As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offense: and whoever believes on him shall not be ashamed.
Behold, I lay in Zion a Stumbling-stone and Rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. It seems a strange thing that Jesus, the Saviour of men, should at all be set before us in this way. But the truth is, the great object is to cause us to consider what our own attitude is toward Christ. Have I accepted Jesus as my Saviour, or am I hesitating to commit myself to him? Am I clinging to him as my Rock of safety, or am I being repelled from him as from a rock of offence? It was no new idea, this which St. Paul brings forward here, of Christ being a Stumbling-stone. It was spoken of by Isaiah, when he said, "And he shall be for a Sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a Rock of offence to both the houses of Israel" (Isaiah 8:14). Jesus himself alluded to the same idea when he said to the chief priests and Pharisees, "Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the Head of the corner?" And then he added, to show the evil results of rejecting him, "And whosoever shall fall on this Stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder" (Matthew 21:42, 44). The Stone of stumbling, the Rock of offence, and the Stone against which men fall to their own destruction, - all these convey the same truth. It is a truth which conveys a solemn warning - the danger of rejecting Christ. How is it, then, that men stumble at Christ?
I. THERE ARE SOME THINGS IN CHRIST'S LIFE AND WORK AT WHICH MEN STUMBLE. I do not mean to say that there is anything in the life and work of Jesus Christ at which men ought to stumble, but such is the depravity of the human heart, such is the power of the great enemy of souls, that men find difficulties even in the way of salvation. They raise mental objections to the very way in which the Creator of the world wants to give them a share in his heavenly inheritance, and have their doubts as to whether there might not be some other way, some other Teacher, some other Saviour, just as good as the eternal Son of God, who, in his matchless love, gave himself to die for the redemption of their souls.
1. Christ is a stumbling-stone to many because of the way in which he came into the world. So it was when he was on earth. Men asked the question, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" And when he was come into his own country, they said, "Whence hath this Man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's Son? And they were offended in him" (Matthew 12:54-57), or stumbled at this difficulty of his lowly parentage. And yet there should be no difficulty, no stumbling-block in this; for Jesus came in the very way and in the very place it had been predicted several hundred years before that he would come. Micah had predicted the place of his birth when he spoke of Bethlehem, and Isaiah the manner of his birth when he spoke of the miraculous event of a virgin who should conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel. That which is a stumbling-block to many ought to be a strength and confirmation of faith in the Son of God.
2. Others, again, find a difficulty in the surroundings of his daily life. It was with the poor and lowly that he chiefly mingled; he ate and drank with publicans and sinners, and his intimate followers and disciples were chosen mainly from the humbler walks of life. Here, however, is the very proof that Christ was indeed Divine. God is no respecter of persons. Had Christ been a mere man, with an ambition to found an earthly kingdom, he would have sought the society of the great; he would not have put away from him all the attempts to make him a King. But his kingdom was not of this world. The very persons whom he chose to be its first ambassadors and founders were in themselves a proof that their religion was Divine. Without earthly rank or riches, without learning or worldly influence, they went forth from an obscure province of the Roman empire, and, only by the power of the words they spoke, founded a religion which today is placing a girdle round the world, and before whose mighty power the temples of heathenism and the mosques of the Mohammedan are destined yet to fall. God hath indeed chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. This fact also about Jesus Christ, his lowly surroundings and his humble followers, instead of being a stumbling-block, should be a strength to faith.
3. There are many who find a great difficulty in the death of Christ. St. Paul said that in his day Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. And it is the cross of Christ that is the stumbling-block to many at the present day. They are willing to regard Christ as the greatest of all teachers, as a beautiful and holy example, but they can see no meaning in the atonement. They stumble at the cross. They call the preaching of salvation by the sufferings of Christ "a doctrine of blood," Be it so. And if you take the doctrine of blood out of the Bible, how much of it have you left? Was it not the shedding of blood that was the feature of Abel's sacrifice, which, because it foreshadowed the need of an atonement for sin, was preferred to that of Cain, in which there was no recognition of guilt or unworthiness? The lamb which God himself provided for a burnt offering in lieu of Abraham's intended sacrifice; the lamb slain, and the blood sprinkled on the door-posts of the Israelites in Egypt; the sacrificial offerings of the Mosaic Law; - were not all these but types, pointing to the great Sacrifice, and teaching the children of Israel their need for his atonement? But those who accept Christ as a great Teacher, and reject the doctrine of his atonement, are hardly consistent. It seems incredible how any one can accept the gospel narrative of Christ's own teaching, without believing that he taught that his death was a sacrifice. Just immediately after he entered on his ministry, he permitted John the Baptist to say of him, "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." He himself said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life." Such words plainly convey that not only would there be the power of a good example in the life of Christ, but that there would be a healing, saving power in his death when he was lifted up upon the cross. He speaks of laying down his life for the sheep; and when he instituted the Lord's Supper, he clearly indicated that his sufferings on the cross were to be the leading thought in that commemoration, and that those sufferings were endured on behalf of his people. "This is my body, broken for you;!" "This cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for the remission of sins." If men stumble at the cross, they stumble at the very threshold of the gospel. "Without the shedding of blood is no remission." If men find a difficulty in the cross, they find a difficulty in the most convincing evidence given to men of God's love for the world and of the desire of Jesus Christ for their salvation. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Instead of stumbling at it, let me cling to it, let me live under its power. "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God."
II. THERE ARE SOME THINGS IN THEMSELVES WHICH CAUSE MEN TO STUMBLE AT CHRIST.
1. Christ is a Stumbling-block to human pride. If we are to be saved by Jesus Christ, then we must confess ourselves to be guilty sinners, we must lay aside all trust in any merit of our own, all hope of heaven because of our own good works. This is a stumbling-block to many. Penances are no stumbling-block. Men will freely inflict on themselves fastings and bodily sufferings, to purchase for themselves, as they think, the pardon of their sins and the hope of heaven; but simply to accept the salvation provided by Jesus Christ - when they are asked to do this, they hesitate, they raise difficulties, they entertain doubts. God's way of salvation is too simple for many. If he would bid us do "some great thing" we would gladly do it. Here, again, is it not plain that such a cause of stumbling is unreasonable? If I will not take God's way of getting to heaven, how can I expect to get there by any other? And if there could be any other way, what necessity was there for God to give up his own Son to death for us all?
2. Christ is a Stumbling-block to human sins. Many would like to get to heaven, but they do not like to give up their sins. Many are inclined to ask, "May one be pardoned, and retain the offence?" How unreasonable to choose a few hours of sin and to destroy both body and soul, rather than to follow that Saviour whose service is perfect peace, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore!
3. Christ is a Stumbling-block to human selfishness. Many who are not the slaves of grosser sins are nevertheless the slaves of worldliness and self. They fear that Christ's service would be too much of a restraint upon them. They know that they cannot serve God and mammon. Their conscience tells them that if they would be conformed to this world and imitate the customs and fashions of those around them, they must violate. the precepts and incur the displeasure of Christ. And so they make their choice, like Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. They are not prepared for the service of him who said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." But how great is the loss of those who for any of these reasons reject Christ! - C.H.I.
Parallel VersesKJV: As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.