Date:  December 20, 2022

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 676 

CHRISTMAS 2022: WHO IS HE IN YONDER STALL? - the cornerstone, the stumbling block, and the stone of crushing whose kingdom will grow to fill the whole earth.

By Elizabeth Kendal

Since the RLPB lost its primary sponsor in March 2022, the ministry has relied on donations to cover costs. I want to express my deepest thanks to those who have donated – be that with a one-off gift or through regular financial support – to help keep this ministry operating. Thank-you, for the need for strategic intercessory prayer is growing greater by the day.

Persecution is destined to escalate on many fronts through 2023, particularly in China, India, Iran and Pakistan. Military violence may also escalate against the indigenous, mostly Christian Chin, Kachin and Karen peoples of Burma’s/Myanmar’s periphery, and against the indigenous Melanesian mostly Christian Papuans of eastern Indonesia. Military violence might also erupt against indigenous remnant Christian Assyrians in northern Syria, Armenians in the south Caucuses, and Greeks on Cyprus and in the Aegean, as Turkey’s President Erdogan does whatever it takes to reverse his fortunes and avoid defeat in the June 2023 presidential poll. Emboldened and energised, Islamic jihadists and criminals are expanding and consolidating across the Sahel and into the Gulf of Guinea. Terror and insecurity loom over Nigeria and the Af-Pak region where the Durand line (the British-drawn border, rejected by Kabul and every Pashtun) looks increasingly vulnerable. Lord have mercy!

Peter Obi (61)

The RLPB will start 2023 with a major focus on Nigeria’s presidential election, slated for 25 February. Ethnic tensions are rising, leading one analyst to warn that this election (if it takes place) could be ‘centrifugal’. The main presidential candidates are: ‘the Godfather of Lagos’ Bola Tinubu (APC), a Yoruba Muslim from the south-west; Rabiu Kwankwaso (NNPP), a Fulani Muslim from Kano in the north-west; Atiku Abubakar (PDP) a Fulani Muslim from Adamawa in the north-east; and Peter Obi (pictured), an Igbo Christian from the south-east who in May defected from the PDP to lead the Labour Party (LP). While many Yoruba Christians might be tempted to vote along tribal lines, the fact that the APC is bucking convention to run a Muslim-Muslim ticket might cause many to reconsider. Most Christians will probably vote for either the pro-business, anti-Sharia Atiku Abubakar (PDP), or rising star Peter Obi (LP), whose popularity is soaring across the country (including in the north) to the extent that he is now leading in the polls. How the Fulani herdsmen, Islamists and jihadists will respond to the retirement of their champion – President Muhammadu Buhari (APC) – is one concern. How they might respond to an Obi win is another. Please pray for God to intervene in Nigeria so that righteousness, justice, peace and security might be established; and may the Lord sustain, guide and sanctify his imperilled Church through these challenging times.

While a ferocious spiritual battle is underway, it is imperative that we not lose sight of the bigger picture. For through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ has already won the decisive battle. Jesus lives! Jesus reigns! Jesus is, this very day, fulfilling his promises and building his Church! The situation is anything but hopeless! Be encouraged!

by Elizabeth Kendal

On the Sunday before his crucifixion (Palm Sunday), Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey as the people spread their cloaks on the road before him, waved palm branches and shouted praises. Indignant, the religious leaders demanded Jesus make them stop. He responded, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out’ (Luke 19:28-40). Jesus then went into the temple to pray and teach, only to find it full of animals, traders, money-changers and corruption. Rebuking them, he drove them out, explaining, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer”, but you have made it a den of robbers.’ Doubly indignant, the religious leaders yearned to destroy him (Luke 19:45-48). 

