There are some words that leave an eternal imprint on us once we read them. Their impact never goes away from the moment we see them. We never forget them once we hear them.
Such is the case with “marvelous” in Mark 12:11.
Meaning strikingly surprising or passing human comprehension—or, in our vernacular, mind-boggling—“marvelous” is used in this narrative to describe something about the work of God that contained an unexpected twist. Specifically, how he could take a rejection (“the stone the builders rejected”) and turn it into the basis of our salvation (“has become the cornerstone”). It is a reference to Christ’s initial rejection and crucifixion, yet ultimate resurrection and victory. And all for our salvation.
There are mounds of beautiful truth in this parable found in Mark 12:1-12. (For some of it, you can listen to my recent message from this text.) Allow me, however, to narrow in on the single aspect that I think is most marvelous.
So what is it that is so marvelous? Unexpected? Strikingly surprising? Beyond human comprehension?
Not only was the “cross-turned-crown” unexpected and strikingly surprising, but the fact that it was planned to unfold that way from the very beginning, well, that makes it exponentially more marvelous. Remarkably, as early as Genesis 3 we are told there would not only be a heel bruising, but also a head striking.
Furthermore, Christ is quoting two Old Testament passages in Mark 12—Psalm 118, which was 1000 years before Christ, as well as Isaiah 28, which was 700 years before Christ. God, through King David and his prophet Isaiah, had already promised that Christ’s exaltation as cornerstone would come through his initial rejection as no stone. So while it is strikingly surprising, it has been historically promised. In a nutshell, it has always been God’s loving purpose to turn a murderous crucifixion into the means of our beautiful salvation. So the passion week and resurrection of Jesus wasn’t a plan B, or a last-ditch effort by God to make something good out of something that went terribly wrong. It was his gospel plan all along.
That’s marvelous! That God intentionally and sovereignly purposed to utilize the rejection and crucifixion of his Son by the Jewish leaders as the means by which he would once and for all atone for sin, that’s stunningly amazing. That God intentionally and sovereignly purposed to allow death in order to bring life, that’s strikingly surprising. Beyond comprehension. In a word, marvelous.
This is good for us to ponder. Why? Because too many of us see God as mechanical, not marvelous. We don’t behold him in wonder; we’re actually, and wrongfully, bored with him. To many of us, he’s easily figured out, predictably routine, nicely boxed within our own mental explanations that leave him as our bellhop or consultant, not our sovereign King.
If that’s you, you have long ago stopped adoring the gospel, and you now merely admit it. Accept it. Much like you accept taxes—“Yes, we pay; it’s a fact of life, but we usually get something back later.” Or much like you accept final exams—“Yes, it’s a long week, but if you study hard and do your best, it works out in the end.”
That’s mechanical. That’s expected. That’s not strikingly surprising or mindboggling. Human effort and mere moralistic bargaining are never marvelous.
So no, no, no, a thousand times no to that kind of God and that kind of gospel! The “good news” isn’t anything like that. Instead, it’s the story of God taking the murderous crucifixion of his Son and turning it into our miraculous salvation. And knowing all along this is exactly how he would do it. It’s God, using sinners as players in his narrative that, from eternity past, was designed to allow his only Son to know the depths of our pain so that we might know the heights of his joy. It’s God, sovereignly exercising his divine purpose to lay on his Son what he never deserved—death—in order to grant to us what we could never earn—life.
May we be forever marked by a God who is forever marvelous.