Jesus vs. The Den of Robbers

Matthew 21:1-17

21 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. 3 And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
4 All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:
5“Tell the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”

6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. 8 And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Hosanna in the highest!”
10 And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”
11 So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
12 Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’ ”
14 Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant 16 and said to Him, “Do You hear what these are saying?”
And Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read,
Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have perfected praise
’?”
17 Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there.


Introduction


It is just about impossible to overstate the importance of the temple to Israel. This was the place where the God who created Heaven and Earth has chosen to dwell on earth. For Israel, it represented the fact that they were the people of God. That out of the entire earth, they were the people God has chosen to minister to all the other nations. It was very easy for the to take great pride in this and to believe that the temple stood as a magical talisman that no matter what they did, God would always be there for them and protect them. History, however, told a very different story. In the Old Testament, do you know what happened to the building which preceded the temple, the tabernacle? Just like the temple, this was the building where God chose to dwell among His people. But His people were very wicked, and in particular, the sons of the high priest, Eli, were incredibly wicked men. And so Israel was defeated by the Philistines, and they destroyed the tabernacle at Shiloh, and the ark was captured, and God went into exile, so to speak. Later Solomon built the first temple and over time, again God’s people rejected Him, worshiped other gods, and did horrible wicked things. And so, God sent the Babylonians to come destroy the temple and send the people into exile. Like the Jews of the First Century, the Israelites in the Old Testament thought it didn’t matter how wicked they were, God was always going to have their back because they had the temple. Reality was quite different, however. Now, Yahweh has finally returned to His house to inspect it, and He does not like what He sees.


Jesus, the Sniper, Taking His Shot (v. 1-5)


Jesus and his army are drawing near to Jerusalem. Where we left off last week, the multitudes had assembled around Jesus and were already starting to call Him “son of David.” Now these acclamations of kingship by the masses have intensified. When they get to the Mount of Olives, just outside Jerusalem, Jesus sends His disciples to the village to get a donkey for Him to ride. Matthew tells us this was to fulfill what the prophet Zechariah said about Zion’s king coming to her riding a donkey. Now, a scoffer might say “Jesus fulfilled that prophecy intentionally” and, yes, of course He did. But so what? Almost all the others were not things anyone could do themselves. Be born when and where He was? Not have any bones broken in His crucifixion? And the fact that He self-fulfills this particular prophecy is telling. All throughout Matthew’s gospel whenever people start to suspect He might be the promised Messiah, what does He tell them? “Shhh, don’t tell anyone about this.” Now, at this particular moment, He makes it blatantly obvious. He is putting up a big, neon sign that says I AM THE TRUE KING OF ISRAEL, I AM YOUR GOD MADE FLESH COMING TO YOU. Jesus has been extremely shrewd all throughout the Gospels, He has avoided conflict and confrontation, not because He is this wimpy Jesus so many people believe, but rather because He is wise, and is waiting for the exact right moment. Jesus is a sniper waiting for a clear shot. And now He is taking it. He is throwing the gauntlet down.

Messianic “Insurrection” (v. 6-9)


The disciples bring the donkey and the colt to Jesus and then lay their robes down on it for Him to sit on. And the multitudes do the same, leaving their cloaks down before Him to ride on and palm branches. Obviously this is a red-carpet entrance for Jesus, but it is something else as well. In the Bible, as well as in the ancient world, a robe or outer garment was not merely clothes. Modern people think this way, but clothes quite literally made the man. The respective robes of Noah and of Joseph in Genesis were symbols of their authority just as a king’s crown is an unmistakable symbol of a king’s authority to us. So when the people are casting down their robes before Jesus, what are they doing? They are casting down their crowns before Him. They are quite literally submitting to His authority as king.
As Jesus is riding in with the two donkeys, the people cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David.” We hear this and think nothing of it because we are used to Palm Sunday every year, but the scene is like a hundred thousand people gathering before the Capitol Building as the electoral votes are being counted for Joe Biden, shouting “Hail the true president, Donald Trump!” Jesus is the legitimate heir to David. He’s even re-enacting David’s retreat from Jerusalem, when Absalom took over, right down to the very route (past the Mount of Olives, over the Brook Kidron) and with two donkeys. It would be like Trump showing up at that rally in a black stove pipe hat, or a white wig and blue Continental Army uniform. Jesus is being intentionally provocative. He is forcing a legitimacy crisis. And He has good reason. The two great offices in Israel, the king and the high priest, were occupied by pretenders. Herod is not even a Jew, much less not even a descendant of David. And the high priest, or rather high priests, who decided to share the office every other year without any warrant from God, who are also not descended from Zadok, are also illegitimate. The two offices that Jesus has come to take, king and high priest, are filled by illegitimate pretenders. And it isn’t like they, and all those who power is reliant upon them, are not aware of this. The true heir to David has arrived in Jerusalem. Yahweh Himself has arrived in Jerusalem. And this they cannot abide.


