All right. Throughout much of history, the way that we get from point A to point B has said something about us as individuals or even the various cultural expressions around the world. Think of the precision of the Swiss rail system or the precision and the velocity of the Japanese high-speed rail system. Or think about when a president or a prime minister or a king travels and the entourage that comes along with them. There’s something about the way that we get from point A to point B, our transportation. That says something about us. On a more basic level, think for a moment about your first mode of transportation, bicycle or car vehicle. My first car when I was 15 or 16 was a little late ’80s, early ’90s Toyota pickup truck about this big. They don’t even make them anymore. I mean, seriously, it wasn’t very big at all.
It didn’t say a lot… As a 15 or 16-year-old, I had no money, no resources of my own. I was very grateful for that kind of hand-me-down car. But it said something about my dependence on my parents that I could receive that car from them. Today, if you drive a minivan… Anybody in here with crayons caked on your upholstery? It says something about your season of life, your stage
of life. In the majority world, if you want to get around, you often have to get in these little vehicles they call Tuk Tuk. Anyone been in one of those? Basically a little hair dryer on wheels because it’s so tight. In much of the majority of the world, you have to have this little vehicle to get around. Something about how we get from point A to point B says something about us.
This, of course, has been true throughout history. George Washington’s statue in the Boston Common, if you’ve ever seen that, it’s just a beautiful statue, has him sitting atop a massive horse. We read in the Old Testament that Pharaoh in the Egyptians ran after the Hebrew people with a formidable army in their chariots. And the Psalmist says that, “Some trust in horses, some in chariots, but we trust in the name of our God.” As we continue our study of the Gospel of Matthew, which I’m so excited by the way that we’re getting back into Matthew after a brief hiatus during the holidays. The text we’re going to explore today, is Matthew 21, if you want to turn in there. It’s going to be familiar to many of us. It’s often what we call “The Triumphal Entry”. Jesus is now taking a turn from His public ministry of preaching, teaching, and miracle working.
He’s going to do some more of that, but He’s taking a turn, a transition, and He is looking towards His mission to the cross and resurrection, what we just sang about, His mission to the cross. And He rides into Jerusalem as king, but not upon a horse, not upon a chariot. He’s an altogether different kind of king than many were expecting in those days and perhaps a different kind of king than we might even expect. Jesus our Lord often confounds. He turns things on their heads, often reverses the world’s expectations, reverses my and your expectations. I think one of the defining issues of our day is that Jesus is often boring. He doesn’t stir our hearts any longer, disenchantment, apathy, boredom even. As I’m asked the question this morning, all throughout, “Are you stirred in the presence of Jesus? Are you stirred when we sing that our Redeemer lives and that He’s reigning even right now? Are you stirred up in the presence of our Lord?”
There’s a Latin phrase,Coram Deo, which means living before the face of God. I love that. It’s going to kind of be my phrase for the year. Does my heart stir when I consider what that means? Coram Deo, my life is lived before the face of God Himself. The very presence of our Lord is with us, among us by His spirit this morning. Are you stirred? Are you moved to respond in more faith and trust? So again, turn to Matthew 21, if you don’t mind. This is what we’ll be reading today. And because we did take that brief hiatus from Matthew, I want to just do a very broad outline of the Gospel of Matthew just to situate us in Matthew’s gospel account. And you can break up the gospel into many different parts. D.A. Carson is helpful, and I’ve modified it a bit to break it up into three general sections.
Outline of Matthew’s Gospel:
1. The Birth of Jesus and Introduction to His Ministry (ch. 1-4)
2. The Public Ministry of Jesus (ch. 5-16)
3. The Road to the Cross and the Resurrection (ch. 17-28)
So chapters one through four of the Gospel of Matthew, the birth of Jesus, which we studied over Christmas of course, and the introduction of His ministry into Galilee and this is where He calls the disciples and He says, “Come follow me.” The second part of Matthew, the much bigger section, is the public ministry of Jesus, chapter 5 through 16. And if you’ll remember, chapter five begins with the Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who recognize their dependence, their need, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.” And He begins His public teaching and preaching and miracle working ministry showing His authority as prophet, priest, and king. The great, great king we all need. And then this third section of Matthew chapters 17 through 28, roughly, takes us on the road to the cross and resurrection. We see the preparation for His Passion Week, which is what we’re going to be starting to study here today.
