Expository Sermon on Matthew 21
Bellevue SDA Church 7/7/2018
©2018 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the triangular “play” button on the line just below.)
Please open your Bibles to Matthew chapter 21.
This is another sermon in a series I’ve been doing since January, called “Red Print.” We’ve been going through the Gospels looking at the actual words Jesus spoke, to see what we can put to use in the days and weeks ahead.
We’re living in some quite traumatic times. In a way, our planet is almost in the same situation which faces that young soccer team trapped in the cave in Thailand. Several days ago these kids and their coach were exploring the cave system, when they got trapped by rising water, and even though divers have been able to reach them, the question is how to get the boys out.
The bottom line is that these boys cannot save themselves. The water pumps from the outside are doing their best to lower the water level, but as I understand it, heavy rains are threatening to pour water back into those caves. The boys now have food and drinking water, but oxygen is running low. And one of the divers has already died for lack of air, just trying to make the underwater trip to those tunnels. We need to pray for everyone involved.
I wonder if Jesus felt the same sense of urgency as He began His journey to Jerusalem at the start of this chapter. Jerusalem was where the Temple of God was. Jesus himself, when He was 12 years old, had slipped away from his parents during a feast and had explored the rooms and buildings of the Temple complex.
But as we’ll see in this chapter, most of the people in Jerusalem – especially the religious leaders – were pretty much clueless when it came to knowing about who Jesus was, and what He could do for them.
Our planet is in the same condition. Jesus said that as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the Son of Man. In Noah’s day, many were lost and just a few were saved. Jesus has a lot to say about how wide is the road that leads to destruction, and how many travel that way, and how narrow is the way to eternal life, and how few pass along that way.
That’s why think it will be helpful for us to watch Jesus carefully, and follow Him through this chapter. Because at each point, He is going to offer a challenge – you might call it a “test question” – to the people we meet in this chapter. This morning I’m going to focus on just two of those questions, and I think that they are exactly as important for us to answer as they were for the people back then.
So let’s begin this journey with Jesus.
Matthew 21:1 – 7 NKJV: Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.” All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.
When I was a freshman in college, I took a very enjoyable general history class from a professor who believed that history was stories, so every class session he told us these fascinating stories about historical events and the people behind them. It was a basic level history class – not for history majors but for the general college student – and the professor made it really interesting. Every Wednesday he gave us a quiz of five easy questions, which we would have no trouble answering if we had simply been attending the class and listening to his stories.
And it’s kind of the same way with the test question Jesus gives here. Here comes sermon point one. What is a first “test question” which Jesus poses in this chapter?
Jesus’ first “test question” is: “Do you accept Me as your King?”
How would the people back in Jesus’ time get a good grade on this test question? The same way we kids in that general history class would get a good grade – by paying attention.
Because here is Jesus, sitting upon the donkey, with the donkey’s colt beside Him, getting ready to ride into Jerusalem. People who had not been paying attention to Bible prophecy saw that, and they probably said, “Oh, look at that man riding on a donkey.” But people who had been paying close attention – not only studying that Old Testament prophecy but paying attention to Jesus and what He had been doing for the last 3 ½ years – these are the people who passed this first test question.
In fact we see just how thoroughly successful they are on this exam by what they do.
Verses 8 – 9: And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!”
Now, these are the people who are thoroughly “clued in.” Most of these people are probably the same ones who followed Jesus from place to place, watching Him heal the sick, listening to Him paint word pictures of a kindly and forgiving Heavenly Father.
These are like the people who have strong opinions about the various teams playing in soccer’s World Cup. I have no clue about who has won the World Cup in years past. I have not followed world soccer at all, and therefore, when I hear who eventually wins it, I will mildly say, “That’s interesting. Good for them.” But I will feel no further emotion than that. Others, I know, are deeply interested in who will win. And if you ask them, they can tell you all about several surprising upsets in the last few weeks, when lesser known teams defeated more famous ones.
Those “in-the-know fans” are like the Bible-focused multitudes in this chapter, for whom Jesus was already a religious “rock star.” These folks could read the symbolism of that donkey-ride as easily as if its message had been printed on an electronic billboard: This is the Son of David!. This is the Messiah! This is the King!
