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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am Service, 2003-04-13

Text: Matthew 21:1-16

Today is Palm Sunday, the day when Christians all over the world remember the triumphal entry of our Lord into Jerusalem, prior to the events that led to His betrayal, His death and His resurrection. As we read in our text, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on an ass (v.7). This was the fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy that the Messianic king of Israel would enter into the city not on a horse, as a mighty conqueror, but on a lowly ass, as a gentle bringer of salvation. This typifies the first advent of Jesus Christ when He came to the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:17). But a time is coming soon when the Lord Jesus Christ will descend from heaven in his second advent, riding on a white horse, to judge the world and to make war with the world. And all the kindreds of the earth will then wail in great sorrow because of Him and the judgment He brings (Revelation 1:7). 

I. What They Acknowledged about Jesus: His Mission and Identity

A. Hosanna: A Plea for Deliverance

In contrast to that future event, the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ was warmly greeted by cheering multitudes of people shouting, 'Hosanna to the Son of David' (v.9) Now, this cry from the multitudes shows that they acknowledged two things about Jesus: His Mission and His identity. His mission is brought out in the word 'Hosanna.' This was a Jewish exclamation derived from Psalm 118:25 'Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.' The original Hebrew for the words 'save now' was actually 'Hoshi'ah Na' From this verse in Psalm 118, these words soon became used by the Jews as a plea to God for deliverance and blessing. By shouting 'Hosanna' during the triumphal entry of Jesus, the multitudes were acknowledging that His mission was to save His people. 

However, the salvation that was expected by the majority of them was actually a political deliverance of Israel from their Roman overlords. Their selfish hopes were that Jesus would now lead them in a mighty revolution to overthrow the Romans, and to restore all the lost glorious fortunes of the Kingdom of Israel. This explains why when it became evident to them that the mission of Jesus was not at all a political deliverance, their shouts of 'Hosanna' turned a few days later into shouts of 'Crucify him! Crucify Him!' (Luke 23:21). 

Somehow they could not see that Jesus did come to save them - He came to save them from a far greater oppression than Roman domination. He came to save them from their sins (cf. Matthew 1:21). This is what they should have looked forward to when they shouted 'Hosanna' to Jesus in His triumphal entry.

B. The Son of David: A Messianic Title

You will notice that the people did not just shout 'Hosanna' alone, but 'Hosanna to the Son of David' (v.9). This term 'Son of David' brings out the Identity of Jesus. It was a messianic term familiar to the Jews, for it goes all the way back to the Covenant that God had made to King David (cf. Matthew 12:23; 20:30,31). In the next chapter, when Jesus asked the Pharisees the question, 'What think ye of Christ [Messiah]? whose son is He?' they answered Him without the slightest hesitation, 'The Son of David.' (Matthew 22:41,42). This makes it very clear that calling someone, 'the Son of David' was equivalent to calling him 'the Messiah'.

What prompted the multitudes to call Jesus the Messiah during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem? By this time, Jesus had completed His three years of ministry on earth, and the news of His amazing works, teachings and miracles had already spread throughout Israel, and they were known also in Jerusalem. The previous chapter relates that just before the triumphal entry, Jesus had opened the eyes of two blind men near Jericho (Matthew 20:30-34), and after the Triumphal entry He continued to heal miraculously all the blind and the lame who came to Him at the Temple. Through all these things the multitudes of Jews were convinced that Jesus was truly their long-awaited Messiah - the deliverer of Israel whom their prophets had foretold. 

II. The Unexpected Ones To Acknowledge Jesus: The Children In The Temple

And Jesus did everything that the Messiah of Israel would do, including cleansing the Temple of God of all sinful and defiling elements. And yet, despite all these, there were those who stubbornly refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. While the multitudes hailed Him saying, 'Hosanna to the Son of David' these men just looked on from behind with unbelief and contempt. Were they ignorant of what the Scriptures had prophesied concerning the Messiah? No - they were actually learned men, supposedly experts in the Old Testament Scriptures. Of all people, they were the ones who should have known better. Were they too unqualified or immature to discern the One whom God had sent to deliver Israel? No - they were actually supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel. Who were they? They were the chief priests and the scribes! (v.15).

