There’s something unsettling about a computer desk that comes shipped in a flat box. For most guys it’s not a big deal. An hour or so with a screwdriver will get the thing together. But I need double. I have to allow for putting it together wrong at least once. I’ll find out somewhere toward the end that the part that didn’t make sense (and which I set aside) should have been step three in a forty-seven step process. I hate that plastic bolt. Sure, it holds the entire desk together, but I catch myself wondering if I could get by without it. Maybe I could jam some toilet paper into that bolt hole and everything would be fine. Then again, maybe it would wobble every time the dishwasher ran downstairs. Or the wind blew outside. I hate that bolt.
I’m certainly not the first person to run into this problem. The Jews for instance, thought of themselves as builders of the house of God, and the Kingdom of Israel. They considered themselves constructive, helpful, and goal-oriented. They looked forward to a future kingdom where the wolf would lie down with the lamb. They considered themselves followers of the Holy Scriptures.
Over the course of biblical history, they built—sometimes in spurts of excellence, sometimes poorly, and on occasion tearing down their own previous efforts. But aside from neglect, sin, and misunderstanding, aspects of the building advanced. The Jews attacked the intricacies of religious life with fastidious care. In terms of construction metaphor, they paid great attention to molding, carvings, and lattice-work. Each doorknob received the concentration of a craftsman. Then there were the hinges and frames.
Imagine when the Apostle Peter confronted them with this revelation:
“Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:11).
As understood in ancient times, the cornerstone was the gigantic block that joined the two walls of a building. It was primary. According to Peter, Jesus is that cornerstone in the house of God, and yet the Jewish builders thought they could do without Him. That’s like leaving off the roof of a house and thinking it doesn’t make any difference. Or building a house and forgetting to lay a foundation first. Oops.
Here were the Jews, the leaders, the rulers of the people, the “builders” standing there confronted with Christ, shaking their heads and all but saying, “There’s no spot for that. It doesn’t fit.”
Yet in the mind of God, the whole building was conceptually designed around Christ. As such, He always fits. It was the house that didn’t fit Him. The religion built by human efforts and misplaced emphases had little use for Him. Still, He was God’s cornerstone. All the prophets spoke of Him and His coming and work. Jesus even said of the Scriptures that they “bear witness about Me” (John 5:39). Later to His disciples, “Beginning with Moses and all of the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).
Jesus Christ fills the Old Testament whether implicitly or explicitly, through prophecies, shadows, types, or teachings. The Jewish builders missed that part while reading their own building blueprint. Jesus simply didn’t fit their conceptual grids so they set Him aside as useless and unimportant. The primary piece of God’s house got left out.
Christians make this mistake sometimes, too. The Bible tells us we’re not only the church, but we’re builders of it as well—the body “builds itself up” (Eph. 4:16). Paul commanded us to “strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Cor. 14:12). We’re all builders in some sense. That means I’m purposeful, hopeful, constructive. I also have a tool belt crowded with helpful stuff.
I’ve got a ton of church experience. I know the ropes. I’m educated. Got a couple of degrees. Read thousands of books. Wrote a few. I’ve got a little gift for speaking and a few other things. I’ve got a skill set—not anything world-class, mind you—more or less like one of those Swiss army knives with a tiny fork, a tiny cork screw (if you ever want to open a bottle of wine in the woods), and a tiny saw in case you need to cut a tiny log in half.
I’m sure you could say the same about some of your own resources. Maybe money. You might be able to throw around six figures and buy cherry wood furniture for the church and enlarge the meeting space for another 600 people. There’s more—resourcefulness, leadership, presence, style, fashion, quick wit. Let’s throw everything on the pile—cool clothes, young face, musical talent, tech savvy. Then put it all together. Wow. We’re getting stuff done. The ministry is thumping. The church is being built. Morale is high. According to the word on the street, this is a hot, happening thing.
Then somebody begins reading the Gospel of Matthew and asks, “What about this?”
Matthew 5:29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
This scares me. We don’t have to worry, do we? Sin used to be more serious than it is now, right?
Right, this doesn’t fit the idea of grace. It sounds threatening and legal. You can toss it.
Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Hey, this doesn’t sound right. Jesus is for peace and harmony, right?
Right. We shouldn’t offend people. This verse doesn’t fit, either. Put it in the pitch pile.
Matthew 10:37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Whoa! This sounds radical.
Yeah, impossible to build a stable Christian family life around it.
Another verse that sounds like trouble. Cut, cut, cut.
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Um, I’m sorry, but is that a downer?
Yeh, you’re right. Can’t do much with this thought—I mean, where’s the joy, the happiness, and the personal fulfillment? It just doesn’t match an upward and happening life. We’ll set it over there, out of the way.
And that’s just the first book of the New Testament.
Weirdly, when Jesus no longer fits, the church still thrives. We’ll focus on how to raise kids. Teach folks how to date without sleeping around. Promise radical returns on all tithes and freewill offerings. We’ll multiply events. Promote niceness. Programs. Performances. The “church” will grow.
And we’ll hardly know He’s gone.