He teaches a sermon on humility. And of course, Matthew’s gospel ends with the resurrection and the great commission, which we’ll get to study around Easter later this year. So that kind of situates us where we are today. Jesus has been in Jericho, or around Jericho, and He’s going to be coming into Jerusalem, and we’ll read that today. Let me pray for us and then we’ll get going.
Living God, help us to hear your Holy Word that we may truly understand. That understanding, we may believe. And believing, we may follow in all faithfulness and obedience. In following You, Lord, may we come to know You with such intimacy that our ears are attuned to Your voice. May Your spirit empower us to seek Your glory in all we do. And we all said…Amen.
Matthew 21. “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem…” (And so this is a whole crowd that’s following Jesus, and this crowd includes some blind men, formerly blind men, Bartimaeus being one, the other gospels tell us.)
So this crowd, “draws near to Jerusalem and they came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus sent two disciples saying to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you and immediately you will find a donkey tied in a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If
anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.’” So a lot of different interpretations of what’s happening here. Is this a supernatural event or is this something that Jesus has prearranged? We don’t know. My speculation is based on what happens with the Passover meal is that Jesus has prearranged this and perhaps He’s sending these disciples to Bethany where Mary and Martha and Lazarus are. Perhaps those preparations have already been made. But what’s important about this is that Jesus is in charge.
Jesus is entering as king on His own terms and He’s here to fulfill a prophecy that was made 500 years ago by Zechariah, as we’ll read. Verse four, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet saying. Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey and a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.” I hope that’s said about me. Verse seven, “They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks and He sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, ‘Hosanna’, to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.’ And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up saying, ‘Who is this?'” That’s the right question. The question of the ages.
Verse 11. “And the crowd said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.'” Now we know, if you’ve read a little bit in the story, that the crowds waver. The same ones here and many of them will later say, “crucify Him.” And even here in this text, I think there are some who are saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” that means this is the King, the Promised One, the Anointed One, the Messiah that has finally come. They recognize perhaps from Zechariah and Isaiah that Jesus is the prophet, priest, and king who has come. But this last section here where, “This is the prophet Jesus…” Some in the crowd said, “… from Nazareth of Galilee.” Perhaps this is even a little bit of backpedaling, a little bit of wavering even here. Yes, He is a prophet, but He’s much more than that. Nazareth was not a city of any kind of means. So perhaps this is even throwing a little bit of shade. The crowds, as we will see later on, are fickle and wavering.
But there are at least some here who see Him as king. Hosanna, which means, “Save now,” “Save us, Lord, now.” There’s a pointedness to it. It’s a prayer. It’s a prayer of praise and a prayer of supplication. Jesus is coming into Jerusalem as king. So much here. There’s another time that we hear about Jerusalem being stirred. Do you remember? It’s at the birth of Jesus, something we just studied. When Herod hears that the wise men had come to Jerusalem to inquire about the birth of the king of the Jews, Matthew 2 says, “The King Herod was troubled and all Jerusalem with them.” Herod was stirred, Jerusalem was stirred when the presence of Christ had come near even as a newborn baby. And here in our text this morning, “Jesus, the Anointed One, the Messiah is entering Jerusalem as king in this city,” you could even interpret that word as ‘quake’. You could translate it as quake, stirred, quaking. There was something going on. When Jesus arrives on the scene, hearts are shaken. And even earthly king’s tremble. Are you stirred this morning? I hope you are. I hope I am.
