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This chapter is an example of what I had in mind when I first started this Isaiah project, looking for Messianic references, and it's a major one!

See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line....

What's interesting is that just reading the verses in context, it might be easy to overlook this passage as a Messianic reference.

Modern Bibles do title the chapter, "Woe to Ephraim," after all.

There's quite a bit of speaking against drunkenness, and interesting metaphors of wreaths, building toward a biting commentary against priests and prophets who not only aren't leading by example but whose drunken incoherence is so bad as to be worth mocking. Under the behavior is a willful defiance against submitting to the Lord, with hints of occult practices.

God's response is "See, I lay in Zion..."

The New Testament helps us out here by referencing these verses three times, with explanation, plus a teaching from Jesus who explains the capstone/cornerstone idea.

  • Acts 4:11. In Peter's big sermon, he explains that Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 28, and adds that "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

  • Romans 9:33. In the chapter describing election, Paul ends by explaining that Israel did not pursue righteousness by faith but stumbled over works, and cites Isaiah 28:16 as a proof text.

  • I Peter 2:6. Peter must love Isaiah 28:16, and he brings it up again here. Jesus is the living Stone and we are also spiritual stones being "built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood."

Finally, Jesus, in Matthew 21:42, identifies Himself as the capstone the builders rejected and quotes Psalm 118: 22-23. This passage is very close to Isaiah 28:16:

The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Jesus is clearly the capstone or cornerstone (translators apparently go back and forth on which term is the most appropriate translation in Isaiah 28). Regardless, the core idea is clear: Jesus is the original stone and the stone by which all stones are measured.

In an article by Ligonier Ministries (, the author explains the history of how Israel initially got into problems through idolatry, were exiled, and then returned determined to follow the Law. However, the Law became an end in and of itself, and in the process the worship of the one true Rock was diverted to sin management by observance of the Law.

Romans 9:33 is a warning that the same can happen to us:

...the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.

What does it mean to pursue righteousness by faith? "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame" (I Peter 2:6.

What does it mean for Jesus to be our Cornerstone today? How can we make sure that we're not following the same practices as Old Testament Israel or the New Testament Pharisees who thought they were worshipping God but who actually had created their own system of sin management, which was their actual God?

The highly influential philosopher Dallas Willard, who wrote extensively on Christian formation, said:

The situation we have just described--the disconnection of life from faith, the absence from our churches of Jesus the teacher--is not caused by the wicked world, by social oppression, or by the stubborn meanness of the people who come to our church services and carry on the work of our congregations. It is largely caused and sustained by the basic message that we constantly hear from Christian pulpits. We are flooded with what I have called 'gospels of sin management,' in one form or another, while Jesus' invitation of eternal life now--right in the midst of work, business, and profession--remains for the most part ignored and unspoken. (from The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God)

While the Church has been beleaguered by many celebrity pastors who come to prominence and then inevitably fall from grace, writers such as Willard (prior to his passing), N.T. Wright, and Tim Keller have patiently stayed focused on Kingdom messages. The Kingdom is here, the Kingdom is now! We are not simply biding time until we are beamed up into the sky. Our primary job is not to stay away from the wicked people of the world until Christ's second coming.

Willard critiqued both the modern Christian political left and the right, saying,

What right and left have in common is that neither group lays down a coherent framework of knowledge and practical direction adequate to personal transformation toward the abundance and obedience emphasized in the New Testament, with a corresponding redemption of ordinary life. What is taught as the essential message about Jesus has no natural connection to entering a life of discipleship to him. (The Divine Conspiracy...)

Where do we begin? Jesus is to be our Cornerstone, who we put our trust in. I'll keep quoting Willard:

To trust the real person Jesus is to have confidence in him in every dimension of our real life, to believe that he is right about and adequate to everything...When all is said and done, 'the gospel' for...others on the theological right is that Christ made 'the arrangement' that can get us into heaven. In the Gospels, by contrast, "the Gospel" is the good news of the presence and availability of life in the kingdom, now and forever, through reliance on Jesus the Anointed.

We don't need to look at messages in the Gospels and see Jesus' instructions as unattainable. History has been moved and shaken by people trying to live out Jesus' words literally, such as via the peaceful resistance of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. If only modern Christians took Christ's words as seriously.

I chide myself in this. There is much in Jesus' direct teaching that, if applied, would cause me to upend my life as I am currently living it. Those of us who are not actively pursuing sin and go to church may think that we are entirely on the right path, just as the Pharisees thought they were. However, Jesus' actual words are countercultural and actually pretty in-your-face and downright offensive to every era of people since they were first heard. We like our lives to be neat and tidy, and complete discipleship to Christ breaks up that tidiness. But it opens the door to such fulness, including for ourselves and for others in our circles.

Having Christ as our Cornerstone is so much more than simply believing that He exists and that we should be good so that we go to heaven. If I am a living stone being built into a foundation that Christ started (I Peter 2) and my life is to match up to His, then my life needs to match up to His. I can start by trusting in him in every dimension of life, not just my eternal destination. I can read Scripture for actual direction for my behavior and pray for the Holy Spirit to intervene where I fall short.

Jesus' use of the capstone/cornerstone metaphor in Matthew 21 is not a pretty, peaceful passage. It's downright frightening. In speaking to the religious leaders of His day, He warns them that

...the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.

Yikes. These are the words that, according to Matthew's Gospel, inspired the leaders to finally arrest Jesus (this teaching immediately follows Jesus' Triumphal Entry). Rather than becoming angry, as the Pharisees did, is the modern church (and we in it) ready to finally accept this teaching and put our trust in Him rather than our own abilities to manage our sins and inadequacies?

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