Spring 2004

Religion and Spirituality

The Gospels for the 21st Century, Part 17

The Rejected Stone

David Hulme

Jesus’ popularity among the people crescendos upon His arrival in Jerusalem, strengthening the resolve of the religious authorities to kill Him.

Each year at the Passover season, large numbers of people went up from the country to Jerusalem. 

By now Jesus had attracted so much attention with His teachings and miracles that people were looking for Him, especially in the temple area. The chief priests and the Pharisees had already plotted to kill Him and had given orders that anyone seeing Him should report it so that He could be arrested. When Jesus was not to be found at the temple, the people began to speculate that He might not come to the feast that year. 

In fact, Jesus arrived at Bethany, just outside Jerusalem, six days before the Passover. It was there that He had raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. Now a large crowd came to see not only Jesus, but also the resurrected man. 

The focus of attention on Lazarus caused the chief priests to make plans to kill him as well, because, as John’s Gospel says, “on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him” (John 12:11). 

The next day Jesus sent two of His disciples to find a donkey and her colt and to bring them to Him. He then rode toward Jerusalem on the colt. The crowds took palm fronds and met Him, shouting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (verse 13). All of this was a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy recorded in Isaiah and also in Zechariah: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey’” (Matthew 21:4–5; see also Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9). 

The word was now quickly spreading that Jesus, the man who had raised Lazarus from the dead, was entering Jerusalem in fulfillment of a messianic prophecy. The Pharisees were frustrated. “This is getting us nowhere,” they said. “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19). They told Jesus to rebuke His disciples for acclaiming Him the Messiah. Jesus said simply, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). 

As He approached Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, Jesus saw the city ahead of Him and began to weep, knowing the destruction that it would face from the Romans in a few years. 

He said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (verses 42–44). 

By the time Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple, the whole city was excited. The blind and the lame came for healing. The children were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:14–15). 

The chief priests and scribes were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they protested. 

“Yes,” Jesus replied. He then asked them, quoting from Psalm 8, “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” (Matthew 21: 16). 

Time Grows Short 

Following His dramatic entry into the city, Jesus returned to Bethany. On His way back to Jerusalem the next day He was hungry, and seeing a fig tree in leaf, He went to find out whether it had any fruit on it. Jesus knew that the Passover season was not the time for figs, but He used the circumstance to teach a lesson. 

In the Hebrew Scriptures the fig tree is sometimes used to symbolize Israel. Jesus’ own people had produced little fruit of the spiritual kind. Now He cursed the tree (verse 19), saying, “May you never bear fruit again!”—symbolic of the coming destruction of Jerusalem. 

When He arrived at the temple, Jesus for the second time drove out the merchants who were buying and selling. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables and the benches of those selling sacrificial doves. He prevented anyone carrying merchandise through the courts of the temple. Instead of the temple being a house of prayer for all nations, it had become a den of robbers—a gathering place for merchants who, for the sake of personal financial gain, took unfair advantage of those coming there to worship and to offer sacrifices. 

The chief priests and scribes and the leaders of the people became more and more hateful, yet they could not find a way to kill Him. 

For several days Jesus continued to teach at the temple. The chief priests and scribes and the leaders of the people became more and more hateful, yet they could not find a way to kill Him. 

Some of the Greek-speaking worshipers who had come from outside Judea for the Passover asked the disciple Philip if they could see Jesus. Their request seemed to remind Jesus of His earlier words to the Jews, when He told them that He would be with them only a short time (John 7:33–34). He simply said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). 

Jesus acknowledged that He was deeply troubled by His impending death but knew that He could not ask His Father to save Him at that time, because as He said, “For this very reason I came to this hour” (verse 27). 

Suddenly the crowd heard a loud noise. Some said it was thunder, while others said an angel had spoken to Him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine” (verse 30). He then showed them what kind of death He was going to have to die. He spoke of being “lifted up.” 

The crowds asked, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” 

Jesus replied that they should pay attention to Him as long as they had Him with them. He said, “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light” (verse 36). He then left and was nowhere to be found for a while. 

