Crying Stones

or Weeping over Jerusalem

weepingoverjerusalemThen Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, ”and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” —Matthew 3:5-9

Then, as He was now drawing near the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: ” ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” —Luke 19:37-40

The Bible is consistent with its symbols, so what is it with stones crying out? Uri Brito commented about the stones referring possibly to the stones of the Temple.

For the stone will cry out from the wall, And the beam from the timbers will answer it. “Woe to him who builds a town with bloodshed, Who establishes a city by iniquity! —Habakkuk 2:11-12

A pile of stones is always a witness. Stones are hard earth, and the ground first cried out as a witness against Cain‘s murder of Abel. Moses had an altar and twelve stone pillars built at the bottom of Sinai to symbolise the twelve tribes (Exodus 24:4). Elijah built an altar of twelve stones and it was destroyed as a substitute for Israel’s harlotries, burned to dust as an unfaithful daughter of a priest.

The key ideas here are substitution and witness, or death and resurrection. The Habukkuk reference has to do with a witness against the shedding of innocent blood — the wrong kind of substitutionary death. It is like the murder of the unborn and exploitation and murder of foreign civilians in our own day to prop up a civilisation that has failed to witness of Christ to the nations and thus lost the blessing of God.[1] In Luke, Jesus then weeps over Jerusalem, so I believe that is His context. The Land itself would vomit out the Jewish leaders, crying from beneath the spilled blood of one better than Abel (Hebrews 12:24). The unfaithful pile of stones would be torn down and burned with fire RIGHT AFTER the firstfruits church ascended at the last trumpet. Jesus speaks of both death and resurrection in terms of stones.

The words of John the Baptist, however, speak only of resurrectionToby Sumpter hits the nail on the head:

John the Forerunner famously says that his listeners cannot claim their Abrahamic lineage as protection against judgment. John says, “… and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Lk. 3:8)

What are “these stones” that Jesus is referring to? 

Frequently I believe it is assumed that “these stones” is just a generic reference to the power of God. He can make sons of Abraham out of trees, rocks, geese, whatever. Don’t be so arrogant, O Israel. 

But remember where John is. John is at the Jordan. And all the indicators are that John is inviting his listeners to join him in a new conquest, to cross the Jordan in baptism and join the new Joshua (Jesus) in His conquest of the land. 

That being so, is it possible that “these stones” are the very stones that Joshua had the people set up on the shore of the Jordan River centuries before? Or even if John isn’t pointing at a literal pile of stones, could he be referring to “those stones”? 

If that is the case, John’s point could still be partially concerned with the arrogance of Israel and God’s power, but it makes it more pointed referring to the previous Jordan crossing and conquest. 

First, it’s a reference to the fact that God has performed this sort of thing before. Refusal to follow the example of that second generation of Israel across the Jordan means that they are really more like the first generation in the wilderness, whose bodies were scattered in the desert. 

Second, “those stones” clearly represented Israel. There were twelve of them for the twelve tribes, and therefore, perhaps the “power of God” is not so much that God can turn anything into sons but rather specifically resurrection power. God is able to raise the dead; He is able to even raise that ancient and faithful generation of Israel from the dead. If God needs an Israel with enough faith to take this Canaan, He can raise “these stones” from dead.

The memorial pillars that Joshua set up were not covered in blood, but washed with white. In the Egypt to Canaan pattern, they are the two goats of Atonement. In this first century context, one pillar is the saints in white robes ascending to God (just like the angel in white sitting on the stone at Jesus’ open tomb). The other, like Lot’s wife, is a memorial to permanent barrenness,[2] a Land that can only ever produce thorns like Cain. This was Herod’s house of shiny white stone, the one Jesus wept over, a whitewashed sepulchre.[3]

So Jesus speaks of “false witness” Herod’s stones being torn down, and John speaks of the new Temple, a resurrected Israel with Jews and Gentiles in one body, being raised up. The Herods slaughtered the saints — shedding innocent blood — and unwittingly gave them resurrection. This crime filled up the sins of Herodian worship and brought about the end of the old altar.[4]

These pillars are two witnesses, hence the references to Moses and Elijah in Revelation 11. They are witnesses to both the goodness and severity of God. The stones as martyroi cry out as a witness of the goodness of God, and then as a witness against their murderers.

Will your church be an everlasting witness to God’s goodness or to His severity?

[1] See Building Cages Out of Freedom.
[2] See Don’t Look Back.
[3] See A White Stone – 6.
[4] This might be why Paul calls the Circumcision “the mutilation.” They were the prophets of Baal.

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