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The Cornerstone (III)

March 29, 2020, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Mark 12:1-12) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Mark
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Mark 马可福音

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Title: The Cornerstone (III)
Date: 22nd Mar 2020
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

The parable of the tenants is about a bunch of farmers who rented a vineyard from a landowner. When it was harvest time, these farmers were supposed to pay off their rent with a portion of the harvested fruits. Yet, the servants who were sent to collect the rent were beaten, killed and stoned. The landowner finally sent his son. The presence of the son would remind them of the agreement between the landowner and themselves. Only the son carried the same authority as the father, and the landowner thought the tenants would not be so blatant as to defy the actual owner. But when it was the son who personally came, they killed him so that they might own the land permanently.

What is wrong with these tenants? Don’t they know that the vineyard belongs to the landowner? They can only work there if they pay the rent. Without his permission, they would not even have a place to work. Has their sense of ownership gone awry? I think something has changed along the way. They might have begun their work feeling indebted to the landowner. But as they toiled and labored on the land, they began to feel like they own the land. Their sense of gratitude towards the landowner became a sense of entitlement. Now, they think they deserve all of the fruits. On the surface, the tenants seem to be acting out of greed and covetousness. But I think the real issue is about authority. As the ones staying and working on the land, they feel they have the true authority. This is why they surprised the landowner by killing his son. They had forgotten the initial grace, the covenant between them. Now, they want to be the ones in charge. They refused to acknowledge the authority of the son. In doing so, they also rejected the authority of the landowner.

The same issue on authority applies for the religious leaders who were opposing Jesus. The vineyard is a metaphor for Israel and the people of God used in Isaiah 5 and 27. The Roman Empire may have the political authority, but the Jewish leaders have the religious authority. By running the Temple in Jerusalem, they were in charge of the spiritual lives of the people. They feel they have been in charge for far too long to give it up now. They think they have the authority, but they’ve forgotten that that authority belongs to God. And when the true representative of God arrives, the Son of God Jesus Christ comes to them; they would rather kill him for his inheritance. They do not realize that they are merely the tenants, not the landowner. When Jesus challenged the entire Temple system in Mark 11, they questioned his authority. Mark 11: 28 “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you authority to do this?” 29 Jesus replied, 30 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin? Tell me!” 33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

In replying to them, Jesus linked his authority to the source of John the Baptist’s authority. The reason Jesus did this has to do with John’s prophecy. This is what John the Baptist proclaimed. Mark 1: 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” From the exchange between John the Baptist and Jesus, there is no doubt that John recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of his prophecy. The destruction of the temple system to the moneychangers was only the beginning. If this destruction were to be completed, would the Jewish religious leaders be judged and removed as well? I guess that’s the question on their minds. They have seen the miraculous acts of Jesus. They have heard him spoke with great authority. In their hearts, they probably know Jesus is the one prophesied by John the Baptist. So the takeover of the people’s lives with true divine authority has begun. What should be their response? That is the question.

Some of us may be puzzled why these religious leaders should have any hesitation about their response to Jesus about his authority. Don’t they sense that Jesus is the king? Even the crowds shouted, “10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (11:10)” If they know Jesus is from God, if they discover Jesus’ latent kingship, isn’t the natural response to listen and obey? Some of us may find it hard to conceive of any other response because the subject we are discussing is God. These were supposed to be religious leaders. They should know what they were doing. Submission and obedience should be without question. Yet, we are told, their response was to look for a way to arrest Jesus. It is sad because they were not ignorant. They were killing Jesus precisely because they knew who he was. Do not be shocked. This is the true face of a corrupted humanity. Why? Why should it be that the very people appointed by God to shepherd his people should betray him? The reason for their actions was explained in Jesus’ parable today. It is the usurpation of authority. Instead of being a faithful and dutiful tenant, they now want to be the landowners.

These evil tenants must eventually pay for what they have done. There will come a day of reckoning. Two things will happen. One, the evil ones who were renting the vineyard will be punished for their deeds. The Jerusalem Temple was totally destroyed in 70AD. Two, the evil ones would be replaced with the latecomers who abide with the will of Jesus. Though this may apply to us Gentiles, the direct recipients of this grace refer to the Jews who first followed Jesus. They had heeded the call for repentance by John the Baptist, and submitted themselves to the authority of Jesus. The day of reckoning may refer to the final judgment on Jesus’ second coming. In some ways, that is true. But for many of the disciples, Jesus was already vindicated when God the father raised him from the dead and ascended him into heaven.

