Today: [Matthew 21] Challenging the Status Quo: In chapter 21 of Matthew Jesus upsets the tables of the money changers and insults the elders and leaders in Jerusalem. If such a disruptive element stirred things up at your church this Sunday, would you be able to discern that it was God at work? In the events of this chapter as recorded and handed down to us, we have an opportunity to look within our hearts and determine just where our loyalties lay – with the living Christ or our religious culture?
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[Mat 21:1-46 KJV] 1 And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, 2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose [them], and bring [them] unto me. 3 And if any [man] say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. 4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. 6 And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, 7 And brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set [him] thereon. 8 And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed [them] in the way. 9 And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed [is] he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. 10 And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? 11 And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. 12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. 15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, 16 And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? 17 And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there. 18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered. 19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away. 20 And when the disciples saw [it], they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away! 21 Jesus answered and said unto them, Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this [which is done] to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done. 22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.
In Matthew 21 we find the account of Jesus triumphal entry to Jerusalem. He instructs two of his disciples to go ahead of him and that they would find an ass tied with a young colt that they were to return with to Jesus. He further instructs them that if the owner objects to their actions they are to say “the Lord hath need of them”. Is Jesus telling his disciples to commit grand theft auto? The passage doesn’t give the actual details of what happens next but the disciples return just as instructed with the colt and turn the beast over to Jesus. Matthew points out in the narrative that this was fulfillment of scripture, specifically Zecheriah 9:9:
Zecheriah 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.
Again we note that Matthew is writing to the Jewish nation as his intended audience, as this would have little meaning to uninformed Gentiles. The picture of Jesus entering the city in this way was evocative of the messianic hopes of the people, and they upon seeing this itinerant miracle worker entering Jerusalem in this manner, were moved to lay their garments along the way, and palm fronds as an expression of worship and great honor, crying “Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord”. This, from the very crowd who just a short time later will cry out for Jesus’ crucifixion.
When Jesus arrives near the temple, He leaves this scene of adulation and assaults the money changers, overthrowing their booths and tables with an accusation that they have made his Father’s house of prayer into a den of thieves. Before any of the officials have time to react He immediately turns and begins healing the blind and the lame that have resorted to Him, having been informed of His presence by the great tumult. If you want to find Jesus in your city, look for the place where business as usual has been interrupted by the zeal of the Lord of Host upon His servants. That is where the miracle working power is present to heal and to deliver! Not only do the sick and the maimed come out to Jesus, but the chief priests and the scribes come out, and instead of being pleased they complain strongly at all the fuss and excitement. They are so shocked that they confront Jesus, pointing out the scandalous cries of the people over Jesus as their messiah. Jesus simply tell them that the crowd is fulfilling scripture that “out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, God has perfected praise…” Without another word turns and leaves the temple, going out of the city to Bethany.
In verse 18, after lodging all night in Bethany, Jesus arises in the morning and goes to a nearby fig tree for breakfast. He is dismayed that there are no figs on the branches and straightway curses the fig tree saying, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever…” Immediately the tree shows evidence of withering away, the to the marvel of the disciples looking on. After questioning Jesus about this, He simply makes a blanket faith statement, that if they had faith without doubt, they could not only do what had been done to the fig tree by their words but could veritably move an actual mountain and see it cast into the sea. What an astounding statement, and one that really doesn’t get the treatment it deserves when it is taught in our pulpits.
Let us remember who Jesus is talking to. These men have not yet received the Holy Ghost, and technically were not yet born again. Yet Jesus is saying that they have within themselves even as unregenerate men, in the interim state of being followers of Jesus before salvation was paid for at the cross, yet Jesus emphatically states that they have far more power in their words, and authority in the earth than they could ever conceive. Do we actually believe this? How much more so now that we are born again, and filled with His Spirit? Jesus sums His words with simple, yet all-encompassing statement, without caveat that “whatsoever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive…”
23 And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? 24 And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? 26 But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. 27 And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things. 28 But what think ye? A [certain] man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. 30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I [go], sir: and went not. 31 Whether of them twain did the will of [his] father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen [it], repented not afterward, that ye might believe him. 33 Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: 34 And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. 35 And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise. 37 But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. 38 But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. 39 And they caught him, and cast [him] out of the vineyard, and slew [him]. 40 When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? 41 They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out [his] vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. 42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. 46 But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
Having made bold an authoritative faith statements, and after making disruption at the temple, the chief priests and elders again come to Jesus and demand to know upon what authority Jesus is creating all the hubbub in their perfectly ordered temple life. Jesus, in classic form answers their question with a question regarding the ministry of John the Baptist. The elders have no intention of sanctioning John’s ministry with their reply, neither do they want to denounce John for they fear the people, therefore they plead ignorance and upon their response, Jesus declines to answer their question as well. Here is great wisdom for you and I. Learn to answer questions with questions. Learn to be wise as serpents yet gentle as doves. Realize that we live in an adversarial world that cares little for those things that we hold dear and will be little convinced of the articles of our faith even if one be risen from the dead. To be sure God will draw those to Him that He will, but it is not our responsibility to be apologetic, or convincing of others regarding the veracity and desirability of the faith that we hold dear. Learn to let your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth and stop standing with your hat in your hand when others mock and deride. Simply answer, or not answer them by the leadership of the Holy Spirit and go on your way, knowing that God will draw them after you if He sees fit.
Jesus then tells these temple officials a parable concerning two sons. The Father instructs one to go work in His vineyard and the first son refuses, but afterward repents and goes anyway. The second son says of course he will go, but afterward does not. Jesus asks the elders which of them did the will of his father to which they answer “the first” or the one that said he would NOT go but afterward obeyed. Jesus then tersely answers that this is correct and for this reason the publicans and prostitutes would go into the kingdom ahead of them because the publicans and prostitutes received Jesus for who He was, while these elders in Jerusalem knew who He was but received Him not. Before they can react, Jesus tells another parable of a householder who carefully planted a vineyard and let it out to husbandmen, traveling himself into a far city. When he sent to receive the fruits of the vineyard the husbandmen beat and then killed his servants. Then the householder sent his son, and likewise the husbandmen killed the son, thinking they could then take over ownership of the vineyard for himself.
The implications are plain, the elders in Jerusalem, and the temple leaders would rather kill the very son of God then relinquish their status, and control of the city and the people to their rightful Messiah. Thereupon the Pharisees and Sadducees rise up in murderous rage, but know better than to touch Jesus, for fear that the people would rend them in pieces, because the population venerated Him as a prophet and holy man.
What about us? What would we do if some rogue element in our church culture upset the status quo? Would we side with those who would reject such a tumult, or would we have the discernment to read the situation and realize that God was doing something we should pay attention to, however our leaders or mentors complained and rejected it? In the events of this chapter, Jesus is laying the ground work for the very decompiling of the Jewish religious system and the establishing of something completely different that would emerge as Christianity as we know it. What if God began to so move in our midst that we had to choose between our Christian cultural expression and going on with God? Would we be able as so very few of those around Jesus were able, to make the transition from the prevailing religious system, to what God would so choose to do otherwise?
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