Gospel Wednesday | Matthew 21

bibleLet us continue our walk through the Gospel According to Matthew. Last week we worked through Matthew 20.

Last week’s look at Matthew 20 ended with Jesus opening the eyes of 2 blind men, who were then able to follow Jesus. This is a significant miracle, one that would not go unnoticed by the Jewish readers of the Gospel According to Matthew. Before moving into the next chapter, let us reflect back on a prophesy regarding the Messiah

Isaiah 42:1-9 (ESV) | The Lord‘s Chosen Servant

42 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.”

With that review in our minds, let us move to the next chapter in the Gospel According to Matthew.

Matthew 21 (ESV)

Matthew 21:1-11 (ESV) | The Triumphal Entry

21 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
    humble, and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “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 entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Now, Matthew quotes from the Prophet Zechariah 9:9. The people recognized it and celebrated what they thought was the coming of the king setting up an earthly kingdom. They were partly correct, but they weren’t seeing Jesus. They were blind to Who He Is. Instead, they were honoring what they thought the Messiah was going to be. Most of these very same people will soon be crying out for His crucifixion… yet He will still call for their forgiveness… Praise be to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Matthew 21:12-17 (ESV) | Jesus Cleanses the Temple

12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they 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 infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Here, we see Jesus opening the eyes of the blind and lame who come to Him humbly… and we also see the blindness of the chief priests and scribes, who upon seeing the work of God become indignant. We also see Jesus referring them to Psalm 8… a Psalm of praise to the LORD our Lord. That’s huge. Jesus is flat-out telling them Who He is, and they remain blind to it. Jesus leaves the city and lodges in Bethany.

Matthew 21:18-22 (ESV) | Jesus Curses the Fig Tree

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

This is a tough passage. Prosperity and Word of Faith pushers twist this passage to justify their false teaching that as long as we have faith we can get whatever we claim/decree/declare. Similarly, I’ve also heard Muslims use this passage to refute the validity of the Gospels asserting that the writers can’t agree on what happened here… and both the Muslim and the false-teacher share a common interpretive problem… they both tend to read this as a vindictive act of Jesus against the fig tree because he was hungry. Yes, Jesus became angry, and yes he went to he fig tree and found nothing in it. However, Jesus cursed the tree for what it represented. Remember what we’ve seen in this chapter so far, Jesus entered Jerusalem in fulfillment of the Prophecy by Zechariah, and the people seemed to believe and gave a great showing, but we know they will bear no fruit, for in a short time they will cry out for His crucifixion. We see the chief priests and scribes bear witness to miracles that only the Messiah can perform, yet they are indignant and blind. We see Jesus clear out the Temple, for it has become a den of robbers (also a reference to prophecy of judgment against Israel). The fig tree represents Israel… full of leaves, giving the indication of life, but bearing no fruit. Jerusalem had an outward form of godliness, but inwardly they were dead.

Jesus was speaking of the Kingdom of heaven, of spiritual matters, not temporal. We have no record of any of the disciples rebuking a tree to wither it, nor speaking to a mountain for it to be uprooted and cast into the sea literally. What we do have in the New Testament, is the foundation of the Church laid by the Apostles with Jesus Christ as both its cornerstone and Head.

Matthew 21:23-27 (ESV) | The Authority of Jesus Challenged

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

So many times Jesus declared His identity and Authority, and the chief priests and scribes denied Him and hardened their hearts. This time, Jesus turns it on them and then declines to answer their question in like manner. Instead, He answers with a set of parables. Remember Jesus said that He spoke in parables so that only to those whom understanding had been given might understand, and for the unbelievers, they would not understand (Matthew 13:10-17 ESV). We’ll look at 2 of them today, and the third we’ll cover next week.

Matthew 21:28-32 (ESV) | The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Point-blank, Jesus tells them that the very people who are despised and rejected by the religious leaders will — by faith — enter the Kingdom of God before them… for the religious leaders are blinded by their self-righteousness and remain condemned in their unbelief. The fig tree just got rebuked.

Matthew 21:33-45 (ESV) | The Parable of the Tenants

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

The fig tree just got rebuked, again. This time, they realized He was speaking about them. Rather than repent and bear fruit, the fig tree withered… and plotted to do the very thing Jesus was saying they were plotting to do… This is the Heir. Come, let us kill Him and have His inheritance….

Until Next Week

Next week we’ll be working through chapter 22. We’ll be looking at the parable in this series, the parable of the Wedding Feast. We’ll see more direct confrontations now that the battle lines have been clearly drawn. I look forward to continuing our trek through the Gospel According to Matthew. Until then, continue walking in faith and growing in knowledge of Christ through the reading of His Word.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV) | Doxology

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Amen, indeed.
In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

CTT | The Barren Fig Tree

Artist: J JAMES TISSOT

Artist: J JAMES TISSOT

Today, let’s take a look at the parable of the Barren Fig Tree and see if we can’t bring some context to some of the accounts that have perplexed me over the years. We will be looking through a few of the Gospel texts, but for starters, let’s turn to Luke 13.

