“When the music fades and all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart / I’ll bring you more than a song for a song in itself is not what you have required / You search much deeper than this through the way things appear / You’re looking into my heart…I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus / I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I make it when it’s all about you, all about you, Jesus” – Matt Redman, “The Heart of Worship”, 1999.
The final week on earth for the man Matthew identifies as Jesus begins here in Chapter 21 with the event known as the Triumphal Entry. Basically, on His way to Jerusalem for a showdown with the religious leaders of Israel, the disciples are instructed to bring a donkey colt that has never been ridden before. Now I’m a city kid but I know it takes time to break wild animals so that they can be ridden. It doesn’t matter if it’s a horse, a bull, a donkey, or something else. Only the experienced need apply for this job.
The amazing thing is that Jesus, a carpenter, should have very little experience with unbroken animals and yet He mounts and successfully rides the beast into the city of Jerusalem while a very large crowd basically goes bananas. The colt by all rights should be spooked by the rukus and leave it’s rider by the roadside, but it’s not and it doesn’t. What is the importance of this? Again, Matthew is pointing to this Jesus guy being the Messiah by quoting old testament prophecy found in Zechariah 9:9. Jewish readers of his gospel would recognize this intended theme and be forced to wrestle with it.
After all, the Jewish religious leaders of the day would refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. Later on in the week they would openly accuse Him of blasphemy when they were seeking to put Him to death. They feared Him but for all the wrong reasons; they should have feared Him as the incarnation of the Lord of Hosts but they mistakenly only saw Him as a threat to their power and influence. It’s a typical, myopic view of God by religious, but not spiritual, men.
This is the beginning of the end. And it begins on a particular high note with throngs of people hailing Jesus as the son of David and praising God in the highest. Cloaks were spread across the road. Palm branches were waving. This scene is most often reserved for a conquering hero on a magnificent steed. In a way, these people are ahead of themselves. This is the welcome Jesus should receive upon being raised from the dead. And why is He on a beast of burden? No one rides into battle on a donkey. But Jesus does, because He is a humble King.
Matthew does not go into it, but I can’t help wondering about Jesus’ whole reaction to this uproar. Was He pleased people recognized Him as the Messiah even if the religious leaders wouldn’t? Was He sad because He knew in just a few short days these same people cheering Him now would be calling for His death? Was He resigned to the rocky road ahead of Him? Whatever His state of mind, this is one of the few occasions where Jesus accepts the praise of the people who are acknowledging His glory. And if this Jesus guy is who Matthew keeps providing evidence to prove He is, then there’s a very good chance He’s coming back at some point in the future (John 14:3). I can only imagine what kind of Triumphal Entry will that be.
But Jesus’ day doesn’t end there. Matthew records another stunning event happening later that day or perhaps the next. It’s not very clear when it takes place, but what happens is monumental. The heading in my study bible for this section simply states “Jesus Clears the Temple”. But it was so much more than that.
Even under Roman rule, Jews were allowed to follow the Mosaic Law and offer sacrifices at various temple sites around Judea to atone for sin. It was obligatory and required. But what happened over time was that the process became institutionalized and monetized. Needless to say, this did not sit well with the guy who claimed to be the Son of God. Matthew, Mark and Luke all record that when He entered the Temple, He immediately began to drive out the people buying and selling animals, as well as overturning the money-changer’s tables, Basically, he wrecks the place and interrupts the sacrifices going on because He knows the whole process has lost it’s intended meaning. What good are these sacrifices really doing? The deeper point not stated outright, but which very well have been in Jesus’ mind, was that a permanent sacrifice was about to be made (by Him) so let’s start by cleaning house. What a better way to end the frustration of the worshipper and make a definitive statement on the sadistic commercialism that blocked one’s relationship with their Maker?
So we have a mighty King humbly entering the city that would later hand down His death sentence and once more trying to remove the obstacles between man and God. It’s a reminder to be wary of the acclaim that some give so freely one day, but do not live out in actions the rest of the week, as well as a lesson on how not to get in-between someone else’s worship of the Almighty. Kinda reminds me of the church, present day.