So to set the scene a little bit, Jesus is entering Jerusalem, like I said, from Jericho. I’m going to put a map up here on the screen. This is really a synthesized version of all four gospels, the synoptics as well as John, His last trip to Jerusalem. And you can see on that call out there at the bottom right-hand corner, it’s kind of zoomed in on where we are in this particular text this morning, Jericho to Jerusalem is about 15, 17 miles. It’s a Roman road, it’s a major thoroughfare. There has been a lot of traffic going on here. And even though Jerusalem, as you can see there, is kind of west into the south, they would say they were going up to Jerusalem for a couple of reasons. One, because Jericho is roughly 1,000 feet below sea level while Jerusalem is about 2,000 feet above sea level.
So literally they’re going up, but not just that. And don’t miss this meaning here. I miss it so often. Jerusalem is the Holy City. There’s so much richness in just the name of the city is the center of Jewish religious life. It’s mentioned over 800 times in the Old and New Testament together. We see Jerusalem intimated in Genesis and of course in Revelation where God dwells among His people in the renewed heavens and earth, and we look forward to that day. Amen. You can also imagine as this whole crowd is coming along and blind men and perhaps those who are lame are walking with Jesus into Jerusalem from Jericho, and they’re singing the Psalms of Ascent. These are Psalms that would’ve traditionally been sung as people made pilgrimage up to Jerusalem. I actually want us to say one together. Psalm 121, 1 through two. Many of us are familiar with this.
Let’s say this aloud. This is something they would have said likely as they were traveling on this road.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills.Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV)
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.”
That’s right. They’re looking at the hills. If you’ve seen pictures of Jerusalem, there are many hills. They’re looking up at those hills, but they’re asking the question, “Where does my help come?” I think implicit in this is the help is not in the hills. The help isn’t in the city of Jerusalem itself, but from the Maker of those hills. They’d be singing the song, and Emily wanted me to mention that, it was kind of like road trip music along the way. And if you really wanted the authentic experience, you’d hear animal sounds and babies crying as people are on this caravan on their way to Jerusalem.
In the scripture, the city of Jerusalem itself is bursting with meaning. And anytime it’s mentioned in the Bible, we should sit up and pay attention. We also need to keep in mind that this is the Jewish festival of Passover, a reminder of what the Lord did for them in delivering them out of slavery from the grip of Pharaoh. From the records of Josephus and others, it’s estimated that Jerusalem was a moderately sized city around this time, we don’t know for sure, but 100,000 to 102,000 people on a normal day, perhaps up to 500,000. But during Passover, it could swell to
2, 3, 4 times that amount. So there could be a million, million and a half, 2 million people flooding into this city as Jesus and this crowd, this whole posse along with Jesus comes in and they’re singing Hosanna to the Son of David. So you can imagine, there’s a lot of stirring going on in this already bustling city.
The city is swollen, it is cramped, it’s tight, and you can imagine all the animals, sheeps, goats, pigeons, doves, oxen for the sacrifices, not to mention all the animals that they brought along just to carry their resources. There’s so much going on in this scene. So when we hear that the city stirred, that it quaked, Jesus and His entrance into the city undoubtedly caught the attention of the religious leaders, those who were supervising this festival. Many of whom were profiting off the incoming travelers. That a crowd was coalescing around this prophet from Nazareth as some said. Some were calling Him king. You can imagine the multitude of responses to King Jesus. Let’s keep reading at verse 12.
“And Jesus entered the temple.” So now not only is He in Jerusalem, but now He’s going to the very center, the heart of religious life, the temple, and likely He’s in the court of the Gentiles, the outer ring. “Jesus entered the temple and He drove out…” And you might underline that, “… drove out all who sold and bought in the temple. And He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And He said to them, ‘It is written. My house shall be called a house of prayer.'” And the original readers of this would know this is a reference from Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations,” is what the text says. And here Jesus is in the court of the Gentiles. It should be a place where all nations are coming to pray, to commune with the Lord. “But you make it a den of robbers.”