So, what does this have to do with you and me, today, 20 centuries later? Why is it so important for us to answer “yes” to Jesus’ question, “Do you accept Me as your King?”
Well, for one thing, “yes” is not the default answer for most people on this planet. We are all sinners, in need of Jesus’ salvation. We are not automatically saved. We are automatically lost, unless we respond to the Holy Spirit.
For another thing, Jesus insists that we cannot serve both Him and the opposition at the same time. He said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” He said things like, “He who is not with Me is against Me.” When He told parables about the judgment, He left no gray area, no middle ground. Instead, He talked about the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the weeds. He talked about the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins, and only the first group, the faithful and vigilant ones, went into the wedding.
Because notice how clueless the average Jerusalem citizen was.
Verse 10: And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”
Isn’t that amazing, how in the same small nation, barely 40 miles wide and 100 miles long, two large groups of people could give such different responses? One group sang, “This is the Son of David!” and other group said, “Who?”
And what about you and me? It’s a good thing to recognize that Jesus is King. It’s a good thing to discover that He’s the one who created you and whose advice and commands you should follow for your eternal safety and happiness. But maybe you’re not yet to the place where you can answer a good firm “yes” to Jesus’ test question. How do you get to the point where you can?
Well, you do what the shouting multitudes had done. The reason they were able to shout so loudly, and fling their coats so enthusiastically to be trampled beneath His royal donkey’s hooves, was that they had been following Jesus day after day. They spent time with Him. They listened to His words. They watched what He did.
That’s what we’ve been trying to do during the Sabbath morning sermons this year – keep our eyes on Jesus. Earlier this week in the office supply section of a thrift store, I bought a little three-ring notebook which must be at least seventy years old. I’m pretty sure it’s that old because there’s a motto on the front that notebook which shows no gender inclusivity, but it’s still true. It says, “A man’s judgment is no better than his information.”
The bottom line is that those zealous, happy, shouting multitudes had gathered good, solid information about Jesus, gathered over time. The puzzled Jerusalem-dwellers had not taken the trouble, and therefore were caught off guard.
And something else is important about those multitudes. They were not fiercely independent individuals, standing 10 or 15 feet apart on that Jerusalem Road, shouting solitary hosannas. No – they were multitudes. They had gathered together. Shoulder to shoulder, in close fellowship, they were singing and chanting and shouting in unison.
And you and I need to take a clue from that. America, in one sense, is a nation of individuals. You and I, the story goes, are responsible for our own success or failure. When we get married, we leave our parents’ household. And we normally don’t live next door. We go to a different town, or sometimes move all the way across the country.
But God is a “togetherness” God. God is a God of wherever people get together in His name. He is a God of children’s’ Sabbath school rooms. He is a God of adult Sabbath school classes. He’s a God of sanctuary worship. He is a God of fellowship potlucks. He is a God of Vacation Bible school teams, of those little “crews” whose leaders will be leading their groups of five or six kids from adventure to adventure starting this coming Monday night.
What am I trying to say? I’m saying that you and I need to be part of the multitude, not solitary Christians. In the multitude of counselors there is safely. We need to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but get together to encourage each other.
I am firmly conviced that, as the last spasms of human history play themselves out in front of us, you and I need to be like those multitudes, not like those clueless Jerusalem-dwellers. Not only must we follow Jesus closely, but we must do it together.
Jesus’ second and equally important test-question happens in the next few verses.
Verses 12 – 16: Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ” Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”
So, what is Jesus’ second test-question? There are probably a number of directions we could go with this, but I think one way to put it would be like this:
If Jesus’ first “test question” is: “Do you accept Me as your King?”, I think His second test-question could be something like this: “Do you believe that in My Father’s presence you can feel happy and safe?”
When Jesus walked into that temple’s courtyard, what He did was turn everything upside down. He literally turned the tables – upturned the tables – of the coin-clinking, harsh-bargaining merchants who were exchanging regular currency for Temple currency while skimming an indecent profit off it, and then haggling over the inflated price of sacrificial doves.
