The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[e]
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
Today’s verses follow on from last week’s reading wherein the chief priests and the elders challenge Jesus’s authority.
After that challenge, Jesus related two parables to them. The first was the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32). A father asked his two sons to work in the family vineyard. One initially declined, but decided to obey his father. The second son told his father he would work but did not. Jesus asked the religious leaders which son did the father’s will. All said that the first son did. Then, alluding again to John the Baptist’s exhortation to baptism and repentance, Jesus said that the tax collectors and prostitutes who took John’s call seriously would enter the kingdom of God before they would.
The second story was the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-44). The owner of an estate with a vineyard leased the winepress to his tenants and left the country for a period of time. Before he returned, he sent word via his servants that the tenants were to prepare the fruit. The tenants killed or stoned one after another. They even killed the man’s son — taking him off the property to do so, just as Jesus was taken out of the gates of Jerusalem for His Crucifixion (Hebrews 13:12-13).
Jesus cited Psalm 118:22-23:
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.[a]
23 This is the Lord‘s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
He warned the religious leaders once again, delivering the same lesson as in the Parable of the Two Sons.
He passed judgement on them, saying that the Gentiles would inherit the kingdom of God instead:
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[e]
John MacArthur explains:
Jesus says to the leaders of Israel, “You have lost the right to be in the place of blessing.” God turned from Israel.
Like they said, let’s seize that son and kill him, He is saying whoever tries to seize the Lord Jesus Christ to do harm to Him shall be broken into pieces. You do that to God’s Son and that’s what God will do to you. He will, in the words of the Jews who responded, He will miserably destroy those wicked men who seized His Son. You fall upon the Lord Jesus Christ to do evil to Him, to do harm to Him and you’ll be broken to bits. And then in the final judgment when He falls on you, you’ll be crushed to powder. That’s what it says. Oh my…strong words, strong words.
MacArthur discusses the phrase in verse 44, ‘broken in pieces’:
The Greek verb “grind him to powder” couldn’t be translated better than that. That’s the best translation of it. It’s not simply a crushing, but a scattering into nothingness. You do harm to Christ, you seize Christ and kill Him and you’ll be broken. And when He comes in judgment, He will crush. A parallel is Daniel 2:34 and 35 where it shows the empires of the world in that image, you remember? And the stone cut out without hands who is Christ smashes that thing. Christ will come as a crushing stone, a judge. And He will judge in a pulverizing eternal judgment those who have rejected Him.
So, the illustration, conclusion, given out of their own mouth. Jesus gives the explanation. And taking their own words that such people ought to be judged and replaced, He says that’s what you’ve done to Jesus Christ, you too will be judged and replaced in the sphere of blessing.
These men knew Jesus was talking about them in those two parables (verse 45). Yet — and yet — they feared the crowds more than He (verse 46). Was the only thing holding them back from arresting Him then and there the wrath of God? No, it was the wrath of … the crowds.
In other words, they feared men more than God. That sums up their whole outlook. They craved the approval and awe of men in everything they did. Yet, they posed as men of God, His representatives on earth.
Their hypocrisy was astonishing.
MacArthur compared them with Herod:
Herod Antipas was afraid to take John and kill him because the people thought he was a prophet. And now they’re cowards, they don’t want to touch Jesus because the people think He’s a prophet and they’re afraid. That’s the only thing that holds them back. They are so lost…so lost. The Sanhedrin wants Jesus dead but they’re afraid. They’ve just heard the truth about themselves, they could care less. They know He’s the Son of God, they don’t care about that either. Oh my, what unbelievable unbelief, but it is characteristic of all unbelievers who reject against the truth. So sad.
MacArthur reminds us that the Jews also rejected the prophets of the Old Testament:
They took Jeremiah and threw him into a pit and tradition says ultimately he was stoned. They rejected Ezekiel. Amos had to run for his life. Zechariah was rejected and stoned. Micah was smashed in the face, 1 Kings 22:24 says, by the people who would not hear the message that he gave. And this is the norm, this is how they treated the prophets, the kings and the high priests and the leaders of the people, the religious people. This is how they treated God’s prophets.
In a few weeks’ time, we will be coming to Matthew 23:31, which is on the same theme. So is Matthew 23:34, which is in the three-year Lectionary and read on the feast day of the martyr St Stephen. MacArthur summarises the overall message:
This is the norm. They have rejected the prophets. They rejected the son and they’ll continue to reject, He says. And they did.
This is another warning that God punishes conscious, willful unbelief. Lack of belief in His Son Jesus Christ also brings divine condemnation. This is because He sent Jesus as our Mediator and Advocate with Him.
Equally important in this second half of Matthew 21 is further proof that Jesus gives of His deity. MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):
I believe this is one of the most missed and yet most clear claims to deity that our Lord ever gave. He says here God sent you prophets and then God sent a son. And Mark 12:6, an only son. And so Christ distinguishes Himself as the Son of God, sent from God as different than the prophets. He’s not a servant like their servants, he’s a son. It is a claim to deity. And in the parable, this is the heir, to him belongs the inheritance, is the implication. This is the son. It is a remarkable claim by Jesus to be the Son of God, a claim for which they wanted Him dead. There’s no way around it. He claimed to be the only Son of God, not a prophet like other prophets, not even the best of the prophets. Nothing less will do than that He is the incarnate Son of God. He is either that or He is a false prophet and a liar …
Do you realize that Jesus is here telling them to their face that He knows they’ll kill Him? That’s right. There’s no surprise to Him. He’s not a victim. He said, “I am not having My life taken from Me,” in John’s gospel, “I lay it down of Myself.”
That Jesus is not a victim is important to remember, especially on Good Friday. We should make sure that young people and others learning about the faith understand and remember that.
Next time: Matthew 22:23-33