In Luke chapter 20 we find Jesus in the temple, teaching and preaching the Gospel. A delegation of religious leaders interrupts him, asking, ‘Who gave you authority to do these things?’ which is another way of saying, ‘Who do you think you are?’ Jesus doesn’t answer them directly. Rather, he tells the people a parable: the Parable of the Tenants (Luke 20:9-19). While Jesus is not speaking to the religious leaders, he is speaking about them, and they know it. Being experts in scripture, they understand the parable perfectly. They know from Isaiah 5:1-7, that God is the owner of the vineyard and they are the tenants. They know that the servants are the prophets, whom they have abused, rejected and even killed. Finally, God sends ‘my beloved son’ [cf Matthew 3:17] who is likewise despised, rejected and murdered. There is nothing left now for those wicked tenants but judgement.

But the encounter doesn’t end there. When the religious leaders objected, Jesus looked directly at them and said, ‘What then is this that is written: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him’ (Luke 20:17,18 ESV).

Referencing three Old Testament images, Jesus expands the people’s vision from what is past (their rejection of the prophets) and what is imminent (their rejection and murder of the Son of God) to the future: the authority, glory and victory of the Son.

Jesus is the cornerstone. Quoting Psalm 118:22 – ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’ – Jesus makes it clear that despite being despised, rejected and ultimately killed, the Son of God becomes the cornerstone: the first stone laid in the foundation (Isaiah 28:16) of a whole new structure. Jesus is the cornerstone of the universal Church (1 Peter 2:4-8) comprising Jews and Gentiles who will produce good fruit. ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes’ (Psalm 118:23).

Jesus is a stumbling block (Luke 20:18a). In his humility and humanity, Jesus is a stumbling block to many. People look at him and wonder, ‘How can this swaddled baby in a manger, this man eating at the table, this mangled flesh hanging on a cross, be God? How can this be our Saviour?’ Instead of recognising Jesus as the cornerstone and following him, they stumble on him and break into pieces. The reference is from Isaiah 8:11-15. Isaiah has prophesied that, having conquered Israel, superpower Assyria will ultimately spill over the border and flood/invade Judah ‘right up to its neck’ [i.e. to the gates of Jerusalem] (Isaiah 8:5-8). In the face of terror, Isaiah exhorts the people to trust in God who is faithful to all his promises. For those who choose the way of faith, ‘he [God] will become a sanctuary’ [dwelling place]; but for those who reject the way of faith, he will be ‘a stone of offence and a rock of stumbling … many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.’ As a citizen of Australia – which is increasingly looking like John Bunyan’s ‘Vanity Fair’ – I wonder, ‘Is our society any better for its rejection of Christ?’ Clearly it is not! It is more selfish, more perverse, more corrupt, more violent … more broken. The Church too routinely stumbles over the way of faith, preferring the way of works and idols, only to end up stumbling and broken. Lord help us!

Interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream.
(click on image to enlarge)

Jesus is the stone of crushing (Luke 20:18b), ‘and when it [the cornerstone] falls on anyone, it will crush him’. The reference is to Daniel 2, specifically to Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (v31-45). As Daniel explains, the image/statue in the king’s dream represents the various kingdoms/empires that will come and go. But while kingdoms/empires rise and fall, God will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, a kingdom that will grow to fill the earth … and it all starts with a stone ‘cut out by no human hand’ (v34). In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream this divinely-cut stone strikes the image on its feet, crushing them and causing the whole image to collapse into pieces that are blown away like chaff, leaving no trace. ‘But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth(v35).

Dear intercessor, be encouraged. For ultimately, as we ‘speak, pray, give’ and produce good fruit (Galatians 5:22,23), the kingdom of this King of Love will grow to fill the whole earth. No wonder the angel who addressed the shepherds spoke of ‘good news of great joy that will be for all the people’. No wonder the choir of heavenly hosts sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ (Luke 2:8-20).

Who is this in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall?
Tis the LORD, O wond'rous story,
Tis the LORD, the King of glory.
At his feet we humbly fall,
Crown him crown him LORD of all.

[from the hymn by Benjamin Russell Hanby (1833-1867)]