Introduction – The Context
From the beginning of this Gospel Matthew makes it plain that Jesus is the Christ or the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, God with us, God’s anointed King who has come to save his people from their sins, to make it possible for people to enter the Kingdom of God. How? By offering the privilege to those willing to pay a six figure sum as with some politicians? By kicking the Romans out and conquering a vast earthly empire? No. By dying on a cross and rising from the dead. And King Jesus came to Jerusalem to do so riding on a donkey.
Auguste Comte, the French atheist and philosopher said he wanted to found a new religion to replace the Christian faith. Thomas Carlyle replied to him thus:
Splendid. All you need to do is to speak as never man spoke, to live as never man lived, to be crucified, rise again the third day, and get the world to believe you are still alive. Then your religion will have some chance of success.
Now look back to Matthew 20v17-19:
Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matt. 20v17-19)
Look again at v17 and v1 of chapter 21. Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. This is significant. You see Jerusalem is at the centre of the old order. And the old order is about to be swept away by Jesus. Jerusalem is under judgment. Why? Well as we see from the rest of chapter 21 because Israel has proved itself to be unfruitful. It has utterly failed to be what God called it to be. It's in the process of rejecting God himself in the person of his Son. After the death and resurrection of Jesus it’s no longer Jerusalem and the Temple which is the focus of God's presence with his people. It is Jesus himself. He, the servant King, brings in a new era. Look at v28 of Matthew 20:
…the Son of Man [that’s Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (20v28)
Almost immediately (v29f) Jesus shows that he’s come to serve when he replies to two blind men who cry out to him twice, in faith asking for mercy, seeing more clearly than those who could see physically who Jesus really is – the Lord and the King – the Son of David. Jesus asks them (v32):
“What do you want me to do for you?”(v32)
Now remember Jesus is making his way on foot towards Jerusalem to be betrayed, mocked, flogged and crucified. With all that on his mind and with disciples who didn’t fully understand him he still has time for two repentant and believing blind men and gives them sight, both physical and spiritual sight. Why do I say that? Because Matthew says that they both then follow Jesus.
Do you see who Jesus really is? What do you want Jesus to do for you? We can perhaps sometimes think he’s too preoccupied to be concerned about us but that’s not true. He wants to bring change to our lives. He wants us to follow him and to do so more closely. What are you going to ask Jesus to do for you this Easter? We’re not to ask in a self-centred and arrogant way like James and John in v20-23 of chapter 20 but humbly for mercy, to admit our selfishness and ask for forgiveness and to become more like Christ in our attitude and service, i.e. to truly see and live!
Jesus’ ultimate act of service and giving has already happened on the cross. It happened in Jerusalem, which brings us to Matthew 21, Jesus’ approach to that city and his triumphal entry, which is my first heading.
1. KING JESUS’ TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM v1-11
Jesus is on his final trip to Jerusalem. V1: They approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives.
Now when you arrive at Bethphage there’s only about a mile to go to Jerusalem. Jesus could have walked the rest of the way, having already done the 15 miles from Jericho. But he doesn't. Instead, Jesus, clearly in control, quite deliberately 'stage-manages' his entrance into Jerusalem in order to say something very powerful about who he is and why he's come.
So what is Jesus saying about himself here? Brides, movie stars, footballers often make dramatic entrances which can say a lot about them and what they’ve come to do. Clearly a bride when she enters a church is saying I’m the one who’s come to get married. Designer dressed movie stars on the red carpet are often saying look at me, I’ve come to get attention and maybe an Oscar. Footballers emblazoned in their team colours running out of the tunnel and on to the pitch to a great fanfare and cheers from the crowd can - and being a Leeds supporter I stress the can – be saying we’re the team to watch and we’re here to win. So what is Jesus saying by making the entrance into Jerusalem he did? Well look at v1-11.
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna [meaning save us] to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred [not with enthusiasm but with concern] and asked, “Who is this?” [So it’s clear that the people of Jerusalem have no idea who Jesus is.] The crowds [meaning those who had come with Jesus] answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. [So they knew something about Jesus but they certainly not all.]”(v1-11)
And the preceding true story of the two physically blind men, who yet recognise who Jesus really is, further highlights the spiritual blindness of Jerusalem and the crowds and the people’s need to have their eyes opened, to be given the gift of spiritual sight by Jesus. Who here this morning is suffering from that same spiritual blindness even if you’ve been going to church for years? That was me until exactly 34 years ago this coming Thursday when God opened my eyes to see who Jesus is and why he came. Why he came to Jerusalem to suffer and die the death of a criminal on a wooden cross - for me - and for you, to pay the price of my sin and your sin, to bring us to God and to live lives of true worship to and for him.
Now in fact it wasn’t until after Jesus’ death and resurrection that Matthew himself, and by then the other 10 disciples, really understand who Jesus is and why he came. But here in v4 and 5 Matthew begins to clarify things for us, to help us to see Jesus clearly and rightly. To help explain the striking visual picture Jesus gives us by deliberately entering Jerusalem on a donkey.
