Jesus Christ the RockRomans 9:32-33
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, January 16, 2011
Copyright © 2011, P.G. Mathew
In Romans 9:32-33, Paul presents us with a stone: “a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” This stumbling stone is a massive stone, not a pebble. This stone is a living person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Messiah-stone, the Savior and Judge of the world. By grace he stands as a stone in our path, meeting us just as the angel of the Lord met Baalam in his way (Num. 22:22-35). If you sit on this rock by believing in him and committing yourself to him, you will enjoy the everlasting rest of eternal life. But if you ignore him, you will stumble against him and be destroyed. The choice is clear: humble and be saved, or stumble and be destroyed.
Jesus Christ the Rock
Moses said, “[The LORD] is the Rock; his works are perfect. . . . Jeshurun grew fat and kicked. . . and rejected the Rock his Savior” (Deut. 32:4, 15). David said, “I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge” (Ps. 18:1-2). The Bible says God is the Rock and that Jesus is the Rock. Therefore, we may make the conclusion that Jesus is God.
The Old Testament often spoke of the Messiah as a rock. This was the understanding of Judaism long before the time of Paul. So Paul, as well as Peter, understood that passages like Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16 referred to Jesus the Messiah. Jesus himself understood this way of interpreting the rock passages. For instance, he quoted Psalm 118:22 in reference to himself: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Matt. 21:42).
Moses spoke about Jeshurun (Israel) kicking and rejecting his Rock-Savior. Isaiah and the psalmist predicted this would happen. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, was a rock, lying in the way of the Jews, the people of God. He came and talked to them, taught them, proclaimed the kingdom of God to them, performed miracles for them, and rebuked them for their evil deeds. Yet they ignored this Rock-Messiah lying in their way, confronting them. Therefore, they stumbled and fell.
Isaiah also predicted the hostility of the Messiah to those Jews who did not believe: “To them he became a trap and a snare” (Isa. 8:14). Let this be a warning to us. When we fight with the Rock, we will lose every time. When we kick against our Rock-Messiah, we will be wounded and trapped by the cosmic trapper. The proper response to Jesus Christ, this massive stone, is to receive by faith the justification he brings.
Yet the vast majority of Paul’s kinsmen rejected their Messiah. They thought they did not need a Savior. Instead, they wanted to justify themselves by their own good works. So they heaped up mountains of their own good deeds, which God calls stinking, filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).
Paul himself stumbled over the Rock. He gloried in his good works of the law, declaring himself blameless before God (Phil. 3). He did so until his blind eyes were opened by a supernatural miracle of the Holy Spirit.
There are only two responses to Jesus our mighty Rock-Messiah: We can rest on him, believe on him and be saved; or we can kick against him and be destroyed. This is what Paul is speaking about in Romans 9:32-33: salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, or damnation on the basis of human work-righteousness. How many of us have said, “I did it my way!” But our way will never work. We must do it his way. God is not impressed by puny people saying, “I did it my way.” All those who do it their way will be sent to eternal hell.
The Attributes of the Rock
Let us examine the attributes of this massive stone, our Lord Jesus Christ.
1) An Intelligent Rock
He is an intelligent rock. We read, “‘See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day'” (Zech. 3:9).
This stone has seven eyes, which tells us this Messiah possesses infinite intelligence. His eyes are like flaming fire. He knows all things about all his creatures all the time. He sees all things in one view. Therefore, we cannot lie to him or hide from him. Achan and his family tried to hide, and Ananias and his wife tried to lie, but they were not successful. They all died.
Our problem is our sin, which he removes based on his own cross-work of Good Friday: “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.” Friends, trust this infinite, intelligent Jesus Christ and be saved. The prophet told Asa, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen [that is, to save] those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chron. 16:9). God wants us to have faith in him. On the other hand, he will destroy everyone who will not trust in him.
2) An Immovable Rock
He is a rock that cannot be moved. “On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves” (Zech. 12:3). The Lord made Jerusalem, the people of God, a massive, immovable rock for all enemy nations. All who try to move him only injure themselves. This is a picture of the church built upon the foundation of the living Stone, the Messiah. Believers, the living stones, are built into it, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The message is, don’t mess with the Messiah’s church; you will only injure yourself.
