Text: Matthew 21:1-17
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Almighty and Everlasting God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
This is Palm Sunday, and typically we read this story at this time of the year because, it marks, for us, the beginning of Holy Week. But, I wonder if it’s too familiar to us because we’ve spent so long reading the Bible with modern eyes that we are completely inoculated to the significance of what’s going on here.
Let’s say for example that you keep a journal of your life, and all throughout your journal are reference to places and political figures of the world in which you live, (you live in the United States and Donald Trump is your president) and somehow your journal is preserved for the next couple thousand years.
Well, in 2000 years the landscape of world can change a lot, and let’s say it changes so much that the USA is no longer in existence and the government is completely different from what it is now, and if someone found your journal and read it and didn’t know the culture in which you lived it would affect the way they read it. They don’t know who Donald Trump is. They don’t know what a President is or does. They don’t know about the USA. It’s the same way with the Bible.
Unless we at least have a general understanding of the culture in which the Bible was written, it’s hard for us to really wrap our minds around the significance of what really went on in Jerusalem on this day.
And what happens on this day is that Jesus declares that he a subversive king of a subversive kingdom.
- He is not coming to be a political entity. He will not allow the people to use Him as a political pundit for their cause. We see this all the time now. Every time an election comes along someone always claims Jesus for their side and we get duped into voting for them every four years because we fear the people on the other side of aisle MORE than the consequences of supporting a candidate who uses Jesus as a pawn for their cause.
- “Well, we have to choose the lesser of two evils!” Spurgeon said that if you have to choose between two evils, you should choose neither one of them. Imagine if Christians chose sin like that, “Well, I could either pickpocket someone or play with Ouija board and talk to demons. Which one is it going to be?” How about you do neither one? …But, I digress…
Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the people greet Him waving their palms at Him and crying, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” In their language this means, “Save us!”
When people cry out, “Save us!” They’re communicating two things:
- They’re either being oppressed or in danger of being oppressed.
- They can’t save themselves.
And what Jesus comes to save them from is not necessarily what they think they need saving from.
In Mark Dever’s book on Substitutionary Atonement, he notes one of the stark contrast between Christianity and Islam like this:
“Perhaps the contrast is best symbolized by the way Mohammad entered Mecca and Jesus entered Jerusalem. Mohammad rode into Mecca on a warhorse, surrounded by 400 mounted men and 10,000 foot soldiers. Those who greeted him were absorbed into his movement; those who resisted him were vanquished, killed, or enslaved. Mohammad conquered Mecca, and took control as its new religious, political, and military leader. Today, in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, Mohommad’s purported sword is proudly on display ….Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, accompanied by his 12 disciples. He was welcomed and greeted by people waving palm fronds—a traditional sign of peace. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the Jews mistook him for an earthly, secular king who was to free them from the yoke of Rome, whereas, Jesus came to establish a much different, heavenly kingdom. Jesus came by invitation and not by force.” 
They believe that Jesus as the Messiah is going to save them politically. They’re looking for someone like Mohammed. They believe that he’s going to overthrow the Roman government, and put the Jewish people back into power. And that’s we want too.
- Every four years we want Jesus to put “those people” out and put “our people” in, and we’re just as misguided as they are because we are wanting power over a temporary piece of dirt, and when Jesus physically returns, it’s going to be His anyway. Jesus isn’t going to be powerless mascot monarch like they have in the UK where He’ll sit on a throne and do nothing while we vote in some real rulers.
- Jesus is a REAL king with REAL authority, and His message is simple, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is so close you can touch it!”
- Do you want power that matters? Then be a king and priest in God’s kingdom!
What Jesus primarily comes to save them from is the sin that separates them from God because even though they want a kingdom, there is no kingdom without a relationship with the King.
- And once they realize that their sin is the problem, then they’ll realize that the kingdom that they should be looking for is not an earthly kingdom that can be established with their political agendas.
- So before He saves them from their sin, He has to save them from their expectations of Him, and of His kingdom.
Peter even misses the point. In Acts 1, when Jesus is getting ready to ascend to the Father, Peter asks, “Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Peter wants to talk about power over a temporal piece of dirt, and Jesus wants to empower him to do things that actually matter!
So, when Jesus comes into Jerusalem, he declares His kingship, not by going to the Roman senate and assuming power, but by going straight to the temple.
The title of the message this morning is “How Jesus Makes Things Right.”
