Theme: Christianity and Commercialism
In this week’s lesson we see Jesus’ approach to commercialism and materialism in his church.
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’?”
And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
Nothing in the Gospel of Matthew is put down randomly. We have noticed that many times already. Now we have two further examples. If religion is not buying and selling—if it is not the thriving religious establishments of the Jewish past or the evangelical present—then, what is it? We can hardly miss the answer Matthew gives. He says here that it is two things.
1. The care of the needy. This is Why he records that although Jesus had driven the changers of money and the sellers of animals from the temple, he welcomed “the blind and the lame” who came to him “at the temple” and that he healed them (v.14). Matthew is the only gospel writer to record this. Making the same point in the next chapter, Jesus tells a story about a king whose wedding banquet was ignored by the important people of the day but was attended by people collected from streets (Matthew 22:8-10). The point is that many who seem to be religious do not get into the kingdom but that the needy come and do get in. We need to seek out and help such people. James, the Lord’s brother, made the point like this: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and Widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:2).
Most Jewish authorities of Christ’s day forbade the lame, blind, deaf or otherwise handicapped people from offering sacrifices at the temple, a ruling based on 2 Samuel 5:8. But here, in striking reversal, the handicapped come to Jesus and are healed by him!
2. The praise of children. The second answer Matthew gives to the nature of true religion is the praise of Jesus by the children. We can understand how this must have happened on the natural level. When the crowd accompanied Jesus into the temple the day before this, children would have been among them. They would have heard the praises of the people (“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”). On the following day they would have been in the temple complex and quite naturally would have begun to repeat what they had heard the adults say earlier (v. 15).
But we remember how Jesus has already on two occasions used children to illustrate the kind of humility and simple faith everyone must have if he or she is to become a member of Christ’s kingdom. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said (Matthew 18:3). Again, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). When we remember this we cannot miss seeing that what we are given in chapter 21 is a picture of what is needed. The religion God accepts is not the religion of commercial success or captivating enterprise but of humble, genuine praise of Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior.
What a contrast! Jesus is praised by children, but the chief priests and teachers of the law, who should have been leading that worship were indignant. They may have had religious objections, of course: “shouting” in the temple area may have seemed irreverent. But what they really hated was Jesus getting the people’s attention and that he, rather than accepting and promoting their commercial interests, had upset them.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked (v. 16).
Jesus had, of course; and his reply was brilliant, as always. He quoted from Psalm 8:
“Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?”
The answer did three things: 1) it provided a biblical basis for Jesus’ refusal to silence the children; 2) it was a claim to deity, since the words of the psalm are praise directed to God; and 3) it reminded everyone that it is those who are willing to become like children who perceive the truth about Jesus and are saved.1
When Jesus comes to his temple what he offers is himself, not a pattern for success. If we believe on him, we pass from death to life and become citizens of his kingdom. But if we will not have him, what happens is what we discover ominously in verse 17: “He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.” Jesus did this every night, retiring to Bethany where he was staying. But Matthew’s words mean more. They warn of a final withdrawal by
him Whom even many religious people are rejecting.
1See D A. Carson, “Matthew” in The Expositor ‘s Bible Commentary, vol. 8, Matthew, Mark, Luke (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p. 443.
What is Jesus‘ purpose in healing the lame insides making them physically well?
How is Jesus’ healing of the lame in the temple a symbol of his fulfillment of Old Testament law?
What bothered the Jewish leaders?
How are the final words of verse 17 foreboding?