Matthew 21:18-22; The Fig Tree

This is a strange little story. It is the only example of what might be called a negative miracle in Matthew. To our modern sensibilities it seems as if Jesus was ticked off about the fig tree and cursed it in a fit of pique.

On the outside, Jesus uses this as an acted parable to teach the disciples something about prayer. But there is probably also a deeper lesson. God will judge his people for their unfaithfulness.

This is a rare time during this week when we see Jesus alone with his disciples. The disciples marvel, as would I, when the fig tree withers before their eyes. It seems like they are asking Jesus what lesson they can learn. Jesus uses the common trope of moving mountains—in this case the Mount of Olives, on which they are standing—by means of prayer.

It is natural to take the idea of praying for mountains to move as asking for difficult or impossible things, and I believe that is the idea that Jesus has in mind. All prayer to God must be aligned with his will. As far as I know, we can’t talk God into doing things that would go against the good of his kingdom.

This passage is certainly not encouraging us to pray for enemies to be removed or harmed.

Also, we must not get the impression that only great heroes of faith can get such prayers answered. When we line up with God, we are lining up with the great power of the universe. There is no power in the prayer itself, but there is great power in God.

So we grow in faith a little at a time. Faith is not a goal in which we can be proud of ourselves. It is really just us learning to trust God more and more.

Matthew 21:12-17; Just Another Day in the Temple

The action comes quickly. After entering Jerusalem, acclaimed by his traveling companions (but mostly unknown to Jerusalem), Jesus proceeds to the temple.

There he performed another symbolic action in the tradition of the prophets. Like Jeremiah breaking pottery and Ezekiel sneaking out by digging a hole in the wall of his house, Jesus attacks the sellers and buyers in the temple precincts, and the moneychangers who facilitated the payment of the temple tax. Special mention is made of the dove sellers. Probably a majority of sacrifices in the temple consisted of doves, the sacrifice of the poor.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 56 and says the temple is supposed to be a house of prayer, a place where people can come into contact with God. And he quotes from Jeremiah 7 and implies that the house of God is the hideout of unsavory people who make gain on the backs of others.

Overall, though, Jesus does not seem to be upset at the business practices, tut the location of the businesses.

Surely business was not disrupted for very long. There is no mention of any of the priestly leaders noticing what happened, and Jesus does not appear to have hidden himself away.

In fact, he begins healing those who come to him in the temple, most likely in same public area of the temple where the moneychangers did their business. The lame and the blind represent the unprivileged people of Israel. Healing them allows them to experience the temple truly as a house of prayer.

The children around Jesus continue to repeat what they heard on the road from Bethphage to Jerusalem. Whether or not they knew what they were doing, they acclaimed Jesus as messiah and asked him to save them.

This, somehow, gets the attention of some of the priestly leaders and they expect Jesus to deny what the children are saying, but Jesus answers (using words from Psalm 118), “Out of the mouths of babes …”

Thus endeth the first day of the last week. Jesus and the disciples went out to Bethany, where they no doubt set up their camp for the week of activities.

There are some questions we should probably ask ourselves.

  • What does church represent for us? Is it an occasion to meet God, or is it just a place of security and comfort?
  • How much has the secular invaded our churches?
  • Like Jesus, are we able to point to both judgment and to grace?

Matthew 21:1-11; On a Donkey

Jesus finally makes it to Jerusalem. We must bear in mind that he is coming to die there.

Currid, John D., and David P. Barrett. Crossway ESV Bible Atlas. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

At Bethphage, probably just a couple miles outside the gates of the throne city, Jesus commandeers a couple donkeys for entry to the city. Typically pilgrims walked into Jerusalem. A king would, of course, have ridden a big horse or be carried on some kind of royal contraption. Jesus chose to ride a donkey.

Did he have supernatural knowledge of the donkeys or was there a prior arrangement? Matthew seems to have no interest in exploring that question, so neither do I.

Matthew invokes Zechariah and Isaiah as prophetic background for this incident. It is difficult to imagine what Matthew had in mind with Jesus riding two animals; perhaps one was used as a pack animal for his luggage. However that went, the crowd with him gets in the. spirit of his acted parable and plays the part of his entourage, preparing his way before him.

“Hosanna” has gone the way of “hallelujah”. That is, it has become a word that is often used without reference to its true original meaning. But in this case, Jesus is entering Jerusalem precisely for the purpose of saving his people. He is the son of David, the messiah. And he is coming in the name of the Lord YHWH.

At least his entourage supported him. The people of Jerusalem did not know who he was. To them he was described as the prophet Jesus from Nazareth, which is fine as far as it goes. They will, however, not generally accept him and will send him to his death before the week is over.

Once Jesus enters Jerusalem, the action is hot and heavy. Prepare yourself for agony and ultimate victory. Jesus is Lord!

Why New Testament Worship Is More like a Potluck than a Production

What happened? Somehow, somewhere along the way, worship became more of a production than a potluck. As I said here a few weeks back, we now have the strange situation where the coaches take the field and the players sit in the stands. And it is completely normal to us. It seems a long way from the New Testament vision of Christian worship. I’m not saying what we are doing is not Christian. It’s just that it doesn’t seem to be very New Testament.
— Read on

I guess, when it comes down to it, that I’d choose to take the advice of medical experts when a course of action is needed for how to manage a pandemic.

Matthew 20:29-34; Two Blind Men (Again)

With all the talk of the kingdom and of Jesus giving his life for the many, and with the move toward Jerusalem, another healing at this point seems a little bit like a regression in the story. Back in chapter 9 there was a similar story of the healing to two bling men, and I suppose the two similar stories serve to bracket the whole section of the gospel leading up to the last week in Jerusalem.

It is probably also the case that Matthew wants us to see healing from blindness as symbolic of healing from spiritual blindness. These two men had spiritual sight to realize that Jesus was the messiah and they called him Lord.

We use the term “Lord” a lot about God and Jesus, but what do we mean by it? Do we mean that we turn our lives over to him as if he had a claim on our lives (which he does)? Does it mean he is our exclusive leader? Or are we just casually using familiar terminology?

The crowd tried to silence the blind men. They probably thought Jesus should not be bothered on his way to Jerusalem to become Lord of Jerusalem and Israel. But Jesus heard their second cry and stopped, asking them what they wanted. As if he didn’t already know.

Jesus had compassion on them. Pity. He touched them and healed them.

And they followed him. Maybe they followed him the sixteen miles to Jerusalem.

Following Jesus, even to death, is the correct response.