- But before we can see how Jesus makes things right, we have to see what’s wrong, and in order to do that we have to take in everything that’s going on.
So, there’s three phases to what’s going on here and we’re going to break it down piece by piece:
- Phase 1: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
- Phase 2: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
- Phase 3: Jesus Heals the Blind and Receives Children in the Temple
Phase 1: Jesus Enters Jerusalem
Before Jesus comes into Jerusalem, he tells the disciples to go into the next village get a donkey, and if they are asked why they’re taking the donkey they are to say, “The Lord needs it.”
Kings sometimes come in and requisition things when they’re in the process of conquering, and so by requisitioning some person’s donkey Jesus is clearly stating that He is the only king that the owner of his donkey needs to be concerned with.
- But why is he getting a donkey? If He has the authority to requisition animals, then why not a warhorse? That’s more befitting of a king, right?
- I remember watching some action movies where a cop would be chasing a criminal on foot, and the criminal would get away in a car, and the cop would have to requisition a vehicle, and how odd would it be if you had a cop that had to chase a criminal, and he’s got his choice of any vehicle to use, and he chooses an old, beat up, Ford Pinto.
- That’s the equivalent of what’s going on here. He should be coming in in the driver seat of a Cadillac Escalade, and instead he’s rolling up in a Taurus. Why? What’s the point? What is Jesus communicating?
He’s communicating that real power isn’t pompous. Real power doesn’t need to demand respect because it’s already respected by those who recognize real power.
“Victors in battle do not ride into their capital cities riding on asses, but rather they ride on fearsome horses. But this king does not and will not triumph through force of arms… this king triumphs not through violent revolt, but by being for Israel the one able to show it that its worship of God is its freedom. He is Israel’s long-expected priestly king whom the prophets said would come. His entry into Jerusalem is, therefore, rightly celebrated by those who are not in power.”  – Stanley Hauerwas
Jesus comes into Jerusalem and he is met with a large crowd of people, and it’s important to note that not everyone in Jerusalem is here. The only ones here are people who are on the bottom in society.
The people on top are the ones looking to kill Jesus and get Him out of the way because Jesus is disrupting people’s plans. That’s what John’s account of this event tells us in John 12:17-19.
“Meanwhile, the crowd, which had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. 18 This is also why the crowd met him, because they heard he had done this sign. 19 Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!” – John 12:17-19, CSB
We know from what happened at the end of John 11, that the Pharisees are plotting to kill Jesus, and now he’s coming into Jerusalem and people are cheering for him.
- In the Pharisee’s minds, he’s supposed to be dead. He’s not supposed to be walking around. We’re going to see that next week too.
- Jesus has risen. In their minds, He’s supposed to be dead, but no, He’s still walking around throwing a wrench in the plans of those hate Him. Psalm 2, “Why do the heathen rage? Why do the people imagine a vain thing?”
“The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them.” – Psalm 2:4, CSB
The laughter of God against His enemies is heard in every testimony and witness to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And surely, God laughed as His Son rode into Jerusalem at the chagrin of the Pharisees, and the celebration of the people whom the Pharisees had oppressed.
Phase 2: Jesus Cleanses the Temple
“Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those buying and selling. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves!” – Matthew 21:12-13, CSB
In a single statement in verse 13, we hear Jesus make a two-part declaration.
- What God’s house is supposed to be
- What the people have turned it into
From the beginning of the year where we walked through the Seven Churches, then walked through 2nd John and then over the last two weeks we read part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus condemns hypocrisy.
These are the passages that make us uncomfortable in the best way possible, or at least they should. The question for us is, “Is the church a house of prayer?” And when I talk about ‘the church’ I’m not talking about a physical building, I’m talking Christ’s building, Christ’s bride, Christ’s body.
- Are we a people of prayer?
Because if we’re not a people of prayer, then we can easily turn into a den of thieves – people who are consumers.
- That’s essentially what these money-changers are. They’re consumers. They’re using God’s house of prayer as a place to profit from God’s people.
Micah Fries preached an excellent sermon a couple of weeks ago where he talked about lots people look for a church with a consumer mindset the same way that someone might shop for a pair of jeans.
- They want the best fit for them from a store that looks cool, and doesn’t demand too much of a price.
That’s how some people look for a church. They’re consumers that want something that looks, it’s a great fit for them, and demand too much. That’s fine when you’re looking for jeans, but that doesn’t fly when you’re looking for a place to worship God.
