What a shock Paul's statement must has been to the Jew steeped in rituals and law. This proclamation comes as an awakening to many of our churches today. The only way to obtain the righteousness that the law prescribes is by faith not works. The gentiles who did not follow after righteousness or seek salvation and relationship to God found it through faith in Jesus by believing the gospel message they heard. They believed in him and God imputed his righteousness to them. This only happens through faith. In the same way, the Jews who sought God through what they did and did not do, never obtained it because they never trusted in God to justify them. They only looked to themselves and their self righteousness to fulfill the law. Paul said they stumbled over the stumbling stone and fell flat.
Jesus is the only way to heaven. He said in John, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" ( John 14:6 ). Jesus is the precious cornerstone that Isaiah prophesied about, "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed" ( Isaiah 28:16 ). He is the rock of our salvation and the basis of our entire foundation. Those who have looked to him have found security and eternal life in Him. However to those who reject him, he is a stumbling stone in the way. They approach God with their works hoping to find justification, but run into this precious stone and trip and fall. Isaiah said, "and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare" ( Isaiah 8:14 ). Meaning that they are so self absorbed in their own virtue that they never noticed God's salvation right in front of them providing the way. He is placed directly in our paths. To those who rely on themselves they find him in the way. To those who trust Him they find he is the way.
Knowing all of this, it makes sense that Paul declares that Israel as a whole did not obtain the righteousness they sought. The reason is that they relied upon their merit and not upon God's grace. Isaiah said, "Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD : Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many" ( Isaiah 51:1-2 ). They were always suppose to look to God for their salvation. Through faith they were always suppose to be part of the promise spoken to Abraham. They were fashioned and created as God's people on the earth and he wanted them to be dependant upon him. However because of the law they started looking and trusting in themselves instead of God's grace and mercy and missed Jesus along the way.
This has huge implications for us today. We too are called to belong to the promised of grace. However, many rely on themselves and what they do to find salvation instead of trusting Jesus to save them. Many go to church and go through motions in order to prove their goodness before God and satisfy His requirements. Many look to themselves and their own self righteousness thinking that they are good enough. However we will never be good enough on our own. It is only by grace that we are saved and this is through faith in Jesus and this is a gift from God ( Ephesians 2:8-9 ).
Just as we cannot work our way to heaven on our own merit, we cannot work our way through the Christians life. We may start out by trusting in Jesus as their savior only to put that aside to live a life of works. However this will not cut it either. The Christian life is based upon a heart change through the grace offered in Jesus. Everything else branches out from that. Whatever we do must be rooted and cultivated in love as our motivation and not what we can do for God. When we trust in Jesus as our savior and live out of that gift of grace, we will never be disappointed because our lives are built upon that precious cornerstone and sure foundation.
Today, I am blessed to be "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord" ( Ephesians 2:20-21 ). Through faith in Jesus, you also are counted among this rich heritage. May you live your life by trusting, relying and depending upon Christ for everything. When you do you will find exceeding joy and expression in His grace for evermore, amen!