The Beloved Son and Cornerstone
Passage: Luke 20:1–20:19
The Beloved Son and Cornerstone
Some of you may be familiar with the name John Stott. Stott was an Anglican theologian well-known for his defense of orthodoxy during the 20th century. His book The Cross of Christ, for example, is an excellent exposition of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. In 1982, Stott published a book on preaching entitled Between Two Worlds, and in this book, Stott presented what he considered to be the key metaphor for a preacher. Of course, preachers are heralds and shepherds. Preachers are ambassadors and workmen. But for Stott, the preacher’s key role was that of bridge-builder. The preacher’s job was to build a bridge from the world of the Bible to our world, so that the unchanging truth of Scripture would come to bear on our lives today. This, according to Stott, was the task of both the preacher and the church – to build bridges that bear biblical truth.
Friends, that image of bridge-building is a good starting point for our study of Luke 20. This is one of those texts that we might easily downplay as having little to do with us. As you heard in our reading, this passage deals with a very specific issue in Jesus’ ministry – his conflict with the Jewish religious leaders. In fact, Luke 20 as a whole is one sustained conflict with several different episodes. Time and time again, the religious leaders question Jesus, and each time, he stymies them, even exposing their motives. That’s the story of the chapter. It’s very specific to Jesus.
And from that narrow focus, we might conclude this text has little to do with us. Sure, there are some things we might learn, particularly about the history and background of Jesus’ time. But in terms of our discipleship, there’s really not much here, or so we think.
But that’s where Stott’s metaphor helps us. With every text, our job is to build a bridge from the truth of the Bible to our world today. Why is that our job? Because God’s Word is always speaking to God’s people, regardless of time and culture. There is no purely academic study of Scripture for the Christian. There is no place in the Bible where we can stand back and say, “Well, that’s an interesting insight. I’m glad I know that now.” No, we build that bridge because we are convinced that God speaks through his Word. And that means even this passage, which deals with such a specific issue in Jesus’ ministry, has much to say to you and me.
Of course, that raises the question, “What does this passage say to us as followers of Christ?” “What is the bridge from this specific issue in Jesus’ ministry to the life of Christ’s church today?” I’m glad you asked. When we zoom out from this passage, we find that this specific issue in Jesus’ ministry gives us a number of reminders as to how God works in the world down through redemptive history. The passage shows us again just how God’s kingdom advances, particularly in ways that don’t make sense to the world.
So, that’s what I’d like for us to do this morning. By God’s grace, let’s bridge the issue of Jesus’ day with the life of the church in our age. That starts by understanding what is happening with Jesus and the religious leaders, but then let’s zoom out and notice these three important reminders of how God works in the world, often in surprising ways.
The Wisdom of God Confounds Foolish Schemes
The first reminder of God’s work comes in vv1-8: The Wisdom of God confounds foolish schemes. You may recall that chapter 19 ended with Jesus teaching in the temple. It was a key moment in the Lord’s ministry. He drove out the merchants in order to put himself and his word center stage. Well, that focus continues, as you see there in v1. Jesus is teaching daily in the temple.
But not everyone likes Jesus to be center stage. The Jewish religious leaders, in particular, are bothered, so they begin this persistent quest to undermine Jesus. Darrell Bock calls v1 the beginning of theological warfare, and that’s a good description. From v1 to the basically the end of the chapter, the religious leaders have one goal – undermine Jesus.
The warfare begins where it must – with the question of authority. Listen again to v2. The religious leaders “said to Jesus, ‘Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority.’” Now, on the one hand, you can understand this question. Consider what the religious leaders have just witnessed: Jesus riding into Jerusalem, mounted on a colt in fulfillment of God’s Word – that speaks of kingship; Jesus cleansing the temple and positioning himself at the center of Israel’s worship – that speaks of authority. So, you can understand, on one level, why they ask this question.
But on the other hand, think of how blind you must be to ask this question at this point. It’s not like Jesus has been carrying out his ministry in secret. Very publicly, Jesus has done what only God can do. He has forgiven sins, opened the eyes of the blind, restored the dead to life, and commanded creation. These are things that only God can do.
In other words, the nature of Jesus’ authority is not a secret. You’d have to be blind not to see it. And that’s the issue, brothers and sisters. The religious leaders are not asking this question in good faith. They’re blind in their unbelief. They see, but they can’t see. They’ve got all the evidence in the world to conclude that Jesus acts with divine authority, but they can’t see it. They won’t see it.
Friends, before we go on, we ought to pause here to note that one of the worst effects of sin is that it blinds people to God’s truth. God has plainly revealed himself to humanity. “What can be known about God is plain to [humanity],” Paul says in Romans 1. How is it plain? Because God has made it known to them in the things that have been made. God’s truth is plainly revealed. The problem is sin. Sin blinds us to the truth.
