Even as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame.Romans 9:33 ASV
This quotation is a fusion of two passages from Isaiah. They read thus in the Old Testament:
Therefore, thus saith the Lord, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.Isaiah 28:16
And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:14).
In both these passages, mention is made of a stone; but the predicates of this stone, as given in the latter passage, are transferred to the other, and those there are omitted.
The great significance of Paul’s introduction of these quotations is the clear and emphatic prediction that Israel would stumble upon it.
It was foretold in the most dramatic form that “both the houses of Israel would find this precious corner stone, not only a rock of stumbling and offense, but a gin and a snare.” Again, the blindness of the religious hierarchy to such stark and dreadful warnings must ever remain a mystery.
JESUS CHRIST THE LIVING STONE
If ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious: unto whom coming, a living stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious, ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Because it is contained in scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious; And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame.
For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; and A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient. (1 Peter 2:3-8).
Compared to the life story of a stone, the lives of the most interesting men seem dull and commonplace.
Take, as an example, the Star of Africa, which adorns the scepter of England’s queen.
It is old by millenniums and eons of time, but seems as little affected by the receding centuries as the stars themselves.
And yet, at one time, it was a lump of black carbon, folded and pressured by the undulating layers of prehistoric earth; and how it came to be a jewel in a monarch’s regalia is a romance as exciting as the story of the earth itself.
Again, glance at the seared residue of Ahnighito (79,000-pound meteorite in Museum of Natural History, New York).
Like the angels cast out of heaven, it has fallen from its first estate, having once coasted through measureless reaches of the universe at thousands of miles an hour for numberless thousands of years.
It was snared, at last, by the tricky atmosphere of the earth and sank in flaming robes of fire upon a mountain side, from whence it journeyed to its place as a gazingstock in a museum.
And look at that great boulder, a mighty erratic, speaking of the ice age, the distinctive markings of its serrated surface witnessing to the power of the great glacier that plowed it up from the bed of a continent and floated it upon a sea of ice for a thousand miles to where it now rests in isolated splendor, a grey sentinel of yesterdays which preceded the race of people.
That chalk-like limestone with its arms full of seashells (the San Jacinto Monument) was once the bottom of the ocean floor and was formed by innumerable generations of marine life that sank to the cold oblivion of its midnight depths, where it waited half an eternity for the buckling of the earth’s crust to lift it upward to the light and to the interest of a being called man.
The same exciting story is everywhere a stone is found. That lump of lava that cooled only yesterday, as geologists count time, was boiling hot for five hundred centuries.
Those flat pebbles on the beach were machined and polished by ocean waves and tides, not merely of centuries, but of millenniums.
A grain of sand has a history that staggers the imagination.
In the petrified forest of Arizona, one stands in amazement and awe.
That stone forest was once a flourishing mantle of green growth; songbirds built their nests there; and God’s myriad children of the out-of-doors dwelt there through ages and cycles of time.
But NOW, those great trees are stone, hard as flint, with the dead weight of time upon them, incredible things, lying stark and still there in the desert sun, but with a message in their stone branches that brings a catch in the throat and unwilling mist in the eyes.
Christ is the “living stone”; and, in this, our Lord infinitely surpasses the metaphor without in any manner diminishing the effectiveness of it, because the Living Stone partakes of the likeness of many other types of stones. Like the meteorite, he is a visitor from another sphere.
The Dayspring from on High came from above and beyond our poor earth to bring redemption and eternal life to people.
Surely, it could have been none other than the Spirit of God who gave the sacred writers so apt a metaphor of the Son of God. He is truly the Living Stone.
This living stone is the foundation stone, as Isaiah said. He is the foundation of all that is good and desirable in human civilization. Especially of the church, he is the foundation.
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid which is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11).
What is built upon Christ will endure.
As he himself revealed, to build upon the rock is to keep the sayings of the Master (Matthew 7:24).
This living stone is a tried stone, as stated in both Testaments. He was in all points tempted as people are (Hebrews 4:5).
The fact of our Lord’s being tried brings to the Christian supreme confidence in two important particulars, these being the infallibility of Christ and the perfect sympathy he has for his children.
We know that he cannot fail, for he has already been tried and tested, and we know that he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
This living stone is a precious stone (1 Peter 2:7), precious by any standard of determination, precious because of his beauty (though his beauty is not of an earthly type, Isaiah 53:2), precious because of the love he showed to people, precious because of the hope he brings, and precious in every way.
We shall see “the King in his beauty” (Isaiah 33:17).
He is unique, there being none other. He alone provides salvation. The ties of the heart’s highest and best affection attain their ultimate strength in Christ.
This living stone is a corner stone (Isaiah 28:16), an appropriate designation indeed. In him law ended and grace began; in him God submitted to his deepest humiliation and humanity attained its greatest exaltation.
In him time and eternity struck hands together; in him the Old Testament was fulfilled and the New Testament was established; in him the righteous shall be glorified and the wicked frustrated.
This living stone is a growing stone.
In the dream of the mighty king of Babylon, centuries before Christ was born, he saw a little stone cut out of a mountain without hands, which struck the kingdoms of this world upon their feet of clay, overcame them, ground them to powder, and grew until it filled the whole world.
That growing stone is Christ, and the growth is still in progress, nor shall it ever cease until the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. Amen.
The living stone is a refuge, or sanctuary. As it is written:
And he shall be a sanctuary (Isaiah 8:14).
A man shall be a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, and as the shadow of a mighty rock in a weary land (Isaiah 32:2).
This living stone is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. It was this particular aspect of him that prompted Paul’s introduction of this metaphor into this part of Romans.
Christ’s being foretold as “a rock of stumbling” by Isaiah was a prophecy of Israel’s rejection of Christ. And how did they stumble on Christ? Peter explained it thus:
They stumbled at the word, being disobedient.
People stumbled upon Christ (and they still do), accounting his commandments as “hard sayings” (John 6:60); people stumble through pride which is offended at the lowliness of Jesus’ birth, and draw back from following one born in a stable, laid in a manger, nursed under the palms of Egypt, schooled in a carpenter’s shop, attended by fishermen, mocked by the soldiers in the common hall, crucified between two thieves, and buried in a borrowed grave. Christ has ever been, in such things as those, a stumbling stone to the proud.
Paul said: “We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23,24).
Oh, then to the Rock let me fly, To the Rock that is higher than I!
The living stone is also the rejected stone. This phase of this extensive metaphor is founded upon an historical incident, described by Dean Plumptre thus:
The illustration seems to have been drawn from one of the stones used in the building of the great temple in Jerusalem, quarried, hewn, and marked away from the site of the temple, which the builders, ignorant of the head architect’s plans, had put to one side, as having no place in the building.
But which was found afterwards to be that upon which the completeness of the structure depended, that on which, as the chief corner stone, the two walls met, and were bonded together.
In this analogy, the Jewish hierarchy in Jerusalem were the builders who rejected the Christ who is the head of the corner.