The last two weeks, we have seen that God’s Messiah, who entered the world and human history in the person of Jesus, was not a surprise. The nature, temperament, trials, mission, shall we say the story of God’s Messiah, had been written hundreds of years earlier in the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. It was essential that the coming of God’s Messiah be described before the Messiah came into the world. How else would the people know to expect the Messiah and how would people know who was the authentic Messiah? I use the word “authentic” because there have been false Messiahs. While the research on false Messiahs is incomplete, there have been no fewer than 27 Jewish people who have claimed to be God’s Messiah. There have also been more than 20 Christians who have made Messianic claims, including Ann Lee, a central figure of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, also known as the Shakers, who settled in Colonie, NY. Ann Lee was said to have described herself as the “’embodied all the perfections of God’ in female form and considered herself to be Christ's female counterpart.”
God wanted to make sure that the people could know the truth about the authentic Messiah and so God shared His knowledge with the people through the prophets and writers of the Hebrew Scriptures. The last two weeks we saw that God gave His knowledge about the Messiah through Psalm 110 and Psalm 22. This week we will see the truth about the Messiah, about Jesus, was foretold in Psalm 118, and the good news that the Messiah was to bring to us. In Psalm 118, we will see that God knew that his Messiah would be rejected by those who should have known Jesus was the authentic Messiah. Jesus was not rejected by the common people so much as Jesus was rejected by the best and brightest people of Israel. Jesus was rejected by the people who seemed to have their act together spiritually, physically, and emotionally. The healthy and wealthy rejected Jesus because he did not, in their opinion, fit in. Jesus did not fit the mold they wanted. And because Jesus was rejected, Jesus became the target of abuse and ridicule.
Rejection, not fitting in, not being wanted, being abused, and being ridiculed are painful human experiences. Rejection deflates us robbing us of hope and a future. Rejection can produce within us anger, anxiety, depression, jealousy, and sadness. Rejection is hard and feels very much unfair. Some of you have or are experiencing rejection. I have some good news for you. You are in good company for Jesus was rejected by many people and is still rejected by many people today. But, and this is the important part, Jesus was never rejected by God and if you seek to follow Jesus, you will never be rejected by him. Let’s see together why that is the truth and good news for everyone here.
First, we read from the New Testament Gospel of Mark an account of Jesus sharing a parable with his disciples and a group of Pharisees, religious leaders that shadowed Jesus but consistently rejected Jesus’ teachings. A parable we know is a story designed to teach an important Biblical truth that people do not seem to understand. The Gospel writers Matthew and Luke also included this parable in their account of Jesus life and ministry. In the interest of time, I am not going to go into depth for every element of the parable Jesus told. I just want to emphasize a couple of points from the parable so that we have time to understand the broader context of Jesus’ words.
Mark wrote, “1 Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: ‘A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower” (Mark 12:1). We might not immediately understand the significance to Jesus’ opening words, but the Pharisees would unmistakably see that the man in the story was God and the vineyard was Israel. The Pharisees would remember that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet of Isaiah specifically, wrote these words: “1 I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well…The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel” (Isaiah 5:1-2, 7a). So Jesus’ opening words to the parable clearly meant the story was about God and the nation of Israel.
Jesus continued the parable, “Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2 At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3 But they (the tenants) seized him (the servant), beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4 Then he sent another servant to them; they (the tenants) struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5 He sent still another (servant), and that one they (the tenants) killed. He sent many others; some of them they (the tenants) beat, others they (the tenants) killed” (Mark 12:3-5). The Pharisees would have understood that given that the man was God and the vineyard was Israel, the tenants would be the leaders of Israel (them), and the servants would be the prophets sent by God with a message of righteousness. The history of Israel is replete with stories of the leaders of Israel beating and, at times, killing God’s prophets.
Despite the mistreatment by the tenants, the vineyard owner, God, desired to make things right with the tenants. Jesus said, “6 He (The owner-God) had one (servant) left to send, a son, whom he loved. He (The owner-God) sent him (God’s son) last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. (Mark 12:6-9). Jesus’ story is thinly veiled and speaks about God sending his son (Jesus) to the nation of Israel only to have the tenants, the Pharisees, out of jealousy and envy the son. The tenants, here the Pharisees, could not see the blessing there was in having the son come to them to redeem the situation. The Pharisees seethed with anger as Jesus warned that their pride, envy, and rejection of him would be their undoing.