- If we approach church that way, then we’re not better than the money-changers that use God’s house for filthy lucre.
So, the first step that Jesus takes in making things right is that He cleans house.
Do you know why some people don’t stick around in a church that proclaims the whole counsel of God’s word? It’s because God cleans house. That’s what John says in 1 John 2:19 when he says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19, KJV)
But look at what happens after Jesus cleans house.
Phase 3: Jesus Heals the Blind and Receives Children
“The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that he did and the children shouting in the temple,”Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
Jesus replied, “Yes, have you never read:
You have prepared praise
from the mouths of infants and nursing babies?”
17 Then he left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.” – Matthew 21:14-17, CSB
One of the things that I think is most interesting about this passage is that after Jesus cleans house he starts healing people and blessing children. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Here. Let me show what God’s house is really for” and then He proceeds to go and do what they should have been doing the whole time.
Another thing I find really remarkable is that if you go back to the Old Testament and read Leviticus 21, where God is giving instructions regarding the holiness of the priests, God specifically said in Leviticus 21:17-18 that no one blind or lame, or anyone with a physical birth defect may come to the temple and offer sacrifices and David reiterates that law in 2 Samuel 5:8.
Now, if Jesus were just letting people in and letting them have their run of the place, then we could see why the Pharisees would be upset, but He’s healing them. He’s making it so that nothing can stop them from participating in the worship of God.
- Notice the stark contrast between the money-changers and Jesus. While the money-changers are taking advantage of people, Jesus is healing people of the things that cause them to be disadvantaged.
This message is for us. We need to be doing God’s work in God’s world and people after they encounter us need to be better than when we first meet them.
Notice also, that the children are praising Jesus. They recognize who He is by how they’re addressing Him – the son of David. That’s Jesus’ messianic title.
Matthew Henry notes, “This they learned from those that were grown up. Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do; so easily do they imitate; and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples.”
Because we are Presbyterian, there are two things that happen in this church that do not happen in other churches – infants and children are baptized and infants and children partake of the Lord’s Supper.
- In other churches, there’s this unbiblical idea that you won’t find anywhere else in Scripture called “the age of accountability” and you have to wait until the church believes that you are accountable for your actions before you can receive baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In our church, we believe that Jesus is present and at work in these practices so we offer them to children because Jesus loves children. Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me” so we’re not going to stop infants and children from meeting Jesus in waters of baptism and in the Lord’s Supper.
- I know of a man right now pastoring a Cumberland Presbyterian church who refuses to practice infant baptism because he’s into that “age of accountability” stuff.
- Listen, I’m glad Jesus didn’t wait until I came to my senses to offer me salvation.
- Jesus’ offer of salvation was on the table for us long before we were born. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again that was us dying with Him and rising with Him.
So, we offer baptism and the Lord’s Supper to everyone including children because that’s who Jesus offers Himself to.
- Some of you who let your children or grandchildren partake of the cup and bread may do so because you think that to them this is just a snack and they might feel left out if they didn’t get a little cup and a cracker too, but this is too important for us to leave our children’s understanding at that level.
- We need to communicate to them that Jesus offers us life in the partaking of the bread and the wine, and when they, as children take the bread and the cup in faith, then that’s one of the ways that they are participating the perfect praise that Jesus talks about at the end of our passage.
Jesus makes things right by throwing out the people that He knows will not want anything to do with the life that He offers. He throws out the ones that don’t want to give up what they have, and instead invites people who don’t have anything to hold on to.
Do you want to come to Jesus? Then, come empty-handed.
Is there something in your life that you can’t let go of? Do you feel like you can’t come to Jesus empty handed? Then, come with what you have and lay it at His feet. He’s waiting to heal you just like he’s healed others.
Almighty and Everlasting God, You meet us where we are. Sometimes we are the Pharisees who have plans of our own and we want anything other that for You to come along and ruin our plans. Sometimes we’re the money changers that use people and love things when we should be using things and loving people. But today, we want be children for You said, “to such belong the kingdom of heaven.” We don’t want to Pharisees or money changers anymore, we want to be children who approach you in faith believing that You are all we need. Please grant us this kind of faith. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
- Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday, pg. 219
- Dever, Mark, and Michael Lawrence. It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement. Crossway, 2010.
- Hauerwas, Stanley. Matthew. Brazos Press, 2015.