The Rejected Cornerstone
Text: Mark 11:27–12:12
Main Idea: Spiritual leadership is reserved for those who recognize and embrace God’s authority, not those who wish to establish their own.
I. A Public Challenge (Mark 11:27–33)
II. A Devastating Parable (Mark 12:1–12)
It’s been said that, nostalgia is often a corruption of gratitude. It worships the past—or rather, and idealized image of the past—and attempts to preserve this past through rigid traditionalism. And when it comes to the church, this rigid traditionalism often prevents local congregations from fulfilling their God given mission because it completely redefines the meaning of success. Success becomes a matter of maintaining familiar external structures and crushing any threat to the status quo; rather than spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things, for the joy of all people in Jesus Christ.
See, just as you and I exist to glorify God by enjoying him forever NOT dutifully grind out our lives by upholding external forms of religion. So also, the people of Israel were called to glorify God by enjoying their unique relationship with him.
Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. [Let you love for God consume every aspect of your being]
But, the problem with Israel (like many Christians today) is that they believed they could honor God through the yearly rhythm of festivals, rituals, and sacrifice while they sinfully pursued their highest joy in other things. And even worse, the very people that should have been calling Israel back to God—the spiritual leaders—were doing nothing but protecting their positions of authority and social prominence.
Main Idea: Spiritual leadership is reserved for those who recognize and embrace God’s authority, not those who wish to establish their own.
A Public Challenge (Mark 11:27–33)
The Leaders’ Question (Mark 11:27–28)
The first thing I want to point out in our passage today is that Jesus is being confronted by the highest echelon of religious authority in all of Israel—the Sanhedrin, which was composed of the chief priests, scribes, and elders. No one held a greater authority in spiritual matters than they did. And no one had more power in the Temple precincts than they did.
Notice, what is their question is focused on? It’s focused on Jesus’ authority to drive out the money changers, animal sellers, and Jewish worshipers the previous day. See, the Sanhedrin think they have painted Jesus into a corner because no one had authority on their own to do what Jesus did.
- If Jesus claimed anything less than God’s authority they could punish him for his actions and completely discredit his ministry.
- Yet, if Jesus claimed God’s authority they could charge him with blasphemy and sentence him to a swift execution because claims of false authority in religious matters were punishable by death.
But, instead of dodging the issue of authority Jesus presses a question of his own.
Jesus’ Counter Question (Mark 11:29–30)
Now, a lot of people look at these verses and suggest that Jesus’s question is nothing more than a diversion, like a racoon jumping into a stream to shake pursuing hounds from its scent. But, that couldn’t be further from the truth because Jesus is pointing them to the true source of his authority in his question about John the Baptist.
In other words, Jesus is asking, “Did John proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4) and teach that someone much greater than him was coming (1:7) under God’s authority OR his own If they truly believed that John was a prophet of God, they would believe that Jesus was the one he announced would follow him. And if they believed this, they would truly understand that both John and Jesus received their authority from God himself.
See his question leads them to the right answer about his authority. But, the real question is whether or not these spiritual leaders can discern God’s activities. Can they see God’s hand in Jesus’ miracles and hear God’s voice in Jesus’ teaching or are they wholly incapable of recognizing God’s work in their midst?
The Leaders’ Conundrum (Mark 11:31–33)
What do we see in these verses? The hunters have become the hunted, in that they are boxed into a corner that they cannot escape.
- They know that if they admit that John was ministering at God’s command then they will have to accept that Jesus is the one whom he prophesied about. And if that is the case, Jesus is ministering at God’s command and under his authority as well.
- But they also know that if they dismiss John’s ministry, they will cause a public uproar because the Jewish people believed what their spiritual leaders refused to accept—that John was a prophet of God.
And as a result, they feigned ignorance instead of rending a spiritual decision…
But, if we look deeper into their answer, “I don’t know.” I think Mark is highlighting the spiritual blindness and abject failure of Israel’s spiritual elite. They refused to believe John’s message (11:31). And they refused to believe that Jesus was anything more than an rabble-rousing backwater rabbi even though his miracles and his message were clearly from God.
