Stones, Cornerstones and the Apocalypse … oh my.

When I was eight or nine years old saw a production called, “Heaven’s gates and Hell’s flames”. I can’t say with certainty that the playwright’s subtext was “scare the hell out of church kids”, but that was certainly my takeaway.

I had a very warped idea for a very long time about Christian obedience and what it was actually for. I lived most of my life in the legalism ditch whereby I thought that obedience to God was about earning and keeping my salvation. I’ve also spent time in the lawless ditch doing the math on God’s grace and deciding that I could live how I wanted because He’d forgive me in the end.

In Matthew 21 Jesus got pretty apocalyptic and began to speak about judgement day. For a lot of Christians, death and eternal judgement are uneasy topics – and not just because they may have been traumatized by bad actors in white bathrobes throwing other bad actors into organ pits … aka “hell.”

Judgement day is worrysome for the Christian that believes that their disobedience is a justification show-stopper. Rather than understanding obedience as a means of enjoying our freedom from sin to glory of the One who saved us from it, we’ll see obedience as a tiresome, endless task to validate our own justification.

To illustrate how judgement day is going to play itself out, Jesus pulled scriptures from the Psalms and from Daniel and applied them to Himself. He referred to Himself as both a “stone” that crushes and a “cornerstone” that unites.

God’s law presents the perfect judgement of Christ as a stone that crushes. 

Jesus used the apocalyptic writing in Daniel 2:45 and made a bold claim: He is the divine judge who will judge the nations with perfect justice, crushing the evildoers to dust, bringing perfect restoration to His world. All of us are evildoers when we measure ourselves against God’s perfect law. That’s the bad news.

God’s gospel presents the amazing grace of Christ as a cornerstone that unites.

Jesus also referenced Psalm 118:22-23 and made the bold claim that He is the divine cornerstone. This term “stone” was originally applied to Israel, but over time, Jews began to refer to Abraham, David and then the coming Messiah as the “stone”. Jesus plainly stated that He’s the One who will unite everyone who repents from every nation, to Himself, by amazing grace. Despite our inability to keep God’s law to perfection, Christ has done this for us and we’re united to Him. That’s the good news.

Christ is the stone that crushes the unrepentant with perfect judgement & the cornerstone that unites the repentant to Himself in amazing grace.

What’s interesting about this passage in Matthew is that Jesus was criticizing the best rule-keepers in Israel – the Pharisees. Of all people, you’d think they were the most obedient to God’s law. However, it’s pretty clear that the obedience Jesus is after here is not religious duty because He said that “Tax collectors/prostitutes enter the kingdom instead of you” and the scriptures are clear that those folks weren’t banging on all obedience-cylinders. 

What Matthew gives us here is a clear picture of the obedience Jesus was after first and foremost: instead of falling on Christ in repentance, the religious leaders were tripping over Him in offense.

They were not in true obedience because they rejected Christ’s righteousness in favour of wearing their own obedience like a badge of self-righteousness.

The tax collectors & prostitutes confessed their sin & responded with repentance to the obedience of Christ.

The Pharisees couldn’t acknowledge or confess their sin and responded with indifference to the obedience of Christ.

Christ obeyed actively by providing the perfection for you that God required from you. Christ obeyed passively by submitting to the cross and receiving God’s judgement for you.

Christ has freed you from a life of slavery where you constantly do what your sin wants. You are now free live a life of enjoying God where increasingly and by His grace, you will want what He wants.

Christ knew God’s wrath so you could know God’s grace.

As it turns out, because Christ is both the stone and the cornerstone … judgement day is a good day. Judgement comes to everyone who trips over the Stone in offense because Christ dispenses perfect justice. Deliverance comes to everyone who is united to the Cornerstone in repentance because Christ dispenses lavish grace.

Good news…

If you are in Christ, the Judge over you is the One who died for you, justified you, sanctified you – and is now united to you.

May you live in freedom to the glory of the One who saves.

Press on,

Paul

[1] Matthew 21:28-45

 

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