church. The cornerstone of our faith! The cornerstone of our lives. There is a story from back when the Old Wild West was being settled and pioneers flocked across the country to California and Oregon. On the Eastern slopes of the Rockies there was a large, dirt covered rock sticking up in the middle of the trail. Wagon wheels were broken on it and people tripped over it. Finally somebody dug up the peculiar stone and rolled it off the trail into a nearby stream. The creek was too wide to jump over, so for years people used the stone as a stepping stone to cross the stream. Finally one settler built his cabin near the stream and he moved the odd stone out of the stream and placed it by his cabin as a doorstep.
Years passed, railroads were built and towns sprang up. The old settler’s grandson went East to study geology. One day he visited his grandfather’s cabin and happened to examine the old lump of stone. The grandson realised the rock was unusually heavy and discovered that inside within that lump of dirt and rock was the largest nugget of pure gold ever discovered on the Eastern slope of the Rockies. It had been there for three generations, and people never recognized its value. To some it was a stumbling stone to be removed. To others it was a stepping-stone, and to others it was just a heavy rock. Only the grandson saw it for what it really was–a lump of pure gold.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” the precious foundation stone, and the one who relies on it will never be put to shame!