Last week, we began a journey with Jesus as he set his face to go to Jerusalem. Jesus had a fierce determination to go to Jerusalem as part of a divine appointment to bring a prophetic message of judgment. Prophesy is a statement from God calling the people to change in the present to have life in the future. As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, Jesus revealed more and more about God and the mission and ministry that we are to follow. That is why I wanted us to celebrate Jesus arrival in Jerusalem today, so that we had several weeks to explore what Jesus taught in the last week of his public ministry, all done in Jerusalem and its surrounds.
Jesus had his face set on Jerusalem and now he had arrived. Our New Testament reading from the Gospel of Matthew contained one of accounts of Jesus arrival which we remember through Palm Sunday.
Matthew wrote, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’ 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 ‘Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’’ 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 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 heaven!’
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ 11 The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’”
Jesus who had his face set on Jerusalem, had arrived in Jerusalem. There are a couple of things that we need to think about concerning this arrival. Most recently on this journey, Jesus had been sending his disciples ahead of him to prepare people for his arrival. There does not appear to be any advanced warning that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem. So when Jesus and the noisy crowd arrived at the city, people from the city asked, “Who is this?” The crowd of people with Jesus shouted in reply, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” And Jesus was a prophet.
But Jesus was more than a prophet. We read that Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem on a donkey was the fulfilment of a prophesy. 5 ‘Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’’ So Jesus was prophet and king. In Israel, the true king was supposed to be responsible to God alone. In the office of kiing, he was expected to know and do the Law of God. He was to be a proclaimer and teacher of the law and one who judged wisely and righteously. The scene as Jesus entered was the fulfilment of prophesy in which the true king came to Jerusalem in a gentle state riding on a humble donkey. The people shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” the beloved king of Israel.
Matthew wrote at the arrival of Jesus, king and prophet, the whole city was stirred up. The Greek word Matthew used, σείω, (si’-o) meant to be agitated in one’s mind. Jesus arrival in the fashion of a prophetic king and as a prophet was causing the people to be mentally nervous, restless, and anxious. What was this character Jesus up to? The number of permanent residents in Jerusalem then was perhaps 100,000 people. But Jesus entered days prior to Passover and the number of people likely swelled by another 250,000 people or more who had come to Jerusalem from all across the known world. Jesus’ arrival and the proclamation of the crowds with Jesus that said he was a prophet made people curious, anxious, and expectant. They would not have to wait long for things to begin to happen.
The crowds and the inhabitants of the city understood that a prophet was a person who spoke for God and who communicated God’s message courageously to God’s Chosen People – the nation of Israel. Sometimes a prophet acted out his message symbolically. Isaiah went naked for three years. Ezekiel lay on his left side for 390 days and then on his right for 40 days more. Zechariah broke his two staffs. Ahijah tore his cloak. In making a spectacle, the prophets aroused curiosity of the people and scorn from the establishment.
After arriving in the city, Matthew reported that Jesus, the prophet, wasted no time making his way to the heart of the city, the heart of Judaism, the Temple of Jerusalem, and arousing the people and attracting the scorn of the establishment. We read, “12 Jesus entered the temple courts 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. 13 ‘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’’” (Matthew 21:12-13).
Jesus who had his face set on Jerusalem had set in motion an irreversible collision and judgment upon the institution of religion. He did so by doing five things.
First, Jesus entered the city riding on a donkey setting people’s minds to begin to wonder if Jesus was to come as the true king of Israel and cast off those appointed by Romans.
Second, Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. The practices within the temple were under the administration of the control of the Sadducees, one of the two powerful religious groups. Jesus, at least for a moment, end the Sadducees’ profits.
Third, Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers. These were men who exchanged, for a price, pagan coins minted by the Romans or other authorities for silver coins approved by the Pharisees, the other powerful religious establishment. Jesus was ending the Pharisees profits.
Fourth, Jesus overturned the benches of those selling doves. Small birds such as doves were sold to the poor for use in animal sacrifices within the Temple. Disrupting the sales of the birds sent a message that God was not interested in sacrifices. Jesus had turned the tables on the religious establishment at the very moment the city was filled and overflowing with Jews from around the known world.
