Have you ever seen a cornerstone?
Maybe you were in an old cathedral and at a corner near the front entrance you saw a stone larger than all the stones around it. Perhaps it was shaped slightly differently, too. There might even have been a date carved into it, an inscription like: “This stone was laid on the 23rd of August, in the Year of our Lord 1886.”
In the days before poured concrete and structural steel, a cornerstone was essential to any building made of stone. The masons would carefully build up the walls by fitting each stone together according to its size and shape. But the mason had to start all of that fitting work somewhere, in one corner. And he would do so with a specially-chosen stone as the very first, the cornerstone.
It was a weighty decision. The cornerstone needed to be well-shaped, very solid, and of the right size. It needed to placed well and placed firmly. Because on this single piece, all the rest would be built. Every other stone in the entire building would be fitted according to the position of the cornerstone.
Already back in the times when the Bible was written, the cornerstone was vital to the architectural integrity of any building. So in the Scriptures the cornerstone was used as a powerful image for stability and unity.
The first time that the Holy Spirit uses this image is in Psalm 118. It’s a well-known verse, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (v 22). Psalm 118 is all about how God defended and supported David, his chosen servant. And David was certainly someone who knew what it was to be rejected. As a young man, he was looked down upon; even his own father assumed that God wouldn’t want David as the king of Israel, for he was the youngest of Jesse’s sons. Later David experienced rejection from one of his sons and from his nation.
But God was going to use David for something great. He was appointed and established as king, and his faithful rule meant stability for the entire land. Because David was wise and righteous, all of God’s people were blessed. From him the Lord even brought an everlasting line of kings. Though once rejected, David became a cornerstone for generations to come.
Psalm 118 celebrated God’s goodness toward David. But like every Psalm, it was also prophetic—it pointed to another stone that God was preparing. We find the expectation for a new cornerstone in Isaiah as well. He prophesied, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation” (28:16). Isaiah witnessed how weak and faithless the people of God could be, but also revealed that the Lord in his mercy would lay in Zion a better foundation.
Who is that sure foundation for the church of God? Who is our chief cornerstone? It is Christ. And when He came to this earth, Christ knew He was the cornerstone that was going to be discarded by many, even killed by his own people.
Those who knew the Scriptures and should have known better, the scribes and Pharisees and teachers of the law, decided that Jesus was not the one. And so they opposed him and criticized him. Finally, blinded by their jealousy and unbelief, they turned the people against the Messiah. They discarded the very cornerstone of the Lord’s people, the one foundation of God’s new kingdom.
They said that He was worthless and threw him away. Jesus wasn’t strong enough; He wasn’t big enough; He wasn’t the right fit. He just couldn’t be the chosen stone, the one whom David and Isaiah had prophesied. So Christ was arrested, convicted, tortured and executed. He ended up on the cross where He died a terrible death.
He was rejected by men, “but chosen by God and precious” (1 Pet 2:4). In his perfect sovereignty and steadfast love, God turned the rejection of Jesus into something great. The kicking and smashing of the stone were actually according to the plan of the Architect. For by his suffering, Jesus became the perfect fit as King and Saviour. By his death, He laid a rock-solid foundation.
So when Paul talks about the foundation of God’s holy household in Ephesians 2, this is the perfect image to use. He says that we have “been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (vv 20-21).
Christ is the essential piece in the entire house of God. God sent him to earth as a human being, God moved wicked people to kill him on the cross, and then God built his church on and around him and his atoning sacrifice. Our only basis for hope, our only sure comfort, our one true joy, rests on the finished work of Jesus Christ.
As church, we get to build continually on Christ the cornerstone. We do this by putting his words into practice. Practice what He says about looking to the interests of others. Practice what He says about giving a humble account of our faith to this world. Practice what He says about praying with persistence, and searching the Scriptures, and fleeing the devil.
All these things are hard but they’re right. For they were spoken by our chief cornerstone, and like the best cornerstone, He orients us and establishes us—He points us all in the right direction.
And when we face challenges and trials as a church, we can depend completely on Christ. He’ll give courage to deal with troubles and crises. He’ll give wisdom when we have to make decisions. He’ll strengthen us when we face ridicule or exclusion. Christ will do all this for He’s our rock, our sure foundation. He’s not a Saviour who will change with time or crumble under pressure, but Christ is tried and true and everlasting.
It’s something for us to reflect on individually, too. What’s your cornerstone? What gives your daily life its foundation? You can figure that out by pondering the question: When you’re feeling weak and uncertain, where do you look for stability? Or when you’re feeling strong and successful, who gets the credit and the glory? When you wake up in the morning, what gives your day its orientation, its direction? What’s your cornerstone?
Today, are you being built on the chief cornerstone, the one sure foundation? Without Christ, we’re only going to crumble. If we’re counting on something that the world can give us, or if we’re counting on ourselves, one day we’re going to collapse in a heap. It is Christ alone who can be our lasting confidence and joy. As God says, “I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and He who believes on him will by no means be put to shame” (1 Pet 2:6).
So trust in him.
Build on him.
And you will forever stand firm.