The Rising of the Rejected Stone
Acts 4:8-12 & 1 Peter 2:4
April 12, 1998
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12
Easter has come once again but not everyone is smiling. This is the paradox of Easter—it is the holiest day on the Christian calendar, but not everyone shares our joy this morning. Some people don’t care … others don’t believe … still others don’t know what to believe. And some are very angry at the thought of a man rising from the dead because it challenges everything they think they know about the world.
Easter reminds us in the biggest way possible that God plays by his own rules. On this day we realize that he doesn’t always do what we expect. Sometimes he does what we least expect. Often he does things in ways that defy human understanding.
Raising the dead definitely falls into that category. You can live a long time and never see that happen. I daresay that no one here has ever seen anyone rise from the dead. I know I haven’t. I do remember one situation in Southern California, in the early days of my ministry, where a leading man in the church died suddenly, but his wife didn’t want to bury him because she thought God would raise him from the dead. She actually went to the funeral home to bring him back alive. I can still remember when she drove back from the funeral home and we all looked out the window to see if he was with her. I don’t mind telling you the whole thing scared me to death. It was spooky and strange.
That’s clearly how the disciples felt early on Sunday morning when they found the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Spooky and strange. They didn’t immediately think, “He’s risen from the dead.” They assumed the opposite—that someone had entered the tomb during the night and stolen his body. Remember that when Mary saw the empty tomb she wept and told the angels, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him” (John 20:13). Resurrection was the last thing on her mind that first Easter morning.
But eventually they believed. It didn’t happen suddenly, and for some it took days and perhaps weeks. But soon the truth hit home: He’s Alive! First they whispered the truth behind closed doors: He’s Alive! Then they began to preach it in the streets: He’s Alive! Finally they took the message to the heart of the Roman Empire: He’s alive!
A few weeks after Easter, Peter and John were on their way to the temple when they met a crippled man who asked them for money. Peter replied with these famous words: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6). The man stood up, completely healed, and began walking and leaping and praising God. When a crowd gathered Peter preached the gospel to them (Acts 3:11-26), challenging them to repent of their sins and turn to Christ for salvation.
When the rulers of the Jews heard about all this, they had Peter and John arrested and held overnight. Acts 4:2 tell us that the rulers were disturbed because the apostles were “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” No doubt this refers in part to the fact that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead in any sense. But they were also incensed with the claim that Jesus himself had risen from the dead. Such dangerous teaching could not be ignored.
Some People Hate Easter
This illustrates my point that some people have always hated the Easter message because it threatens their belief system. The very idea that someone could come back from the dead flies in the face of their self-professed knowledge of the universe.
The next day Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin—the Supreme Court of ancient Israel. This group of 70 men had—under Rome’s ultimate authority—the power to enforce Jewish law, to try cases, and to settle disputes. Acts 4:7 tells us that the Sanhedrin asked these two apostles a very leading question: “By what power or what name did you do this?” What a question! And what a moment for the Christian movement.
Think of what this means. This is the first recorded persecution of the Christian era. Since then millions of Christians have suffered and died for their faith. We know that on this very day in Muslim and Hindu countries many Christians cannot worship freely or openly. We also know that Christians are being put to death in Sudan and in other countries where militant Muslims hold sway. And it is an undisputed fact that during the years of Communist tyranny, many believers spent years behind bars for nothing more than preaching the gospel.
What will Peter do? He has three choices: 1) He can apologize for making trouble. There’s no way he’s going to do that. 2) He can say nothing and hope for the best. Peter never “said nothing” in his whole life. 3) He can seize the moment to preach the gospel—which is exactly what he does.
He may have remembered these words of Christ in Matthew 10:18-19, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say.” He certainly wasn’t going to back down. After all, he’s got the entire leadership of Israel right in front of him. If the early church had hired a PR firm, they couldn’t have rounded up a crowd like that. Money couldn’t buy this kind of audience. It was like having the President, Cabinet, Congress, and the Supreme Court sitting at your feet waiting for you to talk.
To these men who think he’s a dangerous troublemaker, Peter stands up and preaches Jesus. No compromise. No hesitation. No apologies of any kind. What he says doesn’t last very long—only five verses in Acts 4. But these five verses contain amazing truth.