Then once Jesus has cleared the courts of the moneychangers, He welcomes the blind and the lame, as well as the children, who until now had probably not felt welcome within those courtyard walls. The blind and the lame were considered to be great sinners, since they had somehow incurred the wrath of God so much that He had smitten them with their disabilities. And the children were probably normally intimidated by the frowning, supercilious priests who hurried about their duties, and who like Jesus’ own disciples tended to shoo the children away because they weren’t as important as the grownups.
But Jesus changed all that. How the blind and the lame and the kids got word that they were welcome in the temple, we do not know. Maybe as the moneychangers dashed guiltily out into the streets, their howls of annoyance caused the humble people to say, “Well, it’s about time somebody cleaned house up there. Let’s go see what’s happening.” And once the blind and the lame heard that the miracle-working Rabbi was in the temple, they started shouting for people to help them up the steps and into His presence.
Do we believe that in the Heavenly Father’s presence we can feel happy and safe? That’s really the most important question in the entire universe. Putting another way, what is God like? Would He be a safe and friendly companion to spend 300 trillion years with?
And this, of course, takes us directly to the great controversy between Christ and Satan. Satan, whose name means “accuser,” has defamed God from even before Earth’s history began. The very first words out of the fallen angel’s mouth in Genesis 3 were to insinuate to Eve that God not only could not be trusted, and not only was He a liar, but most chillingly, that God had a habit of withholding good things from His children.
I told the following story in a sermon several years ago, but I don’t think I mentioned it recently. When I was six years old, and my little sister was four, our family lived next door to a thin elderly woman who believed that she was a prophet of God.
Shortly after we moved to next door to her, my mother put on a red sweater she owned and went out to feed our chickens. Our neighbor lady looked out her kitchen window and saw Mom wearing that red sweater. As it turned out, this woman owned a red sweater of her own, but had misplaced it. And when she saw Mom with a red sweater on, this woman – with all the forthright fury of an Old Testament prophet of God – came over to our house later that night to confront Mom about this.
I still remember hearing the knock on the door, and this woman coming in. And I remember that my sister and I stood on that kitchen linoleum with Mom, and listened as the woman accused my mother of crawling through this woman’s bedroom window and stealing her sweater.
My mom was deeply embarrassed. But what I think probably made this a particularly terrible experience for her was that, after the neighbor had insisted that she had stolen the sweater, and had then departed, my sister and I stared up at mom and asked her, “You didn’t steal her sweater, did you?” Years later, mom would tell us how bad that made her feel – that her own children, whom she had created and loved and raised, could disbelieve her because of the strong assertions of somebody else.
You see, that’s exactly what happened to God. God created an astoundingly beautiful planet, with all the luxuries and advantages He could think of to nurture His children, and along comes a sly voice asserting that God was really selfish and evil. And, standing in the center of that garden made specifically for her and Adam, Eve believed the lie. She believed the serpent when he told her that in God’s presence you can’t really feel safe and happy and fulfilled after all.
So what you do if you yourself are still hanging in the balance with this question? A lot of times, bad things do happen to good people. Sometimes the innocent suffer. Sometimes carefully planted grain gets sown by the enemy with the seeds of noxious weeds. The results are sadness and frustration.
So what you do? How can you emphatically answer “yes” to Jesus’ test question: “Do you believe that in My Father’s presence you can feel safe and happy?”
Well, as before, we need to stay close to Jesus. That’s what those hosanna-shouting multitudes did. That’s what the hosanna-singing children did, Jesus was always welcoming to children, and took them up in His arms, and prayed to God about them.
Staying close to Jesus is what the lame and the blind and any other afflicted person did. And because they all stayed close to Jesus, and because they sensed that – as He Himself said – that He and His Heavenly Father were one, because of this, it was incredibly easy for them to come to believe that in the presence of God there is no fear, but happiness and security.
Now that we’ve been reminded of this, we need to become a singing “multitude.” Our closing song, which some of you remember as our Call to Worship several years ago, this song allows us to rejoice with the many other multitudes down through history, that Jesus is the King who will bring us into His Father’s presence. Let’s stand and sing this together. “Rejoice, the Lord is King!”