According to Luke's Gospel, even during the Triumphal entry while the crowds of people were praising Jesus and shouting, 'Hosanna in the Highest' the Pharisees had already expressed their disdain and displeasure by telling Jesus to command the multitudes to stop giving Him such high acclamation. And the reply that Jesus gave to them was, 'if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.' (Luke 19:39, 40). Our Lord Jesus was saying to them that the acclamation He received from the multitudes was right and should not be stopped, as He truly deserved such acclamation as the Messiah of Israel. And now, after the Trimphal entry, when the children in the Temple continued to cry out 'Hosanna to the Son of David', the chief priests and scribes expressed the same intense indignation at what was said about Jesus. They lodged their complaint about the children's acclamation, saying, 'Hearest Thou what these say?' 

Actually, all the complaints that they made were to their own shame. For the kind of spiritual understanding and authority that these Pharisees, scribes and chief priests claimed to have, they should be the ones leading the multitudes and children in giving the highest honour and acclamation to Jesus as their Messiah! But ironically, the ones who were leading the rest at the Temple in praising Jesus were the least expected of all - the children, and infants!

We can imagine the scene of many children, toddlers, boys and girls, all running to see Jesus, and shouting excitedly and loudly with the familiar shrill tones of childhood, 'Hosanna to the Son of David' Even the infants that were carried by their mothers joined in the chorus of children�'praise. No one had to force them to do it, or even prompt them to do it. They praised Him most naturally and spontaneously. How much did these children know about the Messiah? Definitely far less than what the Chief priests and Scribes knew about Him. How qualified were they to lead the rest in praising the Messiah? In the eyes of men - not qualified at all. Here then was something quite unusual and extraordinary. 

One thing this teaches us, is that we should not underestimate the spiritual capabilities of children. Let us not think that our children are too young to perceive and understand the things of God. 

Jesus Himself said, 'Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew 19:14) And the question that this raises is the same one that would have been on the minds of those who witnessed the praises of the little children in the Temple: How could they recognize the Messiah of Israel, where the learned and highly qualified adults could not?

III. How They Were Able To Acknowledge Jesus

A. Not By Mental Knowledge Alone

The answer is found in the reply that Jesus gave to the chief priests and scribes when they complained to Him about the children's acclamation 'Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise?' There are two interesting points in this reply. Firstly, there is a sharp rebuke to the chief priests and scribes in the words, 'Have ye never read?' By saying this the Lord Jesus was holding them responsible to read and understand the Scriptures well. God had given them the Scriptures to read so that they would be able to recognise the things of God. 

Dearly beloved, we too need to be reminded that the Lord holds us responsible to read His Word and know it well. Without the knowledge of God's Word, how would you know of your need for salvation from sin? How would you understand who Jesus really is and acknowledge Him as your Lord? How awful it would be for the Lord to say to us one day as He said to the scribes, 'Have ye never read what is written in My Book?' Doesn't it seem strange that many Christians have read many books written by mere men from cover to cover, but have not read the Bible completely? May the Lord grant us all a fervent desire to read His Book - the Book of Books - and know it well from cover to cover.

As for the chief priests and scribes, our Lord pointed out to them that the Scriptures had already mentioned so plainly what they were seeing that they should have recognized it immediately. Where was it mentioned in the Scriptures? In Psalm 8:2. These Chief priests and scribes were evidently ignorant of the Scriptures they professed so much to know, just as they had also been ignorant about the fact that God's House should not be turned into a marketplace with animal sellers and moneychangers, and Jesus Himself had to cast them all out.

Actually what they had was not so much a mental ignorance of the Scriptures, but rather a wilful ignorance of the heart to what they had read from the Scriptures. Today, there are still many Jews who know the Old Testament so well, that they can recite large portions of it from memory. And yet for all the vast knowledge of the scriptures they possess, they still cannot see that it points so clearly to Jesus the Messiah. Today there are also theologians and professors in prestigious seminaries who claim to be experts in theology, and yet they do not know the Lord Jesus at all. They deny His miracles, His deity and His resurrection. 

And they will look down with disdain upon those who know only the simple gospel of salvation and who have accepted and loved Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord. This brings out the truth of what Jesus had said in Matthew 11:25 'I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.' 