In this paragraph we learn exactly who Jesus is. First, we learn that he is …
I. The Rejected Stone
Peter answers the basic question in verse 10. Who did this? Answer: Jesus did. He could have stopped there but he didn’t. He continues his answer in verse 11, knowing that he might never have a chance like this again. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’”
In these two verses Peter says four things to the Jewish leaders:
1. You crucified Jesus (literally true).
2. God raised him from the dead (also true).
3. His power healed this lame man (also true).
4. You rejected God’s stone of salvation (also true).
Verse 11 is actually a quotation from Psalm 118:22, which speaks of a rejected stone becoming the capstone (or the cornerstone). Jesus himself used this same Scripture when he gave the Parable of the Landowner just a few days before his crucifixion (Matthew 21:33-44). The image comes from the ancient quarries where highly-trained stonemasons carefully chose the stones used in construction. No stone was more important than the cornerstone because the integrity of the whole structure depended on the cornerstone containing exactly the right lines. If the cornerstone was not exactly right, the entire building would be out of line. For that reason, builders inspected many stones, rejecting each one until they found the one they wanted. Rejected stones might be used in other parts of the building, but they would never become the cornerstone or the capstone (the first and last stones put in place).
Peter is saying that Jesus is the rejected stone whom God made to be the cornerstone of salvation. They (the Jewish leaders) rejected him, but God not only accepted him but put him in the position of highest honor.
Here is the shock of it all: These men who should have known better didn’t recognize him for who he was. They made an appalling mistake that became an eternal catastrophe. To reject Jesus means that you have rejected God’s cornerstone. Since the cornerstone is the foundation, anything you build upon a wrong foundation will itself also be wrong.
Let me be clear about this. It is not enough to say that Jesus was a good man or a fine teacher or an excellent religious leader but not the Son of God. If he isn’t who he said he was, then nothing he said can be trusted.
Two thousand years ago the “builders” rejected Jesus. It still happens today. This week the Chicago Tribune carried a series of articles describing a tour to the Holy Land led by Robert Funk, a distinguished and brilliant biblical scholar, who happens to be the founder of the notorious Jesus Seminar. That’s the group that has been voting with red and black marbles on whether or not the words and deeds of Jesus as reported in the gospels are literally true. Since the seminar is overwhelmingly liberal, it won’t surprise you to learn that they have discounted something like 85% of the words of Jesus as not actually spoken by him. By a vote of 25-1 they also declared that Jesus did not literally and physically rise from the dead.
This week the Tribune reported on various sites Dr. Funk visited with his tour group. He feels free to say, “Jesus didn’t really say that” or “Jesus didn’t really do that.” Two days ago—on Good Friday—the Tribune reported on his comments about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. He doesn’t doubt that Jesus was crucified. But what about the resurrection?
When it comes to the Resurrection, Funk takes a curious view. Following Roman custom, the likelihood is that the body of Jesus suffered the usual fate of a crucified victim; he was either left on the cross as carrion for scavengers … or at best, his crucifiers may have given him the hasty burial afforded criminals in an unknown, shallow, common grave. (Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1998, Section 5, Page 8)
Funk believes that whatever happened on Easter Sunday was spiritual—not the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
A few comments are in order. Despite his great learning, Professor Funk is a fool. The children in our Sunday School know more than he does because they know that Jesus literally rose from the dead. I say we ought to flunk Funk! He illustrates what Peter said in Acts 4. The builders are still rejecting God’s Stone—2000 years later. There is a lesson here for all of us: Not everyone who claims to be a Christian really is. I recall to your mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:21 that not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Not only is Jesus the Rejected Stone, he is also …
II. The Living Stone
In verse 10 Peter plainly says, “You crucified him but God raised him from the dead.” How could the name of Jesus heal the crippled man? It happened because Jesus rose from the dead. He’s the Living Stone of eternal salvation.
I don’t think Peter ever forgot the moment when he stood in front of the rulers of Israel. It must have made a huge impression on him because many years later when he wrote the letter we call First Peter he described Jesus as “the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him” (1 Peter 2:4). Here we have two images joined together—Jesus the Stone and Jesus the Source of Life. When those two come together, what do you get? A Living Stone!
