Dear Congregation of Christ: Here’s a quote from Sholem Asch, a Jewish author (1880-1957): Jesus Christ is to me the outstanding personality of all time, all history, both as Son of God and as Son of Man… There is no easy middle ground to stroll upon. You either accept Jesus or reject him.” This author is not a Christian, although he worked for reconciliation between Jews and Christians. Note his statement, “You either accept Jesus or reject him.” No middle ground. No neutrality.
Here’s another quote, this time by Calvin Coolidge, our nation’s 30th President, “The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country.” Alas! The foundations of American society and government are shaken to the core. Most Americans have rejected our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior and the Holy Scriptures. Even a token acknowledgement that our Lord is a good Teacher is widely rejected. Most politicians, celebrities and protesters blaspheme the name of Christ when they justify their wickedness by quoting him. Even Adolph Hitler claimed to be a Christian, but he once praised Jesus with these words, “the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jews.” He calls Jews “the scourge,” and executed his genocide by twisting Jesus’ words.
In our text today, we read three narratives wherein our Lord was rejected. So our theme this morning is, The Gospel of Jesus Rejected, under three headings; first, By His Own Hometown; second, By His Own People; and third, By the Authorities.”
By His Own Hometown
Previously, Jesus taught and performed miracles in the region of Galilee. Since he was near his hometown of Nazareth, he visited there with his disciples. As was his custom on the Sabbath, he attended the synagogue worship. By now, his hometown has already heard about his miracles and teachings. With his fame, he should have received a hero’s welcome, “Here’s a local boy done good!” Instead, they were astonished when he taught with wisdom and authority and did many mighty works. The townsfolk had no idea that Jesus could perform mighty signs and wonders because he is the divine Messiah, the Son of God. After all, he is only a carpenter born of a peasant family. His mother, brothers and sisters were not noteworthy, other than their names. Their comments about him were insults.
In Chapter 3, we learned that his brothers were seeking him because they thought he “was out of his mind” (21). This brother of theirs was an embarrassment to their family. So, Mark says, “they took offense at him.” Literally, they stumbled and were scandalized because of him. Mark alludes to Isaiah 8:14, where Israel was offended by the Lord God, “And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” Peter cites Isaiah’s prophecy, connecting the Lord God to Jesus, the cornerstone of the church,
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do (1 Pet 2:6-8).
Why were the Jews offended by Jesus? Luke 4:16-23 give more details about this event. Jesus was handed the scroll of Isaiah, and he opened it to Isaiah 61:1-2. This passage is a prophecy of the Spirit-filled, anointed Messiah who will come “to proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Nothing wrong with Jesus reading this passage. The problem came when he was finished reading it and declared to the whole congregation, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That was utter blasphemy, because Jesus was claiming to be the Spirit-filled, anointed Messiah, the Son of God!
At first, they had good things to say about Jesus’ gracious words, but then they realized he was just Jesus the carpenter. Then they began to be offended. Jesus knew what was in their minds, so he says that a prophet is honored by everyone, except in his own hometown and by his relatives and household.
When his own townspeople insulted him because he was a mere carpenter, they did not know that they were saying the truth. Jesus indeed is the Glorious Builder, “For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself” (Heb 3:3). When he came, his mission was to build the house of his Father. He appointed his twelve apostles to lay the foundation and gathered 120 living stones before he ascended into heaven. Since then, for 2,000 years, his appointed ministers have been gathering living stones to complete his house, “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). You who believe in him are these “living stones” built up as God’s house.
Brothers and sisters, have you experienced rejection by your own family and friends because of your faith in Christ and your good works for him? Jesus himself experienced this rejection. But our Lord assures you that your family is not only your own household. Earlier, Jesus explained that even though he has his mother, brothers and sisters, his real family are all who believe and trust in him and do his Father’s will (Mark 3:33-34). God the Father is your true Father, and Jesus is your Elder Brother. Therefore, count your brothers and sisters in your church as your family. Count the multitudes of people from all nations, tribes and languages as your own household.
By His Own People
Peter then quotes Isaiah 28:16 together with Psalm 118:22 to explain that our Lord is not only the builder of God’s house, but he is also the most important “living stone”: the Cornerstone. A cornerstone is a capstone placed at the top of a corner of two walls. It holds the entire building together and makes sure that the building is square.
