Whoever falls on this stone

Matthew 21:42-44
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’ ?
43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.
44 “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be broken and contrite. Sometimes, I wonder if I have truly repented of some of the sins that seem to plague my life. I still have a tough time with some things–most of them what some call the “seven deadly sins”–and I have to stop and ask myself if I have truly taken those things to the Cross. It’s not as if I am not trying to rid my life of those old habits and thoughts, but I think sometimes that the little brokenness I felt when I first came to Jesus was only the beginning, that perhaps I need to be broken even more so that contrition truly fills my heart.

And so it is with some wonder that I read these verses today. I have read that bit about Jesus being the chief cornerstone a few dozen times in various places, and yet it never really dawned on me how those verses are used here in this passage. In other places–e.g. Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:7–this reference to Psalms 118:22-23 is used to show how others had thought to reject Jesus and yet He has become more precious and important than anyone ever thought He would. Sometimes, they tie it together with Isaiah 28:16, which speaks of “a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation”–i.e. Jesus Christ. But here in today’s verses, Jesus uses the psalm a little differently.

In the preceding passage, Jesus was speaking to “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (v.23) concerning by whose authority He taught. Jesus then goes on to a pair of parables concerning those who work in the Lord’s “vineyard.” Jesus’ point, of course, is that the Jews had been given the grace and mercy of God to do the work of harvesting for God’s kingdom, and yet they had not done the work. They had kept God’s Word to themselves and, rather than lightening the load of the people, they had, as Jesus later notes, added to the burdens of the people. (Matthew 23:4) Jesus then quotes the psalm and mentions that the kingdom of God will be taken from the Jews and given to a nation who bears fruit. The Master finishes with a curious saying: “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”

As is clear from the other references to the “chief cornerstone,” whenever we read about that stone, we are meant to think of Jesus Christ:

“And whoever falls on Jesus will be broken.
But on whomever Jesus falls, He will grind him into powder.”

When I first came to Christ, I came broken and contrite. I had heard of Jesus, and I had even read the Bible off and on over the years, but I did not truly know Christ until I came to Him broken. I had to acknowledge my own inability to handle my life, had to see for myself that He alone is God and Savior, and only then I could accept Him as my Lord. After all, if we still think of ourselves as lords of our lives, how then can Jesus be our Lord?

And so when we fall on Jesus, we must be broken. We cannot expect to come out of our encounter with Jesus just as whole as we were going in. We cannot think that we will still be the same person.

Psalms 34: 18
The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Isaiah 57:15
For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

As David wrote, “The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart.” When we fall on Jesus, we are broken by His humility, broken by His obedience, broken by His merciful love. My heart is still broken every time I meditate on the gospel of His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the solid rock foundation of our faith and our salvation, and yet we must remember that we cannot stand on Him if we are still standing on the shifting sands of our own lives.

Psalms 33:18-19
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
19 To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.

But for those who think to avoid Christ, who still reject Him as the chief cornerstone of faith and righteousness, then the Rock will have a different effect.

Acts 10:42
“And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.”

Jesus is returning to judge the quick and the dead, and when He does, those who have rejected Him will, as Jesus so graphically puts it, be ground to dust. In other words, those who reject Jesus will feel the full weight of His judgment.

2 Peter 3:10-12
10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?

I love the way Peter asks that question: What manner of persons ought we to be in holy conduct and godliness? Will we fall upon the Rock whom we once rejected? Or will we continue to reject Him so that the full wrath of His Father falls upon us? Will we still be here when the earth is melted with a fervent heat? Or will we be able to look forward to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”? (2 Peter 3:13) Will we fall upon Jesus, or will we allow His judgment to fall upon us?

I still believe I have a lot of repenting to do, but I think now I understand a little better what needs to be done. I will take these sins that beset me and fall upon Jesus Christ, and allow this chief cornerstone to break me anew, to shatter the bonds that hold me to these things. I will fall on the Rock so that I can be remade by the Potter’s own hands, fashioned anew into something more suited to His purpose for my life.

Jesus has warned us of the only two ways to encounter the stone that many have rejected. We can either be broken by falling on Him, and find new life in losing our own. Or we can be crushed in judgment by the very stone we had thought would never mean a thing to us. The choice is ours. As for me, I would much rather fall upon that stone than have the stone fall upon me.

Holy Lord God, I rejected Your Son for so long, I was honestly surprised when I saw His hands reaching out to me to heal me and make my whole. I will never reject Him again, but always come to the foot of the Cross broken and contrite, always ready to serve You as best I can. I know now I cannot be perfected unless the person I am is remade in Christ’s image–and only Jesus Himself can do that through His blood and His life. Therefore, Father, I come to You broken again, ready to be reborn–not born again as I was when I accepted Christ, but reborn every day into better obedience and humility for Your service. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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