Blinded by the Light 

There were many who had seen Jesus’ miraculous signs yet did not believe in Him. As John says, they fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them” (verse 40, based on Isaiah 6:10). Isaiah had understood what Jesus would do and had written about Him. 

But the prophecy of spiritual blindness did not apply to everyone. Some of the Pharisees and leaders believed in Jesus but were too afraid of being put out of the synagogue to admit it. 

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” 

John 12:46

These were the kinds of actions that caused Jesus to cry out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. 

“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say” (verses 44–50). 

The next day, as they passed by the fig tree that Jesus had cursed earlier, Peter said, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!” (Mark 11:21). 

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:21–22). 

Dishonest Leaders 

The confrontation between Jesus and the chief priests, the teachers and the elders was coming to a conclusion. As He was teaching the people in the temple courts, the leaders came to Him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you authority to do this?” (Mark 11:28). They were referring, no doubt, to His cleansing of the temple and to the continuing miracles He performed. 

Jesus replied, “I will ask you one question. Answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” He asked them about John the Baptist, saying, “Was [his baptism] from heaven, or from men? Tell me!” 

They discussed it among themselves and concluded that they could not say whether it was from God or from men. If they said it was from heaven, then they knew Christ would ask: Then why didn’t you believe John? If they said it was from men, then the people would stone them, because the people recognized John as a prophet. So they had to avoid giving a truthful answer and said, “We don’t know.” Jesus responded, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (verses 29–33). 

He went on to give three parables to demonstrate the leaders’ failure to recognize where God was working. 

First He told a story about a man who had two sons. He asked the first to go and work in his vineyard. “I will not,” he answered, but he later changed his mind and went. The father went to the other son and made the same request. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” Jesus asked. “The first,” they said. In so doing they condemned themselves, because they were like the second son: they said they believed in God, but they didn’t do what He asked of them (Matthew 21:28–31a). 

Referring again to John the Baptist, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him” (verses 31b–32). 

Next, Jesus told a parable about a landowner who planted a vineyard and rented it out to some farmers while he went on a journey. At harvest time the landowner sent his servants to collect some of the fruit of the vineyard. The tenant farmers beat one servant, killed another and stoned the third. The landowner sent other servants, more than the first time, but the tenant farmers again beat some and killed others. With only one person left to send, the landowner told himself, “They will respect my son,” and sent him. 

When they saw him, however, the tenant farmers talked the matter over and said, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours” (Mark 12:1–7). So they killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. Now Jesus asked His audience, “When the landowner comes, what do you think he will do to the tenants? He will kill them and give the vineyard to others” (verse 9, paraphrased). 

The people were shocked by the story and said, “May this never be!” (Luke 20:16b). 

Jesus looked at them directly, saying, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’?” (verse 17). He concluded by telling the leaders that the kingdom of God would be taken away from them and given to a people who would produce its fruit. 

Speaking of Himself, He said, “He who falls on this stone [the capstone] will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matthew 21:44). 

Now the chief priests and teachers of the law, knowing that Jesus had spoken the two parables against them, tried to find a way to arrest Him immediately. But they decided against it, because they were afraid of the people. 

Jesus now spoke a third parable about the kingdom of heaven: A king prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent servants to those who had been invited, telling them to come, but they refused. So he sent more servants with the news that the meal was ready. Still the invited guests paid no attention. Some simply went about their own business, while others attacked the king’s servants and killed them. 

Naturally the king was angry, so he sent his army to destroy his enemies and burn their city. He said to his servants, “The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.” The servants went and brought anyone they could find, both good and bad, and filled the banquet hall (Matthew 22:1–10). 

Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 22:13

When the king came in he noticed that one man was not wearing wedding clothes. “Friend,” he asked, “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?” The man had nothing to say. Then the king told his servants, “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen” (verses 11–14). 

Clearly Jesus was doubly emphasizing the rejection of the religious leadership of His time because they had rejected Him.