************ Sermon on Matthew 21:16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 28, 1999
"Jesus Wants All to Praise Him"
I Excitement About The Messiah's Coming
A Imagine the excitement if we were told that Jesus was coming to Visalia on May 1. What a great day that would be for Visalia, what an exciting day for Visalia. On that day Visalia would stand at the threshold of a whole new era. It would be a day to be remembered and talked about for years to come.
How would we get ready? What would we all do? I am sure the works department would send out the street sweepers. Many residents would sweep and paint and clean and spruce up their homes. Flowers would be planted. Faces and clothing would be washed. Drugs and drug traffickers and gangs would be thrown out of the city. Bars would be closed down. Copies of Playboy would be destroyed. Bibles would be dusted off. People would flock to our churches for worship and Bible study. Our public schools would no longer advocate evolution and would start teaching morality and restraint and values. Prisoners at Bob Wiley and the County Jail would repent and convert. Everyone would put on their Sunday best. We would have a big parade. At the end of the parade, the mayor and city council would greet Jesus at city hall and hand Him a key to the city.
Why would we greet Jesus this way? Because He is a VIP – a Very Important Person, the most important person. Because He is King, He is Ruler, He is Master. He owns and controls everything.
Jesus coming to Visalia – what a great day for us all!
B On Palm Sunday Jesus came to Jerusalem – what a great day for Israel, what an exciting day for Israel. On that day Israel stood at the threshold of a whole new era. It was a day to be remembered and talked about for years to come.
Look at what Jerusalem did that day. It was decided – spontaneously, on the spur of the moment – to have a parade. As the streets couldn't be cleaned for the parade the people spread their own cloaks over the dirt and filth. Palm branches were cut down and people waved them back and forth along the parade route. The people shouted: "Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!"
Why did the people act this way? What was so exciting about the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem?
Everyone along Jerusalem's parade route realized what was happening. It wasn't just a man on a donkey coming into the city; no, not at all. Rather, it was the Messiah Who was coming. Everything in the scene said Jesus was the Messiah: the donkey, the palm branches, the "Hosanna to the Son of David."
The Messiah was coming into Jerusalem. What a great day. What an exciting day. A day of new beginnings.
C The Jews had prayed and looked and waited for the Messiah's coming for centuries. How they yearned and even wept for His arrival. For, when the Messiah came, all that was wrong would be set right, every valley would be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads would become straight, the rough ways smooth (Luke 3:5). There would be endless prosperity. The wicked heathen would be punished. The temple would be rebuilt and God would fill it with His glory. The deserts of Judah would blossom like a garden. The lame would walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the mute sing for joy. Israel would lie at the center of the earth and all nations, all kings, and all peoples would stream to Jerusalem to worship Israel's God. Sins would be forgiven and peace would prevail.
Can you imagine a perfect world? a world without the darkness of sin, oppression, idolatry, and ignorance? a world without drive-by shootings, gangs, rape, murder? a world without pollution, acid rain, extermination of species? a world without war, struggle, injustice, racial or ethnic cleansing? a world without the threat of a nuclear holocaust or germ warfare or car bombings? a world without mad dictators like Saddam Hussein or Mu`ammar al-Qadhdhafi? a world without floods, hurricanes, droughts, famines, earthquakes, explosions? a world of love, peace, joy, hope? That's the kind of world the Messiah would bring. His coming heralded the beginning of a glorious, wondrous, beautiful time for the people of the Lord. His coming heralded the coming of a perfect Kingdom.
That's why Israel was so excited on Palm Sunday.
D So what happened? How did the day end? Palm Sunday ends with Jesus in the temple. He literally drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. He quoted from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Psalm 8. And then He went out of the city to Bethany.
What a letdown! From the excitement of the Messiah's coming to the startling sight of Jesus chasing men out of the temple. What a shock! That's like being promised steak and lobster for supper and ending up with hot-dogs instead. That's like booking a Cadillac with Hertz or Avis but driving out of their parking lot with a Yugo.
What is going on here? What is the message in this?
II Exclusion from Worship
A Before we can understand the significance of Christ's actions, we have to have some knowledge of the temple as it was rebuilt by King Herod. Herod's temple was composed of a series of courts or rooms. Gentiles could come as far as the Court of the Gentiles. Women could come a little closer, to the Court of Women. Jewish men could enter as far as the Court of Israel. Priests were allowed to advance a little further; they were granted access to the Court of the Priests. Beyond that was the Holy Place – only a priest chosen to serve, like Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, was allowed into the Holy Place. The inner-most room or court was the Holy of Holies; the Holy of Holies was off limits to all but the High Priest; he was allowed to enter it only once a year – but only after he was washed, wearing white, and had made sacrifice for sin.
