No one was going to tell Harry Randall Truman to evacuate. Nope. He had owned and operated his lodge at the base of Mount St. Helens for for 52-years. At age-83, he had more life experience with that mountain than anyone else in the area.
So, when Mount St. Helens started shaking him out of bed, he moved his mattress to the basement. When news reporters chattered about a possible eruption, Harry said: “I don’t have any idea whether it will blow, but I don’t believe it to the point that I'm going to pack up.” When geologists spotted abnormal bulges in the mountain, Harry bragged: “This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.” When state officials set up a seven-mile evacuation zone, Harry snarked: “You couldn’t pull me out with a mule team.” Harry Randall Truman was convinced the mountain was past eruption and that the geologists were idiots.
On the morning of Sunday, May 18, 1980, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake caused the largest landslide in recorded history. Yes, the entire north face of Mount St. Helens collapsed and slid through heavy timber, filled Spirit Lake, and buried Harry Randall Truman under 150-feet of
volcanic ash. Truman was never found. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_R._Truman#Celebrity)
Harry Randall Truman’s stubborn arrogance killed him. He disbelieved every actual warning. Understand, just because you reject something as not ‘true’ does not actually make it ‘not true.’ It makes you a fool for rejecting truth. Rejecting warnings brings serious disaster.
So, God sounds the alarm: Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because [he rejects the Son] (John 3:18). Eternity is a long time. It is permanent. So, God makes you ready for life with these words: Christ Remains the Only Cornerstone! Even when many reject him, we still build faith on him.
That is the reason Jesus stands where he does in our reading. This is Tuesday of the last week of his life. In his final days, he calls people to trust in his saving work! Yet, the religious leaders refuse to even call Jesus ‘God.’
So, [Jesus] went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard… Quick question: What did the Vineyard-Owner want? Fruit. Results. He leases a vineyard and expects fruit.
One servant hikes out to the vineyard, but the tenants beat him. No, not pounding him with fists, but shredding his skin with a whip. I mean, what is this servant’s job? To gather the fruit. That is an innocent task! You would hope the farmers could give some of what they produced! Instead, they sent him away empty-handed.
So, [the Master] sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully… Not only do they whip this man, they strip him naked. Yes, he must run home and stand in front of his Master empty-handed and buck-naked. [H]e sent still a third, and they wounded him… They hurl rocks at his head. They crack ribs with a bat. They bludgeon this man and threw him out.
Just when you expect the Master to storm into his vineyard with blazing fury and seize what is his, he says: I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ You just want to scream: “No! Don’t do that! Don’t you see what they did to the servants? They will treat your Son the same!” Sure enough, when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? I mean, what do you expect? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. Is that a fair punishment? Is the Master being too harsh? Must he be more patient? By no means! This Master watched these tenants trample his servants. These brutes scorned his patience. They refused to pay.
Even the crowd understands the point. When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!” – but they respond for a different reason. You see, God is the Master of the vineyard. He handed the Jewish nation Jesus. For centuries they held the promised Messiah. They knew forgiveness is coming. They could sleep certain knowing heaven is theirs. God so strongly desired fruit; he ached for each listener turn to him in faith and live. Yet, the tenants tossed his promise out.
So God sends ‘servants,’ like Isaiah. Like Jeremiah. Like Elijah, Zechariah, Joel, Habakkuk, Hosea, Obadiah. Prophets expose wicked unbelief so that people might turn. Prophets preach destruction so that the people run to God for safety. Prophets preach eternal ‘Woe!’ so that the people may find life in God. Yet, the Jews beat Jeremiah, shame Elijah, and kill Isaiah (and that just to name a few!) Finally, God sends his Son. For them. For their good. For their life. For their eternity— and they kill him!
Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the [cornerstone]’?” A cornerstone is completely square. Builders lay this stone to start a structure. Then, more stones are added; they are made straight to match the cornerstone. Because the cornerstone is square, the walls stand straight and strong. Without the cornerstone, the structure will collapse. Here’s the point: Even though rejected, Christ Remains the Only Cornerstone for eternal life. Nonbelievers may reject him as Savior, but that does not change the truth that Christ is the One the Father has sent.
