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THOUGHTS FROM ISAIAH

THE STUMBLING STONE

Three of the gospels include Jesus’ parable about the tenants – a story about the rejection of the Son, and a quote from Psalm 118:22,23 that Jesus added at the end of the parable:

‘Have you never read in the scriptures:
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;
the LORD has done this,
and it is marvellous in our eyes.”’ [Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17].

Jesus applied this verse from the Psalms to himself and the Jews’ deliberate rejection of him.

Peter made the same application of this verse, stating quite clearly that Jesus is this stone rejected by man, but exalted by God. Then he added: ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ [Acts 4:10-12].

Later Peter wrote to Christians:

‘… you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him - … to you who believe, this stone is precious …’ [1Peter 2:4,7].

In this context Peter referred to a prophecy of Isaiah:

‘For in the Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame”’ [1Peter 2:6; Isaiah 28:16].

Peter then, as he did in Acts, quoted Psalm 118:22, adding Isaiah 8:14, describing Jesus as:

‘A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.’ 1Peter 2:7b]

Peter then comments: ‘they stumble because they disobey the message’ [verse 8].

Paul, also quoting Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16. speaks in Romans 9:30 to 10:13 of the Jews stumbling over the “stumbling stone”. He gives two reasons for their stumbling:

They pursued righteousness as if it were attainable by works, rather than pursuing righteousness by faith [9:32; 10:3].
They are zealous, but their zeal is not based on knowledge [10:2,3].

Isaiah’s teaching about this ‘stone’ is instructive:

‘The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread,
and he will be a sanctuary;
but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.
Many will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured.’ [8:13-15]

Firstly, we notice that Isaiah states that God himself is the ‘stone’, yet Jesus himself, along with the apostles, teach that Jesus is this stone. Just as Isaiah’s vision of the holy LORD Almighty is a vision of Jesus Christ [Isaiah 6:1-5; John 12:41], and just as the child of the virgin is ‘God with us’ – Jesus Christ [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:22,23], similarly here: Jesus Christ, the Lord, is this precious, significant ‘stone’, the most important ‘stone’ of all. When he is rejected, God is rejected.

Secondly, Isaiah, along with the New Testament, makes it clear that for those who believe in him, those who stand with holy awe in his presence, God is a ‘sanctuary’ – a place of refuge and security, the only place of salvation. But for those who do not believe in him, for those who cast God aside and choose to trust in, or fear or dread, some power and authority other than God, he is a stumbling stone.

It may be national or political powers [Isaiah 8:1-6].
It may be what today we would call a ‘conspiracy theory’ [Isaiah 8:12].
It may be occult or demonic powers [Isaiah 8:19].
It may be heretical belief – ‘the lie’ [Isaiah 28:17].
It may be a corrupt, distorted understanding of God’s Word [Isaiah 28:13]
It may be perceived personal religious merit [Romans 9:30-10:4].

For those with this misplaced ‘trust’, this fear or dread of other powers, or other gods, this dependence on something or someone other god, this self-exaltation, the true God is offensive. The true God, and his word, exposes their error, exposes the weakness and powerlessness of the things in which they trust. The true God demands their allegiance, but they do not want to recognize either him or his authority.

Jesus came as the Saviour – our ‘sanctuary’ to use Isaiah’s term – the central figure in God’s eternal plan for our redemption [the ‘cornerstone’, the ‘capstone’, the most important of all]. He claimed that he alone is the place where God is known. He claimed that he alone is the way back to God. And people are offended by him.

Some stumble over his claims to be God – they prefer to choose their own ‘god’.
Some stumble over his claim to be the only truth – they prefer to choose their own ‘truth’.
Some stumble over his claim to be the one way to God – they prefer to choose their own ‘way’.
Some stumble over his sin-bearing death – they prefer to ‘save’ themselves.

If we are thus offended by Jesus Christ, if we stumble over him and his claims, if we reject him, we are rejecting God, the only Saviour, in a final way. And we are lost [Isaiah 8:20b-27].

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014