Billy Graham has often said it this way: “A dead Jesus can’t save anyone, but a living Christ can change your life.” Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us that Christ came to free those who were enslaved to the devil through the fear of death. On Friday it looked like the devil won, but on Sunday Jesus won the only battle that really mattered.
The resurrection tells us how it is all going to end for the child of God. The Cathedrals have a song that contains this line: “I’ve read the end of the Book and we win.” It’s true. We win in the end. Knowing the ending helps us deal with what comes in-between. Easter teaches us that when the Battle of the Ages finally comes to the end the home team wins.
The future may not be pleasant but we will overcome it if our faith is in the One who rose from the dead. That’s what it means to call Jesus the Living Stone. It gives us courage to face our own death.
Finally, Jesus the Rejected Stone became the Living Stone who is now …
III. The Cornerstone
You may have noticed that the NIV rendering of Acts 4:11 uses the word “capstone” but includes “cornerstone” as a possible rendering. That’s because the Greek word can be translated both ways. Both are perfectly true when applied to Jesus. Just as the cornerstone was the first stone laid—and thus determined the placement of every other stone—the capstone came last and was placed at the top of the arch—thus holding every other stone in perfect alignment.
God has made Jesus the cornerstone and the capstone of salvation. Everything begins and ends with him! If you miss Jesus, you’ve missed everything God has for you.
No Other Name
Now we come to the end of Peter’s brief message before the Sanhedrin. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). These words sound strange and harsh in this age of tolerance, diversity and political correctness. Surely Peter didn’t really mean what he said, did he? Underline two phrases in verse 12: “Salvation is found in no one else because there is no other name by which we may be saved.” That means you can’t cry out to anyone else and have any hope of salvation. Not Buddha. Not Confucius. Not Krishna. Not Mohammed. Not anyone else but Jesus.
It is “Jesus only and only Jesus.” He is the only Savior God has and only through faith in him can you escape hell. Let every person reading these words ponder the following statements:
1. You cannot reject Christ and have any hope of heaven.
2. You cannot look at any other religious leader for salvation.
3. You cannot combine Christ with anyone else or anything else.
4. You are not free to make up your own religion.
5. You cannot save yourself.
In short you must come to God on His terms—not yours. These words are utterly exclusive and mean exactly what they say. There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus.
The Resurrection Demands a Choice
Over a decade ago Chuck Colson visited India and preached to huge crowds—mostly Hindus because that is the predominant religion of India. He found the people fascinated by the story of his conversion and very responsive when he spoke about Jesus in general terms. But when he spoke of Christ’s resurrection, the mood changed.
When I was in India last fall I had many opportunities to tell what Christ has done in my life. The thousands of faces in those predominantly Hindu crowds would nod and smile as I shared my experience. Hindus believe all roads lead to God—if Jesus was my guru, that was fine. They all had their gurus, too.
But when I spoke of the reason for my faith, the resurrection of Christ, the nods would stop. People’s expressions changed and they listened intently. The fact of the Resurrection demands a choice, one that reduces all other religions to mere philosophies.
He’s right. As long as Jesus is dead, then he’s just another leader who lived and died and is revered by his followers. But if he really rose from the dead, then he stands alone and no one can be compared to him.
Here is the Easter message reduced to one sentence: He was rejected … He rose from the dead … God made him the cornerstone of salvation.
The time has come for you to make a decision one way or the other.
Who is Jesus to you? Rejected stone or the Cornerstone?
Whose side are you on? With those who crucified him or with those who follow him?
A cartoon from the Wall Street Journal shows a man walking up a set of stairs toward the gate of heaven. Above the gate is a sign with two words: “No Deals.” This time the Journal got it absolutely right. God makes no deals when it comes to heaven. You either enter by way of the Cross or you don’t enter at all.
It is sometimes said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. By the same token, the road to heaven is paved with the blood of Christ. Which road are you traveling?
I began this sermon by noting that not everyone shares our Easter joy. What about you? Do not be like the builders who rejected God’s Stone of salvation! Do not reject Jesus Christ. Do not stumble over this rejected stone. The very stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. May God open your eyes to see Jesus as he really is—the Cornerstone of eternal salvation. Amen.