However, Psalm 118:22 also looked forward to the rejection of this Cornerstone. Who rejected this Cornerstone? In Mark 12:10-12, Jesus clearly pointed to the unbelieving Jews. Throughout his ministry, Jesus offended them with his teachings and works. To us who believe, he is our Rock of Ages. But to the Jews and all unbelievers, he was a Rock of Offense on which they stumble and fall, crushing them in the process. Jesus quotes Isaiah when he condemns the Jews, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matt 21:14; cf Isa 28:15).
In Mark 12:1-12, Jesus taught the Parable of the Tenants in a Vineyard before an audience of Jews. The vineyard is a picture of Israel whom God planted, tended and protected. The tenants were the Jews whom God appointed as stewards of his vineyard. When God sent his servants to get his share of the produce, the tenants beat up and killed them. Finally, God sent his own beloved son, but the tenants also killed him, so they would own the vineyard. So Jesus said to the Jews, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others” (12:9). Then, he quoted Psalm 118:22 about the cornerstone that the builders rejected.
It was clear to the Jews that Jesus was referring to them as the wicked tenants. In Matthew 23:37, his lament over Israel was pointed, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (cf Luke 11:47; Acts 7:52) So the Jews were so offended that they sought to arrest and kill him. And what was he pointing to when he said that God would give the vineyard others? In Matthew 8:11–12, Jesus said to the Jews, “Many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.” In the great banquet in heaven, people from all over the world will eat with the Old Testament patriarchs. This is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his faith (Gen 12:3).
But the Jews, “the sons of the kingdom,” will be excluded because they will be in eternal judgment. When Jesus sent his twelve disciples on their short-term mission trip, he instructed them, “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (11). Shaking the dust off their feet is symbolic of the cleansing themselves of the sin of that particular place that rejected Jesus’ gospel of faith and repentance. The gesture also means that the town is not accountable to the disciples, but to God himself. Similarly, Paul shook off his garments when he left Corinth because the Jews there opposed and reviled the gospel. And he said, “From now on, I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:6). And he did, planting a church in Corinth made up mostly of Gentiles, staying there for one-and-a-half years (Acts 18:11; cf Acts 13:46).
However, wherever Jesus disciples went, there will be some who believed the gospel and welcomed them into their homes. In those places, they had success preaching faith and repentance, casting out demons and healing the sick. They did not have to bring extra clothes or shoes or food because Jesus knew that those who welcomed them would give them provisions. This teaching is a great benefit to pastors today. Many pastors are overly concerned about salary and benefits when they consider a call to a church. Some even receive good salaries, but do not even do any pastoral duties except preaching and teaching. But here, Jesus teaches that God’s provisions to them will be sufficient for all their needs, and even more. We see this in pastors who labor in small, poor churches which cannot provide for their pastors’ needs. So like Paul, they work as “tentmakers,” trusting that God is their good Providence.
By the Authorities
When Herod Antipas heard of Jesus’ fame, he was troubled, because he thought that Jesus was John the Baptizer coming back from the dead. He was troubled because he knew that if this were true, that John would exact vengeance against him. Others, especially Jews, believed that John was Elijah the prophet because of the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6. Other Jews believed that John was the Prophet of whom Moses prophesied.
John was beheaded because Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother, had requested his head. She hated John because he condemned Herod for an unlawful marriage (Lev 18:15) to his brother’s wife. John was an example among a myriad of martyrs in Christian history from the early church all the way to the present. Those who reject Christ and his disciples are not only from the general population of a country. History is full of names of leaders who murdered Christians by the millions: Nero and all other Roman emperors before Constantine; Catherine de Medici who ordered the slaughter of 70,000 French Reformers called the Huguenots in 1572; Turks who murdered Armenians in the 1920s; Nazi Germans who murdered 1,000 Poles who hid Jews; Stalin and Mao Tse Tung; Boko Haram in Nigeria; ISIS in the Middle East. The writer of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Brès, was executed by the Spanish inquisition under King Philip II in 1567.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, here in our nation, Christianity is at a very low ebb. Most politicians, Hollywood stars, professional athletes and high school and college professors are anti-Christian. They advocate the rewriting of our history and heritage as “one nation under God.” They want to destroy all remaining vestiges of Christianity in our culture, including books, music, businesses that promote Christianity, and churches. In fact, they are starting to burn churches. And during this Covid-19 pandemic, it is becoming clear that our civil authorities want to get rid of churches. Our nation is beginning to look like a Middle Eastern country.
The rejection and persecution of Christ and his followers will never come to an end until our Savior returns from heaven to destroy all his enemies. Until that time, be prepared to endure rejection from our own families and friends, from other people, and from the civil authorities themselves. But we have hope that Christ our Cornerstone will complete the building of his Church, his kingdom, because even Satan will not prevail against it.