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April 7, 2019

The Cornerstone

Jason Meyer | Mark 12:1-12

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. Have you not read this Scripture:

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

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.—Mark 12:1–12


We love stories in which the tables are turned. The movie Dumbo is a good example of this dynamic. Little Dumbo was rejected as an elephant for his oversized ears, until those ears enabled him to fly. Then everyone loved him and accepted him.

We could ask, “What does Jesus have to do with Dumbo?” My guess is that you have never asked yourself that question. The gospel story is both similar and very dissimilar to Dumbo. These differences will become clear very soon in this sermon. 

  1. The Parable (vv. 1­–9)
  2. The Prophecy (vv. 10–11)
  3. The Fulfillment (v. 12)

1. The Parable (Mark 12: 1–9) 

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.

The story that Jesus tells is an old, old story that would be familiar to everyone. Where did the story come from? I bet Isaiah has something to say about it.

Isaiah 5

Let me sing for my beloved
      my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
     on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
     and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
     and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
     but it yielded wild grapes.

And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
     and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
What more was there to do for my vineyard,
     that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
     why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
     what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
     and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall,
     and it shall be trampled down.
I will make it a waste;
     it shall not be pruned or hoed,
     and briers and thorns shall grow up;
I will also command the clouds
     that they rain no rain upon it.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
     is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
     are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
     but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
     but behold, an outcry!

Notice that the Isaiah text emphasizes how much God did to tend and care for his vineyard. The bad grapes are not owing to bad vine tending. Israel cannot blame God and say, “We are in the state we are because you neglected us.” They have to say, “We are in the state we are because we rejected you.”

Jesus’ parable is even more poignant and picturesque. We see three main “moments” in the parable that are especially powerful and arresting, and they all involve dialogue that accentuates the story.

First, we get to hear the heart of the owner. The parable lays out a pattern of interaction between the owner of the vineyard and the tenants. There is a pattern of patience. The owner sends servants to collect the fruit, but they are mistreated or even killed. He keeps sending them, but the same result keeps coming. But verse 6 features a climax as the owner sends his only beloved son along with a rationale: “They will respect my son.” 

The story builds to a climax as we see the patient care of the owner. The Isaiah story emphasizes the constant care of God as the owner of the vineyard and thus the surprise that the grapes turned out so bad.

Jesus’ story emphasizes the climactic finality of the sending of the son. We hear the love that the father has for his son. And he is right. They should respect the son. I can’t send anyone greater than my son. They will surely respect that. The point is not that this is naïve. The point is that the owner is both patient and extravagant in this sending.

Second, we get to hear the heart of the wicked tenants in verse 7. How do they respond to the son? They say, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him and take the inheritance.” This is a foolish type of greed and independence that assumes they can take ownership of something that is not theirs—as if they can take something that is not given. They somehow believe they can get rid of the owner this way.

The amount of wicked scorn and disrespect is evident in the fact that they murder the son and then disrespect him by not burying him—an act of outright scorn and disrespect.

Third, we hear what happens when the period of patience is over. The owner will not sit back and do nothing. Perhaps they have begun to think that the owner is soft and absentee and will not actually intervene or is powerless to do anything about their rebellion. The owner shows that they should not mistake patience for powerlessness. 

A few things from the immediate context cause the parable to shine even brighter. 

  1. Don’t miss the fact that what the prophets have come to collect is fruit (like the fruit of repentance)
  2. He is answering the previous question of authority in a veiled way
  3. Give to “others” is a reference to the nations (house of prayer for all the nations – Isaiah 56:7)

Jesus’ parable raises a question. Has all of this rejection caught God off guard? Was he shocked by Israel’s rebellion? Has he been sitting in heaven with his jaw dropped to the floor because he really thought sending another prophet would solve the problem?

2. The Prophecy

Have you not read this Scripture:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord's doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”—Mark 12:10–11 

We need a little structure to summarize what we have seen thus far.

     Jesus is the triumphant Davidic king (Psalm 118:25–26; Mark 11:1–11)
          Cursing of the fig tree (Mark 11:12–14)
          Cursing of the Temple (Isaiah 56:7 / Jeremiah 7:11; Mark 11:15–19)
          Cursed Fig Tree (Mark 11:20–25)

     Jesus is the rejected but vindicated Son of God and Son of David (Isaiah 5, Psalm 118:22–23; Mark 11:27–12:12)

Psalm 118 is a celebration of going up to Jerusalem to participate in worship in the Temple. One of the glories of the temple is the story of the Temple architecture. There was a stone that would not fit any part of the building. It was a stone that was rejected. But in the end, that stone perfectly fit as the cornerstone. People get confused because some people call it the cornerstone or capstone, but it literally is the stone that stands at the summit of a corner or arch that holds the structure together. (See for example, N.T. Wright, Mark for Everyone [London: SPCK, 2004], p. 160.)

