God the Rock – The Stumbling Stone

God the Rock – The Stumbling Stone

God the Rock – The Stumbling Stone.

“He will be a stone to stumble over, a rock obstructing their way; a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Many of them will stumble and fall, be broken and trapped and captured.” (Isaiah 8:14-5).

One dominant messianic theme in the Hebrew Bible was the prophecy that the coming Messiah would be a “rock of offense.” The Messiah would be rejected by many, including the religious authorities. This message of rejection was repeated at least five times in the New Testament. Jesus referred to Psalm 118:22 many times when He spoke of being rejected by His own people and by the leaders. “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.” (re, Matt. 21:42; Mrk 12:10-11; Luke 20:17). And Jesus, as well as the early Christians, was not shy about letting the authorities know that their rejection of the Messiah, of Jesus the Anointed One, was actually prophesied in Scripture.

Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit when he appeared before the Temple leadership soon after Christ’s ascension: “For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scripture, where it says, ‘the stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone!” (Acts 4:11). Peter amplified this theme in his letter, 1 Peter 2:6-8. After quoting Isaiah 28:16 referring once again to the “cornerstone in Jerusalem,” Peter refers to Isaiah 8:4, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes others fall. They stumble because they do not obey God’s word.”

If Jesus Messiah was a stumbling stone, a rock to trip over, a Rock of Offense, what did Jesus do that was so offensive? How was Jesus living in such a way as to make people stumble over Him? How could anyone be so offended by a Person so full of love and mercy, of good will and comfort, of wisdom and insight? Why did Jesus feel compelled to say early in His ministry, “Blessed are those who are not offended in me.” (Matt. 11:6). Perhaps people tripped over Jesus as prophesied in Scripture because they fell hard over “offenses” like these:

(1.) Authority. Jesus spoke with authority, and acted with authority, and he seemed to assume authority in His ministry. His audience often left Him thinking, He was a man who could speak with authority, not like these Temple leaders. Christ’s authority was a major sticking point with the Pharisees and other leading religious figures. Jesus was often verbally assaulted after saying and doing things, by accusations like, From where do you get the authority to do this, Jesus? Who gave you the authority to whip the moneychangers in the Temple? Where did you get the authority to speak as if you know the mind of Yahweh? The religious authorities were jealous of Jesus, they were threatened by Jesus, and revealed that they actually did not have much spiritual authority at all. This caused many to stumble over Jesus.

(2.) Conflicting Values. Jesus valued traits like humility and honesty, grace and forgiveness, mercy and generosity. Sometimes Jesus held up servants and shepherds and farmers as role models. He discipled women and others who were overlooked and undervalued. He healed the unclean, He ate with sinners. It’s clear that Jesus had a whole different value system than many around him. This offended many and became a stumbling block for those who didn’t try to understand Him.

(3.) Misunderstanding. Jesus spoke with many parables and stories and allusions, and quite often the listeners were not quite up to the task of understanding what He was saying. For those who didn’t pursue His teaching points, they would remain confused and muddled. Jesus often said things that would easily be misunderstood in order to separate the serious disciples from the more casual observer. After declaring that He came down from heaven in John 6:41, for instance, the people said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” Jesus said things in His ministry that often led to misunderstandings, sometimes because they took Him literally instead of figuratively, and sometimes because they thought they knew him and refused to consider another perspective. Sometimes He was purposely unclear so that it would motivate those who really wanted to understand Him to follow Him more nearly and learn more deeply. For those who wanted to stay on a more superficial level with Jesus, they simply wouldn’t understand him. This remained a stumbling block throughout His ministry.

(4.) Difficult Words. Jesus wasn’t afraid to speak the truth in ways that He knew were difficult to accept. He wasn’t shy about speaking words that would be difficult to believe. One example is in John 6, when He said they would have no life in themselves unless they ate His body and drank His blood. Every Jew knew that it was forbidden to eat meat that wasn’t kosher, no less human flesh! And every Jew knew that it was forbidden to drink blood (Lev. 17). This was all repellant to religious Jews because it contradicts what they know about Scripture, and it had cannibalistic overtones too! Many left Jesus after these difficult words. A message like that proved to be a stumbling block to many.

