By Gregg Bing
“This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
This wonderful verse of Scripture has meant so much to Christians through the years. There is even a popular chorus that echoes the words of this Psalm. When facing a day which proves to be difficult, Christians often quote this verse of Scripture as a reminder that each and every day is a day that the Lord has made. Each day we are allowed to live for and serve the Lord is a gift from Him. However, when seen in the context of the rest of the 118th Psalm, we find there is a deeper meaning to this statement in verse 24.
The Stone the Builders Rejected
If we back up to verses 19-20, the psalmist requests that the Lord would open to him “the gates of righteousness” that he might “go through them” and “praise the Lord.” He acknowledges that this is the gate of the Lord “through which the righteous shall enter.” In verse 21, he declares, “I will praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation.” But how would the Lord provide such a salvation as this? The following verse, the focal point of this psalm, provides the answer.
“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Psa. 118:22).
This passage is quoted 5 times in the New Testament, each one as a prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ being rejected and crucified by the religious rulers in Israel.
The Parable of the Wicked Vinedressers
During the passion week, the final days leading up to His death on the cross, Jesus spoke a parable before the chief priests and elders in Israel; it is recorded in each of the synoptic gospels: Matthew 21, Mark 12, and Luke 20. The parable speaks of a landowner who planted and prepared a vineyard, then leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. When the vintage-time drew near, the landowner sent servants to receive the fruit from his vineyard on two different occasions, but the vinedressers beat and killed them. Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, “They will respect my son,” but when the vinedressers saw the son, they reasoned, “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.” So, they cast the son out of the vineyard and killed him.
Jesus then asked the Jewish rulers, “When the owner of the vinehard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” They answered Him, “”He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” This was the correct answer, but Jesus responded by asking them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes?’”
His question was an indictment against these supposed spiritual leaders in Jerusalem in a couple of ways: 1) He questioned their knowledge of the Scriptures that God had committed to them, and 2) He implied that THEY were the builders who had rejected this stone mentioned in Psalm 118:22. Their rejection would culminate in a few days when these same men would take Jesus by lawless hands and crucify Him. This is why Jesus follows up His rhetorical question saying, “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you (i.e. from that generation in Israel) and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it (i.e. a future generation in Israel). And whoever falls on this stone (i.e. stumbles and is offended by Him) will be broken, but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Because of their rejection of the Christ, their promised Messiah, that generation of Jews would not enter Christ’s kingdom, but would instead face His judgment.
The chief priests and Pharisees, when they heard this parable, understood that Jesus was speaking about them, but it made no difference. They still sought a way to take Jesus and kill Him; and soon after this, they carried out their evil intentions.
Peter’s Indictment of “You Builders”
During the early Acts period, Peter and John were arrested by these same Jewish leaders and interrogated about how they were able to heal a lame man in the temple (Acts 3:1-10). Peter, being filled with Holy Spirit, boldly answered:
“Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by YOU builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)
Peter made a slight modification to Psalm 118:24, though he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” in doing so. He clearly identified the present generation of rulers in Israel as being “the builders” who rejected their own Messiah. Peter further declared that God had raised Him from the dead, and that through these two significant events, Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, He provided salvation; Jesus Christ is the only way; His name is the only name by which people must be saved.
Behold, I Lay in Zion a Chief Cornerstone
In his first epistle to the Jews of the dispersion, Peter quoted Psalm 118:24 (1 Peter 2:4-9), though he began with a prophecy from Isaiah 28:16:
“Behold, I lay in Zion (Jerusalem) a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes in Him will by no means be put to shame.”
This chief cornerstone is the precious (of great price, value) Son of God, chosen to be the chief cornerstone of redemption for His people, Israel. Those who believe in Him would not be put to shame in the sight of God, but would be saved. To those who believe in Christ, “He is precious, but to those who are disobedient (unbelieving), “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone, and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.”
There is no question what Psalm 118:22 has reference to, and that is the work of redemption which Christ accomplished when He was rejected by His own people, Israel, and crucified on the cross of Calvary.
This Was the Lord’s Doing
While Israel’s rulers committed a wicked or lawless act, in doing so they carried out God’s determined purpose (Acts 2:23); they “gathered together to do whatever God’s hand and God’s purpose determined before to be done” (Acts 4:27-28).
Going back to the 118th psalm, the very next verse tells us that when Israel’s builders (rulers) rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and crucified Him:
“This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:23).
The crucifixion of His Son was the Lord’s doing, in accordance with His foreknowledge of those who would reject Him. The psalmist responded to this by saying, “And it is marvelous in our eyes.” The word “marvelous” is used to describe something that is beyond one’s power to do or to understand; thus, something that would be viewed as extraordinary, wonderful, or marvelous. What God did through the finished work of Jesus Christ — His death on the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead — was beyond the power of men to accomplish, or even to understand. When we consider this eternal purpose of redemption that God accomplished for us through His Son, it is truly marvelous in our eyes.
This is the Day
These verses are followed by the verse we opened with: “This is the day which the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Which day did the psalmist have in mind? Does he mean each day the Lord gives us to live? Or, does he have a particular day in mind? This verse carries such a deeper meaning than we usually give it. The day in mind here is the day that Christ was rejected by the rulers in Israel and crucified on the cross for the sins of the world; the day on which He became the chief cornerstone of redemption for people of all ages: for the people of Israel, as prophesied in the Old Testament Scriptures, and as Peter referred to in 2 Peter 2:1-10; but also for the Church, the Body of Christ in this present dispensation of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:19-22).
This is borne out from the way this 118th psalm begins and ends: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” This day which the Lord made and in which the Lord did this marvelous work, is cause for thanksgiving. For it demonstrates, in the greatest way possible, how good and how merciful the Lord is toward us.
We can acknowledge that each day we have here on this earth is a day which the Lord has made, and is a gift from God to be used for His glory. However, from this brief study you can see that Psalm 118:24 means so much more. The next time you sing that chorus, “This is the Day,” remember the context of this verse and rejoice and be glad in what the Lord has done for us through the sufferings, death, and resurrection of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.