Lastly, I want to connect our passage today to my Christmas messages on the cornerstone. During Christmas last year, I explained the references to the cornerstone in Isaiah 8:14 [1] and Isaiah 28:16 [2]. Today, I’ll link them to the cornerstone referenced in Psalm 118 [3]. The literal meaning of cornerstone is something structurally underlying and supportive on which the rest of the entire construction depends. But not only is the cornerstone fundamental, without it, nothing can be started. And it is only with the appearance of the cornerstone, that the rest of the building process follows. 1 Peter quoted from Isaiah 28 to declare that the cornerstone promised by God is Jesus Christ. He is the essential foundation of a new beginning. Then, the entire new religious structure can rest secure on him. The coming of Christ is God’s revelation to us, that God is starting something new, a new Creation. However, Isaiah 8 warns us that the stone can become a stumbling stone to some. The flip side of a new beginning is that there will be those who are not on board. Just as the cornerstone is a foundational one for others to follow, those who do not follow the new marker will be exposed as flawed constructions. And those who would lose their authority would be challenging this stone who claims to have the true authority. This is where Psalm 118 comes in.

Psalm 118: 22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The key to these two verses is rejection and amazing transformation. In the past, stones were very precious for construction use. They had to be laboriously cut and transported to the construction site. Sometimes, stones were cut into an odd shape without an immediate use, and they were put aside. Yet, at the key moment, that odd shaped stone might become the most important part of the building in supporting or balancing a critical structure in the architecture. In Psalm 118, this cornerstone is sometimes translated as capstone. This metaphor therefore means that God has used an unseemly person or event to play a critical role in saving his people. Such a person may be really lowly or insignificant to most people, just like an unwanted stone. Yet the marvelous part is that God used him or her, and performed an unimaginable act of salvation from an impossible situation.

Traditionally, Jewish interpreters have used this verse to refer to David. “David was an unlikely candidate to be a king of Israel. When Samuel the prophet visited Jesse’s home to look for the person whom God wanted to anoint as king of Israel, Jesse first introduced his eldest son, Eliab to him. Samuel was much impressed by Eliab, and he thought, “Surely this must the one the LORD wants to anoint. However, God clearly told him, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature. I have rejected him… For Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7). Then Jesse introduced his next son, Abinadab, and another, Shammah, and finally all his seven sons, except one whom Jesse perceived as the most unlikely. David was out in the field tending sheep, but the LORD’s eye was upon him all along. Then Samuel told Jesse, “Bring him here; we will not sit down until he comes” (16:11). David was the stone that the builders rejected which became the cornerstone.” [4]

The scripture quoted by Jesus (Psalm 118:22,23) would later be repeatedly re-quoted by Peter (in Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:4-5). According to Peter, Jesus is the rejected stone who is now the cornerstone of a new temple. The early church, made up of people like the tax collectors and prostitutes, would be the ones to replace the evil ones. The Jewish religious leaders may think that they can hold on to their authority by killing Jesus. But the day of reckoning had come, and the early church had replaced them as the true tenants.

It is important that we use this parable as a reminder for ourselves. We are the tenants of the vineyard. Sometimes, after working on a ministry for a long time, after staying in a community and getting really comfortable, we begin to think that we alone call the shots. We are in charge. This ministry belongs to me. This community is my community. Can we still hear the voice of God when he sends his prophets? We think it was always better when we were the ones running it. We forget that the authority has belonged to God all along. The original Temple in Jerusalem is meant to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7). It is a place that God promised to bring forgiveness, whether it is reconciling man back to him, and reconciliation between fellow man (See very important 1 Kings 8:29-50). In this period of Lent, take some time to reflect on the responsibilities we have. They are the mini-vineyards entrusted to us by God. Let us bear fruits regularly. Let us submit ourselves and commit our fruits to God. For in God alone lies all authority.

[1] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=992
[2] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=983
[3] Part 1: http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=655 and Part 2: http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=656 and the last reference to the Messianic meaning of cornerstone is found in Zechariah 10:4, http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=879
[4] http://www.jubilee.org.sg/sermons/?sermon_id=401

Mark 12:1–12 (Listen)

12:1 And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this Scripture:

  “‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
11   this was the Lord's doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

12 And they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.

(ESV)