B. But By God's Revelation To Their Hearts

And this provides us now with the answer to the question of how these babes and little children could recognize and acknowledge Jesus, where the more qualified ones could not. The answer does not lie in anything that only children possess. Some who read this passage of Matthew 21 may be tempted to think that the innocence of childhood confers upon children some kind of special intuition which is lost as they grow up to adulthood. The fact is that children are just as spiritually dead as adults, although they are more impressionable and it is easier to influence them to believe in Christ. It is true that it is often a lot easier to reach out to those who are still young, before they grow up and become hardened in their ways with the pride that adulthood brings.

But even adults can receive Jesus Christ like a little child receives Him. It does not matter what age a person is. Why? Because what makes the difference is God's work of revealing Christ to the heart of a person. You will notice that in the reply that Jesus gave to the chief priests and scribes, He quoted Psalm 8:2 saying 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.' It was no one else but God who caused the children to praise Him spontaneously. God was the One who enabled them to recognize Jesus and acknowledge Him as the Messiah of the World! 

Now God's spiritual work of revealing who Jesus is to the children did not take place in a vacuum. These children already had some basic knowledge of God's Word they had learned from others. It was a well-known fact that Jewish parents took seriously the religious education of their children. 

At age 3, Jewish infants could repeat portions of scripture and also certain prayers. And at the age of 5, they began to read the Hebrew Bible. At 6 their formal religious education began. >From all this, we know that the children who greeted Jesus in the Temple probably had some knowledge about the Messiah. But before they could acknowledge that Jesus was truly that Messiah foretold in the Scriptures, they needed something more than that. They needed God's spiritual work of revealing this truth to their hearts. Without this, they would have been no better than the chief priests and scribes in their spiritual blindness.

And just as God did this to all these children, He did the same thing to every adult disciple who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. For instance, when Peter, the chief of the twelve disciples, earlier on confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, (Matthew 16:16,17) Jesus said, 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven.' Without God's revelation to him, Peter would never have been able to acknowledge that Jesus is truly the Messiah, the Son of God.

Now, the question may then be asked, why did God not do the same work of revelation in the hearts of the chief priests and scribes as well? Why did He do it only in the hearts of the children there? I believe that what happened in the Temple was meant to be an act of God's judgment against these priests and scribes. This is confirmed when we look at the whole verse of Psalm 8:2 that Jesus quoted from 'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast Thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that Thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.' 

This means that the Lord was using this phenomenon to expose fully the deliberate, wilful spiritual blindness of these chief priests and scribes. They had already chosen to oppose Jesus, and had made themselves His enemies by their own choice. The children's loud acclamation of Jesus as the Messiah served God's purpose of bringing their unreasonable opposition to Him out into full view. According to v.15 of our text, it made them 'sore displeased'. They were displeased to such an extent, that they even began to scheme and plot how they might now destroy Jesus (Luke 19:47). 

Now that we have studied in detail this passage of the children's praise of Jesus in the Temple after His triumphal entry, we must end by asking, 'What does all this mean for us?' 

Firstly, it means that we should never despise the little things in life. Our God often uses weak things and little things to accomplish His greatest works. For instance, He once used a shepherd boy named David to defeat the giant Goliath, that no trained soldier in Israel dared to fight. This amazing truth is expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 'But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in His presence.'

And this truth can especially be of great comfort when we find ourselves as the ones who are weak and despised by the world. Dear friends, when the world looks down upon you, and makes you feel so small, please remember how the Lord ordained strength out of the mouth of babes and sucklings! Remember how He confounded the high and mighty scribes and Pharisees through the praises He received from the little children. And if you ever find yourself laid low by illness or by unexpected trials that befall you, remember the Lord's wonderful promise, 'My strength is made perfect in weakness.' (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Above all, what we have seen today brings out the truth that if you are a born-again Christian, you have no one else to thank but God for it. For no one can ever come to Jesus and believe in Him, unless God Himself reveals who Jesus is, to him. John 6:44 'No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him'This means that God is sovereign in the whole process of your salvation - even your coming to Him in faith, is the result of His work in your heart. He deserves all the praise and credit for your salvation. 

If you are a Christian, what you are right now is entirely due to God's grace alone. Do not attribute your present saved condition to your upbringing, or to your personal unique perspective of life, or to any special sense or intuition that you think you have. When you acknowledged Jesus to be worthy to be received as your Lord and Saviour, you did it because God mercifully revealed Him to you as such. Let us give all glory to God for our salvation. It is by His marvelous grace alone that we are saved.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25