And so, practically, the best thing you can pray for your unbelieving friends, your children, anyone to whom you minister – the best thing you can pray is this: “God, please open their eyes to see the truth.” In fact, that’s one of the best things you can pray for yourself: “Open my eyes that I might behold wondrous things from your” Word. The religious leaders question Jesus because, fundamentally, they are blind to what God has revealed.
Of course, the religious leaders don’t think they are blind. They think they’re quite clever, but the reality couldn’t further from the truth. Notice v3, where Jesus turns the tables on them. V3 – “He answered them, ‘I also will ask you a question. Now tell me, was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?’” So, Jesus answers their question with a question. That’s not unusual for Jesus’ day. It was a common debating practice among rabbis.
But Jesus is doing more than starting a debate. He’s exposing how the religious leaders have no standing in this discussion. Jesus asks about John the Baptist, and of all the things we learn about John in Luke’s Gospel, this is perhaps the most important – his ministry prepared the way for Jesus. John and Jesus were linked, in other words, the way Christmas Eve is linked to Christmas Day. The one prepares for and elevates the other. And that means John’s authority is tied up with Jesus. Answer the question about John, and you’ll have your answer about Jesus.
But here is where we see Jesus’ wisdom, friends. The religious leaders are trapped, and they know it. Listen again, v5 – “And they discussed it with one another, saying, ‘If we say, From heaven, he will say, Why did you not believe him? But if we say, From man, all the people will stone us to death, for they are convinced that John was a prophet.’” It’s quite the dilemma, isn’t it? It’s the proverbial rock and a hard place. If they answer from God, then they indict themselves as being blind guides who refuse to see the truth. But if they say from man, then they risk the wrath of the people. It’s quite the dilemma.
Actually, it’s only a dilemma if you are guilty of being hard-hearted and rejecting God’s messenger. It’s only a dilemma if you care more about your position than you do about the truth – which is the case with the religious leaders. So, they choose the cowardly way out. It’s such a mealy mouthed, weak answer. V7 – “So they answered that they did not know where it came from.” Mark it down, friends. A refusal to plainly tell the truth is evidence of spiritually bankrupt leadership. If they can’t tell the truth about John, then who are they to judge Jesus? They have no standing in this discussion. They are bankrupt as leaders.
And so, Jesus refuses to play their game. V8 – “And Jesus said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.’” What has happened here? Jesus, with God-given wisdom, has confounded the foolish schemes of his opponents. They have raged and plotted in vain. In the end, it all comes to nothing. Why? Because the wisdom of God in Christ is mightier than the schemes of this age.
Brothers and Sisters, what an encouragement this ought to be to the church in our day. All around us, there are opponents of the church who are devising ways to expose and entrap Christians. We hear it all the time, don’t we? New findings that cast doubt on the reliability of the Bible. Demographic shifts suggesting the church’s future is in doubt. Scientific discoveries that make it more plausible to deny the existence of God. If you just looked at the trends, you would think that the church is in trouble. Our opponents appear well-armed and quite clever.
And yet, what is the testimony of the church, brothers and sisters? It is a 2,000 year unbroken witness to the reality that the tomb is empty, Christ has been raised, and the wisdom of God, despite all worldly attempts, continues to call sons and daughters into the kingdom. That’s the testimony of the church, despite the world’s schemes. And let’s be clear – that testimony does not rest on our exploits or our strategies. That testimony rests on the wisdom of God, revealed in Jesus Christ – a wisdom that finds its clearest expression in a crucified Savior, raised to new life, for the salvation of his church.
You see, that’s the bridge from these verses to our day. Our Savior is no fool, and neither is he easily defeated by the ploys of this world. Our Savior is the Wisdom of God himself, made flesh for us and for our salvation. And therefore, our hope is secure. We can continue to entrust ourselves to his Word, and in doing so, we can rest in the reality that neither the gates of hell nor the schemes of man will ever confound our Christ. The wisdom of God confounds foolish schemes.
The Patience of God Endures with Wicked Rebels
The second reminder of how God works comes in Jesus’ parable. Beginning in v9, we’re reminded that the Patience of God endures with wicked rebels. This parable is a direct response to the religious leaders. If you look down at v19, you see confirmation of that. Even the scribes and chief priests understand Jesus is talking about them. How do they know this? Well, in part, because of the OT background that shapes the parable. Look at v9, where we find the setting for the parable – “And he began to tell the people this parable: ‘A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country.’”
Friends, the image of a vineyard is key. In Psalm 80, Israel is called God’s vineyard, and in Isaiah 5, the nation’s failure is described like a vineyard that bore only wild grapes. So, the idea of Israel as a vineyard has this rich OT background. It would not have been hard to make the connection – Jesus is talking about the nation.