You see Jesus was deliberately fulfilling the prophecy given through Zechariah 550 years earlier, which Matthew quotes: Zechariah 9v9. It's a prophecy about the first coming of Jesus, of God’s Anointed King coming in gentleness, to make peace. You see in those days if you were a king and you wanted to make peace you came on a donkey. So who is this, to quote the people of Jerusalem? He is the Christ, the Son of David, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, God the Son, the Saviour. But despite Jesus coming on a donkey the crowd appears to have thought he was the king who had come to save them from Roman rule. Save us they cry in praise.
So what does Jesus’ entrance say about why he came? In v10 of Zechariah 9 the prophecy is to do with Jesus’ second coming as Judge. But he came the first time, say both Zechariah and Matthew, gentle and in peace, therefore gentle and with forgiveness. He came to bring those who turn to him in repentance and faith, peace with God.
The word gentle can also mean humble, meek or servant hearted. And he came to serve us by dying on the cross - so he could offer us forgiveness and call us - not force us - back into relationship with him. He loved you and died for you. Perhaps what’s holding you back from serving Jesus, or even from coming to him for the first time, is the past. Or one habitual sin that you battle with. And you're not convinced that whatever it is, it can be forgiven. Well, know that Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die so that it can be. In fact, know that, if you're trusting in him, it has been. Secondly,
2. KING JESUS’ DRAMATIC ENTRY INTO THE TEMPLE v12-17
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” (v12-16)
Now to understand Jesus’ entry into the temple better we need to understand the temple. The temple is God's temple. What was the point of the temple? Why did God command it? It was the place where God promised he would meet with his people, when they approached him there in the way that he required. It was the place where they would find forgiveness through atoning sacrifice. God's name would dwell there. God never confined himself to it - but it was the symbol of God's living presence in the midst of his people for ever. It was the place from which the news of the great name of the one true and living God would go out to the ends of the earth, calling all peoples to come and worship the living God in his holy temple.
So when Jesus returned to the temple, he had total rights. It was his. And he had radical plans for it. In fact it was due for demolition, as Jesus took over the functions of the temple in his own person. Later, just as Jesus said, the temple was razed to the ground. Where now can the nations of the world meet with God? Where now can we find forgiveness? In Jesus.
You see Jesus is the Lord of the temple. So what should our response be to that? Well, if we belong to him our lives are his temple. For, as the Bible teaches, he dwells in those who believe in him - and he has all the rights of ownership over us. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3v16: Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?
What does that mean for you and me? It means that we need to submit our lives to him - open the doors of our lives to him - open every room of our lives to him so that he can make whatever use of our lives he wants.
Jesus doesn't like what he finds in the temple in Jerusalem. Its true purpose is being subverted and corrupted. Jesus enters the court of the Gentiles - the huge courtyard of the temple precinct to which non-Jews were allowed access. And he takes radical action, using physical and verbal force to clear out all those doing business there, whose real reasons for being there were not what God intended or wanted. V13:
"My house will called 'a house of prayer” (from Isaiah 56v7) ”but you are making it a 'den of robbers” (from Jeremiah 7v11).
So what do Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jesus say? Well together they say this. Outsiders- if you put your trust in the living God - you're welcome. Enter the kingdom of God. Insiders - if our life demonstrates no faith and we just try to shut others out - then we’ll be thrown out. And Jesus drove out all who were buying and selling there - not just the merchants, but all those who were using the services of the merchants for what were ultimately selfish purposes.
So how should we respond? We should confess any selfish motives, any self-satisfaction and self serving whether individually or as a church and ask for mercy. We need to allow Jesus to clear that sin out of our lives - to drive it out as he drove those moneychangers out of the temple. We need a deep change in our thinking so that our main aim becomes to invite and welcome others in, not to protect and enjoy our own privileges at the cost of shutting others out.
Now, of course, the temple in Jerusalem is no longer the place to find Jesus. His temple is now the church - the building of living stones, as we’ll soon see in Home Groups from 1 Peter - in which Jesus lives by his Spirit. We have no promise of immediate physical healing now in the way that those blind and lame were healed. But what Jesus did for them was a sign of the spiritual healing that Jesus brings now, and the total healing that Jesus will bring in the new age when he has destroyed death once and for all.
What do you want and need Jesus to do for you? He's here among us. Come to him by faith. He can meet your deepest needs. Trust Jesus with your life and with your death.
The religious leaders of the day miss the point of the temple completely. They’re indignant when they see Jesus doing wonderful things for people. They were clearly threatened by him. In the face of his healings they are angry. When they hear his praises being sung they only get angrier. They fail to recognise that standing before them is the King himself in his own temple.
But the children get it. Unselfconsciously, unafraid of the religious leaders, they burst out in praise. They realise that Jesus is the King. 'Hosanna to the Son of David - the Messiah - God's chosen King.' And as they cry out in praise like that they become an amazing example for us. We too should respond with spontaneous praise - a lifetime of praise. We shouldn't become angry when Jesus threatens our comfortable lives. Because he wants us on the outside welcoming people in, not on the inside shutting people out. We are now the temple of God, and we need to be a house of prayer for all nations. That's how we praise and honour the King best - by telling the nations of him. In the UK people have been stirred by the plight of the footballer Fabrice Muamba and many have been praying. Let’s be praying that this city is stirred enthusiastically by Jesus as we serve both humbly and boldly to see it turned upside down for him.