Matthew 21:43 - 44
ESV - 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.
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Why is Jesus called the stumbling stone in Matthew 21:43-44? When Jesus entered Jerusalem for that last Passover, the crowd met him with shouts of acclamation drawn from Psalm 118:26 “... Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!” After this triumphant entry, he went to the Temple area and cleansed it of commercial activities. The next day he again entered the Temple courts, but this time began teaching. The Pharisees began to assault him with words in an effort to discredit his teaching particularly with regard to the question of his messiahship and being an heir to David’s throne. At this time Jesus posed the question about the rejected stone by quoting Psalm 118:22-23, "Haven't you ever read what the Scriptures say, "'The stone the builders didn't accept has become the most important stone of all. The Lord has done it. It is wonderful in our eyes'?” (Matthew 21:42) This was obviously a rhetorical question. Jesus knew that the Temple authorities were very familiar with the Psalmist’s words because they sang those words often in the many Festivals held annually. In order to better understand the significance of Jesus’ words, we need to know something about stone cutting practices at that time and before. In the land of Israel, builders worked primarily with stone because of its abundance and the lack of usable wood for heavy construction. The archaeology of that day reveals that masons were highly skilled. We even have modern day evidence of that skill by observing what is called the “wailing wall” which still serves as a retaining wall for the Temple platform today. The large heavy stones used in the renovations of the Temple by Herod are cut so precisely you can’t slip a credit card between them. This precision was absolutely necessary for the building’s long-term stability. A mis-fit stone could in time compromise the structural integrity of the whole edifice. The illustration of Psalm envisions mason’s cutting a stone that was deemed unfit to use because it appeared to be so misshapen that is wasn’t even good enough to use as a spare but was rejected completely to the junk pile as worthless. Then after more measurements were made and a number of other stones were tired but also failed, the stone cutters were at a loss as to what to do. Then someone suggested, ”let’s look through the refuse pile to see if there is a suitable scrap we can recut.” To their amazement, the stone that had already been cut and rejected now fit perfectly. It was truly a fortunate miracle in their eyes. (Psalm 118:23) The original rabbinic interpretation of 118 Psalm was applied to King David. When God told Samuel to anoint one of Jessie’s sons as king, none was found among them who God approved. Samuel was told to inquire about more sons and found that the youngest was in the field attending sheep. That youngest son that was originally rejected by his family became the greatest King of Israel. Rabbinic interpretation also eventually applied this verse to the greater son of David, the Messiah. This background gives us insight into why Jesus may have used this illustration to those present. He knew the Pharisees were very familiar with both the Davidic and Messianic interpretation of these Verses. Jesus, in essence, was warning them, “Just as David was rejected at first but was later recognized as God’s choice for King of Israel, you are likewise rejecting me.” Consequently, this rejection of Jesus as the “most important stone,” has brought God’s judgement against them. The Chief Priest, and no doubt, many who heard Jesus’ words about the rejected stone were forcefully reminded again when Peter and John testified before them that, among other things, said: “Scripture says that Jesus is "'the stone you builders did not accept. But it has become the most important stone of all.' You can't be saved by believing in anyone else. God has given us no other name under heaven that will save us." (Acts 4:10)
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