Fifth, Jesus brought all his actions together with his words, the words of God. Jesus condemned the establishment with words from the Hebrew Scriptures saying those selling, buying, exchanging money, and giving them place to do so, collectively had turned the Temple from a house of prayer to a den of robbers. Here the word “den” more accurately means “cave.” The temple, then, was not a place where violent people went to commit violence, but a place where violent people went to hide. With this context in mind, Jesus’ use of the phrase becomes clear. The buyers and sellers, who represent the powerful Jewish elite, had turned the temple into a “den of robbers.” They do not go to the temple to commit crimes; they commit crimes, and then hide in the temple. The phrase, then, does not implicate the Jewish elite for being robbers, it implicates the entire Judaic system was oppressing the Jewish population in the name of the temple – that is, in the name of God. Jesus, in one short moment, has indited the religious establishment as corrupt through and through. Jesus took this action in front of Jews from every corner of the world assuring his message would be heard throughout all of Judaism.
Jesus had issued God’s judgment. The religion had become corrupt and no longer represented God. Instead, religion represented the interests of perpetuating itself and making comfortable the powerful within its apparatus. Jesus wanted simplicity of a relationship to exist between each person and God, not between each person and an institution.
The Gospel of Mark added that,” 18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him [Jesus], for they feared him [Jesus], because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching” (Mark 11:18). Jesus message had been received by the establishment and, like most prophets, was completely rejected.
But Jesus with his face set on Jerusalem had more to do that condemn corruption. Jesus the prophet and king was also Jesus the priest. Priest were official ministers or worship leaders in the nation of Israel who represented the people before God and performed various rituals to atone for the sins of the people. Jesus wanted to be among the people lifting them up before God. To this end, Matthew recorded, “14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14). For the moment, the Temple had been transformed from a religious marketplace to a place of healing. Those who were suffering came and received comfort. The miraculous power of God to heal the wounds and afflictions of the body were on prominent display. Again, this was all done in the presence of Jews from the four corners of the world so that the good news could be shared everywhere.
Jesus’ behavior was itself designed to by symbolically prophetic. The people had been waiting for the sign of a Messiah, a chosen-one of God who would usher in a new era. The prophet Isaiah told the people that they would know the Messiah by what he said and did. Isaiah wrote, “4 Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:4-6). Jesus came with power to save the people from their religion and the power to gently heal broken bodies. The message of Jesus’ actions was an unmistakable declaration that he was the Messiah. And the people began to love Jesus and worship God with simplicity and brightness. This too should be the hallmark of our worship. We should worship God through Jesus and avoid the pitfalls of loving our traditions more than loving God and loving one another. When we focus of Jesus then we know God more fully and understand our role in the kingdom.
But people love traditions, and they get upset if tradition is changed and things of tradition are no longer valued. Look at the reaction of the religious establishment to Jesus transforming the Temple from a marketplace to a place of healing and comfort. “15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant. 16 ‘Do you [Jesus] hear what these children are saying?’ they [the leaders] asked him [Jesus]. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16).
Jesus message was clear. Jesus set his face to Jerusalem for a final encounter, a final opportunity for the religious establishment to free themselves of tradition and embrace the simplicity and brightness of God himself. Jesus entered the city as the true king of Israel able to guide and govern people in the ways of God. Jesus presented a threat to no one riding gently upon a donkey. Those who traveled with Jesus sang songs of praise, not of war. They proclaimed a blessing upon those who come in the name of the Lord. Jesus captured the attention of the city’s inhabitants making them wonder, “Who is this?” Indeed, “Who is Jesus?” Those walking with Jesus said Jesus was a prophet, able to speak the words of God the people so desperately needed to hear. Jesus gathered attention of Jews of Jerusalem and across the world all there in the Temple of Jerusalem. He offered by contrast the profound difference between the corruption of religion that only helped those who sought to perpetuate its traditions for profits and the compassion of God who caused the blind to see and the lame to walk. Jesus came to Jerusalem to turn the tables against those things which were not of God to make room for those things which are of God.
This is the message today. Let Jesus turn the tables of your life and our church. Let Jesus come and heal whatever pain you experience by giving you life eternal. In return, worship him in simplicity. Let Jesus turn the tables and replace whatever is of tradition and not of the Holy Spirit found in the Christian Church. In return, let us be empowered to heal the needs of other. If together, we live our lives in this manner, many will say to us, “Blessed are they that come in the name of the Lord.” Amen and Amen.