B The buying and selling and money-changing took place in the Court of the Gentiles. I am sure the merchants thought they were providing a service to the pilgrims – exchanging foreign money for local currency, providing the animals and birds for the required sacrifices. But Jesus indicates they were taking advantage of the pilgrims and feathering their own nests – He calls them a "den of robbers." They must have overcharged the pilgrims for the sacrifices and currency exchange.
Now, I want you to try and picture the scene: a large and noisy festival crowd, merchants with their stalls and cages hawking their wares, and moneychangers with their tables and bags of coins bargaining with pilgrims. All of this left very little room for the Gentiles to worship, let alone to worship in peace. But, then, the scribes and Pharisees were not overly concerned about the Gentiles. In the name of business and worship the Gentiles were encouraged to go elsewhere – like outside. In fact, it was better that the Gentiles not engage in any worship.
C We are told that the blind and the lame came to see Jesus at the temple, and He healed them. Did you know that the Pharisees discouraged the disabled from attending temple worship? Disabled priests were not permitted to serve in the temple; this rule was extended over time to exclude all the disabled from all areas of the temple. According to the Qumran Rule of the Congregation, the lame, blind, deaf, and dumb were excluded from the congregation and even had no place in the Messianic banquet. We are told the Pharisees became indignant when they saw the blind and lame coming to Jesus to be healed in the temple.
D And then we see children, noisy restless children. They are still excited from the parade. So they run through the temple area yelling "Hosanna. Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest!" The Pharisees were scandalized by this behavior. Again, they were indignant. Everyone knows the temple is not for noisy children. They belong home with their mothers.
E If the Pharisees had their way, hardly anyone would be in the temple to worship God. It makes no difference who it was: Gentiles, the lame and blind, women and children.
When the temple was first built by Solomon, women and Gentiles and children and the disabled were not restricted to and from certain areas. This was a later addition, a much later addition, that we don't see until just around the time of Jesus. It was the Pharisees who erected laws and rules to exclude people from worship.
F Here is a warning that we should never be like the Pharisees and exclude others from the worship of God. Unlike the Pharisees we should never want to keep others out and away. We should never reach the point where we say there is no room for certain kinds of people: whether it be children because they cry and fuss or wiggle too much; or whether it be those who are not exactly the same as us because they are poor, or childless, or divorced, or a single parent, or of a different race or ethnic background.
III Inclusion in Worship
A On Palm Sunday Jesus made a powerful statement about all of this. He threw over the tables and chased the businessmen out. What was He doing? Our usual understanding of this passage is to say Jesus was stopping the exchange of money in the Lord's house. From this we conclude that no one should conduct business in the church building. We justify this conclusion by pointing to Jesus' words: "you are making it a den of robbers" (vs 13).
But that is not the point of the passage in front of us. Rather, the point is that Jesus was making room for the Gentiles. He was creating peace and quiet for the Gentiles. He was making it possible for them to worship God.
Jesus quoted from Isaiah: "My house will be called a house of prayer." The full quote, which the Pharisees themselves would immediately know, is: "My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." Here is a statement by Jesus that all can and should come and worship. Here is a statement by Jesus that there is room for all in the Messianic kingdom.
B Jesus knew the rules about the disabled in the temple. Yet, He allowed them to come to Him at the temple "and he healed them." Here too is a statement by Jesus against the rules and practices of the Pharisees. Here too is a statement by Jesus that there is a place in the worship of God for those who are disabled and disfigured. Here too is a statement by Jesus that there is room for all in the Messianic kingdom.
C Jesus knew how the Pharisees frowned upon the children, any children, running and yelling in the temple area. Yet, when asked about this, He quotes from Psalm 8: "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise." Children too are to worship God – that's what Jesus is saying. Children too have a place in the temple. Children too are included in the Messianic kingdom.
D God wants to be praised. God must be praised. God calls for the praise not just of Jewish men but of Gentiles, the lame and blind, women and children too. In fact, if these won't or don't praise God, then God will make the stones themselves praise Him (Luke 19:39-40).
E This coming Friday we remember Christ's death upon the cross. Do you remember what happened when Jesus died? At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. This was the curtain that separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies. This was the curtain that separated all men from the presence of God. But when Jesus died, the curtain was torn. Now all could come into the presence of God. Now all could worship God. Now all were expected to praise the Lord.
True worship, worship that God accepts as pure and faultless, is worship that includes all and excludes none. True worship is worship that accommodates different ages and races. True worship includes widows and orphans, men and women, rich and poor, young and old.
The Messiah has come. The Messiah is coming. This should make us excited. This should make us wave our branches and yell our "Hosannas!"
The Messiah has come. The Messiah is coming. Now we all are called upon to praise and worship the Lord.
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