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The Capstone

March 6, 2008

So I bowed out of the Boar’s Head Tavern yesterday.  I like those guys, but there’s only so many conversations I can have going on in my head at once.  I needed to declutter my mind.  Perhaps I can get back to a little more frequent blogging here.  Here’s an excerpt from a sermon on

Matthew 21:42-44 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”

I wouldn’t start a new denomination over this point, but let me say a few words about why I prefer the translation “capstone” to “cornerstone” here.  To be sure, Jesus is the cornerstone of the church.  Paul teaches that in Ephesians 2 and 1 Corinthians 3.  But I believe he is making a different point there than the one Jesus is making here, and I believe he has a different OT passage in mind than the one Jesus is quoting.  Paul is thinking of Isaiah 28:16 which says, “this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.”

But Jesus is quoting Psalm 118:22 and the Hebrew there says more than just corner, it says the head of the corner, meaning perhaps the top corner or the capstone.  And this makes more sense if you think about the picture the Psalmist is painting.  This Psalm 118 is the same psalm we talked about two weeks ago that contains the word Hosanna.  This is the psalm they would sing on the way up to the temple for the Passover sacrifice.  So the stones that the psalmist is talking about are the stones of the temple.  Now when the temple was constructed, they would have quarried and gathered all kinds of stones at the construction site.  Some would have been chosen for the foundation, and others would have been rejected.  But as the construction neared completion, they would have needed a capstone to fit in place like the last piece of a puzzle.  They looked around among the stones and found one that they had rejected that now fit perfectly as the capstone.  That’s the imagery the psalmist is using to cause us to reflect on how the Lord loves to choose the outcast, to exalt the humble.  King David was rejected by all, but God chose him, though younger than seven brothers, and exalted him to the kingship.  And little Israel after the exile, though surrounded by greater nations, has been shown favor by God and returned to her land.  That seems to be the original meaning of the psalmist. 

But Jesus takes this verse, well-loved and sung every Passover by the Jews, and he reinterprets it.  He says this verse is not about you, this verse is about Me.  I am the true Israel.  I am the stone that you have rejected, but soon you will see that I am the capstone. 

So once again we see that what was promised to Israel is fulfilled in Jesus.  Israel was to be a fruitful vine, but was not and so Jesus came as the true vine.  So also Israel was rejected by men but chosen by God, but Israel was not faithful to her calling.  So Jesus came, the Messiah, the Seed of Abraham, the True Israel, and when he was rejected, the Jews were doing to him what the nations had done to the Jews.  So Israel is exposed as just another wicked nation and Jesus is the only true Israel and the only way to inherit the promises that were made to Israel is to be in Him by faith.

And then there is this threat in verse 44 that he on whom this stone falls will be crushed.   Now cornerstones don’t fall on people; that’s another reason why it’s better to think of Jesus here calling himself the capstone. 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. gardengeekette permalink
    March 6, 2008 4:24 pm

    I’ve heard that verse so many times throughout my life and never had a good understanding of it. Thanks for the enlightening explanation!

  2. Oddball permalink
    April 2, 2008 12:30 am

    So, what does it mean to fall on the capstone?

  3. April 3, 2008 12:03 pm

    I guess I think of it as synonymous with stumbling over the stumbling stone. The capstone was on the ground before it was the capstone. The cornerstone was never up in the air.

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