Jesus Pre-Enacts The Destruction of the Temple (v. 10-13)


Jesus makes His presence known in all of Jerusalem. His army of followers announced Him to the whole city, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee is finally here. Matthew seems to show us Jesus riding His donkey right up to the Temple. We can imagine this scene, He gets off His donkey, immediately walks into the temple and drives out the money changers and merchants. In the other gospels we are told that He a whip to drive them out. This is the image of a king going to war. This is not just a little vignette about Jesus losing His cool. This is the fury of Yahweh being unleashed at the perversion of worship. All the anger and wrath of the “Old Testament God” is on display here. What things was Yahweh angry about in the Old Testament? The same things Jesus is furious about here. Worship is being perverted by wickedness. It is interesting that He quotes Jeremiah 7 here. As I say all the time, when the New Testament gives a snippet quote of the Old Testament, we should treat that as we do a hyperlink on a website. The Bible wants us to think about the whole passage being referred to in its context to understand why it is being quoted in the New Testament. So what is the context of that quote of Jeremiah 7? Solomon’s temple still stood, and the worship of Yahweh is being perverted by Israel’s wickedness. And God says He is going to do to the temple what He did to the tabernacle in Shiloh, and the people are going to be driven out of the Land into exile.
Here is what Jeremiah says:


7 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the Lord!’ ” 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’
5 “For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, 6 if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, 7 then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
8 “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord.
12 “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these works,” says the Lord, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.


In just a few chapters from now in Matthew, Jesus is going to explicitly make the same kinds of points Jeremiah did about the temple. This temple is going to be destroyed just like the first one and just like the Tabernacle.


The Chief Priests and Scribes as the Enemies of Yahweh (v. 14-17)


We often miss something when we focus on Jesus’s cleansing of the temple. We notice Him driving out the moneychangers, but miss the other things He does. We see what Jesus takes away, but not what He positively does. The blind and the lame of the city come to Him there and He heals them. We are so used to Jesus doing this everywhere He goes that we just pass right over it. But here it is. Yahweh-in-the-flesh is taking up residence in the Temple and doing Yahweh-in-the-flesh things. He is healing the infirmities of Israel. He is restoring His people, making them whole again.
And it is no surprise that the chief priests and scribes come scurrying out of their robbers den, the cockroaches that they were, and are indignant with Him and with the children hailing Him as the Son of David. In their anger over what the children are saying about Him, Jesus quotes Psalm 8 to them. Out of the mouth of babes you have ordained strength. But how does Psalm 8 finish that line? Because of Your enemies, that you may silence the enemy and the avenger. Jesus isn’t just giving a cutesy line about how sweet little kids are. He is saying that God has put these praises in the mouth of children because, you, the chief priests and scribes are robbers, and enemies of the Most High, and you will be silenced by Him. He’s throwing down the gauntlet again, this time right to their faces.
After His first day of battle to reclaim His throne, Jesus withdraws to Bethany a few miles away and spend the night there. There will be several more battles to come and He needs His rest.


Conclusion


In this passage we see the House of God has been made into a den of robbers. The commercialization of the temple might seem like the biggest thing Jesus is angry about, but it really is just an outward example of everything that is wrong with Israel. It is not hard to make comparisons to our day. The church is in a very rough spot, as badly in need of Reformation as it did 500 years ago. You can see the crass commercialization of worship today, ginormo churches, where pastors pay teams of people to write their sermons for them, everything is heavily marketed and treated like a corporation. Worship in places like this is not about God’s people drawing near to His presence and being fed by Him and receiving real grace right from His hand. It is about tweaking the marketing campaign just a bit in order to get the maximal number of people in the seats. But this commercialization is just an external outward example just like changing the Roman money into temple money and selling sheep and birds. There are far deeper problems. For Israel, the priesthood was no longer an office existing to serve God’s people, but rather to extract from them and lord over them. God’s Word was neglected and this men taught that wickedness was holy and holiness was wickedness. Similar things are happening, even from pulpits that claim to be “conservative” and “Bible-believing.”
The point here is not to imply that we have everything perfect or figured out, but that we absolutely must be totally dedicated to the truth of God’s Word; we must be totally unashamed of what it says. We must be willing to agree with God on everything, to call what He says is good “good” and what He says is evil “evil.” Anything short of that is to live like the chief priests, scribes, and pharisees. Their sin was not legalism, but rather straining out gnats and swallowing camels. They were very careful to be legalistic about unimportant things, but when it came to the stuff God really cares about, well that’s kind of a gray area.
Our attitude has to be “let God be true, and every man a liar.” If we focus on God’s Word, what God says is true and right and holy, that is when the grace of God directs us into repentance and faith. God desires mercy and not sacrifice. He wants us to be conformed to His Word and faithful to Him, that is when He accepts our worship. All the external junk that gets loaded down onto worshipping God is there because we as His people have not been faithful to His Word. We have cared more about what the unbelieving world thinks than what God thinks. We fear men and not God. We soften our message to sooth them, rather than preach boldly. If we want our churches to be houses of prayer and not dens of robbers, we must trust in His Word, and be totally devoted to the true King of Heaven and Earth, Jesus Christ. In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!