Cast Yourself upon the Rock

by Robert Jacobs

It feels like everything in our culture resists the idea of discomfort. Got an ache or pain? There’s a pill for that (or essential oil depending on your philosophical leaning). Marriage too hard? Just divorce your spouse. Parenting too difficult? Your kids can figure life out as it comes.

While the above statements may be a bit reductive and even hyperbolic, our resistance to discomfort indeed pervades our society. We avoid hard situations or run from them almost as our default reaction. Peter, however, informs believers that they will not escape hardship and suffering: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you” (1 Peter 4:12).  To follow Christ is to experience a “fiery ordeal,” a participation “in the [suffering] of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13).

Christ himself indicates that those who interact with him will experience discomfort. While responding to several teachers of the law, Jesus quotes Psalm 118:22 (“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”) and then states, “Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed” (Luke 20:18). Traditionally, and I believe correctly, this passage has been interpreted to mean that those who accept Christ as Lord are those who fall on the stone, and those who reject him are the ones upon whom the stone falls.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. Am I saying that those who surrender their life to Christ will be “broken to pieces”? Yes, I am. Let me explain.

In Luke 20:18, Jesus uses two different words to describe the breaking that will happen for those who fall on the stone versus those upon whom the stone falls. For the latter group, the stone will fall upon them and “crush” (λικμάω), or pulverize into dust.[1] For the ones who instead fall upon the stone, they will be “broken to pieces” (συνθλάω), to break apart and press together.[2]

That second definition— to break apart and press together—can be a bit confusing at first glance. I think about it in terms of a potter working with clay. As the artisan begins the work, he breaks down the initial block of material, reconstructing it into something beautiful. This is exactly what Christ does with us. He molds and shapes us, like a potter, into something more beautiful than we were at the beginning, a “new creation,” in the words of Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Aside from this one verse, the idea of creation/ growth through destruction can be seen throughout the gospels, most notably in the repeated use of the pruning metaphor. Fourth-century Church father Ambrose of Milan noted this connection. In his exposition of Luke 20:18, he notes, “When [the Church] is pruned, it is not diminished, but it increases… when the scars of the old shoot are cut away, the people of God likewise grow into the wood of the cross.”[3] Because of pruning and cutting, a vine is able to grow stronger than it could before, the destruction in fact imparting life. Likewise, when we cast ourselves upon the stone and are broken, that breaking is the first step in re-creation, a process which calls life out of death.

Are we so obsessed with our comfort that we are unwilling to cast ourselves upon the stone? Are we unwilling to experience pain and sacrifice despite the fact that we know such pain will yield great benefit?  Although it may sound frightening, be broken upon the rock of Christ so that you may be transformed by Him. As Peter indicated, following Christ is a painful and trying endeavor. Yet we must trust that such pain and discomfort is working out a greater good for us.

[1] A Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Greek. Ed. James Swanson. s.v. λικμάω.
[2] A Greek English Lexicon. Liddell and Scott. s.v. συνθλάω.
[3] Luke. Ed. Just, A. A. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005. pp. 306–307.