READING MATTHEW 21
Peculiar that Jesus decides to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Donkeys don’t get ridden much in any culture. They carry stuff. Zechariah prophesied the Messiah would come riding a donkey, gentle is he. Zechariah was right about the donkey part, but Jesus’s first action in Jerusalem was anything but gentle. And the way Jesus would be treated was in no way gentle.
Jesus sends two disciples to get a young donkey to ride on, and when he rides into Jerusalem, a large crowd spread their robes on the road for Jesus. The healer’s reputation went ahead of him. This is a reverse of the sick woman who just wanted to touch the robe of Jesus. Now, if even the donkey the healer is riding on touches my robe, will healing remain in my house?
They shouted “Hosaana to the son of David! Give praise to the one who is coming with the authority of the Lord God. Hosanna to God (in the highest)!”
We don’t know how Jesus receives this praise but we know his first action when he gets to town. He enters the temple courts where hawkers were selling animals mostly to out of towners and also changing their currency to acceptable money for the temple cash register. It was all a racket from top to bottom, and Jesus overturned their tables and chairs and threw the sellers out. Matthew doesn’t mention Jesus using a whip, but John’s version of the story does (John’s version of the temple cleansing is also placed early in his gospel, long before the week of Jesus’s crucifixion). In one of the rare episodes all four gospels tells, the temple cleansing is important. In all four versions Jesus says some variation of quotes from Isaiah 56: “My house will be called a house for prayer! But you have made it into a hiding place for thieves!”
Now imagine the many groups of people congregating to watch this commotion. The sellers are perturbed. Those who’d cried Hosanna are probably taken aback like everyone else, but impressed, and the ones who’d hoped their robes would be blessed and heal them, gravitated toward Jesus and now the gentle Messiah Zechariah mentions heals the blind and crippled. All this made the important priests and teachers very angry. They enjoyed being the center of attention and people relying on them, fawning over their high and holiness, receiving their offerings in the temple. Who is this man who is destroying the temple system? He must be from hell and we need to send him back there, they reasoned.
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES
Once again children enter the story. They keep singing this song that grates on the temple teachers, and they want Jesus to shut them up, because it seems they are singing this song about him, and doesn’t he know the song is blasphemous if he really believes it’s about him? “Hosanna to the son of David!” Who do you think you are? Jesus says he’s very aware of their singing, and didn’t they know the Psalm from where we get the saying, “Out of the mouths of babes”? (Psalm 8:2)
A FIG TREE, FAITH, AND PRAYER
Jesus had slept in nearby Bethany where friends lived, and on his way back to Jerusalem he saw a fig tree and wanted some breakfast. No fruit, only leaves. Jesus cursed the tree and it withered, and the disciples were amazed. “How could this fig tree dry up so quickly?” Then Jesus says something I remember my family and church talking about when I was growing up.
“I’m telling you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you will be able to perform this sort of thing, too! You could even say to this mountain, ‘Pick yourself up and throw yourself into the lake!’ and it would happen. If you believe, then you will receive anything you ask for in prayer.” (MATTHEW 21:21-22, IEB)
By discussing whether Jesus analogy is literal or hyperbole, we miss the point. How great is the power of God and great is His desire to work through the faith of people! Pray and believe God can do it.
TWO STORIES ABOUT REJECTION OF THE SON
Two stories complete the chapter. The point was well-taken and understood by the important teachers and priests, and for Matthew and his readers, all the stories line up and make sense: the kingdom of God will be taken away from these important religious people and given to people they think are low-lifes. Jesus says as much in Matthew 21:31-32: “I’m telling you the truth: The tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the kingdom of God before you ever do!” (IEB)
Lord Jesus, it seems we have a choice to be in the praising crowds, those seeking to gain something for ourselves like the sellers, or the angry mob of religious people. Thank you for the patience you give us when we are found faith-less, like the disciples asking how you could turn a fig tree dry. Did they in so many days with you not realize it was through you the heavens and earth were made? Was it too much to wonder at how they walked with their creator like Adam and Eve walked with God in the cool of the evening in Eden? It is too wonderful for us to imagine, and yet you say if we have faith in you and do not doubt your power, we can ask for anything in your will and you will do it for us. Give us faith, Lord Jesus!
Pay attention to the “fig trees,” the fruit of what God wants for the world around you. Pray without doubting today that God will change lives. That’s why we’re reading the Bible together, to see God change our lives and the world.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg’s wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.