Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sermon on Matthew 21:14-17 for Lent 3. "Do you hear what these are saying?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. This third part in the Lenten series on “Questions about Jesus they don’t want answered” is based on Matthew 21:14-17, and the question the Jews raise to Jesus is: “Do you hear what these are saying?” This exchange takes place in the Temple, shortly after Jesus has made His Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem. He’d been greeted by crowds waving palms and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” That same cry of praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David” is criticized here. Only this isn’t in the streets of Jerusalem, but in the courts of the Temple, right after Jesus had just cleansed the Temple of moneychangers and merchants. Today we’ll consider how Jesus responded to this cry of praise. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It must have been a chaotic day in Jerusalem, with all the buzz and stir that was happening around Jesus. First the triumphal entry on the donkey, with shouts and praises acclaiming the Son of David—Matthew says that the city was so stirred up so that everyone was asking, “Who is this?” Then suddenly Jesus is creating an uproar in the temple by driving out the moneychangers and animals. They had a profitable and accepted business going on in the Temple, and now this man who’d just been given the royal treatment is throwing their trade into chaos. The blind and the lame are being healed in the courtyards, and now children singing in the Temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” What a day! What was going on, and who was this man? And why are children now praising Him, considering what an upheaval He’d caused?

But this was no trifling matter that the Jews raised to Jesus, when they asked Him “Do you hear what these are saying?” They were indignant that Jesus was receiving praise from the children, and He didn’t silence them. The reason it was such a serious question, was that only God can rightly receive worship. From the first commandment that “You shall have no other gods before me” to God’s statement that “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Is. 42:8)—God made it clear that He alone was to be worshipped, and that He shares His glory and praise with no other. Not even angels, as exalted beings, could receive worship. The Jews learned this the hard way by being exiled in Babylon, because of their unfaithfulness to the worship of God, and how they mixed idol worship with the worship of the true God. So wrongful worship or the wrongful receiving of worship was no laughing matter. And now here in the Temple, the man Jesus was receiving praise from children! But they were mistaken about Jesus identity; thinking that Jesus wasn’t God. Had they realized who He was, they would have joined the children in their praises.

Nevertheless, Jesus calmly receives their accusing question, “Do you hear what these are saying?” and answers “Yes.” He clearly knew the implications of what they were doing in praising Him, and He clearly knew that to be worshipped was for God alone. He also saw the reaction it produced in the Jews. But unperturbed, and to their dismay, He welcomes this worship that is rightfully directed to Him as the very Son of God. He quotes for them Psalm 8, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.” He showed that even though those who were wise in their own eyes would not praise Him—God had prepared praise from simple and humble children. The rest of the verse that Jesus left unquoted says the reason for God preparing this praise was because of His enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger (Ps. 8:2). Truly Jesus’ enemies were silenced and confounded at this, by the children.

Rather than silencing the mouths of the children, His worshippers, as the chief priests and teachers of the law wanted—He silenced the priests instead. He silences the mouths of His antagonists, and gladly receives the worship of those who are despised or treated as nothing. Jesus once again, as He did several times in His ministry, showed how the true model of faith is not the faith of an adult, but the faith of a child. Children are remarkable for their sincerity and ability to judge the character of a person. So it should come as no surprise that they clearly recognized Jesus as the Son of David, who would save them, while the scholars and scribes were blind to Him. In all their wisdom and learning, they did not see what the simple children saw, or join them in their praise, “Hosanna, to the Son of David!” Children are held up as the model and example of faith, not because they’re gullible, but because of the sincerity and simplicity of their faith, that isn’t clouded by doubts and fear, as is often the case with us adults.

This is a point of humility for us adults, to realize that a child’s faith is the model—that to enter the kingdom of heaven we must become like a child. To have simple trust and security in Jesus as our Risen Lord, not doubting or fearing. And we should not be surprised or upset to hear the truth so clearly spoken by little children, or that they would be bold in witnessing to Jesus. And just as Jesus’ detractors were unable to silence the children and those who worshipped Him, so also today no enemies of Christ can silence His church. The praise of His name will endure through all generations—even infants will sing His praises, for He is the Son of God. Though the devil may howl and rage against the church for worshipping and praising Jesus, He promises that the gates of hell will not prevail over the church (Matt. 16:18). As long as the church stays steadfast in its confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, it will prevail.

The reading from Revelation also emphasizes this point about the worship of Jesus and how it testifies to His Divinity and equality to God. The book of Revelation is very much concerned with the topic of worship and the relation of the Father and Son within the Trinity. Jesus is portrayed as the Lamb who had been slain, but is living, just as Christ was crucified, but rose to life again with the marks of the nails and spear still in His hands and feet and side. The vision in Revelation shows how worship is simultaneously given to God the Father and to the Lamb who is seated with Him on the throne. The hosts of angels and elders around the throne sang, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” And this was followed by the refrain of all creation, singing, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever! Amen” Worship is given to both the Father and the Lamb, the One True God who doesn’t share His glory with any other, and who alone is worthy to be praised. So also we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, knowing that He is the source of every good thing.

Never silenced by detractors, we’ll join in the angelic songs of praise, and in the song of the children in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” Hosanna—Save us! Our worship and our cry is to the One who is truly powerful to save, a cry to the Messiah, the Savior born of David. Boldly we praise Him as the King who is worthy of our worship, for He is God, and He’s the Lamb who was slain on the cross for our sins. And He lives forever to receive all glory and honor! To Him our anthems forever rise. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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