“And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple and He healed them.” So much going on in this text here. He’s calling them robbers. He’s making a contrast between what this place should be, a place where God dwells and His people come to pray, to commune with Him, and it’s turned this place of worship into a place of selling their wares. It’s corrupted, it’s perverted, the intention was. Robbers, you could translate that as bandits, plunderers, if you will. But think about the contrast here. This is why I asked you to underline it. So Jesus as the great king, but also the prophet, and here in His priestly role, He’s cleaning out, He’s cleaning house. He drives out those who have corrupted this place of worship and He welcomes in the blind and lame. What the prophet said would happen is that when the Messiah comes, those who are blind and lame would receive sight and they would walk again.
And even in the Old Testament, if you look at the… We’re on the Kings, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, the blind, the lame often aren’t even allowed into the temple. Jesus drives out those who are corrupting the worship and He welcomes in those who are blind and lame, those who want to come, who recognize at least that he’s a healer, that something is going on here, they recognize Him. I think there’s something else significant here. I don’t want to read too much into it, but He’s driving out this marketplace for the sacrificial system, which in a few days when He dies as the Lamb of God and rises again will do away with. I think we see a little foreshadowing here. There’s so much going on here. The money changers would be… The tables of Annas, the high priest, the tables would be there to exchange the currency from all these nations that are
coming in this complex system. And who is it that would benefit from exchanging this currency to the temple coinage, but the religious leaders?
When it says that He drives those who are selling pigeons for the sacrifice, pigeons are for the least of these, the poor, those who couldn’t afford to bring a lamb or to buy a lamb. If you want to know what makes God angry, if it’s the abuse of the poor, it’s injustice. It’s making it difficult
for people to worship the Lord. So much in this text here. Verse 15, “But when the chief priest and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He did and the children crying out in the temple…” Interesting. “‘… Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant.” Meaning the religious leaders were indignant, they were angry, they were seething. “And they said to him, said to Jesus, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?'” And I love this. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes. Have you never read, religious leaders, scribes, out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, you have prepared praise?'”
Interesting that it’s the children that are revealing the hearts of these particular religious leaders who are rejecting Jesus as king. It’s the children who come in simple faith, recognizing Him as the Son of David, the king who has come to Jerusalem, His city. And then He says here, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes…” That’s such an interesting image to me that even infants as they’re nursing will stop for a moment and turn their head because they know who Jesus is. I love Scotty Smith and he has said it this way,
“You can know the lyric of the gospel, but not hear the music.”–Scotty Smith, Searching for Grace
And I think that’s true of the religious leaders here in this text. I wonder, are you stirred this morning? Verse 17, “And leaving them, He went out of the city to Bethany and He lodged there.” Again, His friends, Mary, and Martha, Lazarus, and Simon, the leper, as we’ll learn, also lives there in Bethany.
“In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He became hungry.” I love that we see that Jesus loves food. “And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And He said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again,’ and the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they marveled saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, be taken up and thrown into the sea, it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith.'”
Do you see Him for who He is? Has your heart gone cold, disenchanted, my friends? So this last section of texts that we just read, however you approach it, it can on the surface seem strange to our western ears. And although there are a few valid historical interpretations, it’s plain that within the grain of the story here, Jesus is using the fig tree as both a parable and a miracle wrapped into one. “It’s an acted parables,” one of the commentators I read this week said. He’s painting a picture for the disciples and for us here about the nature of true and living faith. The fig tree is a rich symbol used throughout all of the scriptures, in the Old Testament and the New, in connection with God’s people, whether it’s fruitless or fruitful. Jesus stands before the fig tree expecting fruit, but all He finds is foliage, leaves, no fruit.
