The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes (Psalm 118:22; Matthew 21:42; Ephesians 2:19-21; Romans 9:33).
Come all of you who set your trust
On treasure corrupted by moth and rust,
Reckoning your value by what you possess,
Needing ever more stuff as your key to success.
Examine yourself, ask what you are worth;
Riches don’t lie in the mines of the earth.
Sands may shift, but one defence holds tight –
The lamb of God, the world’s one true light
Our rock of ages, our secure foundation
Name above all names from the dawn of creation
Emmanuel, the firm hope of every nation.
Once, in a house group meeting, we touched upon Peter being the rock on which Jesus would build his church. I thought this was quite uncontroversial until one – very well informed and mature – member took great issue with the idea of Peter, rather than Jesus, being the ‘rock’ of the church. The discussion became quite heated. Clearly, Jesus had said that Peter would be the rock on which the church would be founded (Matthew 16:18); equally, Jesus is the foundation of the church, and its true ‘rock’.
Although I felt we were becoming unnecessarily argumentative, I discovered afterwards that this was no mere play on words. Evidently there is a vein of reformed theology that challenges the interpretation of Peter as the bedrock.
Personally, I can quite easily accept the idea of Peter being the rock. Once he had learned his lesson about how easily one can deny Jesus when caught off-guard, he became the rock, the reliable friend. He became the rock on which the church would not be washed away when the storms came: unlike the house built on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). I’m fine with this, provided Jesus is the cornerstone.
Especially in ancient times, a cornerstone was the principal stone placed at a corner of a building to guide the laying of the masonry. Once it was laid, the remaining walls would be aligned correctly because the measuring line would direct them along the correct horizontal and the plumb line would guarantee the vertical. Hence, Isaiah 28:17 foretells that the ‘precious cornerstone’ would have justice as his measuring line and righteousness as his plumb line.
But as a cornerstone, Jesus is living stone (1 Peter 2:4), dwelling among His chosen people. Of course, some did not accept Jesus, for as Psalm 118:22 famously states: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”
Without a properly laid cornerstone a building would likely be skew and unstable. As bad as if it were built on a foundation of sand. If Peter was the rock to stabilise the infant church, then Jesus was the foundation stone giving us true direction, based on God’s justice and righteousness. I find these principles complementary, rather than contradictory.
At the time of writing I have recently returned from an Advent service at St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Twice the term cornerstone appeared, as if prompting me to write this reflection. In the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel the final verse asked, “Thou Cornerstone, uniting all, restore the ruin of our fall”. The New Testament reading included: “…you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).
If we say Jesus is our cornerstone, are we willing to let him set our measuring and plumb lines?
(Cornerstone appears on my New Testament: The Early Church page).