“This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone’.” Acts 4:11
Imagine if you were told that there was a song written about you centuries before you were even born? To add mystery and intrigue, this song discloses intimate details surrounding your death. In the last night of the life of the Lord Jesus, we find Him likely singing the song written about His approaching death.
Psalm 118 is the last messianic psalm, referred to on no fewer than four occasions in the final week of the Lord’s earthly ministry.
- His triumphal entry (Mt. 21:1-11);
- The parable of the wicked vinedressers (Mt. 21:33-46);
- His final visit to the temple (Mt. 23:39);
- His hymn in the upper room (Mt. 26:30).
- Matthew 26:30 is the only record we have in the Gospels of the Lord singing. The setting is the Last Supper.
Six psalms comprise the Egyptian Hallel which was sung at the three central feasts of Israel, including the Passover. Psalms 113-114 were sung by pilgrims before the Passover meal and Psalms 115-118 were sung after the meal. Therefore, it is almost certain that Psalm 118 was included in the hymn cited in Matthew. As they sang, only the Lord knew what every word meant! Let us highlight some of His objectives found in the closing verses of the psalm.
MESSIAH AS SOVEREIGN
“Open to Me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord, through which the righteous shall enter” (Ps. 118:19-20).
Upon the Lord’s final entry into Jerusalem, the multitude recited Psalm 118:25, crying out, “Hosanna!” But this reception was short-lived and fell short of embracing His divine sovereignty, failing to acknowledge Him beyond “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth” (Mt. 21:11).
In recent years, a rich young man in the UK, who happened to be the patron of a charity for the homeless, decided to see what it was like to be homeless. He wore the bare essentials and slept outdoors in a homeless district in London. The next morning, he announced that he couldn’t imagine living under those conditions every day after spending just one night in those circumstances. What was more remarkable was the identity of this rich, young man. Officially designated the Duke of Cambridge, he is popularly known as Prince William. How heartwarming that the one who is second in line to the British throne would identify with the lowest segment of his future kingdom! Even more remarkable is that the King of Kings, “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15), spent a lifetime of 33 years identifying with humanity. Tragically, humanity, by and large, didn’t wish to identify with Him.
Imagine you were given the opportunity to commission a house built in your honor, for which you submitted the blueprints. Every item of furniture was crafted to fit you. Everything in the house was for you and about you. Once built, you leased this house to tenants, promising to return to claim it. But upon your return, the tenants let you know in no uncertain terms that you were not welcome there. This is what happened to the Lord Jesus with respect to the house of Israel. The call to “open…the gates of righteousness” went unfulfilled. In Matthew 23, the Lord is on the outside looking in, declaring His house (the temple) to be desolate until the nation sincerely quotes Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
MESSIAH AS A SCANDAL
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps. 118:22-23).
The holy construction site of Solomon’s temple forbade the sound of hammers or chisels, so stones were transferred there from a quarry (1 Ki. 6:7). According to tradition, the builders received a uniquely-shaped stone, deemed it unfit, and cast it aside into the Kidron Valley where it was abandoned and overgrown. When the time came for the final stone to be placed, the builders asked the quarrymen where it was. The quarrymen answered that it had already been delivered. It was then that the rejected stone was recalled and set in its rightful place where it was celebrated. Likewise, at His first advent, the Lord Jesus had “no form or comeliness…no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isa. 53:2).
After His fateful entrance into Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus presented the parable of the wicked vinedressers in which the vinedressers rejected and even killed the servants of the absent vineyard owner until they ultimately killed his son, for which they were judged accordingly. The Lord applied the parable to the Jewish leaders by quoting Psalm 118:22-23, further elaborating that “whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder” (Mt. 21:44).
In light of this psalm, Peter divided society into two camps: the believers and the disobedient: “…to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (1 Pet. 2:7-8). The rock of offense to which Peter refers is the Greek word skandalon (also rendered as “stumbling block”), from which we get the word scandal.
Unbelievers find Christ offensive, to their own detriment (Isa. 8:14). Make no mistake; if you refuse the Savior’s call, you have sealed your own fate. Until I was saved, I found the hymns of the faith and the believers who sang them to be particularly grating, even provocative. This was nobody’s fault but my own. However, when I obeyed the call of the gospel, the One I had rejected became so precious!
MESSIAH AS THE SACRIFICE
“Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar” (Ps. 118:27).
The Lord knew the true weight of the lyrics to this psalm as He sang it with His disciples in that upper room. The altar stood between the Sovereign and His throne. The Lord didn’t need to be bound because of resistance or flight risk. Isaac’s dutiful submission to Abraham’s binding (Gen. 22:9) typified Christ’s submission to His Father. Rather, He is linked to the horns of the altar for what they represent.
The horns of the altar were symbolic of refuge and strength. We can only find true refuge and protection in the Lamb of God, slain before the foundation of the world. How could it be that this apparent “victim” could be the source for strength and refuge? Because this was the Lord’s doing!
Until I was saved at age 17, I claimed to respect—and even believe—the Scriptures. There was only one problem: I didn’t want to get on the altar. I remember sitting in the audience witnessing all my peers get baptized. As far as I was concerned, they were like lambs being led to the slaughter. Until the Lord brought about unavoidable circumstances in my life that caused me to surrender my life to Him, the altar was enemy territory. I wonder if somebody reading this is struggling with the same thing. Is your all on the altar (Rom. 12:1-2)?
Thank God the story of the Savior does not end in sacrifice. By God’s design, suffering precedes glory. There could be no triumphal return for the King without His glorious resurrection. In a day to come, the gates will be open for the Son of God (Ps. 24:9-10)!
Our Lord is now rejected and by the world disowned
By the many still neglected and by the few enthroned.
But soon He’ll come in glory, the hour is drawing nigh,
For the crowning day is coming by and by!
—Daniel W. Whittle