Matt. 21:1-Bethpage was a small village on the opposite side (east side) of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem…about 1/2 mile away.
Matt.21:4-5-Matthew carefully explains that Jesus was intentionally acting in a manner that would demonstrate that He was fulfilling the prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the arrival of the king.
Matt. 21:9-“Hosanna” means “save now”. The words of verse 9 come from Psalm 118:25-27. It is extremely important to notice that Jesus did not stop the crowds from attributing this designation (of king). Nor did He even correct them. In fact, he was the one who initiated it by entering Jerusalem on a donkey (i.e.-as a King, 21:5,15-16). Verse 16 says that God had prepared “praise for Thyself”…and yet, Jesus was the one receiving that praise.
Matt. 21:10-This is the question that everyone must answer…”Who is this?” The multitudes had it only partially correct…”This is the prophet, Jesus…”
Matt. 21:12-13-When Jesus arrives at the Temple He finds that instead of it being a place of prayer and worship…it has become a place of business and commerce. “Moneychangers” exchanged the Greek and Roman coinage that the people used in their daily commercial transactions for the standard half-shekel that was required for the Temple tax. Part of the problem was that because the people had to use the shekel and because the moneychangers had positioned themselves in the Temple (this was the last opportunity for the people to exchange their money)…they were able to charge an excessive exchange rate. The same problem existed with those who were selling the animals that were to be offered for sacrificial purposes (they had to be without blemish). The passage that Jesus quotes is from Jeremiah 7:1-15. There, Jeremiah is chastising the people for unacceptable worship. They seemed to have no issue with living in a manner that was inconsistent with their religious teachings (Jer. 7:8-10, “abominations”) during their daily lives…and then bringing a sacrifice to the Temple, thinking that because of this one act they have been absolved of all of their sinful behavior. They cried out, “We are delivered…” But instead, God says, “I will cast you out of My sight…”. So, while part of the problem was the presence of the moneychangers and those selling the animals for sacrifice…the greater problem that Jesus was confronting was the expectation that the people had when they came to the Temple…that by going through the motions of worship their sins would be absolved. In a manner reminiscent of the words of Jeremiah, Jesus now casts them out of the Temple.
Matt.21:14-17-The Pharisees are “indignant” (irritated, displeased) because the people were calling out to Jesus to save them…not just on the street corner, as before (:9)…but now, in the very Temple, itself. A place where calls for salvation were to be directed towards God, alone. But instead of agreeing that it was an inappropriate behavior, Jesus says that it is acceptable because He deserves it. He admits that He had intentionally done things that elicited their praise.
Matt. 21:18-22-The fig tree, though having leaves, was barren, unproductive of fruit. Normally, the leaves and fruit appear at the same time. It had the appearance of being productive…but no fruit. We shouldn’t become too caught up in the tree. It is the visual aid for an object lesson…not the lesson, itself. The lesson is on faith and prayer. Jesus used the tree to illustrate this principle. Mark 11 records this same incident. The disciples see the tree the next day and ask Jesus about it. He replies, “Have faith in God” (Mk.11:22). He tells them that if they have faith in God then not only will their prayers about small things (like the fig tree) be answered…but, even their prayers concerning large, huge matters (represented by the mountain) will be answered. This is the second time (17:20) that Jesus has referenced moving a mountain by prayer. Could both of these passages be telling us that faith is not something that I want and by an act of sheer will power cause to happen…but faith is knowing what God’s wants and agreeing with him and then seeing it happen? This raises a number of legitimate questions. Is faith an act of will power (not doubting myself)…or, is faith an acknowledgement of God’s power (not doubting Him)? Do miracles happen because I decide to do something and I tap into God’s power to accomplish it? Or, do they happen, and because I am in such close, constant communion with God I see what He is about to do, and I am simply the one who recognizes and announces it? Or, is it a little of both? Does God give me any room to initiate this process? Would the fig tree have withered…if Jesus had not come by? Perhaps the answer is that while God has a specific will in terms of the outcome…His will is more general in terms of the process. God wants us to be involved in the process…not just robots that are hardwired to His decisions. As we proceed through life, we make decisions that are based on God’s ultimate will for us to be holy and conformed to His image. Those decisions are based on our knowledge and understanding of Who He is…and when we make them they are an act of faith in Him. There may be more than one “right”choice…just as long as the choice we make is in keeping with His ultimate will. God is then glorified because we have made a choice, a decision, that is a reflection of Him. More so, than if He just pulled our chain and we reacted. Just perhaps, God is most glorified, when His people make a choice of their will to have faith in Him.
Prayer: Lord, all I know is that without faith…I can’t do anything. Help me to have faith in You that directs my prayers, my decisions, my life.