See, they didn’t dismiss John and Jesus because there was no evidence. Rather, the Chief priests, scribes, and elders dismissed their ministries because they were completely unable to distinguish between the things of God and the things of man. They were incapable fulfilling the most basic requirements of their job. And that is because they had stopped listening to God along time ago…
A Devastating Parable (Mark 12:1–12)
A Familiar Metaphor
The first thing I want to point out is that Jesus hasn’t abandoned the question of authority. Rather, he is driving it home in this devastating parable.
The second thin I want to point out, is that the Jesus’ audience would have immediately realized that this story was about the people of Israel because it’s larger themes were recorded by the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 5:1–7 1Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2He 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. 3And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard.
4What 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? 5And 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. 6I 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.
7For 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!
What can we see in Isaiah’s song? God pictures Israel as a choice vineyard that he carefully planted, lovingly tended, and sovereignly protected in hopes that it would produce a crop of good grapes. But, the vines did not yield good grapes, they produced worthless wild grapes instead. In other words, Israel cannot blame God for their persistent faithlessness and spiritual infidelity, as if, he was negligent in his care for them. Israel’s failure was their own doing. And as a result they would suffer the wrath of God at the hands foreign armies and be led away into exile.
An Unexpected Twist
Yet, as we turn back to the parable in Mark Jesus tells this familiar story with an unexpected twist, in that, the owner travels to another country and leases out his vineyard to a group of tenant farmers. It’s not very hard to connect the dots in this parable:
- God is the man who planted the vineyard just like the song in Isaiah.
- The tenant farmers are the spiritual leaders of Israel (12:12).
- The man’s servants are the countless prophets that God sent to call Israel to repentance (12:2–5).
- The beloved son is Jesus, the very Son of God (12:6–11).
And what do we see in all of this?
The Owner is unbelievably patient and that the Tenants are exceptionally wicked. In fact, a number of scholars would have us dismiss this parable because no owner in his right mind would so mistreat his servants and send his son to certain doom. No, the owner should have demanded justice at the very first hint of rebellion.
Yet in reality, the absurdity of the owner’s patience and the tenants’ mutiny is merely a reflection of God’s persistent long-suffering and Israel’s sedition in real life. God (the owner) had sent his prophets (the servants) time and time again to the people of Israel and their spiritual leaders (the tenants). But, these authorized messengers were rejected, persecuted, and killed by the very ones they were sent to save… just like the owner’s Son.
See the fundamental problem with Israel’s spiritual leaders is that they continually refused to listen to and believe in God’s messengers. They heard the warning of God’s imminent judgement time and time again; but didn’t want to change. They were happy with the power and prestige they enjoyed. They were more interested in the status quo than they were interested in honoring God.
And this is because the religious leaders forgot their place and their purpose. They didn’t see themselves as tenants they saw themselves as owners and masters. And as a result they not only corrupted their religion but the religion of everyone who followed them. And what is Jesus’ point in the story? The tenants have mistaken the owners intentional patience for inept powerlessness. A mistake the countless men and women have made throughout history and still make today.
2 Peter 3:3–7 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 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.” 5 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, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 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.
What does Peter want us to see?
He wants us to see that God’s timing does not follow our sense of timing. His arrival is imminent and his judgement is certain.
Even more he wants us to see that God’s sense of timing is not a sign of his powerlessness but his merciful patience.
- 2 Peter 3:9 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. 10 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.
What do we see in the Parable and 2 Peter? Final judgment is coming and no one will be able to escape it when it comes. But, at the same time God has mercifully delayed his judgement so that sinful rebels might be restored to him and escape his wrath though repentance.
God’s Sovereign Plan
But as we turn out attention back to the parable, we are left with at least one glaring question. Was God surprised by Israel’s stiff-necked rebellion against him? Was he shocked as Israel rejected, tortured, and killed his prophets?
The answer is no. He wasn’t taken off guard by their perpetual hard-heartedness. Nor was God hopelessly naïve in sending his Son as if he believed that Jesus would finally break the cycle of their rejection.