But Jesus does add a unique element to that OT image. Notice that in Jesus’ parable, the vineyard is entrusted to tenants, that is, workers who are responsible to keep the vineyard for the owner. That’s significant, friends. The tenants don’t own the vineyard, but they are responsible for its life. Again, you can see Jesus’ connection. The tenants represent the religious leadership of Israel, both in the past and in the present. The scribes, the Pharisees, the chief priests – they don’t own the nation, but they are responsible under God to care for the nation.
Now, think back to that opening scene – where the religious leaders would not answer Jesus’ question. Why would they not answer about John the Baptist? Because they rejected John. Just like Israel in the OT, they rejected God’s messenger. And that is where Jesus goes in the parable. Beginning in v10, the tenants reject the owner’s servants. Listen again – “When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard.” What does that picture? It pictures God sending his prophets to his people, and those prophets preached God’s Word, calling the people to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
But in the parable, just like in Israel’s history, those servants are rejected. The end of v10 – “But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed.” The owner’s servant is rejected, just like Israel rejected Jeremiah and just like the Pharisees rejected John. What does the owner do? Does he immediately condemn the tenants? No, amazingly, the owner sends another servant. V11 – “And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed.” Now will the owner condemn the tenants? Amazingly, again, no. He sends a third servant, v12 – “And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out.” Three times, the owner sends his servants, and each time, the servant is rejected.
What are witnessing here, friends? What is Jesus describing? Well, on the one hand, Jesus is illustrating the history of Israel, from the OT up to the present. Beginning with Moses and stretching through John the Baptist, the nation often rejected God’s prophets. They spurned God’s Word. And that means the religious leaders of Jesus’ day are carrying on that national history. It is Israel’s life in parable form.
But on the other hand, Jesus is also illustrating for us the patience of God the Father. Think about this, friends. Three times, the owner sends his servant. Three times, the owner appeals to his rebellious tenants. Is that not the heart of God, even as revealed in the OT? People sometimes mischaracterize God in the OT as being severe and heavy-handed. Some people even mistakenly believe that the God of the OT is somehow different from the God of the NT. But nothing could be further from the truth, friends. When I read the OT, do you know what strikes me? That God is unthinkably patient. That God’s mercy is profoundly long-suffering. That is what Jesus illustrates here. He’s reminding us of the patience of God.
Now, patience is one of the more astounding aspects of God’s character. God’s patience, or we might say his forbearance, is an application of God’s goodness. He is patient with those who deserve judgment. That’s what see in the OT, that’s what we see in the parable, but friends, that’s also what we see every day when the sun rises on this earth. Have you thought about that? Every sunrise testifies to us that God is patient. Our world is not any less rebellious than the world of Jesus’ day, and yet, God endures with our world. He patiently causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. This is what we mean when we say that God is patient. He forebears with sinners.
But there is a caution here, friends. God’s patience should never be mistaken for negligence. God’s patience should never lead us to conclude that God won’t deal with rebels. In fact, that’s the powerful turn in Jesus’ parable. The climax of the parable teaches how we ought to respond to God’s patience. Notice what happens.
In v13, the owner of the vineyard has one final alternative. He will send his son, v13 – “Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’” Friends, did you catch that word beloved? We’ve heard it before in Luke’s Gospel. Do you remember where? At Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is the beloved Son. The parable pictures the pinnacle of God’s patience – he sends his Son.
And yet, the Son is rejected. V14 – “But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours. And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.’” We’ve seen it all through Jesus’ ministry – he knows what will happen to him. The religious leaders will bring Israel’s history to a sad climax by killing the Son of God. This is their motive. Rather than submit to God, they seek to supplant God and keep the kingdom for themselves. The parable, in other words, is a passion prediction.
But we’ve been talking about God’s patience, and specifically how we ought to respond. What does this have to do with the patience of God? Well, surprisingly, the answer comes through judgment. Look at v15, where Jesus describes what the owner will do to the rebels – “What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” God is patient, friends, and do you know where his patience ought to lead us? To repentance. Why did God forbear with Israel for so long? So that the people would repent. Why has God delayed judgment to this point in our day? So that sinners would repent. The patience of God is always preaching this one message – repent and turn to the Lord.
You see, this the tragedy of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. They mistook God’s patience for negligence. They assumed that the kingdom belonged to them, that they did not need God’s Word, that the demands of the kingdom did not apply to them. And that’s why judgment is coming. That’s why, as Luke makes clear in the book of Acts, the kingdom is open to Gentiles. It’s because Israel failed to remember what the prophets preached – that God’s kindness, his patience, is meant to lead us to repentance.
