Fifth Sunday in Lent
April 7, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
"'The Stone that the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone.' Everyone who falls on that Stone will be broken to pieces, and when It falls on anyone, It will crush him."
Luke 20:17, 18 (ESV)
Of all the things that a person could possibly want in life, one of the most sought-after is popularity. Let's face it--all of us want to be liked. We want to be loved. We want to be needed. And when we start to get the feeling that we're not, then we become disheartened and begin to feel worthless. Some people go to ridiculous extremes in their quest for popularity. They become so paranoid about it that they won't dare to say or do anything that could possibly offend anyone else, because they don't want to take the risk of being disliked. The same obsession drives them to say and do all of the things that they think people want to hear and see, hoping thereby to gain the favor of many and in this way to become popular. The sad thing in this popularity game is that some people are so intent on pursuing popularity that they throw their integrity right out the window. They deny what they are in a feeble attempt to become something that they think others want them to be. It sounds incredible but, believe me, this happens a lot more often than many of us realize or would like to admit.
Because of all of this lack of integrity for the sake of popularity, it comes as a welcome relief when we meet someone who is different--someone with backbone--someone who speaks and acts out of his or her own convictions, regardless of whether or not those who hear and see them share those convictions and beliefs. Whether we agree with such a person or not, we can't help but to admire him for his consistency and respect him for his honesty. Today we're going to be talking about the Person who exemplifies these characteristics better than anyone else. That Person, of course, is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He not only speaks the truth; He is Truth. He radiates truth so clearly and so decisively that no one is ever the same after encountering Him. No one leaves His presence unscathed. Every sinner who comes into contact with Jesus comes away either forgiven or accused.
The Holy Scriptures make it very clear (and from time to time our own experience confirms this) that Jesus Christ is a stumbling block to some people. He is a stumbling block because He is Absolute Truth and some people just can't handle truth. They can't handle the truth of their sinful acts, nor can they handle the truth of the sinful motivations that often lie behind their apparently noble acts. The presence of Christ has a way of drawing attention to sinners. After all, the contrast is startling: He alone is innocent and all others are guilty. He alone is perfect and all others are corrupt. He alone is complete and all others are lacking. He can come into a person's life in the most delicate and non-threatening way possible, but the fact remains that, once he is in our presence, His righteousness exposes our sin.
But it's certainly not a matter of His wanting to humiliate sinners or punish them for their sins. On the contrary, He offers forgiveness to all as a free gift of His grace. He said as much Himself when He told Nicodemus: "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him" (John 3:17). But the great majority of people in this world aren't the least bit interested in this grace of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ. And why aren’t they? Maybe they're just too proud to accept something that's free. Maybe they just can't forgive themselves or others and therefore can't accept the forgiveness of a forgiving God. No matter what the reasons for their rejection of Christ's forgiveness may be, those reasons cause Christ to become a stumbling block for these people, because He has come to rescue them--from sin, from death, from judgment--and they have turned Him away. "So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20), as the Scriptures say.
But for us who trust in Him and long for His grace Christ is not a stumbling block at all. For us, He is "the Cornerstone"--not just a cornerstone; He is "THE Cornerstone"--the Foundation, because He is the One on whom our righteousness before God rests. His innocence, His perfection, and His completeness do not accuse us or convict us. On the contrary, they justify us. Because we are His through faith in Him--united with Him in His death and resurrection in Baptism--His innocence, perfection, and completeness become ours, and we ourselves are declared to be innocent, perfect, and complete in God's sight for the sake of His Son. You see, Christ has traded places with us. On the cross He became the manifestation of human sin, which merits God's punishment, so that on judgment day we can be acknowledged as the beloved children of God, in whom He is well pleased.
Jesus is also our "Cornerstone" of truth because He is Truth and His Gospel leads us into all truth. Those who are innocent, those who are perfect, those who are complete have no need to be afraid of the light of the truth. Christ has made us innocent, perfect, and complete, and this is not in any way our own doing; it is a totally free gift of His grace. Because His grace has justified us in this way, we can delight in His truth, because it does not humiliate us for being the sinners that we are; instead it justifies us before God, declaring us "not guilty" before the perfect Judge. And on the day of judgment it will glorify us as the redeemed, obedient children of God that Christ has declared us to be. In this way, too, He is not a stumbling block for us; He is instead our "Cornerstone."
Jesus Christ is different. He's not a sugar-coated "schmoozer" who always says and does all the right things and consequently enjoys the admiration of everyone. Neither is He someone that a person can take or leave or someone that a person can be indifferent to. Everyone is affected by the Savior in one way or another. One is either saved by Him or convicted by Him. He is either your stumbling-block or your "Cornerstone." The difference lies not in His attitude toward sinners because He loves all people and "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). Those who are convicted by Him are convicted only because they have rejected His grace and love. But for us who believe in Him Christ is our "Cornerstone"--our Foundation of righteousness and truth. In Him we can place our trust with perfect confidence. On His merits we rest, trusting completely that He will, by the power of His death and resurrection, carry us from "this valley of sorrow" to the glories of heaven.
May the One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, making us kings and priests before His God and Father, lead you to a life of repentance and trust. May He also be glorified in the lives of you, His people. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.