(5.) Different Expectations. The Jews were primed for a victorious Messiah who would save the day and restore the throne of David. The Messiah was to be a triumphant king who would lead the nation into an idyllic era of universal justice and righteousness and peace. Jesus was a very different kind of Messiah, at least on the surface. He was the type of Messiah who would prove triumphant only through death, victory through defeat. He was executed as a common criminal, killed before He could fulfill their idea of what the Messiah was sent to do. This was proof positive for many that Jesus was not the Messiah everyone expected… “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block.” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

(6.) I AM. Could there be anything more offensive to religious leaders than to see someone put himself on equal footing with the object of their worship, the Great I AM, the unspeakable Yahweh? Jesus spoke the I AM formula over 20 times in the gospel of John alone, and each time He declared I AM it was scandalous. It was outlandish in the eyes of Temple authorities for Jesus to claim to be co-equal to their eternal God in heaven. To assume the personal, holy Name of Yahweh given to Moses at the Burnish Bush! Jesus overtly claimed that He had eternal kinship with the Almighty God of Israel. This claim of I AM meant that Jesus declared His divinity and was not merely a super-prophet, a master teacher, a faith healer, or an inspired exorcist. This was one big reason Jesus was a Rock of Offense to so many who stumbled over this outrageous claim.

(7.) Works v. Faith. In Romans 9:30-32, Paul states, “Gentiles, even though they were not striving for righteousness, have obtained righteousness; but it is a righteousness grounded in trusting! However, Israel, even though they kept pursuing a Torah that offers righteousness, did not reach what the Torah offers. Why? Because they didn’t pursue righteousness as being grounded in trusting but as if it were grounded in doing legalistic works. They stumbled over the stone that makes people stumble.” (Complete Jewish Bible). In other words, people will trip over Jesus and fall flat on their face if they pursue a relationship with God by works and not faith. Those who think they can earn God’s favor and His salvation will be sorely disappointed and are clearly in conflict with the message of Jesus. This issue of faith, not works, was a major stumbling block for the religious authorities, who invested their whole lives on works righteousness.

(8.) Anger and Guilt. Jesus was the ultimate Whistleblower regarding the evils of the world. He uncovered the wickedness of the world. Various versions of John 7:7 are interesting… I provoke hatred because I show the world how evil its deeds really are; I give evidence that the world’s ways are evil; I keep telling the world how wicked its ways are; I expose the evils behind the world’s pretensions. Because Jesus was utterly pure, sometimes He didn’t even have to say or do a thing for people to see how He contrasts with the ways of the world. Sometimes the very presence of Jesus revealed the impurity of the world, merely by people noticing the contrast between Jesus and everybody else. No doubt, many felt truly guilty after being exposed, and hopefully they went straight to Jesus to receive comfort and forgiveness. Others felt angry that their inner nature was exposed for all the world to see, their pretensions were revealed. Jesus said in John 7:7 that the world hated Him because He kept accusing the world of its evil ways. In being a moral and spiritual whistleblower, Jesus was a stone of stumbling for many.

(9.) Judgment. Jesus seemed to reserve His harshest rebukes for those religious leaders who were hard-hearted and closed-minded. In Matthew 23, it’s as if He has been saving it in order to let it all come out at this moment, for He called them every name in the book. He accused them of missing the whole point of Scripture and then leading his people astray. He accused them of being religious hypocrites, of being pretentious and seeking honor and privilege. He criticized them for exalting themselves and seeking the admiration of people. Jesus said that because their eyes remained on themselves, they have lost sight of God. Matthew 23 is known as the “Grand Critique,” and was His most famous attack on the religious authorities. He didn’t mince words as He verbally cleared the Temple, basically declaring, I’ve had it with you! I’ve lost my patience with you! Woe unto you! For you are headed for disaster if you keep leading my people stray! The Temple leaders reacted the way we would expect them to, they were mortally offended. How does this unofficial rabbi from an uneducated class of Jews dare to judge us like this! The plain talk of Jesus in this passage did not exactly endear Him to the Temple authorities. They resented his accusations, and they wanted Him to pay for it with His life. The righteous judgments of the Lord proved to be a stone of stumbling once again.

(10.) Father and Son. Because the Aramaic term “abba” for father was so intimate and familiar, orthodox Jews refused to say it. But Jesus assumed intimacy with the Father and referred to abba all the time, and even encouraged His disciples to use that term in their prayers. Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of God, as did His followers. Christ implied an eternal intimacy between Him and the heavenly Father, that He has come in the Father’s name, that His words are actually the Father’s words, that He is the only access to the Father. Jesus claimed that only the Son, Himself, truly knows the Father in heaven. He declared that the Father and Son are essentially One… the Father in the Son, the Son in the Father. Many Jews were outraged that Jesus would make these claims. They quoted the great Shema, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” So the Father is indivisible, there can’t be two Gods! What Jesus says about Himself and the Father is sacrilegious, it is blasphemy, it is outrageous and simply can’t be tolerated. Yes, the relationship between the Father and Jesus, between the Father and the Son, was rejected by many and became a great rock of offense.

After considering these ten ways Jesus proved to be offensive, and surely there are other examples, is it any wonder that Jesus felt the need to say, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” (Matt. 11:6).