Let’s be clear: Jesus said that if the Pharisees do not change, they will go to hell. He will not give relief because they hurt. He will not make their life more pleasant. If the Pharisees did not want God, then he will give what they want. Who is to blame for that? Them— and only them.
God hands you his Word so that you build on Christ, the Cornerstone. When you discuss heaven, he wants you to point at Jesus and say, “I have eternal life because Jesus did all the work to save me.” That Word not only teaches this truth, but it keeps us building on that truth.
You see, sometimes the Word will rub us the wrong way. We do not want to make God the priority in our life. We want sports before worship. We want friends before devotions. We want rest before Bible study. When Easter comes, we may think dinner is more important than worship. When family comes over, instead of bringing them to church, we join them away from church. Then, when we are faced with our wrong, we want to say: “Oh no, the Word is wrong. The Pastor is wrong. God is wrong. Not me.” That is exactly what the religious leaders said. They discovered that [e]veryone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.
When the Word convicts us, it is not God’s fault. It is the fault of our wandering heart. God sends his Word to straighten our hearts so that we remain standing on him. Christ Remains the Only Cornerstone! Even when many reject him, we still build faith on him.
What is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’? It means this: Christ is the steady cornerstone of your faith. Yes, many may not have wanted Jesus, but God does. When the Father sees Jesus, he sees someone who measures perfectly to his standards. He sees someone without flaws or blemishes. He sees someone who brings life. The Father picks Jesus up out of tomb and sets him down in heaven. Then, one by one, he stacks each believer next to Christ, the cornerstone.
He uses Jesus’ perfect accuracy to straighten you. He lifts you up and chisels away selfish laziness. He polishes down pride. He sets you in line with Jesus, in his heavenly structure.
Can you picture that? Christ Remains the Only Cornerstone. You point to Jesus and say, “Eternal life is mine because my perfect Jesus has made me perfect and has set me next to himself.” Your faith points to the Bible, which tells you this good news. Your Christian living points to the Bible, which unveils Jesus’ teachings. Your life flows from being built on Christ.
And yes, God has already laid you on that cornerstone. So, what now? Looking at our reading, there really does not seem to be much of an answer—except for this. I wonder how many of these religious leaders followed Jesus before turning away? (read John 6:66) How many believed, but let personal opinions become their god? How many hearts grew cold because the sinful nature gained the upper hand? It happened because they pushed the Word of God away. They did not want wrongs exposed. They did not want to conform to God’s expectations. They rejected it. So, God rejected him.
It remains vitally important: Remain in the Word. Over this month, you have these marvelous opportunities to better appreciate the depth, the magnitude of Jesus’ love. Midweek Lenten service reveals a Savior who trod through your shame for your eternal good. Maundy Thursday retells Jesus’ great love. Good Friday slams shut the truth that everything needed to save you is finished; you have peace with God. Easter Sunday you can rejoice, you can leave in peace because your Jesus lives again and he lives for your benefit!
Do you feel it? I do. A little tug inside; my heart whispering: “Ugh! That’s so boring! You’re too busy! You already know this, after all, you’re a pastor.” No. No. Why do I want to make use of these opportunities? Because my faith rests on Christ and my faith grows because of Christ. The Word further cements me to Christ. The Word keeps me connected to Christ. The Word shows me Christ. Christ Remains the Only Cornerstone! We still build faith on him.
God sounds the alarm: Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because [he rejects the Son] (John 3:18). That alarm keeps going out each day—calling many to see Jesus as the Savior he is. Those who reject warnings will face serious disaster.
That alarm keeps you anchored squarely on Christ, the cornerstone. Let the Word continue chipping away every stubborn excuse. Let the Word continue shaping you to be more Christ-like. In this way, you will never face spiritual disaster—not because of how you act, but because you are nestled safely on Christ the Only Cornerstone! Even when many reject him, we still build faith on him.