There are really only two ways to respond to Jesus. You can fully submit to Jesus by faith, or you can fully reject Jesus through pride. Throughout the course of Jesus’ ministry, the religious leaders who should have welcomed the Messiah with open arms and bowed heads, were threatened by him and sought a way to kill him. Tradition had taken the place of the Scriptures for the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees. Their minds were so clouded by tradition that they couldn’t recognize the Messiah even when he was standing two feet in front of them.
Following Jesus’ ominous cursing of a fig tree and condemnation of the temple and its leaders, the chief priests and scribes were seeking a way to kill Jesus. They were threatened by his authority and what its implications could have on their own authority. Jesus had essentially pronounced the end of the temple and sacrificial system. It was clear, even to Jesus’ opponents, that something new had arrived in Jesus. And the religious leaders didn’t like it one bit.
In Mark 12, Jesus begins to interact with his religious counterparts by telling them a story. Jesus frequently utilized parables in his teaching, but this is the first parable his opponents clearly understand without explanation.
Jesus’ parable consists of a man who owns a vineyard. He goes on a trip and hires farmers to tend to the vineyard in his absence. When the time comes for fruit to come in, the man sent a series of servants to gather the fruit from the farmers. Instead of handing over the owner’s fruit, the farmers assaulted the servants and sent them back to the owner empty handed. Finally, the owner decides to send his own son to the vineyard. Surely, the owner reasoned, the farmers will have too much respect for me and my son to bring him any harm. To the contrary, the brutal and greedy farmers killed the owner’s son in hopes of snatching his inheritance. Their plan backfires, however, as the owner destroys the farmers and gives the vineyard to others.
The chief priests and scribes immediately recognized that the parable was directed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus. They wanted him dead. All because they recognized what Jesus was saying.
Jesus was comparing the religious leaders and Israel as a whole to the wicked tenant farmers. They had been given the privilege to tend to God’s people and kingdom, but they rejected God and his will for selfish gain. Their lust for power led them by the hand into destruction because of their rejection of God’s Son. The chief priests and scribes wondered where Jesus’ received such authority, but Jesus gave them no answer. Why? Because the answer lied in their reaction to Jesus. They wanted to kill him because his divine authority was a threat to their own.
Both the parable and the reaction of the religious leaders reminded Jesus of a Psalm. He quoted Psalm 118. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” But it wasn’t marvelous in the eyes of the religious leaders. And it isn’t marvelous in the eyes of anyone who does not humbly submit in faith to Jesus.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day rejected Jesus. They cast him away like an unwanted stone. But the stone they rejected is actually the cornerstone. They rejected the foundation and tried to build a faith of their own. But a faith built on anything other than Jesus will crumble. And rejecting the cornerstone not only means your faith is destroyed, but also that you will be destroyed.
Jesus has thrown down the gauntlet. From this point forward, his opponents will be seeking any way to shut him up forever. In the words of Tim Keller, you can either crown Jesus or kill Jesus. There is no middle ground.
Mathew Gilbert is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God. Mathew and his wife, Erica, live in Tupelo with their two boys, Jude and Jack.