Jesus, The Cornerstone
I have been preaching these sermons on the church with the hope that we will understand better what the church is. We hear so many things about the church. We have our own experiences about the church. We see so many different churches.
The church can look wonderful and at times it can look ugly. It can be a blessing and a burden. We are the body of Christ. We are a church and we are part of the larger, worldwide Church. This is our faith.
I hope these sermons help us know what Scripture says the church is, and what it means to be part of the church. Because Christ died for the church. He loves it. He stands with it even when we look much less than he desires us to be.
Perhaps the most important piece of the church that we read throughout the New Testament is that Jesus is the cornerstone of his church.
Now that buildings are increasingly made of metal and steel the image of the cornerstone might not be as meaningful as it once was. It was certainly well-known when Paul wrote his words to the Ephesians that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone in the household of God. In times when buildings were strictly made of blocks, stones or granite, the cornerstone was the most important piece. The cornerstone was the first stone set when a building was being erected. It was placed at the corner of the foundation, at the angle where two walls met. The cornerstone determined how the rest of the building would lay.
Many older church buildings have cornerstones marked with the date when it was placed. Many of them will have Ephesians 2:20 engraved on the cornerstone. I know we have a cornerstone in this church building because I read about it in some historical notes. But I couldn’t find it. I asked Tonya to find it and she could not find it either. We’ll have to keep looking.
The cornerstone set how the walls would be directed. There were three things about a cornerstone. 1. It was the first stone laid. It was the priority piece. 2. It gave shape to the entire structure. 3. It gave cohesion to the building and held the structure together. The cornerstone was vastly important.
The image of the cornerstone first comes from the Old Testament. There it referred to God’s coming Messiah, the King, whom God would establish in Jerusalem. The prophets Isaiah and Zechariah, and King David, all spoke of the cornerstone.
Jesus actually quoted David’s words from Psalm 118 to the chief priests and the scribes: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, this was the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.” He implied that it refers to him.
In Acts we hear Peter applying the Old Testament scriptures about the cornerstone to Jesus. Paul does the same in Romans and in the passage we read in Ephesians. And in 1 Peter, Peter again refers to Jesus as the cornerstone. The church came to understand Jesus as God’s cornerstone, his Messiah and King.
Like a cornerstone is for a building, so Jesus is for the church. 1. He is to be first. 2. He gives shape to the church. 3. He gives cohesion to the church.
`Priority. Shape. Cohesion.
Jesus, the cornerstone, is given priority. He is the starting point for our faith, our beliefs, our convictions, and our actions. He is first in our worship. Not you and me and how much we like or don’t like what happens. Jesus is who we aim to glorify, please, and honor in our worship.
Jesus is first in our meetings, first in our planning, first in how we do things. Whatever it is before us we need to ask, “Is this of Christ? Does it honor and glorify him? Are we living in such a way that he is first?”
Some churches make tradition their cornerstone. They live for the sake of what has always been done, regardless of whether it honors Christ or not. “We’ve always done it like this and we are going to keep it that way.” Some churches make growth their priority and will do anything to get lots of people in the building. It is tempting for churches to place any number of things ahead of Christ instead of making him the cornerstone.
Second, if Jesus Christ is the cornerstone then a church is shaped by Christ. When he has priority then lives are shaped by him. Just as a cornerstone determines the direction of the walls in a building so Jesus determines the character, the worship, the values, the direction of a church when it is shaped by him.
Thirdly, when Jesus is the cornerstone he provides the cohesion. The unity of a church comes from him. He holds everything together. When stresses or strains come the body doesn’t split.
The pastor can’t be the cornerstone otherwise when the pastor isn’t there everything falls apart. Too many churches are built on the personalities of their leaders instead of on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Aren’t you grateful your pastor doesn’t have much of a personality?)
The physical building can’t be the cornerstone otherwise a congregation will spend all their time on the preservation and appearance of the building. The worship style of a church can’t be the cornerstone otherwise the music or the liturgy becomes what shapes the church. Innovation can’t be the cornerstone. Some churches place all their energy on being creative and up-to-date and cutting edge. When that isn’t happening or tastes aren’t met then it all falls apart.
We want good pastors. We want solid buildings. We want engaging worship. We want new and fresh ways of ministering. But all of those things are shaped by the cornerstone who is Jesus Christ.
What is true about the church is true for our lives, too. Christians place Christ as the cornerstone of our lives. If Christ is first in our lives then everything we do will be to honor him. If Christ shapes our lives then our lives will look like him. If he gives our lives cohesion then we will have stability amidst adversity.
There was a pastor and theologian named Karl Barth who was a big deal about 60 years ago. He is still studied widely in theological seminaries because he had some good things to say. One of the things he said was, “Tell me how it stands with (who you believe Christ to be), and I will tell you who you are.” Tell me who you think Christ is and who he is to you, and I will know who you are and what you are about.
If Jesus is merely an idea my Christianity will be merely intellectual. I will have things up here in my mind, but not here in my heart.
If Jesus is just some distant, historical figure I will treat my faith as distant.