No, Jesus came as the predestined pinnacle of God’s longsuffering and climax of Israel’s rejection.
Mark 12:10–11 Have you not read this Scripture: “ ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”
Whether you realized it or not, Jesus is quoting from Psalm 118 again. The processional liturgy that was written for the kings of Israel. The very Psalm that the crowds were singing about Jesus on Psalm Sunday as he entered Jerusalem.
In the original context “the rejected stone” referred to Israel’s King and “the builders” referred to the surrounding nations who were trying to make Israel a part of their kingdoms. And Psalm 118 was a celebration of God’s faithfulness to their king, in that, once again God grant their king victory over his adversaries.
But in the present context, Jesus is telling us that Psalm 118 contained an unexpected word of prophecy. In that, the promised Messiah King would initially be rejected by Israel’s leaders; but later be vindicated and recognized as the very key to God’s New Covenant promises. A New Covenant that would supersede Old Covenant forms worship and leadership.
1 Peter 2:4–7 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5you 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. 6For 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.” 7So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s New Covenant temple. No longer a temple of marble and gold. But a temple made up people who have believed in Jesus Christ and are indwelt by his Holy Spirit.
Spiritual Authority is always a matter of God-Honoring Stewardship
What I want you to see in this passage is that spiritual authority is not simply a matter of Biblical knowledge, doctrinal precision, or ecclesiastical position. If you don’t believe me, sit down and read Revelation 2–3.
God is not glorified when Biblical truth does not increase our delight in him and overflow in a passion for other people. God is not glorified when pastors, elders, or ministry teams minister in the power of their flesh. God is not glorified when his servants are more interested in protecting their tiny ministry fiefdoms that pursuing his glorious kingdom.
Please hear this and it will protect our church from so many different problems. Spiritual authority is always a matter of God-honoring stewardship.
What I mean by this is that spiritual leaders (me, pastor Ryan, the elders, COM members, or ministry team leaders) cannot not be driven by the natural impulse to protect our power base or push our personal agenda, no matter how good we might think it is.
The church belongs to Jesus Christ. It’s mission is predetermined by Jesus Christ. And its power for ministry flows from its submission to and pursuit of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we look for leaders what kind of people are we looking for? We are looking for:
- Men and Women who are driven by a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples in Jesus Christ.
- Men and Women who endeavor to honor God in all that they do and help their church do the same.
- Men and Women who are proven peacemakers and relationship restorers.
- Men and Women who are more committed to the Kingdom of God that they are to their personal comfort.
Because the fruitfulness of a church depends on the faithful stewardship of its leaders.
Faithful Leaders are a Gift of God
So as we begin 2020 I want to ask 3 things.
Pray for the leaders of Olympic, we need God’s wisdom, power, and protection. Left to our own ideas and devices, we will make foolish mistakes, we will struggle to stay on course, and we will stir up strife.
Pray for future leaders. I know that we just installed our leaders for 2020 but we will need new leaders in 2021. In addition to that, we need leaders who will eventually take the baton of leadership from our seasoned leadership pool.
Ask God to identify anything in your life that is preventing you from serving his church (sin, sinful attitudes, personal availability) and schedule a time to talk with me. I’d love to serve and support you in your pursuit.
 Adapted from, Jonathan Bowers Twitter Nov 27, 2019 12:35 PM.
 Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 525.
 James R Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 351.
 Stein, Mark, 526–27.
 When we examine Isaiah we are able to see that Jesus’ parable is also in agreement with God’s condemnation of the religious leaders in Isaiah 3:14, “The Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people: ‘It is you who have devoured the vineyard, the spoil of the poor is in your houses.’”
 1 Kings 19:10–14; 2 Chron. 36:15–16; Matt. 5:12.
 1 Kings 18:13; 2 Chron. 24:20–27; 36:15–16; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 26:20–23; Matt. 23:29–36/Luke 11:47–51; Matt. 23:37/Luke 13:33–34; 1 Thess. 2:15.