The week began with a donkey ride. In the ancient world, donkeys were all purpose animals. To own many donkeys was a sign of wealth. In the Old Testament, Saul was looking for some of his father’s lost donkeys right before he was chosen to be Israel’s first king. When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, he affirms his messianic loyalty as well as his humility.
After the hoopla of the cheering crowds throwing palm branches before him, the first thing Jesus does is go the temple, where he proceeds to clear it out. He overthrows the tables of the money changers and merchants. Why? Because they were crowding out those who had come to worship God! The temple area was always crowded during Passover with thousands of out-of-town visitors. The money changers and merchants rationalized that setting up their booths in the temple was good business. Jesus thought otherwise. He was right to be angry as He encountered unbelief. He was angry at the dishonest, greedy practices of the businesses, and He disliked that the religious leaders didn’t care that they made it difficult for people to worship. God’s temple was being abused. The merchants didn’t care about God. Their greed made them forget that God’s house was a place of worship, not a place for their fortunes. What did Jesus do? He made a whip and chased them all out. Jesus took their evil acts (depicted in Matthew and John} as an insult against God, and any practice that interfered with worshipping God was brought to a stop.
What about today? Is God’s house a place of worship? Is his house being revered in every way? We should come to church to worship God, the Creator of all things. Our attitude toward the church is wrong if we view it as a place to advance personal agendas or business deals. Our attitude in attending church is to worship God.
Now let Holy Week begin, with our Messiah arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey and clearing out his temple, and our hearts, for true worship of him alone.
After Jesus’ exciting entry into Jerusalem, he spent the night in Bethany. The next morning, on his way back to Jerusalem he became hungry. Jesus saw a fig tree along the road (Matthew 21:18-22). His mouth must watered at the thought of those sweet figs, but when he got closer, se saw nothing on the fig tree but leaves. At this point, I don’t know if I would have done what Jesus did when he declared, “Let no fruit grown on you ever again!” (Matthew 21:19), but when you are hungry and discouraged like Jesus was maybe I would have said the same thing. However, I think there’s a lesson here. The fruit tree may have looked good from a distance, but it was fruitless. Sort of like people who appear to have faith but are spiritually barren. How strong is your fruit tree? Jesus had to be thinking about the fruitless Pharisees, knowing that they were not only plotting his demise, but also bearing no fruit.
Throughout his last week on earth, Jesus was challenged religious leaders by who wanted to know from whom His authority came. They didn’t really want answers, they only wanted to trap Jesus, and support their own views and causes. Instead of answering them, Jesus begins to tell stories: about two sons, one who obeys and one who doesn’t; about a wicked farmer; and about a wedding dinner. The religious leaders knew that Jesus was really talking about them and exposing their murderous plot, and still they did not repent. They continued to try and trap Jesus. They asked him about paying taxes, about the resurrection and about the greatest commandment. And Jesus answers kept exposing their evil motives and embarrassing them. They were more interested in defeating Jesus than in learning the truth. They were more worried about what they should not do rather than on they could do to show their love for God and others.
And then Jesus did the unthinkable. He asked the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees this question: Who did they think the Messiah was? Unless they believed that Jesus was who he said he was, they were lost. These men knew the Scriptures but did not live by them. They did not care about being holy, only looking holy. People easily say they know the Bible, and you might be fooled by their façade of knowledge when speaking about God’s Word, but it doesn’t change their lives. Their actions don’t match the beliefs they are proclaiming. And we need to do is to look in a mirror to see how dangerous our love for position and power can overshadow our love for God. Jesus also accused the religious leaders of losing sight of God, which caused God’s people to become blind to fulfilling God’s directives as given to Moses.
How Jesus grieved, yet there was still more Jesus needed to do before Good Friday.
After chastising the religious leaders Jesus told more stories about the future, his return and the remaining watchful (Matthew 24: 1-51). In Matthew 25, he talks about ten bridesmaids, loaned money and the final judgment. He clarified what it meant to be ready for his return and how to live until he came back. And in case you may not realize this, all of this was taking place before Maundy or Holy Thursday. If you ever think you are busy, remember these final days before Good Friday. And remember—Jesus did all of this in a town where the religious leaders were plotting to kill him! As Pastor Moody said recently: “These people hated the guy who was exposing their sins!”
By now, I tell you that I was feeling exhausted. What bothers me about saying this is that Jesus has repeatedly warned us against unbelief and rebellion against God. That the fake church is the greatest danger to the true church, as Pastor Moody reminded us. Yet, we continue to betray our Lord by not obeying and submitting to his will for our good. Why do we, like Judas, continue to betray Jesus? For money and status? Is that truly worth forfeiting eternal life with Our Creator?
Yet as exhausted as I felt in reading Matthew 21-28:10, I could not stop. I kept reading about how Judas agreed to betray Jesus; about the beautiful, sad last supper Jesus had with the disciples; how Jesus predicted Peter’s denials, and how Jesus agonized in the garden when he asked his Father to “if possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 and 42). I continued to read about Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, how Caiphas acted out a phony judgment, and how Peter denied knowing Jesus three times. I read how the counsel of religious leaders condemned Jesus; how Judas hung himself; how Jesus stood before Pilate and was handed over to be crucified—and I am devastated.
Did you notice that Jesus never retaliated against the evil that assaulted him. How could the crowd that loved Jesus on Sunday, hate him on Friday? And Pilate caved to the religious leaders out of fear that if he didn’t hand Jesus over to be crucified the religious leaders would complain to his bosses in Rome, and his cushy job would be in jeopardy. And Jesus, the Son of God, was led away to be crucified.
I am now beyond exhausted as I sit here weeping and grieving, that the only way we could be saved was that God had to give his only Son to die for us, upon a cross, so that if we believe we may have eternal life. That kind of love for his children goes beyond anything I could ever do. Yet this is not the end.
God had planned for his Son to come the first time, and a time for his Son to return. To quote Pastor Moody again: “in the meantime, we are called to witness that Jesus was born, died, and rose again according to the Scriptures!” You have two choices: To believe that Jesus was born, died, and rose again so that we who believe may have eternal life; or to be closed to the truth. If you deny this happened or ignore it or trying to explain it away, it means you are denying that Jesus is Lord and king, and that de died for the sins of people from all nations.
What will your choice be?