Matthew 21

Matthew 21
by David Groendyk

In all of God’s wisdom and sovereignty (and possibly Pastor Lawrence’s careful planning?), we read of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday. As Jesus mounts his donkey, the crowds lay their cloaks and palm branches down on the road, and the crowd begins to shout, this is clearly an entrance fit for a king (vv. 1–11). As Zechariah prophesied, and as Matthew confirms for us, Jesus is our king. He is the rightful king of his people who has come to be their savior. In fact, whether or not the people realize it, that’s exactly what they’re crying out for. I had to do some research, but do you know what “hosanna” means? It means “save me!” That is exactly what king is supposed to do. Westminster Shorter Catechism question 26 asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a king?” The answer: “In subduing us to his will, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.” Christ has come to free us from our tyrannical bondage to sin. He defeats death itself and conquers the power of hell. We’ve been freed! And he continues to rule and defend us still. What areas in your life do you need to learn to submit to Christ’s rule even more?

King Jesus comes to bring salvation. The problem is that it’s a different kind of salvation and a different kind of rule than many of the crowds in Jerusalem thought it was. That caused an uproar. All along, Jesus has been preaching what his kingdom is like—one that brings spiritual salvation and obedience in the heart of his people—while the crowds were expecting a physical kingdom with Jesus sitting on a throne in Jerusalem. Some listened to Jesus; some didn’t. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “The same sun that melts wax hardens clay.” It seems like the more Jesus preaches the salvation he brings, the more irritated and aggravated the Pharisees get. They can’t stand Jesus. That’s what we see in verses 15–16, 23, 32, and 33–46. The more Jesus proclaims his salvation, the harder their hearts get. How do you respond when God’s Word challenges you, when it tells you something contrary to what you previously thought, or challenges the way you live your life? Is your heart soft?

The response we ought to have to our coming King is to bear fruit. Notice how many of these narratives involve someone bearing correct or incorrect fruit. The money-changers in the temple are bearing bad fruit by taking advantage of the temple sacrifices to make a profit (vv. 12–13). One son is praised as having borne good fruit despite not originally wanting to in contrast to the other son who says he will but actually doesn’t (vv. 28–32; a story I’m sure all you parents can relate to!). The evil tenants are killed because of the way the mishandled the master’s property and people, and the kingdom of God is given to those who produce fruit (v. 43). And, of course, the most explicit example of the fig tree, which Jesus curses because it has no fruit (vv. 18–19). Those who are described as bearing fruit in this passage are the blind and lame (v. 14) and the tax collectors and prostitutes (v. 31)—those whom you wouldn’t ordinarily identify as religious people. Those who don’t bear fruit are the Pharisees, chief priests, and scribes—those whom you would think are definitely believers.

The kingdom of God turns the world upside-down. Jesus is not looking for you to look good. What he wants is faith and repentance. You can obey every law of God perfectly, you can pray long high-falutin prayers, you can give away every penny you own, you could have sat in the church service every Sunday for eighty years, you could have led dozens of Bible studies, but if it does not come from a heart that’s been broken by the misery of your sin and overwhelmed at the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, it’s just a show. Jesus doesn’t want a show. He wants faith and repentance, and only the good works that flow out of faith and repentance truly are good fruit. That’s what makes the tax collectors and the prostitutes such great examples. They have seen how serious their sins are and have desperately cried out to Christ for mercy. Have you been broken by your sin? Do you cling to Christ for salvation?