The Gospel of Mark tells us that it wasn’t the season for figs, but even a healthy fig tree bears an early crop. This is the month of March. There likely would’ve been fruit there. Jesus was expecting fruit there. He’s the maker of the tree, the fig tree, and there is no fruit on this tree. Just as a few hours prior, Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem to find all the trappings of vibrant religion, waving palms, people bringing their sacrifices to the temple. But what He found in the outwardly religious was a rootless faith, a fruitless faith, foliage without fruit. So Jesus pronounces judgment on the tree as a parable of the judgment that is to come to faithless Jerusalem and indeed all who encounter Jesus and reject him. Nominal religion cannot stand beside the kingdom of God. Michael Green said that. Nominal religion cannot stand alongside the kingdom of God.
The disciples were astonished at this miracle of the withered tree. And Jesus gives another parable, what we ended with. That is connected, shedding more light on the nature of faith, and it ends this way, “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith.” And when we read a text like this, we must always interpret it in light of the whole council of God’s word. And there are two errors, I’ll leave this with you on this section here, two errors that we can take on, both extremes, with a text like this. One extreme is that you warp and you pervert a text like this so much that it makes God out to be a butler or a genie in a lamp. My friends, God will not be tamed like that. But another extreme, and this is one that probably I’m more guilty of and I assume some of us in here, is that we hesitate to bring our needs to God. “Oh, God is sovereign, so I don’t need to bother Him with it.” No, we are called to bring our needs before the Father.
Cast your cares upon him. 1 Peter says, “Why? Because He cares for you.” In fact, I love that 1 Peter does this, the Apostle Peter, he wraps that whole little section, “Cast your cares in humility.” He says, “Humble yourselves. Therefore, cast your cares upon Him.” It’s humility. “… Because He cares for you.” So don’t fall into one of those two extremes. The word we must pay attention to in that text there is the word ‘faith’. And this is not faith in myself. It’s not faith in my own faith. Know that the object of our faith and our trust is the One who was in the beginning and will be with us until the end. And a flourishing of faith in Christ will lead us to prayer that aligns with God’s will. So again, I’ll ask the question, are you stirred this morning, my friends, by the presence of Christ who is among us here in this room? Do you believe that today? Let’s give our attention to a few of the responses that we see in this text this morning.
“The indignant religious leaders”, “the wavering crowds”, did you see that? And “the worshiping children”. There are more responses, but at least those three I think for us to focus on here today.
The indignant religious leaders, they were angry, they were resentful, they were seething. And I think there’s a variety of reasons for this and probably more than just this, but to the religious leaders, Jesus was a blasphemer. Unless what the children, what some in the crowd were saying was true. “Hosanna, the Son of David has come.” So that’s at least one reason. Another reason Jesus was stepping on their turf, “Get off my lawn,” their ground. Ooh, their authority, their power, their prophet. That’s another reason.
Another reason would be Jesus exposes the hypocrisy, the fruitlessness, the faithlessness, the corruption of their institution. He drives out those who are corrupting the worship of God and He welcomes in those who want to worship. Even though in Jesus’s response, and actually look at 21. Let me pull it up real quick. Set your eyes with me, at 21:16.
So they’re seething, they’re indignant, right? And they say, “Do you hear what they’re saying? They’re calling you king,” is basically what they’re saying. “Do you hear that?” And He says, “Yes. But have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies, you have prepared praise.'” I think there’s a mercy here. I think there’s some grace here that He’s offering. Even in the response to their anger, He says, “Yes, I hear what they’re saying. But here, look at the scriptures. They point to Me. They point to Me.” You and I live in the age of self. And in the age of self, you are the king or the queen. And to suggest that there’s a higher authority than the individual will make us bristle, even some in this room, including the one standing up here.
We want a life coach or a therapist or a self-help app. Anybody have one of those in 2023? We want those things to assist us in the pursuit of me. “I’m not interested in the king to bow to.” The age of self sounds like freedom, but it’s a false freedom that can’t bear the weight of injustice or
suffering and certainly not sin and death. Jesus comes as a true deliverer and freedom comes when we bow the knee to the King of kings.