If Jesus is my go-to only when I have problems, then I will expect him to fix my problems. I will engage with him when I have trouble. If my problems don’t go away when and as I want them then I will stop trusting in him.
If he is merely a man and not God then there is no reason for me to commit my life to him.
If Jesus is the cornerstone of my life I will be a person of love. I will be a person of prayer. I will want to worship him, obey him, and live a holy life for him. I will keep him before me.
But Paul is using the image of the cornerstone for the entire church. Any Jew or Christian hearing about the cornerstone would immediately associate it with the temple in Jerusalem. The temple was the supreme place of worship of God. There were two temples in the hstory of Israel. The first was built by King Solomon but was destroyed when the Babylonians attacked and destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C. A second temple was built and was still being constructed at the time of Jesus’ life. It was destroyed by the Romans about 70 years after Jesus.
When the temple was standing in Jerusalem it was believed to be where the presence of the Holy God dwelt. So when Jesus spoke of his physical body as the temple, that was a radical picture. Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” We are told he was speaking about the temple of his body.
After Jesus rose and ascended to the Father his body became his people. Paul speaks of Christ’s people as the body of Christ. He also writes about all of those who belong to Christ forming a holy temple. He writes, “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” God is building a holy temple in which he can live in people’s lives through the Holy Spirit. It is not a temple of stone or granite but a temple built with lives of people who trust the Lord Jesus Christ and have him living in them.
Peter writes, “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.”
God is not living in buildings anymore but living in us.
Peter says we are living stones because we are changed into the image of the living Stone, who is Christ. Just as stones form a house so we form Christ’s church – a spiritual household. The church is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God just like the glory of God filled the ancient temple in Jerusalem.
Peter goes on and says that the function of this spiritual house, this holy temple, is to be a holy priesthood,
…a holy nation,
…God’s special possession.
He wasn’t speaking just of individuals but of the entire community of believers. He was echoing what the Lord had said to Israel calling them to be his special possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
The ancient temple is where sacrifices, prayer, offerings, and other worship was done. As a spiritual temple God wants us to offer our acts of praise, deeds of kindness, sharing of our possessions, to live rightly by living the gospel in word and in deed.
Let’s go a little further into the church as a spiritual building. In 1 Corinthians Paul says, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” And “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Again, God is not in buildings but in human lives.
The stones in a wall don’t have to look all alike or be perfect. In fact, when churches make appearance the cornerstone, and everything has to look just right, it doesn’t go well. When people have to look a certain way eventually it disintegrates. Churches need all different types of stones. And the most important thing is that they/we are bound together by the Spirit, by love, and the power of God.
Remember Jesus told a parable one time about founding our lives on his words. Well, here’s a parable about the church: A certain person decided to build a church. To insure strength and durability, the builder carefully selected stones exactly alike: same size, shape, and color. They were put in place with pride and confidence, but when the wind blew and the storm rose, the church was destroyed.
Another builder decided to construct a church. Stones of different sizes, shapes, and colors were gathered. How could such a church survive? Strong cement was mixed and applied between the stones. When the wind blew and the storm rose, the church stood firm.
When a church lets God be God and the Spirit holds together the people then even when storms hit that church stands.
In Ephesians, after Paul says that Christ is the cornerstone he says it is “in him” that the whole building is joined together. The church has to be securely related to Christ. He is the cement. It’s development depends on its being built around him.
“God is building a home. He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building.” He’s fitting us in brick by brick, stone by stone with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.
How does our church look? How does your life and my life look?
What is the shape of our church? What is the shape of your life?
It all starts with the cornerstone.
When you build a house or a building you don’t build the building and then try to fit in the cornerstone. The building can’t shape the cornerstone. The cornerstone has to shape the building.
We don’t set our priorities, shape our lives, make our plans, and then try to fit God into our lives. God must fit us into his life, the life he gives to all who surrender to and trust in him. We set Jesus as the cornerstone. Then the priorities, the shape and the cohesion of our church comes forth.
The religious experts of Jesus’ day rejected him as the cornerstone. He was the stone that the builders rejected. He didn’t fit into their thinking. He didn’t fit into their religion. He didn’t fit into their living.
Sometimes people reject Christ because he doesn’t fit in with them. Sometimes people reject Jesus because they will have to give up their lives to him and they want to remain in charge of their own lives. Sometimes people reject Christ because they will have to sacrifice and they want to stay comfortable. Sometimes people reject Jesus because they will have to forgive and they want to hold onto their hurts.
We can’t reject Christ just because he doesn’t meet our specifications. He is the cornerstone. Whenever the church moves from Christ the building begins to tilt.
In your own life, are you trying to fit Jesus into how you want to live or allowing him to fit you into the life he has for you? If we don’t start with him then we are starting in the wrong place. But if we begin with him, laying him as the cornerstone – as Lord of our lives - our lives take on his form.
And as we come to him we become living stones in the spiritual house that God himself is building.
Prayer: Mighty God, who have called people of every time and place into your church. Empower your church throughout the world in our life and our witness to Jesus Christ.
United us in your truth and love.
For our particular church here, may all we do, all we plan, all we dream come from our relationship to Christ.
Holy Spirit, be our guide.