3) A Rock of Stumbling
He is a stumbling stone. Isaiah declares, “The LORD Almighty [the Lord Sabbaoth, the Lord of the armies] is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare” (Isa. 8:13-14). One day I noticed some mouse droppings near my desk, so we put out a trap. When I came the next day, I heard a plaintive cry. Sure enough, the mouse was caught in the trap. It was struggling to get out, but it could not. No one gets out of the trap God sets.
Unbelieving Israel feared the Assyrian invasion coming as a mighty flood to wipe out all who did not trust in the Lord of Israel. But the Lord told Isaiah and his people, “Do not fear what they fear.” In other words, there is a difference between believers and unbelievers. Believers are to rest in God; let the unbelievers rebel against the Lord and be destroyed. Believers should fear the holy God and live a life pleasing to him. So the psalmist exhorts, “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Ps. 2:11).
As we sanctify the Lord, he will be a sanctuary, refuge, and salvation for us. But this sanctuary will be a stone of stumbling to those who, like Ahaz, refuse to believe in the Lord. They will stumble and fall. The rock will see to it.
God will be a trap and a snare for all unbelievers. They will be trapped, taken and, destroyed. Peter understood this, so he applied this passage to Jesus in 1 Peter 3:14-15: “‘Do not fear what they [unbelievers] fear. Do not be frightened'” by the world or the devil, that is. “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” In other words, we must sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. As we live out our confession that Jesus is Lord, the Lord will be our sanctuary and their stone of stumbling.
Peter saw that the God Almighty of Isaiah 8:13 is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Lord of the armies. If he is for us, who can be against us? He is Immanuel, the Mighty God, mighty to save his people. He is the pillar of cloud and of fire that goes with us as we journey on our way to heaven. He is our shelter in the time of storm. Others are broken and taken, but we are safe in the sanctuary of God. David says, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6). God is our safe haven. Zechariah says the Lord is a wall of fire around us and will be the glory within the city of God (Zech. 2:5).
Fear God, and the fear of God will keep you from sinning. Why do people sin? They do not fear God, and therefore they do not fear anyone else. That is the simple truth.
4) A Rock of Salvation
He is the rock of salvation. Isaiah says: “So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘See [Behold, open your eyes, take a look at it], I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place'” (Isa. 28:16-17). Jesus refers to this in Matthew 7:24 and following.
To be saved, we either put our trust in the Rock-Messiah, or in our own heap of filthy self-righteousness rags. But the Bible says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). Neither religion or philosophy or science or art or national alliances can save us. Only Christ can. Do not make human lies your refuge, because they will be swept away-the lies of salvation by our own works.
The Lord says, “See, I lay a stone in Zion.” The Sovereign Lord took the initiative to save us by sending his Son into the world to live a life of humiliation and die a terrible death on the cross as a cursed blasphemer. He died in our place, bearing our sins.
“I lay in Zion a stone.” This is a massive, strong, consistent, unchanging, abiding, reliable stone, like El Capitan. It is a tested stone. The devil tempted Jesus, and the Father tested him. He defeated the devil and passed all the tests of the Father. Jesus came to do the Father’s will, and he did, saying, “It is finished.” By his death on the cross, he accomplished our redemption. His Father certified him: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” All the world, listen to him, including the angels. They are looking down to understand God’s plan of redemption for human beings.
He is also a testing stone, especially testing those who profess to be Christians. As God tested Abraham, so he tests us. He will cut down trees that do not bear fruit and winnow out the chaff from the wheat. The true people of God will be tested and some will die for their faith: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” (Rev. 12:11).
He is also a precious stone. Who can estimate the worth of the eternal Son, the sinless God-man? It is infinite. He is the treasure buried in the field, waiting for our discovery. He is the pearl of great price, for which we sell all so that we can possess him as Lord and Savior. Peter says we are saved by “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:19). The rich young ruler did not see the infinite worth of this Messiah, so he went away sad. But he is precious, and in him we are also precious.
He is the foundation stone. Christ is the sure foundation for the church. No one can destroy the church because no one can destroy this foundation stone, Jesus Christ. Build your life, the life of your family, and the life of the church on this foundation stone: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). This foundation shall never give way; though hail, floods, storm, and rain may come, the church built upon this Rock-Messiah will abide forever. It is mightier than anything the devil or the world can marshal against it. The gates of hell shall crumble before the church built on this foundation.
The foundation of most churches is not Jesus Christ or the apostles’ doctrine. Therefore, God’s anathema (curse) rests on them. Such are not churches but synagogues of Satan. But the church built upon Christ by Christ shall abide forever.
Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). The life, the family, and the church built upon the Rock will stand forever. Don’t build on the sandy foundation of human philosophies and ideas. Build on the Rock-Messiah. (PGM) The sand foundation of human work-righteousness must be rejected. It is rubbish, filthy rags. Build on the rock foundation of grace righteousness-that is, live by faith in Christ. Build on the foundation stone of Jesus.
He is also the cornerstone. The cornerstone is the first stone laid when a building is constructed. Every other stone must relate to it. It is the standard that determines the orientation and strength of the building.
He is the living stone. On him are placed the living stones of believers to complete the spiritual temple of God’s church. As the living stone, Jesus was rejected by the builders (i.e., the leaders of Israel, the Sanhedrin). They were looking for a Messiah they could design. Christ would not conform to their design, so they rejected and crucified him. But Jesus rose from the dead, conquering sin, hell, death, Satan, the world, and the flesh. He told John the apostle, “I was dead, but behold, I am alive forevermore. I hold in my hands the keys of hell and death” (Rev. 1:18, author’s translation). This living stone lives forever.
Christ is the living foundation stone, and we are small living stones, made alive by Jesus, who is the life-giving Spirit. We were made alive by his resurrection. Peter says in 1 Peter 1:3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He is the living stone because God raised him up, and we are living stones because Christ raises us up. The Lord adds to the church such as should be saved.
Peter also says:
As you come to him, the living Stone [that is, the foundation]-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message-which is also what they were destined for (1 Pet. 2:4-8)
As we come by faith to the living Stone, we are being built into a spiritual house. The church is not a pile of autonomous stones, lying around without relationship to anyone, coming and going when they feel like it, with no connection to the foundation Stone or the other living stones. We are a house built by God and Christ. We are permanent; we don’t move around. We are committed to Christ and the people of God. We are a spiritual house in which God dwells and where we offer spiritual sacrifices as his priests.
This Stone is rejected by many: the wise, the powerful, the rich, the politicians, the scientists, and even so-called Christians. Yet he is chosen by God, and we are chosen in him. He is beloved of God, and in him we are beloved of God.
This Stone is precious to God and honored by him. So also in Christ we are precious to God and honored by him. Let the world mock Christ and Christians. Let them slander us. Know one thing: we are chosen in Christ, precious in Christ, and honored by God in Christ.
5) The Rejected Rock
Psalm 118:22 states that the rock was rejected; Jesus applies this to himself in Matthew 21:42. He was conscious that the rock sayings in the Old Testament referred to him. Peter understood the same thing and quoted Psalm 118:22 in Acts 4:11.
Fully aware that the Old Testament stone sayings were messianic, Jesus asked the builders of Israel, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matt. 21:42). These builders looked at this stone (Jesus), found fault with him, and rejected him. But it became the capstone by divine ordination. And so Jesus said to those who were rejecting him, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matt. 21:43).
The kingdom of God is eternal life. It is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. It is everlasting communion with God and his people. The kingdom of God is God’s beneficent rule by his Son for our indescribable blessing and happiness. Jesus was warning that this kingdom would be taken away from the rebels who stumbled and did not trust in the Messiah, and would be given to those who believe in him and live for him. Those who believe in him shall not be ashamed, but will be saved by this stone.
6) A Rock that Breaks the Rebels
Jesus refers to himself as the stone when he says, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed” (Matt. 21: 44). He was speaking of the messianic stone sayings of the Old Testament (i.e., Isaiah 8:14; Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45). The stone is Christ. The stone is salvation for those who believe in him. We can rest on this stone, and it will be a sanctuary for those who sanctify him, who set him apart as Lord in their hearts (1 Peter 3:15). He is salvation based on his cross work of atonement.
That is one choice we face with this stone. But if we reject him, then he will break us to pieces. Yes, he saves his people, but he also breaks arrogant rebels. If we reject him, this stone will crush us and cast us into eternal hell. Jesus spoke about hell more times than anyone else because he created it for rebellious angels and humans.
Fall on this massive rock, or it will fall on you. This stone destroys rebels and their arrogance. Suppose someone speaks arrogantly. Just wait: this stone will fall on him and break him. Jesus is not like a passive father who never rebukes his children. He is the Lamb that is slain; he is also the Lion of Judah.