Jesus then further connected the parable with what the Pharisees ought to know from the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus said, “10 Haven’t you (Pharisee) read this passage of Scripture: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 11 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Mark 12:10-12). The verse cited by Jesus come from Psalm 118. Jesus knew these experts in the Hebrew Scriptures had had read Psalm 118 many times before. What was clear from Jesus’ question was that the Pharisees had not allowed themselves to receive Psalm as God’s Word of what would happen in and through the authentic Messiah.
What was it about Psalm 118 that Jesus wanted the Pharisees to contemplate, and by extension, for us to know? Let’s look at a couple of key passages and, in particular, those leading up to Jesus’ quotation from the Psalm 118 to the Pharisees.
The psalmist said, “15 Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous. The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! 16 The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” (Psalm 118:15-16). The psalmist was expressing great things had been accomplished by that the person seated to the Lord’s right hand. Three times in two verses we hear great things about the Lord’s right hand. This is significant because in Psalm 110 we learned that God’s Messiah is seated at God’s right. God said to the Messiah, “Sit at my right hand” (Psalm 110:1a). So, the testimony of Psalm 118 is that Messiah had done might things. Jesus did mighty things. Jesus healed people. Jesus fed thousands of people. Jesus walked on water and calmed the storms. Jesus raised people from the dead. Jesus taught with authority like no other. And, Jesus forgave sins.
Here is an important point we do not want to miss. Jesus was the perfect one to come to earth. There is nothing random about Jesus coming. Jesus’ coming was ordained by God to occur at the right time and for the right reasons. In Psalm 118 we learn that in Jesus’ coming there would be joy and victory from the tents of the righteous. Jesus came for you and me.
Now there is need for a word of caution. We have to avoid the idea that to be received by Jesus that we somehow have to first become acceptable. We do not first need to become righteous on our own to have joy and shouts of joy. Years ago, I thought I will seek Jesus after I get my act in order and become a better person. That is not the message of hope and promise Jesus came to deliver. Jesus said come me now, just as you are, and seek the righteousness that comes from me. It is in the seeking and believing in Jesus that provides the transformation of our life, if you will, it is the presence of Christ that causes us to get our act in order and become a better person. If you have been waiting to accept Jesus until you somehow become a better person, then stop. There is no need and no point in doing that. Instead, come and accept Jesus just as you are and watch the might work of God’s right hand in your life.
As we return to Psalm 118, we see that the psalmist understood what was going to happen as God’s Messiah followed the will of God. “17 I will not die but live and will proclaim what the Lord has done. 18 The Lord has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death” (Psalm 118:17-18). The psalmist, though he lived hundreds of years before Jesus, understood from God that there would be those people and groups who would seek to destroy God’s Messiah. As Jesus said in his parables, there was a history of beating and killing prophets who had come with a message from God. The psalmist acknowledged that the Messiah would experience severe treatment at the hands of the leaders and it would appear as though death would end the Messiah. We know this happened to Jesus for what could be more severe than to be flogged and crucified. While the horrible treatment of Jesus was done in the hopes that Jesus would be forgotten and his followers would become fearful and not speak of Jesus again, it did not work out that way. Death was not the final state for the Messiah.
The psalmist described the final scene this way, “19 Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. 20 This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter. 21 I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation” (Psalm 118:19-20). We know the good news was and is that Jesus was resurrected into new life and came out of the tomb. In doing so, Jesus praised God and the people could see that Jesus was truly the gate through which his followers, you and I, could be made right. Through Christ we are able to have an abundant and enriched life in the present and life eternal.
How is it possible for us to be so blessed? The words of the psalmist and the words of Jesus reveal the truth to us. “22 The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad” (Psalm 118:22-24). The key here is that God has taken Jesus whom the best and brightest of Israel rejected and made Jesus the cornerstone of God’s revelation of himself and the blessing for all people.
The cornerstone is the foundational block of a building that aligns the whole building and ties it all together. The cornerstone, if not square and level, will make the whole building unstable. God chose that Jesus would be that cornerstone for the church and all spiritual life even knowing or because he knew Jesus would be rejected by men seeking to create a religion they controlled. Jesus was rejected yet Jesus praised God. Jesus was rejected yet he was true and straight in his thinking. Jesus was rejected and yet he gave others the right to become part of the kingdom of God. Jesus told the Pharisees, “9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9a). Jesus was rejected and yet Jesus would reject none who sought him.
You and I will experience rejection, heartache, and putdowns in our life. But you and I will never be rejected by God. God sent Jesus to be rejected for us. In Jesus, in accepting him, and seeking to imitate Jesus will never be rejected by God. That is truly good news worthy of shouting for joy. Amen and Amen.