This week’s reading: Matthew 21:1-27
Once again, we encounter several events that point to the question each human must come to terms with: Who is Jesus? We will read about His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His righteous anger in the Temple grounds, His cursing of a fig tree full of only leaves and then His authority being openly questioned by the religious of His day. All these stories show that humans have always been struggling with the identity of this King of kings and, sadly, we still do so today. We are reading in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 21 verses 1 through 27, but listen to these:
“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 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 and asked, ‘Who is this?’” Mt 21:6-10 NIV
Who is Jesus? The King entering His City. This entry into Jerusalem is recounted in all four of the Gospels, pointing to its great significance. (read this story in Mt 21:1-11; Mk 11:1-11; Lk 19:28-44; & Jn 12:12-19) Jesus was openly making public that He is Who He said He is, the long awaited Messiah and King of the Jews. We read how some disciples go into the village to get a donkey and its colt, and in doing so Jesus fulfills the prophecy made by the Old Testament prophet Zechariah, “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.’” (Zech 9:9) Some who saw the disciples taking the donkeys, but were told “The Lord needs them,” allowed the animals to be taken because they recognized Jesus as the Lord. Those who witnessed His entry placed their precious cloaks on the ground or cut palms from trees to create a “red carpet” for this King. They even shouted out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” again showing they knew He was the King. Everyone, even the Pharisees who were in denial, knew that Jesus was like no one else they had ever seen. They knew He was their King…but what kind of king is the question. As we humans usually do, they had their eyes fixed in this world and expected Jesus to fix all their problems here, but this is not what He came to do. No, much greater, Jesus came to be “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn 1:29) Do we fall into this same trap, my Friends? We are so very joyful when Jesus enters our heart, but then life continues to have challenge after challenge, do we forget He came to solve something much bigger and eternal than our worldly problems? Jesus is our King, yet as He Himself later says, His Kingdom is not of this world. (Jn 18:36) Let’s ask ourselves: do we understand what kind of King Jesus is?
Who is Jesus? The Lord we are to worship. We next read how Jesus goes to the Temple, His Castle on earth, and is disheartened and disgusted by what He sees. Instead of being a place of worship where God the Father is at the center of everything done in that place, what does He find? A market. And not just any market, an unfair market, where making a buck was way more important than the honoring sacrifices of devotion that should be made there. I have read that the merchants selling lambs and coins and doves and goods there, did so at a much higher price than would have been the norm. In other words, they were being “thieves” as Jesus proclaims, gouging the pilgrims who were there to celebrate Passover. Then the Temple, but now our church buildings, are supposed to be places of worship, period. Not a place to socialize, although we should and must fellowship with one another. Not a place to make statements, agendas and plans, although we should and must lift up the plan of God clearly and directly. Not a place to be concerned with an increase in the number of attendees or amount of offerings, although we should and must invite as many as possible, as well as be able to pay the church’s expenses. But if we do not make worship the primary goal, then we are forgetting Whose House it is. So let me make a couple of distinctions 1- Distinction between socializing and fellowship. Socializing centers on this world. Fellowship centers on Christ. If we are only talking about worldly things through worldly eyes, then we are not worshipping. When we take whatever is happening in our world, both in our private lives and in the world itself, but seek what God says about it all, then we are worshipping because we are giving worth to God as King of this world. We want to know what He thinks, how He feels, what His Will is in every matter of life. That is fellowship and we are commanded, yes commanded, to gather and fellowship. (Heb 10:24-25) 2- Distinction between statements, agendas and plans and God’s Plan. Wait, do I even have to do this one? The very first lesson in the Bible is: “Don’t speak to the serpent!” The next lesson can keep us from that: “When God says NO, He means NO!” That old serpent is still the craftiest of all creation, and he continues to mix up what God’s Word says, trying to make it into things that are immoral and wicked. If we read in God’s Word that something is a sin, then it is still a sin today, and the “church” would be wise to stay as far away from condoning it, and how much more from celebrating it, as possible. We must stay true to Scripture and not fall prey to this world’s confusion, for the world’s agendas are temporary and passing just like the world is. Lastly, 3- distinction between numbers and funds verses souls and being responsible. Many churches are sadly growing in quantity, but not in quality. Many churches are bringing in millions of dollars, yet they are not taking care of their congregants. This is not only sad, it is evil, my Friends. Yes, we need to be able to “keep the lights on at church” as they say, but if a widow is struggling with her finances, if a member cannot find an opportunity to share her heart about God with her brethren, if hard working volunteers are becoming burned out because the rest of the body is not firmly encouraged to volunteer too…there is something wrong with a church that is more concerned with numbers than serving, don’t you agree? Let’s ask ourselves: are we a place of worship or are we a den of thieves?
