"But Jesus didn't back down. ’Why, then, do you think this was written?
"That stone the masons threw out --
It's now the cornerstone!"
'Anyone falling over that stone will break every bone in his body; if the stone falls on anyone, it will be a total smash-up.'
"The religion scholars and high priests wanted to lynch Him on the spot, but they were intimidated by public opinion. They knew the story was about them." Luke 20:17-20 (The Message).
"There are two kinds of people in the world...!" Ever heard that statement?
In this incident, the two kinds of people are -- those who use criticism wisely and those who want to silence the critic! Jesus' antagonists fell into the second category. Even destructive and unkind criticism can be beneficial if one eats the meat and spits out the bones.
In this instance, it would have been eternally beneficial for them if they had taken Jesus' words seriously. His intention was neither destructive nor unkind. He had tried everything to get them to wake up and realise where they were headed, but to no avail. They belonged to the category of unteachable people, those who were too proud to admit they were wrong and to want to know the truth more than to preserve their egos.
The only thing that stopped them from carrying out their murderous intention was their fear of public opinion. Of course, that was right in line with their general attitude anyway. They always played to the crowd, but in this instance, public opinion would only drive them underground until the time was right and they could get the crowd on their side.
In the heat of this furore, once again Jesus kept His cool. He knew He was right because He always stood on the side of truth. But His being right was not an image or an ego thing. It was an earnest plea to heed His words because of the consequences.
He was quoting Psalm 118:22, a fragment from a Messianic prophecy. The religious leaders would have been familiar with the Scripture and the insinuation that Jesus was the cornerstone, which would have riled them even more. Therefore they were enraged on two counts, His outright exposure of their intended plan to kill Him, and His Messianic claim which they interpreted as blasphemy.
The cornerstone of which Jesus spoke, not only supported the entire structure, it was also the test everyone has to pass or fail on their way to eternity. Every person either "falls over" the stone or will be crushed by the stone. This sounds like a heartless statement, and it would be except for one reality -- everyone has a choice.
The way we respond to the "cornerstone" is the way we understand and treat the mercy of God. He has provided a way of escape from the inevitable result of our rebellion against Him. He warned the first pair that disobedience would bring death, but they did not believe Him. Because of their rebellion, death came on the whole human race. God sent His own Son, the "cornerstone", to pay the debt we all owe Him so that we can go free.
That does not mean that we are free to do our own thing because there is no longer a penalty. It means that God will have mercy on those who return to Him and recognise and come under His authority by accepting His offer of forgiveness and entrusting ourselves to His love. When we fall over the cornerstone, we are broken of our stubborn self-will. We submit to Him by choice and we are on a new road to true freedom.
The other option is to be crushed by the cornerstone. For God to be perfectly just, He has no alternative. He must be true to His nature and to His word. Imagine His heartbreak when He has to consign rebels to destruction because they decided to reject His offer when they could have had life!