Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Way of the Cross (26)

Recently I was watching Lesser Spotted Ulster on TV. For those outside the province who haven't a clue what I'm talking about, it's a programme where presenter Joe Mahon travels around the townlands of the nine county province of Ulster seeing the sights, meeting the locals, and giving a flavour of a particular corner of the country.

Joe was helping to build a dry stone wall somewhere in rural Donegal. The wee man who was teaching him must have been in his seventies or eighties, but worked like a good one! The secret, he said, was to use whatever stone you lifted wherever you could - not wasting time looking for the perfect stone to fit the hole, but by using what came to hand - it would all fit together somehow.

Yet there's an incident in Scripture that shows much more fussy builders. They had came across a particular stone and got rid of it. It was oddly shaped, didn't fit into their plans, and so it was discarded. The ironic and surprising thing, though, is that the rejected stone was actually the most important - the cornerstone - the one that holds the whole building together.

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD's doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:22-24)

These verses aren't about the literal building of a house, but rather they point to what was happening when Jesus was crucified. He was the stone rejected, the one who didn't fit with the expectations of Israel. He was the Messiah, the Christ, but not as the people of Israel expected, and so was rejected. When standing before Pilate on trial, the voices cried out 'Crucify, crucify.'

As Jesus died on the cross, it was the ultimate rejection; condemned as a common criminal, cursed by God, mocked by the people. But Good Friday was not the end of the story. The rejected Messiah is the cornerstone Messiah, the one in whom the plans and purposes of God have been fulfilled and finished.

As Jesus rises from the tomb, the rejected Messiah is vindicated by the Father; Jesus is raised, ascended and glorified to the right hand of the Father, the place of honour and glory, from where he rules the universe, and from where he will return to judge every person who has ever lived. That's why it is marvellous in our eyes - because God has done it; we can therefore rejoice in the day of deliverance and salvation.

Little wonder, then, that this very passage is quoted by Jesus to describe his mission (Matt 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17) as well as Paul (Eph 2:20) and Peter (1 Pet 2:4-7), including his defence in front of the rulers of Israel:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11-12)

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