Who is Jesus? The Creator of all things, including His people. The next story about the withering fig tree speaks symbolically about the problems I mentioned above. On His way back to the Temple, Jesus is hungry. Please note: this is important because we tend to forget that Jesus was fully Human, like you and me…and of course, He is nothing like you are me because He was 100% obedient in thoughts, words and deeds to the Father! Yet Jesus was hungry. Jesus sees a fig tree off in the distance full of green leaves. You see, normally the fig fruit is supposed to grow before or with the leaves, so Jesus expects to find some fruit with which to nourish Himself. Upon closer inspection, He sees nothing but leaves. No fruit, not even a bud of fruit, so Jesus curses the tree. Later they see that it has withered from the roots up. For those with an issue about “contradictions in the Bible,” in the Gospel of Matthew, the tree begins to wither immediately, but the next day, according to Mark, the tree is fully withered from the roots. Since this should take days to happen, Peter quickly comments in wonder at the complete devastation of the fig tree Jesus had cursed just the day before. But my Friends, Jesus was not only talking about a fig tree without fruit, but the symbolism pointed to the nation of Israel that was not bearing fruit for God either…and now it speaks about the Church too. Are we all leaves but no fruit. Are we just a show, a source of entertainment, where everyone leaves shouting Hallelujah, but are not changed in their hearts enough to live out that Hallelujah? Where is our fruit, Church? Are we more concerned with Jesus meeting our needs, than us fulfilling His mission? Make no mistake, my Friends, if you claim to BE a Christian, but do not ACT like a Christian, you might want to spend some time in the Book of James…or maybe listen to what John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Lk 3:8-9) Let’s ask ourselves: is our life nothing but leaves, or are we working with God to bear fruit for His Kingdom?
Who is Jesus? The Savior of the world. Lastly, we come to the religious of that time who refused to accept Jesus as their Savior, much less their Lord. They question the authority of Jesus, but they are not looking for the truth. They have already made up their minds. They were merely looking for a way to discredit Jesus, and so they ask, “By what authority are you doing these things?” (Mt 21:23) Jesus knows the heart of every person and so He challenges them to make a decision. “Jesus replied, ‘I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from Heaven, or from men?’” (Mt 21: 24-25a) The issue is, if these religious did not believe the witness of John the Baptist, they would not believe Jesus either. But the problem is, they refused to commit one way or the other, because they feared the people. They did not want to lose any position they had of influence over them, and so they answered, “We don’t know.” (Mt 21:27) Here is something we must come to understand: No commitment is a commitment to not commit! And if we, who say we are believers, are not committed to Jesus heart and soul, then we are greatly fooling ourselves. Not sure? Go read Rev 3:15-16, and see what Jesus thinks about lukewarm believers. Atheists will believe any excuse to point away from God, because they have already decided God does not exist. When we enter into any situation with our minds already made up, we will filter what is happening through those beliefs. How many miracles are missed by humans who have already dismissed our God? Worse yet, how many believers miss the Voice of God because they do not believe He desires to speak to them? God remains all around us, my Friends, let’s not repeat the mistake of these chief priests and elders and miss God standing, in the flesh, right in front of them. Their King. Their Messiah. Their Savior. Let’s ask ourselves: are we questioning the authority of God in our lives too?
Who is Jesus? Jesus is our King of kings, our Lord Who rules over our hearts, souls and actions…or He should be. Jesus is the one Who is to be worshipped above everything else in this world…or He should be. Jesus is our Hosanna and Hallelujah Who came to save the lost and help us live a life of praise to the Lord…or He should be. Do we know who Jesus is? I must confess, too often I still act like He is a Genie in a bottle, here to do my bidding…and when He doesn’t, I begin to question His authority and plan. I begin to wither like the fig tree. I begin to seek my own way in this world like they did in the Temple market. I begin to become complacent in my walk with Him like the religious of His day. But God! When I enter into His Word, when I pray at His Temple within me, when I work with Him to bear fruit not just pretty superficial leaves, and when I commit, and recommit, to be His follower, He turns my life around. Peace and joy are restored and my life becomes, you got it, more and more abundant. Want that? Then won’t you join me?
Until we meet again, keep lifting your eyes to God, He’s closer than you think.
<>< Peace, Diane