April 2, 2023 ~ Matthew 21:1-21
Matthew 21 presents the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem for the eight-day Feast of Passover. Palm Sunday observances often focus on Jesus entering the city, riding on a donkey, and the crowds of Passover pilgrims waving palm branches, laying their coats on the ground like a royal carpet, and shouting "Hosanna!" which means "Save us!"
On Sunday, we went deeper into the day to observe Jesus on Solomon's Porch at the Temple. He arrived to see a marketplace set up in a place intended for the worship of God. The holy anger of Jesus erupted as he overturned the tables of this marketplace. He quoted the prophets as an accusation, saying, "It is written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’" (Is 56:7, Jer 7:11)
Jesus' anger had two levels of depth. On the surface, sellers of sacrificial animals only took Temple currency. Therefore, Jewish pilgrims had to stop at the moneychanger tables to exchange their everyday currencies for Temple currency. This transaction required a fee, and the cost was hefty. Jesus was offended by the price gouging. Of course, pilgrims could have traveled to Jerusalem with their own animals to sacrifice, but the price was not worth having the hassle of traveling with an animal. When Jesus overturned tables to spill their coins and cages, he obstructed everyone's self-interest. The moneychangers could argue that Jesus impeded a revenue stream for Temple costs. The pilgrims could say that Jesus got in the way of their religious duty. Both could argue that Jesus interfered with God's desire to be worshiped by his people.
Jesus' anger became more profound after he stayed the night in Bethany and returned to Jerusalem the following day. While walking back to Jerusalem, Jesus saw a fig tree in full leaf. It was the season for fig trees to display their "first fruit" as an edible nub. Actual figs appeared later as a second fruit. The tree did not meet Jesus' desire because it was barren of its first fruit. Then, Jesus cursed the tree saying, "May you bear fruit no more!" The tree had all the signs of bearing fruit, but it was false advertising.
The curse of the barren fig tree was an expression of judgment on what Jesus saw at the Temple the previous day. Solomon's Porch was also known as the Court of the Gentiles. It was the place where God-fearing, God-seeking Gentiles could come to pray and be part of the worship of God as an observer. And if the Spirit of God so moved a Gentile man to become part of God's covenant people, he could submit himself, and all of his sons, to be marked by circumcision. And by doing so, the man and his entire family would be treated like native Israelites. (Gen 12:3, Ex 12:48) To Jesus, the Court of the Gentiles was the holy ground upon which grace reconciled believing, Gentile sinners to the God who created them. The Temple, and the people of Israel, were fruitless. They turned their backs on God's intention for unbelieving people.
The gift of this passage is that we know, without a doubt, that the Lord desires fruit in us. The witness of scripture shows us how to bear fruit. It begins with the words of our Savior:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…By this, my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (from Jn 15:1-11)
Pastor Paul offered an introduction to fruit-bearing, including
Abiding in Christ through the means of grace,
Evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and
Being obedient, together, in the commands of Jesus to his followers. (Mt 22:37-38; Jn 13:34-35; Mt 28:18-20)
Learning from the Temple and the fruitless fig tree, God desires the fruit of transformation in this church and our personal lives. Christ calls us to abide in Him together. It is His will that we reserve space for those who fear God, seek Him, take the mark of baptism, and make a public profession to abide in Christ with us.