Matthew 21:12-17 Part 2

This morning as we begin where we left off last Lord’s Day, it is important to note that Jesus, upon entrance into the city, did not go to the seat of Roman authority (the king’s palace); and He didn’t hold a rally in the streets of Jerusalem; He didn’t gather to confront the Judaist Sanhedrin; and He didn’t form a protest against the centuries-old, hypocritical, pharisee leadership.  With a huge crowd of people following Him, and wanting desperately to make Him the earthy king of Israel, He could have been very effective with any one of those ventures.

But I want you to think for a few minutes about what those kinds of demonstrations imply!  In fact, as we consider that, let’s first bring it down to current day conditions for a few moments, and then we’ll go back to the text:  What is the implication when, for example, Right to Life groups rally to demonstrate in the town square?  What is the implication when any group protests or rallies or marches – NAACP, gay rights, labor union strikes – (and it doesn’t matter, here, whether the demonstrations are threatening or just for the purpose of attention-getting)?

It implies that the particular group is somehow being wronged (or their interests are being hurt); it implies that someone or something else is either wronging them, or not paying enough attention to the fact that they’re being wronged; and it implies that someone or something else has the authority and the ability and the power to correct it!

When a union strikes a business or an industry, the implication behind the threat is that there is someone there who can give the union what it wants.  When an ethnic group riots, it means that there is some kind of power or authority which could effect a change in its status!

Now, as we go back to the right to life rally, when people hold a “Christian” demonstration in the square in downtown Tyler, or have a “sit in” at an abortion clinic, it is for the purpose of threatening or gaining the attention of those who have the ability to change something for them – for the better!

Now.  Let’s go back to the text and Jesus’ entrance into the temple.  If He and this large crowd had proceeded to King Herod’s palace, there would have been an implied recognition of the king’s superiority!  And the same would be true should Jesus have gone directly to confront the Jerusalem Sanhedrin.  That august body of scribes and pharisees, by that very act, would have been recognized as sitting in a judging position over Him.

And you’ll also notice that when Jesus entered the temple, He did not go to the high priests to confront them.  Whether they were good priests; whether they had properly administered the temple; whether they had taught the people properly; whether they had retained true, godly worship in Israel – although the proper response to all of those questions was a resounding “No!”, and although the entire priestly system was rotten and polluted and demonized, Jesus didn’t lead this crowd in a protest against them.  Should He have approached them, either for commendation or condemnation, they would have then been in the position of judging His deeds and His words.  They would have been the ones in a position to effect a change on His behalf, or on behalf of the people.  So right or wrong, good or evil, the high priests would have been recognized as the authorities in that place!

Bu the point of this text is that Jesus entered the temple as THE High Priest and THE Sacrifice, and THE Sacrificer.  He did not seek out any authority; He was the Authority.  He did not approach the priests to condemn them for the pollution in the temple; He purified it Himself!

And let’s take that even one step further:  Jesus didn’t assume the priests’ roles in their temple duties, either!  In other words, having judged the priests as evil, incompetent and inept, if He had accomplished the purification of the temple for them, that, too, would have implied that they were the temple’s ultimate authorities – good or bad!  What He did was cleanse the “house” where His Father had chosen to manifest His glory!  He was its High Priest Who was foreshadowed in the entire ceremonial system! – which included the priests!

So, then what we see in the whole of chapter twenty-one is that Jesus Christ spoke with absolute authority (His control over the creation clearly manifested by His wondrous deeds); He was exhibited as King of Israel – recognized as such (although incorrectly) by God’s remnant people; and He exercised ultimate authority in the temple!  He was God’s Prophet, Priest and King.

Now, let me go back to the “right-to-life-rally” illustration for just a minute, because there is a great truth here for God’s people (and we’ll come back to it again at the end of this sermon for some further insights).

In those situations in which governmental authorities refuse to acknowledge the Kingship and Prophethood and Priesthood of Christ (such as in establishing laws permitting, and even encouraging, abortion), is it Biblical for the Body of Christ (the Church) to attempt to get the system changed by demonstrations and protests?  Isn’t it implied, by doing that, that governmental entities have ultimate authority over Jesus Christ and His Father’s Law?  If we, as the body of Christ, go to the state to protest, is it not implied that our political leaders have the superior position over the Kingdom of Christ?  Are we not ascribing Messianic authority to them?  And do we not place the body of Christ in an inferior position by doing so?  And, if so, is the body of Christ (the Church) committing the gross sin of idolatry?

If the answers to these questions is “yes”, which it is – in every case, then what is the Biblical response of the Church?  That’s a question which the text itself will answer; and we’ll see that clearly in just a few minutes.

But taking the verses in order, as we are wont to do, we now come to verse thirteen – which is where we left off last Lord’s Day.  Having exercised His authority as High Priest of God – having purified the temple (Matthew records that) – Jesus quotes from two portions of Scripture.  He says, “It is written….”

As we’ve seen so many times previously, Jesus acknowledges the written Word as the Word of God.  And, at the same time, He affirms that He is the Word of God in flesh (incarnate), and the “fullness’ of the Word!  And the pollutions and desecrations of the temple (that edifice which foreshadowed Him alone) were prophesied in the Word, and have now reached the height of their abominable shame.

And the Word of God Incarnate quotes the Word of God written.  And He says,


“My house shall be called a house of Prayer…” (from Isaiah fifty-six, verse seven).  “But you make it ‘a den of thieves!’” (from Jeremiah seven, eleven).


And, as we always say, it is most important for us to see the quotes in their own contexts in order to understand what Jesus has said and done.  Our Lord never just “flippantly” quoted “proof” texts, as is the way of many, but He always had in mind the purpose of the context – as it bore witness to the fullness of the times!

So, then, why, in this place and at this time, does Jesus quote from the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter fifty-six; and why does He then link that prophecy with that of Jeremiah chapter seven?  We could never fully understand what He has said here unless we reviewed those quotes from the prophets!

So going back to Isaiah fifty-six then, what we find there from the prophesy of Isaiah is the gathering of the Church from among the nations – as the work of the Messiah!  God spoke through Isaiah and said that the heathen who sanctify the Sabbath, and regulate their lives in accord with the Word of Yahveh, and hold fast to the Covenant, will be added to the remnant of Israel!  Yahveh will also take Levites (that is, priests) from the heathen nations and bring them into His Holy Mountain, and He will accept their offerings (prayers); and the house of God will be a house of prayer for all nations!  Not a house where the priests sacrifice animals, but a house of prayer for all nations.

We are reminded by this of the words of Jesus in John chapter ten, at verse sixteen, where He said,


“…other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring.  And they shall hear My voice.  And there shall be one fold and one Shepherd.”


So the whole context of Jesus’ reference here is to the prophecy of the Church and its prayers – its offerings.  The Church is the Body of Christ made up of the remnant of Israel and the Gentile nations.  And it is the House of God – drawing from the Older Testament nomenclature for the temple.  And its prayers ascend to the nostrils of God as a sweet savor of the whole-burnt offering!

The Church is the House of Prayer which was prophesied by Isaiah.  Christ’s body is the New Temple of God from which ascends the offerings of the people – prayer!  So as Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem, He sees the abominable desecration of that which foreshadows His Own body! And He quotes from God’s Word concerning what will be with regard to God’s House.

Then, as the text says, Jesus quotes from Jeremiah chapter seven, which is a condemnation of the worship of the Judaists – its priests and its people.  And God says to them that it is sheer delusion to worship and sacrifice in the temple when there is no obedience to His Law!  He says that, with every breach of the Commandments, they appear in His temple to sacrifice and worship – thinking to appease Him – in order that they might go on doing their abominations!

And to expose the senselessness of that, God asks (in Jeremiah seven) if they take the temple of God for a den of thieves!  In other words if they came there as thieves and murderers and adulterers, thinking it was a place of absolution, did they then not see it as a den, or a retreat, for thieves?!  Jeremiah then goes on to say that the temple is not a place of safety for them, for God will destroy it!

So the temple and the sacrificial system don’t afford any protection at all from the threatened punishment!  What we have, then, in essence, in Christ’s cleansing of the temple, is the fulfillment of God’s Word through Isaiah and Jeremiah.  That Messiah will destroy the old temple – filled with pollutions and abominations; and the New Temple will be a “house of prayer”, a sweet savor to God, filled with God’s people from all the nations.  All of these things were coming to pass now with the presence of Messiah entering in!

And then in verse fourteen we see another example of the condition of the outcast remnant of Israel which had gathered around Jesus.  His healing of the masses of people was both an act of Divine compassion upon the people of Israel (for they had been left poor, crippled, blind, deaf and demon-possessed by the sin of the nation); and, at the same time, an act of condemnation on the teachers, priests, elders and authorities of Israel.  For their rebellion against God’s Covenant had left the nation worse than all its surrounding pagan nations.  But Messiah reverses all the conditions resulting from bondage to sin and idolatry.  That’s what Jesus is doing as He heals all of those who come to Him in the temple.  He was reversing the ravages of sin.


But now we come to the very center of this entire event; verses fifteen and sixteen.  Naturally, members of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin have come to see what’s happening; and these scribes conspire with the high priests in the temple.  They know that Jesus and this great multitude of rabble have entered the temple court; this indolent “prophet” from Samaria (of all places) has disrupted the Passover celebration and embarrassed the leadership of Israel; He has violently interfered with the currency exchange and the buying and selling of the birds for sacrifice; this great crowd of rag-tail misfits had filled the entire temple court – with so many important visitors from all over the world here; this “Jesus” was healing people in the temple itself; and the children were quoting from Psalm one hundred eighteen – “Ana Jahveh Hoshiana” – “Hosannas to the Son of David!”

In other words, what the children were saying was that this Man was the Son of David, Who is the fulfillment of Psalm one hundred nineteen (God’s salvation), and He was going to be King!  They were praising Messiah/King of Israel with the Words of Scripture!  And this Man Jesus was He!

Well, the scribes said, since this man was from Nazareth of Galilee – from Samaria – he could not be one of them (Sanhedrin); therefore he could not be Messiah!  He could not be king of Israel!  The new king would have to be judged and approved by the elders of the Sanhedrin!

But this “Jesus” wasn’t stopping the people from crying out in the temple about these things!  This was idolatrous for him to gather people around himself who thought he was Messiah!  And it was especially idolatrous for this to be happening in the temple!

So the high priests and the scribes angrily approached Jesus and said, “Do you hear what these are saying?”  Now the point of the question is that if Jesus denied that He was Messiah, Son of David, then why wasn’t He stopping what was going on?  And if He affirmed that He was Messiah, King of Israel, then they would deal with Him as they would any other cult-leader.  But – either response He gave would have been a submission to their authority!  Any explanation of Himself to them would have implied their right to question Him! – it would have implied their superior position!

But Jesus did not offer them an explanation of Himself in any way; He did not imply that they had the right and authority to accept Him or reject Him; He did not imply in any way that they could judge what was being said about Him by the children!

What He said was, “Yea” (certainly, I do!) (I hear them).  And then He humiliated them by asking them if they had never read (with understanding) Psalm eight, verses one and two!  It was rather a rhetorical statement to them more than a legitimate question, because it was obvious that they had never read it with understanding!  “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings You did perfect praise for Yourself.”  (That’s not exactly the way the King James reads, but that’s what the Greek says; and that’s what the Hebrew says in the Psalm!)

Now in Psalm eight, as we go again to the context of Jesus’ quote, the Church is praising Yahveh.  And as it speaks to Him, it says that “Yahveh, whose glory and power are reflected in His creation, has set His glory upon the heavens.”  And the Church also says that “Yahveh’s Name is glorious, for He has perfected praise for Himself from the mouth of babes and sucklings!”

This is a “fortress”, Martin Luther said, which God has perfected for Himself from the mouth of babes – in order to restrain and silence those who are enraged against Him and inspired with a thirst for vengeance and cursing! Yahveh has perfected praise for Himself from the mouth of babes and sucklings!  It is the praise of Yahveh which is the fortress against all opposition!

And we know that it is the people of God – rebirthed into the Kingdom of Christ – which is being prophesied here.  Rebirthed as newborns, men and women and children give praise to God; and He perfects that for Himself and it becomes the “bulwark” against all opposition.

The apostle Paul says something similar in First Corinthians chapter one, verse twenty-seven, that that which is foolish and weak (in the eyes of the world) is that which shames the wise and the strong!  Public worship – praise from Christ’s newborns – is a weak thing that God perfects for Himself.  And having been perfected, it becomes power against all who would be enraged and curse and seek vengeance.

But the point here is that the children shouting praise to the Son of David, mentioned by Matthew here in the text, is used by Jesus to silence the indignant scribes and the high priests.  And He left them behind; and went to Bethany and spent the night.

Again, as we’ve seen so many times, we are faced with one of those strange-sounding ideas in the Bible; strange because it is so uncommon to our ears – our praise in public, becoming such a power – upon being perfected by God for Himself.  Who would know and understand (apparently the scribes and priests had never read with understanding), (but who would understand) that praise from us as His rebirthed children would be such a firm and set fortress against opposition to Christ and His Kingdom!  But it is God Who perfects it and uses it for Himself.  He has ordained it to be this way!

Now, as we close this morning, let me just say something else with regard to demonstrations, sit-ins, protests and rallies.  Seeing these things in the text this morning, what position does the Church put itself in when it does those things?  Answer?  It makes itself inferior – and idolatrous.  Because it asserts that someone else, or something else, has the power to effect a change in its behalf.

But what does God say?  His Power and His glory are reflected in the entire creation.  And He takes the praise of His newborn people, and He perfects it for Himself; and He founds it as a strong fortress against opposition.  Praise!  You see, it is the praise of God which confounds and restrains and silences those who are indignant against God and His Messiah/King.  The Church needs to gather in public for praise, and for prayer, and for preaching.  Here is the strength of the Church – not in protests and demonstrations.  God builds the Bulwark against all opposition.  And He uses that which seems weak to the world – the praise of His people.

As we gather for communion today, it is with remembrance of this One Who is Prophet, Priest and King.  We are the ones prophesied in Isaiah and Jeremiah, gathered from the nations to be in union with the remnant of Israel.  We are to be in union with Him as we offer prayer and praise – in public – then perfected by God Himself for His Own glory.