Friends, I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I do know that today is an evidence of God’s patience to you. Why do you have another day on this earth? Because God is patient. And why is God patient? So that we will hear his Word and respond. If you are not a Christian today, then this is the message of Scripture. This is the character of God, pictured in Jesus’ parable and lived out in everyday life, and his character is calling you to repent and believe. The Bible is very clear that God is patient, but that patience is not negligence. There is a day coming when everyone will give an account to God, and those who remain in their rebellion will receive his judgment. And so, Scripture holds out this call today – turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ. The good news is that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, bore the judgment of God at the cross. This is why Jesus died – not just because the religious leaders didn’t like him. He died to save God’s people from the wrath they deserved.
And every day from the cross to the last day is now a testimony of God’s patience calling you to believe in Christ. That’s our prayer for you this morning – that you would hear of God’s patience, and that you would trust in God’s beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Son of God Prevails Over Worldly Opposition
The third reminder of how God works comes in the conclusion to the parable, and this will conclude our time as well. From vv16-19 – the Son of God prevails over worldly opposition. After hearing of God’s judgment, the crowd is shocked. Look at the end of v16 – “When they heard this, they said, ‘Surely not!’” They can’t fathom this happening. Surely, Jesus is overstating things. It can’t be that the nation, particularly the leadership, would be left out of God’s kingdom. Surely not.
But Jesus doesn’t flinch. The religious leaders may equivocate, but Jesus doesn’t. Jesus is boldly clear, and to confirm his teaching, Jesus cites God’s Word. Notice v17 – “But he looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’?” Now, this is from Psalm 118, which you may remember was also cited at the triumphal entry. Psalm 118 is about rejection leading to triumph. In the psalm, the king, as well as the nation, have been rejected in the eyes of the world. The nations of the world look upon Israel and her king, and they despise them. Israel and her king are like a stone thrown onto the trash heap of a building project. Who needs such a worthless rock, the nations say? But in God’s eyes, this rejected stone becomes the cornerstone of his redemptive plan. Through the King of Israel, God will build a people for himself. God will build his kingdom. The stone that the builders rejected will become the cornerstone of God’s kingdom.
So, here in Luke 20, Jesus is making that same point, but with one significant twist. In Jesus’ eyes, it is not the nations of the world who reject God’s King. It is the religious leaders of Israel. It is the nation itself. They reject Jesus as a worthless stone. But through that rejection, God will establish Jesus as the Cornerstone of his kingdom. Jesus is dishonored by his people, but he receives ultimate honor from God.
Now, this means the religious leaders, along with the nation itself, ought to repent of their rejection. That’s what we just considered a moment ago. But right now, consider what this means for Jesus. He is the Cornerstone of God’s redemptive plan. He is the King upon whom the kingdom will be built. This is why Jesus can cleanse the temple – because God’s work now centers on him. This is why Jesus can act with such authority – because he is both the Son and the Cornerstone.
And therefore, if you want to be in on what God is building – if you want citizenship in God’s kingdom, you have to enter through this man, Jesus. Look at v18, where Jesus makes this point – “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” Friends, that is simply the negative application of what Psalm 118 teaches. If Jesus is the Cornerstone, then rejecting him leads to judgment. Ignoring him leads to condemnation. Opposing him is like having a massive stone dropped on your head – it will crush you. God’s plan, God’s promise, God’s kingdom – they’re all coming to fulfillment in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
And in that sense, friends, the passage comes full circle. Jesus and his mission will not be stopped – not by foolish schemes and not by worldly opposition. Just like Psalm 118 said, the world can reject Christ, the world can oppose him, the world can even despise him as worthless. But in the end, God will exalt his Son. God will build his kingdom upon this Cornerstone. You see, it’s the reality of the gospel – anticipated in the OT and now fulfilled in Christ Jesus. The world’s opposition not only fails, but it also becomes the means through which Christ is exalted. Rejection becomes the pathway to glory.
And that gospel truth, brothers and sisters, gives us hope and confidence in our day. That’s the most important bridge to build from this text. God’s purposes in Christ cannot be stopped. Christ will build his church, and even rejection will be used by God to advance his promises. And so, we do not lose heart. We do not fear what man might do to us. Instead, we look to Christ, and secure in him, we give ourselves to the work he has called us to do.
That’s the encouragement of passages like this one in Luke 20. Yes, they are very specific to Jesus’ life, but since we are Christ’s body – since we are united to him by faith, they also have much to say to us. God’s Word is always speaking to God’s people. As we witness the Son of God prevail over worldly opposition, we recognize this is our victory too – not because we are strong enough in ourselves, but because we belong to the Son who is the Cornerstone.
So, may we go out with confidence today, brothers and sisters, and with hope. May God make us faithful, whatever our calling, and may our faithfulness find its strength not in ourselves, but in our Lord who has been exalted as the Cornerstone of God’s kingdom. Amen, let’s pray.