The Stone that the Builders Rejected (a Sermon on Act 4:11-12)


“Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

I must admit that I was drawn to this passage this morning because it had a refreshingly urban feel about it.

If you’re familiar with the parables and metaphors used by Jesus, you know that He often spoke using rural images – speaking of shepherds and sheep and fields and harvests. And you could see the farmers in Jesus’ audience would have been nodding along to a lot of that. Well, today we’ve got one for the tradies!

The brick that the builders rejected has become the head of the corner!

The context of this statement, as we heard it this morning, was in a speech made by Peter, who was defending himself in an interrogation by the local authorities, who were asking him how it was that he and his buddy John had apparently healed a man who had been previously unable to walk all his life.

As had been the case in so many of Jesus’ healings, the miracle that had taken place did not result in people celebrating and giving thanks, but rather in people feeling threatened and wanting reassurance that nothing in their little world was going to change. Rather than placate his questioners though, Peter goes on the attack, and says to the whole assembled group of ecclesiastical thought police:

“if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well!” (Act 4:8-10)

And then he adds: “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.”

Now, if you’re a student of the New Testament, you‘ll know that this saying also turns up in other places. It was indeed used by Jesus Himself at the conclusion of a story He told about a vineyard with some violent tenants (Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17) and if you push back even further, you’ll find that Jesus Himself was quoting, from Psalm 118 (verse 22):

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

The statement also turns up again later in the New Testament, in Peter’s first letter, which makes it certainly one of the most often repeated texts in the whole of the Scriptures!

Why is this saying so significant, and what does it mean?

Now if you’re not a tradie, or more specifically a brick-layer, the metaphor may require some explanation.

I’m not a brick-layer either of course, but I’ve had plenty of friends who have been brick-layers. Apart from students, the most popular occupations amongst members of my fight club over the last 15 years have been mechanics and builders, including a number of brick-layers, which leaves me in a reasonably good position, I think, to comment on the significance of the cornerstone, and also on why such a stone might be rejected by builders.

To comment first on the significance of the cornerstone or ‘capstone’, this is not simply a decorative stone used to finish off the corners of a building with a bit of architectural flair – the stone-masons equivalent of the angel that sits on top of the Christmas tree. No, rather it is that fundamental stone that structurally holds the entire building together!

If you’ve ever seen an old Roman archway, you know what I’m talking about. If you can envisage an archway, built from two columns of carefully carved stones, where the two sides arch in towards each other at the top and meet in the centre, there’s a triangular shaped stone that sits in the middle and balances the two sides of the arch against each other. That is the capstone.

This is how the Romans built their arches – not like the arches of Stonehenge or the Arch de Triumph (ie. two vertical columns with a slab across the top). The Roman arches arched and met in the middle at a capstone. And if you removed that stone, the whole thing would fall to pieces.

The Gladesville bridge is built that way – along the lines of the old Roman model. If you’ve ever wondered why there are no suspension cables on the Gladesville bridge, well … now you know. It’s built with carefully carved stones angling in towards each other, and in the centre there is a cornerstone that holds both sides of the bridge in place. If you were able to remove that stone, the entire structure would fall into the sea, as neither half would have anything to support it!

This is a wonderful image of the Lord Jesus, when you think about it. At one level, He appears to be just another stone in the building – made of the same stuff as the rest of us stones. And yet He is more central to the building than any of the other stones because He occupies that place in the structure, such that if He is removed, the entire building collapses!

He is a part of the building along with the rest of us stones. He is like us, and yet he is different from us because He is more central to the building, and also because He looks different, which may explain why he would be rejected!

Think about it from a brick-layers point of view. You take delivery of an enormous slab of bricks at your worksite, and you’re about to set the cement-mixer to start pouring, but then you realise that one of the bricks is a different shape from all the other bricks! What do you do? If you’re an inexperienced builder, you might assume that this odd-shaped stone has just been delivered to the wrong worksite, so you’d either throw it away or send it back!

Why? Because it is different!