There is an ancient Jewish saying: “If a stone falls on a clay pot, woe to the pot! And if the pot falls on the stone, woe to the pot!” That is the story of an unbelieving, arrogant rebel. Such people stumble and fall on this rock. They are offended by Jesus because he said, “I and the Father are one,” thus asserting his deity. And they were offended at his humanity, this stable-born king of the Jews, a poor laborer, a carpenter. They were offended because he was uneducated. He never sat under world-renowned rabbis like Gamaliel. They were offended because he was illegitimate, or so they thought. They were offended because he was a sabbath breaker. They were offended because he regularly violated traditions of the elders. They were offended because he forgave sins and they asked, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” They were offended because he claimed to be the Messiah. They were offended because he was a friend of publicans and sinners; he received them and ate with them. They were offended because he taught salvation by grace and not by works. They were offended because he embraced the death of the cross. His refusal to come down from it proved in their minds that he was all they said he was: cursed, a blasphemer, a Samaritan, Beelzebub, a glutton, and a drunkard. They stumbled on this Stone, and they were broken.
Paul was a rebel too, but now he writes, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).
Jesus predicted the destruction of the rebels. The clay pots will be broken, either by falling on the stone and breaking, or by being crushed by the stone falling on them. This is still true of everyone, including millions of nominal Christians throughout the world. It may be true of those who sit here but have never believed in him. Every unbeliever is a rebel.
Daniel spoke to the arrogant King Nebuchadnezzar of this falling stone and the destruction it produces:
While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were broken to pieces at the same time and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth. (Dan. 2:34-35)
In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands-a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy. (Dan. 2:44-45)
The stone breaks the rebellious, the arrogant, the unyielding, and the unbelieving. Examine yourself and see if you are unbelieving and arrogant. If so, know that he is against you and will fall on you at any moment. He will break you, crush you, and pulverize you.
This smashing and breaking into pieces of arrogant rebels takes place in history. Jesus is the Lord of history. He has received all authority in heaven and on earth. He sets up kings and kingdoms and puts them down. Simeon correctly prophesied: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-5). When we say Jesus is Lord and we must believe in him, some people’s interior hatred against God and his Son manifests itself.
Do you respond to the gospel of this Rock-Messiah in faith or in unbelief? Depending on your reaction, you will be saved or crushed by Jesus himself. This Christ, who was raised from the dead and is reigning, is coming again to judge the living and the dead. He will come in great glory. Daniel saw this and said, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man [rock cut out, not by human hands, coming again], coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). Every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God the Father (see Phil. 2:10-11).
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away or be destroyed. That is why John the Baptist, Jesus himself, the apostles, and this pastor have all said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” God is offering us his free, gracious salvation to be received by faith. If we do not receive it, he will break us.
7) The Beaten Rock
This Rock-Messiah was beaten in our place. So we read, “The LORD answered Moses, ‘Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.’ So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel” (Exod. 17:5-6).
As the water of life gushed out from the rock, they drank it. Paul says, “[The people of Israel] all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). This beaten, stricken rock is the Rock-Messiah in all his humiliation. He is the crucified Jesus, as John writes: “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (John 19:34). Jesus cleanses our sins by his precious blood and quenches our thirst with his living water that comes from the cross of Christ. Paul says, “Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).
How will you respond to this Stone? Paul says that everyone who believes in him will not be ashamed, but will surely be saved. Peter said this: “He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to me by which we may be saved” (Acts 4:11-12). This stone is the Son, the Messiah, the only Savior. Did you say, “I have no desire to repent”? Did you say, “I do not want to believe in Jesus Christ”? Or did you say in a very cultured way, “Not now”? Not wanting to offend me, did you say, “I need more time”? Or were you more honest, and say, “I don’t want to stop sinning”? Did you say, “I don’t want to read the word of God”? Did you say, “I don’t want to go to the church to worship”? If so, count on this: You will be broken. Soon a stone not cut by human hands will come down from heaven upon all clay pots who refuse to humble themselves and repent. Woe to the pot!
Listen to Jesus: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’ . . . Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Matt. 25:31-34, 41).
Listen to the language of the Holy Spirit in the book of Revelation. He is speaking of the arrogant and unbelieving: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). And in the last chapter we read, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Rev. 22:15).
I beseech you to humble yourself, repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved today. Then you can join with the psalmist and say: “I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (Ps. 18:1-3).
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