Luke 13:1-9 (ESV)  1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. 9 Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Now, the ESV separates these into two different paragraphs, but for the purpose of this study I believe the two concepts go together. Jesus sets up this parable of the fig tree with a reminder of the call to repentance and the judgement that awaits all who refuse to repent. He clearly teaches that everyone is guilty of sin, not just those who seem to have received punishment while others lived. Jesus exposes the myth that those who die suddenly were being judged by God as special cases of sinfulness or offense, and those who lived where more righteous. The parable that follows this begins with a fig tree that was planted in the master’s vineyard, and for three years it bore no fruit. Judgement is coming to the barren fig tree, for the master is ready to cut it down. However, the vinedresser appeals to the master for grace, allow the tree one more year while special care is taken for the tree, fertilizer will be added. If after the year the tree still bears no fruit, then it shall be cut down. By Grace the fig tree was planted in the garden, and by the master’s Grace that tree was allowed to continue fruitlessness for three years, and by Grace it will be given another year with special attention. Judgement is coming, but by God’s Grace there is time for repentance.

In the Matthew 21, we see the account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We are going to pick up in an awkward spot, so if you are unfamiliar with this passage, please read Matthew 21 in full. Here let us look at what happens when Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:10-32 (ESV)10 And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they 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 infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain,‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward hechanged his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Now, this is a wonderful passage, filled with some extremely tense imagery. Jesus enters Jerusalem and clears out the temple of the money changers and the merchants. He rebukes them for what they have done to the House of the Lord God (for such was the Temple) and ministered to the lame and the blind, performing many wonderful works. The children sang a song of praise Hosanna to the Son of David and the Pharisees were indignant. Fig trees, planted in the Master’s vineyard as teachers and overseers of God’s people, bearing no fruit for a great many years. Jesus leaves Jerusalem and stays the night in Bethany.

When He returns to Jerusalem, He sees the barren fig tree and curses it, and it withers. Often when this passage is taught, the emphasis moves immediately to verses 20-22 to teach the power of prayer and faith and to look at “our potential” as Christians. Let’s not do that today, our focus is on the fig tree. Given our initial parable of the barren fig tree, and the events of the day prior to this morning, we are starting to see that this fig tree is a sign of unbelief. It will not be allowed to live on in selfish unrighteousness, refusing to bear fruit, forever.

Jesus enters the Temple and begins teaching. The chief priests and elders interrupt His teaching to demand that Jesus provide His credentials, by what authority and from whom did He receive said authority to do these things. These men didn’t make these demands the day prior when all where praising God, confessing Jesus as the Messiah (Son of David), or healing the lame and the blind, and they didn’t stop Him from clearing out the merchants and the money changers. No, they were indignant on that day… and then waited for the next day, when Jesus came to teach. Now, notice how Jesus responds. Is He playing coy? Absolutely not. Jesus has never denied that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and He called the Lord God to be His Father. He did so the day prior, and the works He performed were a testimony of His authority to “do these things”. No, Jesus wasn’t playing coy… He was calling out the chief priests and elders, time to inspect the fruit of these trees.

Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV) | A Tree and Its Fruit
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

You see, the chief priests and elders conferred among themselves and reasoned rightly that their answer would put them at odds with either the Messiah or with the People. For they realized that if they answered that John’s baptism was not of God, the people would revolt against them; however, if they declared John’s baptism was from God, they’d have to answer for their unbelief. They missed 2 major concepts, the first is that the problem was they needed to confess and repent of their unbelief, and the second was that in refusing to answer, they were not safe because any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. However, because these leaders were self-seeking, they were trees planted in the vineyard to display their own greatness in their leaves, but providing no fruit. Time and time again, God has granted to them grace and opportunity to repent. Luke records for us in the book of Acts, chapter 19, that Paul answered this question of John’s baptism to the disciples in Ephesus

Acts 19:1-7 (ESV) | Paul in Ephesus
19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

John baptized with the baptism of repentance. Let us look to John’s baptism, of which Jesus tested the chief priests and elders at the Temple.

Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) | John the Baptist Prepares the Way
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Praise God. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here. Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Don’t presume that you are safe simply because God planted you in His vineyard (tying this thought in with our parable), for if you do not bear fruit in keeping with repentance, you will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Amen.

As Christians, we must bear the fruit of repentance. This is what taking our crosses daily and denying ourselves looks, when we remember (in active form) that we are sinful beings in need of a Savior. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. There is no “moving beyond the Gospel”, it is an ever present place of rest. It is also our mission, to preach the Gospel to all of creation, so that those who hear the Word of God might obtain Faith, confess their sin, and repent from their sinful ways and trust in Christ Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

John 6:27-29 (ESV)27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

1 John 5:9-11 (ESV)9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Amen. Bear the fruit of repentance, and believe in and confess the Son of God before mankind. Remain in Him, and trust that the Holy Spirit will bear fruit in you as you grow in Him, and you will never be cut away nor cast into the fire. The chief priests, the elders, the Sadducees and Pharisees did not repent, nor did they believe in the Son, and they were cut off.

In the last parable of the 2 sons, we see clearly that all who were lost and came to repentance are like the first son who defied their father, but later obeyed. The second son was the one who professed with his mouth to obey the father, but rejected his authority and commandments and did what was wrong in the end. He represents those chosen by God to be overseers and spiritual leaders who rejected the Law (instead honoring commandments of men that were self-serving) and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 21:31-32 (ESV) 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them,“ Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

The tax collectors and the prostitutes were among those who confessed their sins and repented in John’s baptism, thereby entering the kingdom of God before the Pharisees. And even after seeing the Gospel reach the lowly sinner, they still did not later change their minds and believe.

May the God the Holy Spirit minister to your hearts today and bring His Word to life and grant you understanding and wisdom and increase your faith. In the Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge