God’s Word for You
Acts 4:11 the capstone
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, September 24, 2019
11 He is “the stone,
the one you builders rejected,
the one who has become the capstone.”
Peter phrases this quote (Psalm 118:22) in a triplet that resembles trinitarian language throughout the Bible. Three Greek nominative (subject) nouns: “the stone… the one… the one” are modified by Christ’s rejection and his later exaltation.
The image is of stonemasons constructing a building, carefully selecting which stones will be used, and where the best ones will be placed. As they go about this work, they find one that they discuss together. Maybe there is some disagreement about it, but it’s rejected. They discard it entirely from the whole building project. But while the builders were arguing about this or some other matter, the Master Builder came and set the rejected stone into the most important place in the whole building. While the Psalm may have been talking about Israel as a nation, the Holy Spirit uses Peter to apply it to Christ in particular.
There are two ways of seeing the term I have translated “capstone.” In Greek, it is kephalēn gōnías κεφαλὴν γωνίας, “the head of the corner.” In ancient times, archways were built with excellent stonework so that even without any mortar they would stand for centuries. The most important stone in an arch is the topmost piece, the capstone, cut with such precision and such perfect angles that all of the weight supported by the arch is transferred through that capstone down through all of the other stones and then down into the ground below. As long as the capstone lasts, the arch will stand, even if the wall around it collapses. This is Christ: He is perfect in every way, and because he remains, everyone who puts their faith in him remains.
Another way of taking kephalēn gōnías “the head of the corner” is simply “cornerstone.” Isaiah uses a very similar term translated akrogōnías in Greek: “a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:6). Which term should be “capstone” and which one should be “cornerstone”? Perhaps they are both “important stone,” and context determines which of our English terms might be used.
What was a cornerstone? Unlike our decorative dedication stones used in some buildings today, a cornerstone was a vital piece of architecture in a stone building. It was a model of the building’s true dimensions and ratios. The angles of the walls and the ratio of length to height was imbedded in this remarkable stone, and the builders measured according to it. If the stone were to be cut imperfectly, the building might not stand; the walls would collapse. Since Christ is also the true cornerstone of the Church, the Church will stand. Our foundation is true and correct. The Church is perfect in God’s eyes because Christ is perfect, and we are gathered together into that perfection, not on account of our trueness or personal perfection, but because of Christ’s trueness and perfection. Because he is right, we are right.
What about the ones who rejected him? What about their building? Both the Psalmist and Peter (quoting the Psalm) leave the builders behind, along with whatever building they thought they were building. The historical truth is that the Temple that the Pharisees and Sadducees treasured so dearly was destroyed just a few decades later. Those builders rejected Christ and his Church; they could have and should have been among its builders, but they wandered off on another project.
Luther says: “What becomes of the building and of the builders who reject this building? Nothing is said of them here; God knows nothing of them. This is a sign that they and their building have come to naught. He speaks only of the rejected Stone and building; this is His concern. Be careful, therefore, lest you be found in the building which delights in condemning, rejecting, and riding high. Do not be afraid to be in the structure which is rejected, for God will remove your rejection. He will not recognize those who reject you. They will perish, and you will abide forever. No righteousness, no works, no holiness will endure save that which is Christ, the Cornerstone. There is no other Cornerstone.” (LW 14).
Consider the cornerstone for a moment. What does it support? One single wall? No, two walls. Christ should be the cornerstone of the two great churches, the Church of the Old Testament, and the Church of the New Testament. It’s clear that nearly all of the Old Testament faith lingering at his time rejected him, but we must take this as a warning: Will our wall, the Christian wall, reject him, too? We must keep ourselves firmly set upon Christ, upon his Word, upon his Sacraments, and upon nothing else. Our own works are rubble and dust. Our own opinions are junk for the bin. The world’s desire to change our doctrine is just scribbling outside the margins of the blueprint. Christ is all, and Christ is everything. Keep trusting in Jesus above all.
Pastor Timothy Smith