At home we have this problem with jigsaw puzzles sometimes, and if you too have multiple jigsaw puzzles that occasionally get mixed in with each other, you know what I am talking about.

You’re trying to finish off a jigsaw, and yet there’s one piece that is the wrong shape, size and colour, and just doesn’t seem to fit at all, and you know right away what has happened. You’ve got a piece from another puzzle.

Jesus was different. He was the odd-shaped stone on the slab. He was different! He was the misshapen piece who stood out in the jigsaw like He had come from another puzzle! He was different. He was, in the parlance of our current culture, ‘out there’, And for that reason He was rejected.

We do know that Jesus was different of course, and we know that we who follow Him are supposed to be different too. I think though that we have trouble at times knowing what the points of difference are supposed to be.

From what I can work out, in many parts of the world today, being Christian means being distinctive in two ways – ie. being pro-war and anti gay marriage!

Are those the points of difference by which we should be distinguishing ourselves from the rest of the community? Is this the stance that Jesus takes?

At the moment in our Diocese, it seems that Christians are being called upon to distinguish themselves from their peers by taking a stance against the recently released Da Vinci Code movie. Is that the point where we, as Christians, should be showing ourselves to be different from the rest of the community?

Jim Wallis, in ‘Call to Conversion’ told a story about his first experience in trying to take out a Christian girl in the 1960’s. He said he was going to take her to see “The Sound of Music” but that her father barred the door.

When Jim asked the father what the problem was, he told the young Jim that he was a Christian and that he knew that as a Christian he had to be different, and said, ‘but if I let my kids go to the movies, what is going to make me and my family different from everybody else?’

Jim said that he felt sorry for the guy, whose whole identity was at stake.

This man knew that as a Christian he had to be different, but he’d lost the plot completely as to what the points of difference were supposed to be, and so he made his stand for the faith over a Julie Andrews movie!

I think we do similar things in this country. We might not take the line any more that Christians are those who don‘t smoke, drink or chew or go with girls who do, but I think we have managed to portray ourselves in a way that makes us appear equally distinctive in an equally useless way.

Sadly, I think our point of distinctiveness in this community is generally because we are perceived as being more self-righteous than everybody else.

I think if you went to the pub and asked your average Aussie what makes church-going people distinctive in the community, I think he’d say ‘Christian people think that they are better than us‘,and I think, for the most part, that is probably right!

I think that, broadly speaking, the church in this country has lost the plot.

We know that we are supposed to be different but we’ve forgotten how we are supposed to be different. And I think the problem starts with the fact that we have forgotten what made Jesus different.

We think that Jesus was different because He was only semi-human.

  • He was different because He knew a lot more than we do.
  • He was different because He had magical powers that us ordinary mortals don’t have
  • He was less physical, certainly less sexual, totally pure in thought and deed, and basically just less earthy than the rest of us.

I just don’t think that’s it. Certainly it’s not the emphasis of the New Testament.

For the New Testament tells us where Jesus was most obviously different, and we’ve already been reading about it this morning:

  • He is the Good Shepherd – not like the others who are out to fleece the flock. This shepherd is ready to lay down His life for the sheep.
  • That’s what makes Him different. He’s not in it for the money. He’s not in it for the glory. He’s the shepherd who is in it for the sheep.
  • He is different in the way He redefines love for us in terms of self-sacrifice.
  • He is different in the way He forgives those who damage him.
  • He is different because He is honest, frank, real, confrontational, imaginative, free-thinking, focused, compassionate, caring, powerful and demanding.

He was different, but not because he was only semi-human. On the contrary, as Leonardo Boff said, “only God could be so human”. The Jesus we read about in the New Testament was distinctive because He was more human than we are.

This is the stone that the builders rejected – wrong shape, wrong colour, too difficult, too demanding. But the opinion of the builders was subject to the review of the chief architect, who has made this stone, Jesus, the capstone to the entire operation.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.”

First preached by Father Dave Smith at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill.

Rev. David B. Smith

Parish priest, community worker,
martial arts master, pro boxer,
author, father of four.


About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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