We have the indignance of the religious leaders, we have the wavering crowds, and I’m wondering if you see yourself in any of these responses to Jesus this morning. Many in the crowds were saying, “Hosanna king of David,” hoping for a political or economic king, a deliverer who would shake them from the oppression of Rome. In just a few days after this, the crowd will cry, many in the crowd will cry, “Crucify Him.”
A.W. Tozer is so helpful in defining this wavery, uncommitted attitude to sampling and nibbling, he calls it. Do you see yourself in any of these responses? Now, the worshiping children, and I love it that it’s the children that reveals the hearts of these men. Earlier in Matthew, of course,
Jesus would teach that to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must become like children. Not childish or immature, but a simple, robust trust. In Matthew’s gospel, we often find faith in the most unusual places, the Roman centurion, the Canaanite woman, tax collectors, and children. Blessed are the poor in spirit. It cuts across all. Blessed are anyone who come, recognizing their need and bow the knee to Jesus. Mark Sayers says this, he’s a pastor out in Australia,
“Today, we want the kingdom without the king.”–Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church
U2 along with Johnny Cash, gets at it this way. I love this. It’s a song called “The Wanderer.”
“I went out walking through streets paved with gold. Lifted some stones, saw the skin and bones of a city without a soul. I stopped outside a church house where the citizens like to sit. They say they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it,”–U2 with Johnny Cash, “The Wanderer”
The trappings of religion, the benefits of kingdom living, but not many are interested in bowing the knee. Are you stirred? Brothers, sisters, do you see yourself in any of those three
responses? If you’re a believer this morning, are you content with simply waving palms on the outside while there’s a famine of fruit, a withering tree on the inside? Don’t hear this. “Don’t hear, ‘Shame on you.'” I picked this up from Scotty, I love this, Scotty Smith, “Don’t hear, ‘Shame on you,’ but, ‘Grace for you,'” this morning.
But we do have to ask the question, are you stirred? And if you are, what’s your response? In Christ, there is a deep well of grace offered to all who ask for renewal or I might even say revival, individually and as a city, as we come to Him in prayer and trust, in faith and rest, satisfied in Christ alone. And it’s risky asking that, “Lord, come, rearrange, renovate the heart.” As Dallas Willard would say. It’s risky. Why? Because there might be tables that need to be overturned, some chairs that might need to be moved around. But a smoldering wick, He won’t snuff out. A bruised reed, He will not break. He comes to bring life, my friends. If you are far from the Lord in this room, perhaps on the fringes of faith, maybe you’re wavering or even indignant, I invite you to search the scriptures. Do it in earnest and ask the Lord, ask Him to reveal himself to you as a deliverer, king, Prince of peace. Prayer is a gift. It’s a gift for us to take hold of.
Communing with the Lord of all creation is one of the primary goals of God’s act in history, to redeem all things, God communing with man. As we look ahead to 2023, my challenge to you, everyone in this room today and to myself, is simple. Ask Him to stir you up towards Himself. John Piper said this,
“Jesus came the first time and he’s coming again as the king over all kings, king of Israel, king of all the nations, king of nature and the universe. Until He comes again, there is a day of amnesty and forgiveness and patience. He still rides on a donkey and not yet a white war-horse and with a rod of iron. He is ready to save all who receive Him as savior and treasure and king. Come to Him. Know him. Receive Him. Live your life in allegiance to Him.”–John Piper
Let’s pray. Lord, I do. I ask that You would stir my own heart and that You would instill in me by Your spirit’s work a fresh measure of grace so that I might respond in deeper faith and trust in who You are. We give You thanks for your kindness to us. You didn’t have to come after rebels like us, but You did. Thank You for Your mercy and Your grace. Open our eyes this morning. Open our ears, stir hearts, and lead us more towards You. Help us to see You as the king that we always needed. In Jesus name, we all said, Amen.
(Edited for Reading)