This Scripture shows once again that God was not naïve in sending the Son. It is not as if he really thought, this will break the cycle of their rejection. No, it was intended as the climax of rejection. But the rejection of the Son would be reversed so that he was vindicated. 

What will happen after Jesus is vindicated (resurrected)? Jesus shows where this story is headed: rejection, vindication, destruction of the temple, inclusion of the Gentiles into a new temple.

The move from rejected stone to capstone. This vindication envisions a new temple—spiritual stones with Christ Jesus as the chief Cornerstone. Peter will tell this story once again in his first letter to Gentile Christians.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 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. For it stands in Scripture:

       “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.”—1 Peter 2:1–7

This is where the story will go after the rejection of Jesus. The next verse is like a page out of the parable story and the Psalm’s prediction.

3. The Fulfillment

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.—Mark 12:12

It is clear that the “builders” of Psalm 118 are the religious leaders of Mark 11. The pattern of rejection and the prophecy of rejection concludes with the fulfillment of the rejection. They rejected him. They sought to arrest him. The word rejection only occurs twice in Mark (8:31 and 12:10)

What a story! It is the perfect conclusion for the section beginning in chapter 11. Jesus came into the temple looking for the fruit of repentance. This moment has been predicted for generations, but the people have rejected the call to repent with stone-cold hearts. God prophesied a final, climactic rejection, and it has now come. What does the future hold now? A climactic reversal: vindication of the Son, destruction of the religious system, and inclusion of others (the nations). 

Application: How Then Shall We Respond? 

  1. God is still patient.

God’s patience is still on display dear friends. Do you see it? Have you thanked God lately for how patient he is? The time of patience and the call for repentance is still here for us. 

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.—2 Peter 3:9

  1. The world still tries the same strategy: achieve independence.

The world’s strategy is still on display. Get rid of God. Erase all trace of him and his rule. Claim independence and control for ourselves. Take what we want. Claim the inheritance.

Everything you have is his. You are an owner of nothing and steward of everything. Are you using it according to its design and purpose? It was all made by him and for him.

  1. Jesus has overcome.

The vindication has happened. Jesus was rejected. He died on the cross. But he was vindicated. He defeated the grave. He rose from the dead in triumph over all of his enemies. He ascended on high. Everything will be a footstool for his feet. The great reversal is coming.

  1. Judgment is still coming.

Please do not mistake patience for powerlessness. God will bring judgment. He is in sovereign control. There will be a culminating finality to it all. Do not be lulled into thinking that God will not intervene. 

And do not be lulled into thinking that God is not in control of all the rejection that his children experience. As he is, so also are we in the world. It is a fool’s errand to try and gain the approval and applause of the world. We will be rejected. A servant is not greater than his or her master. We will be treated the same way. But we will share the same ending as well: vindication and resurrection. 

He told these “builders” that a reversal would come after the vindication and the tables would be turned on them.

And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even about this their testimony did not agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” And the guards received him with blows.—Mark 14:57–65 

They try to evade the question Jesus asked (first coming), but they cannot evade the judgment Jesus will bring (second coming).

It is the same argument that Peter used for the Second Coming. People keep scoffing the idea of judgment. 

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.—2 Peter 3:1–13

Perhaps you are among the scoffers. How are you responding to the patience of God? Do you see the delay of Christ’s coming and the delay of judgment as a weakness or as a kindness?

Do not take the time God has given you to repent and turn it against him as an argument against him. That will be used against you on the day of judgment. Repent! Stop raging and start repenting. Dumbo was rejected and then accepted because of what he did (he flew). Jesus did not need to be accepted, he was already perfect. He was in the sphere of glory receiving endless worship. But he took on flesh, endured rejection and death, and then vindication. Why? So he could be accepted? No. So that you could! You are the one that should be rejected forever because of your sin. Jesus died and rose again so that you could be accepted and never rejected by God forever.

Sermon Discussion Questions


  1. The Parable (Mark 12:1–9)
  2. The Prophecy (Mark 12:10–11)
  3. The Fulfillment (Mark 12:12)

Main Point: Jesus is the Rejected Stone who becomes the Cornerstone of the New Temple.

Discussion Questions

  • Considering the rejection both encountered, what is the difference between Jesus and Dumbo?
  • In Isaiah 5, what does the story of the vineyard stress?
  • In the parable, how do the three parts of dialogue communicate important truths?
  • Why is the quotation of Psalm 118 so significant?
  • What does verse 12 really add to the story?

Application Questions

  • Reflect on situations in which you need to show patience to others. Now reflect on all the ways that this story and this sermon helps you do so.
  • How do some of the same dynamics of the parable show up in our world today? How do you respond to them?
  • How are you responding to the patience of God? Do you see the delay of Christ’s coming and the delay of judgment as a weakness or as a kindness?

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to repent and bear fruit as we await the Second Coming and the final judgment.