How do you define success? It probably depends on what you’re trying to achieve and whether you’ve set small objectives to reach your goal. If we want to lose weight, we should probably work first on not gaining any more. Then we can set five-pound increments rather than wait for our entire 20 or 40-pound loss to celebrate. After all, we love to win at our achievements, and that helps motivate us to continue. Sometimes our success depends on how we handle our trials or difficulties. A few days ago, my old MacBook’s display to stopped working. I have two major writing tasks in addition to this one. Fortunately, I have an iPad, so I am working on it instead. Success for me is to use the iPad, letting go entirely of the laptop. I am grateful that this is no surprise to the Lord, as I stopped using all Microsoft apps last year, have already moved all my files to the cloud, printed everything for the next week while the laptop was working, and all my teaching prep can be from streaming videos or books. For me, success is depending less on my possessions. And, I am blessed to share with my neighbors who ask, “How can you say you’re blessed by your computer breaking?” I am sharing how the Lord has prepared me for my transition so I can concentrate on my work instead of fixing what I don’t actually need. In Psalm 118, the psalmist is blessed as he approaches God’s temple, where he knows he will enter into fellowship with the Lord, and praises God upon entering. But he also admits Israel’s failure to embrace the Lord as she should have. Despite this, Israel’s rejected, covenantal Lord became the cornerstone of true faith, opened the gate of righteousness for her salvation, and blessed her with his Son’s incarnation, light, and steadfast love. We are blessed by and through Christ, the cornerstone of his church, who is rejected by the world. But whose kingdom is victorious in his power and incomprehensible ways.
The Gate of the Lord
“This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us…You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:20-29) This Psalm “is generally thought to be written by David, after he was established in the kingdom, and had brought the ark of the Lord into the city”. (1) The ark represented the presence of God, as did the temple for God’s people before their exile from Jerusalem. We imagine that the ark rested in the Holy of Holies, where God met with the High Priest on the annual Day of Atonement. But “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God…one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16) “Jesus Himself claims to be the fulfillment of Psalm 118 (Matt. 21:33–44), and so we must examine how this hymn anticipates the work of the Messiah…He is Israel, the truest fulfillment of God’s purposes for that nation. Indeed, Jesus is the only faithful Israel, the true Son of God who fulfills His will. This true Israel of God was rejected and crucified, in accordance with Psalm 118:22a. But as v. 22b indicates, this rejection was the path to our Lord’s becoming the ‘cornerstone,’ which in Hebrew can refer to either the cornerstone of a foundation that provides stability for the entire building or a capstone that joins two walls together. In Ephesians 2:20, Paul applies the first meaning of the term to Jesus, but the second meaning can also apply to Christ. In his sermon ‘The Headstone of the Corner,’ C.H. Spurgeon declares: ‘This precious Cornerstone binds God and man together in wondrous amity, for He is both in one! He joins earth and Heaven together, for He participates in each! He joins time and eternity together, for He was a man of few years and yet He is the Ancient of Days!’” He is successful in all he does! (2)
Our Victorious Rejected Cornerstone
“The kingdom of Christ does not depend upon the favour of men, and it does not derive its strength from earthly supports, even as he has not attained it by the suffrages of men….let us not forget that it is unreasonable to expect that the Church must be governed according to our understanding of matters, but that we are ignorant of the government of it, inasmuch as that which is miraculous surpasses our comprehension.” (3) “[Jesus] said, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’ (John 6:65). He taught that certain people belonged to him because they had been given to him by God and that he had come to save them by dying for them (John 10:14–15)…Frederick Evans says, ‘[The Jewish ‘experts’] were the builders, and they were going to build in their own way, without him. Yes, they would build over his dead body. They would put him to death. If they could not stone him according to Jewish law, they would see to it that he was nailed to a cross according to Roman law.’ That is exactly what they did. Yes, but God made him ‘the capstone’ by raising him from the dead. The psalm says, ‘the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’.” (4) “This is the Lord’s doing…This stone is from the Lord…it is of his choosing, appointing, and laying: the rejection of it by the builders is through his permission and will; they did no other things than what his hand and counsel determined should be done…the stone itself is wonderful to look at, for its beauty, strength, and usefulness; the wisdom, love, care, and power of God, in laying it, are astonishing; the distinguishing grace of God in selecting some stones out of the common quarry, making them lively stones, and building them on this foundation stone, is exceeding marvellous: and so are both the rejection and exaltation of it.” (5) Israel’s rejected, covenantal Lord became the cornerstone of true faith, opened the gate of righteousness for her salvation, and blessed her with his coming, light, and steadfast love. We are blessed by and through Christ, the rejected cornerstone, whose kingdom is victorious in his power and incomprehensible ways.
“Blessed [be] he that cometh in the name of the Lord…These words were used by the multitude that followed Christ, as he went into Jerusalem, in order to eat his last passover, and suffer and die for his people…the King Messiah, who came from heaven to earth, from his Father into this world, to save the chief of sinners…man and Mediator…all blessing, happiness, and honour, are wished for him, and ascribed unto him, as his just due; being Lord and King, Saviour and Redeemer, of his people…by causing the light of his glorious Gospel to shine into their hearts; by making them who were darkness light, the darkness of ignorance and unbelief to pass away, and the true light to shine; by lifting up the light of his countenance upon them, and giving them hopes of the light of glory and happiness, and making them meet to be partakers of the inheritance with the saints in light.” (6) Jesus’s success is ours through the grace of God’s gospel gift. Any other success pales in comparison to his and ours in him. Our earthly successes will disappear like a vapor. (See Ecclesiastes.) I’ve had a small success in completing this on my iPad, instead of dealing with my laptop, as a financial savings. Even better is my focus on God’s Word. In what way might you perfect or redefine success your definition of success? Will we consider ourselves successful when we turn our back on worldly “success” to enter deeper fellowship with Christ? “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Related Scripture: Numbers 6:24-26; Psalms 31:14-16; 67:1-2; Isaiah 28:16; Matthew 21:9, 42; Mark 11:9-10; 12:10-11; Luke 13:35; 19:38-39; 20:17; John 10:1-4; 12:13; Acts 4:11-12; Ephesians 2:20-22; 1 Peter 2:4–8;
- Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Introduction of Psalm 118, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/psalms-118.html
- Ligonier, The Cornerstone, PS 118:17-29, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/cornerstone
- Calvin, John, Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, Psalm 118:20-29, P & R Publishing, 1999
- Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 118, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
- Gill, Ibid, Psalm 118:20-22.
- Gill, Ibid, Psalm 118:26-29.
October 27, 2022