"Help Is on the Way" Bible Study on Matthew 21:1-11
April 2, 2020, 11:33 AM

Dear Members & Friends:

Probably anyone who watches the History Channel remembers that picture from long ago of the Parisian man, standing amid the throng on the Paris street, tears streaming down his face with his hand raised in a Nazi salute?  That picture of a grieving man, forced to salute as Nazi troops marched into the city, became an iconic image of some of the tragedy of World War II.  It is a vivid depiction of what it's like to have your city subjected to enemy rule.

Like so many regimes and empires before them, the Nazis were doing what so many conquering armies had done: marching into the city in triumph.  The conquered people had a choice: either bow to the victorious enemy, saluting through tears, or there would be hell to pray.

The prophets of Israel frequently used public, symbolic acts to teach, to reveal the deeper significance of the age in which they lived, or to warn of some climactic event in the future.  Jesus, the prophet from Galilee, also deploys a public, symbolic act as he and his followers come with a throng of pilgrims into Jerusalem at Passover.  We know this event as the Triumphal Entry of Jesus, which we now call Palm Sunday.

Note the way Jesus choreographs his entry in Jerusalem.  It begins on the Mount of Olives, the place, where according to Zechariah 14:4, God would wage a final, ultimate battle against the pagan nations and set in motion a new Realm.  Jesus' processional resembles the parades of conquering rulers striding into subjugated cities in the ancient world.

When the conquering monarch strides into the defeated city, the populace would be wise to come out to meet him on the way, outside the gates of the city, plea for peace, and swear their obedience lest their subjugation become a terrifying nightmare.

Does this conquering king ride into Jerusalem to redeem or to devastate?  His entry throws all Jerusalem into "turmoil" (Matthew 21:10, NRSV).

As Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem, the crowds hail him as David's Son, shouting the words of Psalm 118:25-26.  This song was sung at great temple festivals as the throng of worshippers entered the temple.  Jesus rides on the backs of a colt and a donkey.  The colt is the animal that had been used in the coronations of Israel's kings.  The donkey is a lowly beast of burden.  These two animals thus symbolize Jesus' unique messianic identity as the royal one who is also the obedient, self-emptying royal one.  The itinerant rabbi is also the Anointed One (Messiah) of God.

Our Palm Sunday Gospel Reading ends at the temple, the place of Israel's deliverance and hope.  Once he enters Jerusalem, Jesus engages in a second prophetic, symbolic act.  When Jesus comes up to the temple mount and purifies the sacred place, he performs a spectacular symbolic act.  Matthew 21:13 links the act of expulsion of those engaged in temple commerce to Isaiah 56:7, "my house shall be called a house of prayer."  When the Messiah comes, taught Isaiah, Israel will fulfill its universal mission.  Jerusalem will be that place where the Gentiles (all "nations") gather for prayer alongside the outcasts of Israel.

The second line of Jesus' temple statement, ". . . but you are making it a den of robbers" (Matthew 21:13b), is linked to Jeremiah 7:1-8:3, a piece of Jeremiah's stinging temple sermon that was directed against those who look to the temple for security and protection all the while engaging in theft, murder, adultery, and idolatry.  Jeremiah preached the destruction of the temple.  Is Jesus hinting at a similar fate for all the false temples of this world where the unrighteous religious hypocrites stand in places of power and worship while practicing theft, indifference, and idolatry?  Are the crowds meant to take Jesus' allusions as his promise of restoration or as a solemn warning of impending doom?  Maybe Jesus means to prophesy both.  When God comes among us, sometimes there is judgment against us and sometimes grace for us and sometimes a mixture of both.

For those who interpreted Jesus' entry into the world and Jerusalem as God's long awaited Messiah, Jesus was God's way of showing the world that help is on the way.  In the midst of our COVID-19 shelter in place world, how do you see God sending help on the way?  Better yet, how are you becoming God's helpers in the midst of a subjugating, unseen enemy?

Please read Matthew 21:1-11 in preparation for the Palm Sunday Message:  "Help Is on the Way"

Friends, stay in.  Stay safe.  Stay well.

Shalom!

Pastor Greg Rupright

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