Monday, May 27, 2013

Intensifying Blatancy - Matthew 21:12-22

Scripture Passage #1
12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.
13 And He said to them, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN."
14 And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them.
15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant
16 and said to Him, "Do you hear what these children are saying?"  And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF'?"
17 And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
The Basics of What's Going On Here
This is yet another of my favorite "scenes" in the Bible involving Jesus. :-)  I adore the idea of a warrior God defending the weak from evil, and that is certainly exhibited here.  But another thing I love about this event is that each Gospel seems to emphasize a different aspect of what happened, each on teaching us something unique.  Let's dive in and see what Matthew saw as important in this story.
In case you're not very familiar with this story, here's a quick run-down of what was going on:
  • There were very specific rules in the Jewish temple about what kind of money you could use and what quality of animals were okay for sacrifices.  So, moneychangers and animal salesmen set up shop there...which seems very useful at first glance.  But the problem was that they were not there just to help people worship God and make a living - they were swindling the worshipers.
  • The scribes and priests were totally okay with this system - they worked there, too!  It fit perfectly with the hypocritical, hyper-legalistic system they had set up to turn themselves into the "holy" elite.  Someone declaring this temple system to be morally wrong directly threatened them.
So, Jesus came in and caused quite the stink about this situation.  He acted as a one-man riot, overturning tables, scattering money everywhere, letting the animals free, and chasing the swindlers out with a whip.  Imagine if someone came running into your church and threw to contents of the offering bucket all over the floor, overturned the communion stands, and grabbed each of the pastoral staff by their shirt collars and drug them outside...  It was a radical act!
This wasn't just wanton was an act of cleansing His temple through destruction.  In the Old Testament, when Israel turned to evil and its worship became mere lip-service, God orchestrated events so His temple would be literally turned to rubble - it's the same principle as here.  The message is that hypocrisy reaching all the way to God's own house cannot be tolerated.
But Jesus's act was far more than a message of disapproval - Christ also restored the Temple to its true purpose, and that's what I see as Matthew's main emphasis.  Just look at the contrast - the rich and powerful (who were evil in this case) were chased out, and God welcomed the lowest of society (children and the sick, who were viewed as sinful).  The Temple was the place for Jews to commune with God Himself - and they had the opportunity to do that.
Deity, Prophecy, and Other Gospels
I think the fact that the sick came to Christ for healing after He did this whole rampage-through-the-Temple thing shows that they genuinely believed He was Messiah.  If they didn't, they surely would have thought that He had no right to do what He just did.  I mean, if I had terminal cancer and knew of a renowned prophet who could miraculously heal, and he did some radical religious act like we see in this passage, I wouldn't go to him for healing unless I fully believed he had the God-given authority to do what he did!
Even if my assumptions on that are wrong, however, the children were definitely identifying Him as Messiah!  In 2 Samuel 7:12-16, God promised King David that his descendants would ultimately reign forever.  At first, this was an unbroken chain of his son, grandson, great-grandson, etc. serving as king of Israel, and part of the prophecy speaks to that; but in the eternal sense, Christ's throne would reign forever, and Christ was a biological descendant of David (see the genealogy in Matthew 1).  So, a common term referring to the Messiah in Jesus's day was "Son of David."
So, the Pharisees noticed that the children were identifying Jesus as the Messiah, and tried to call Him out on not correcting them.  He responded, "Yes," and further declared His deity by quoting another Scripture about God - Psalm 8:2!  Since He intended to let them crucify Him shortly after this, He could be very overt in declaring Himself to be both Messiah and God.
If you want to look into the Scriptures Christ referenced in verse 13 of today's passage, they are Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (the entirety of Jeremiah 7 is related, so you  may want to check that out if you have time).
If you're interested in the other gospels' take on this story:
Mark 11:15-18 - emphasizing how much His radical act caused the priests and scribes to hate Him
Luke 19:45-48 - emphasizing how people responded to His authority
John 2:13-22 (actually an earlier event - Jesus did this twice) - emphasizing His Deity and authority even more
Scripture Passage #2
18 Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry.
19 Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you."  And at once the fig tree withered.
20 Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?"
21 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.
22 "And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."
The Fig Tree
Jesus cleansing the Temple started off what will be a long section in Matthew in which Jesus confronted the hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders (scribes, priests, teachers, Pharisees, Sadducees...), and that is also happening here, and will continue into our next couple of posts, as well.
The point with this fig tree is that it was not bearing fruit.  This tree is symbolic of those who see themselves as religious (Pharisees, etc.) but are actually not bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23:
  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • goodness
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control
These are not things we achieve in order to become godly; rather, they are the inherent result of allowing God to live in our hearts.  Over time, He changes us to become more like Him, so a genuine believer will show at least some progress in some of these areas over time.  But the religious hypocrites Jesus was referring to didn't, because they didn't truly have relationships with God - they only wanted to serve themselves.
So when Jesus curses the fig tree, He is declaring that His favor and His blessing are not with people like that.
Learn how to ask Jesus to become your Lord and Savior here.
How the Disciples Listened
But the disciples weren't really listening to what Jesus had to say - they were more shocked by the fact that Jesus was able to make the fig tree wither instantly with a word (even though they had already seen Him perform so many miracles, many more impressive than this!).  It turned out fine, because He was able to turn their poor listening into a teaching opportunity on a different topic, but still! :-)
Branching off of that a bit, we should be sure that we value churches and Bible teachers and such not for how good of speakers they are, or how flashy their sermon PowerPoint notes are, or whatever - we should be paying attention to the content of the message.
Miracles and Prayer
We've talked about the issues Jesus refers to here in His teaching on miracles and prayer recently, so I'll be relatively brief.
Sometimes, there is cause for a miracle, whether to demonstrate to a person that the person performing the miracle really is from the True God, or simply to bless people (e.g. healing).  God still works miracles today, and he promises that He will work through Christians to bring them about elsewhere, too (e.g. Mark 16:17-18, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11).  However, it's not as if a person who God has gifted to perform miracles is a magician for life or something - God will work miracles through that person for His purposes, in His timing, when He chooses to.
But the larger point here is faith - God works through us (in any capacity) when we believe that He can do it, and are willing to act on that belief.
Bear in mind, too, that verse 22 isn't just a blanket promise that you can force God to give you anything you want - as always, context is critical.  In this case, the context is things for His kingdom, according to His will.  If we feel in our hearts that God is prompting us to do something for His kingdom, and our own abilities don't cut it, if we ask Him to give us the ability, He will.  Definitely.
Question for you: When has God asked you to "step out in faith" and do something that seemed impossible, and He provided for your situation?
Any questions, or comments about something you see in our passages?
Leave a comment below. :-)

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