Matthew 21:1–11, Psalm 118
1-7 The King Enters Jerusalem
Jesus had visited Jerusalem many times before, but this was to be his last visit prior to his arrest. And when he entered, he entered on the back of a donkey, in fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy.
It is important to understand that in biblical literature the donkey was actually a sign of kingship. This goes all the way back to Jacob’s dying prophecy over Judah (Gen. 49:10-11). And throughout Scripture we continually see kings riding donkeys. Remember when David publicly announced that his son Solomon was to be the new king of Israel, he demonstrated this by parading Solomon through Jerusalem on the back of the king’s donkey (1 Kings 1:38, for other examples of rulers riding on donkeys see Judges 5:10, 10:4, 12:14). So it make sense that Zechariah would prophesy that the new king of Israel would arrive in Jerusalem on a donkey, a king who would exercise universal dominion (Zech. 9:9-10).
This next bit gets particularly hard to understand. The people lay branches in the road before Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, and they cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This seems like a bizarre way to behave. But to understand what is happening here, you need to understand Psalm 118 and that is not easy.
Psalm 118 is like a confused dream if you just read it by itself. But when you hold it up to the rest of Scripture, especially to the life of Christ, and especially to his triumphal entry, then instead of being this confused dream, it turns into an answer key that helps to make everything else make sense.
Feast of Booths
Remember that in Old Testament Israel there were three pilgrim feasts – Passover, Pentecost, and Booths. At all three of these celebrations, the Jews would sing the Hallel – Psalms 113-118. And as part of the Feast of Booths, the Jews would bring their lullavim, made from the branches of the fruitful trees of Israel, and cast their lullavim onto the altar, while reciting Psalm 118:25. The cry “save now” in Hebrew is Hosanna!
So the people were taking the pieces of their celebration of the Feast of Booths and were applying this ceremony to Jesus. What they had celebrated as a type and a shadow they were now able to actually celebrate in its reality.
In verses 22-24, the Psalmist describes a rejected cornerstone, describing the very humble beginning of a building project. This is likely why bits of this Psalm are picked up to celebrate the laying of the foundation of the second temple (Ezra 3:11-13). But in a very early Jewish tradition this passage is understood as referring to David’s selection as king over all his brothers. And so you see all of these elements picked up in Jesus’ triumphal entry.
Over the next several chapters the Jewish leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, the chief priests, and the scribes) all make clear their final rejection of Jesus’ teaching. He makes this the point of his parable of the wicked vinedressers (21:42-45, quoting Ps. 118:22-23). And again, after completing denunciation of the Jewish leadership in Matthew 23, he concludes with 23:38-39 (quoting Psalm 118:26).
One of the greatest vices of the evangelical church over the past century has been our bad habit of attempting to read our Bibles in light of our current events, instead of the other way around, which is to read our current events in light of our Bible. In Scripture you have a firm and certain word. In the world around you, as we have right now, you have a raucous multitude driven by whatever emotion has worked its way to the top of their esophagus. If you go from that raging emotion to Scripture you will have no end of confusion. But if you start with the clear testimony of Scripture you will find that you suddenly have your feet on an immovable rock.
So let’s start with Scripture and the promises of Psalm 118. These things have been promised to us and for us to be obedient means reading our current situation in light of this text.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'” (Lk. 2:10-14).
“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.'” (Matt. 2:16-18).
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7)
As we consider the whole question of gift-giving at Christmas, we have been studying the background. What does the Bible teach about giving and receiving generally, and how can we apply these general principles to specific situations—like Christmas shopping and presents?
So we started with the ultimate gift of Christ, the unspeakable gift that God gave to us, and how that relates to the training God puts us through in order to equip us to imitate Him. We then moved on to the nature of giving, and how it was more blessed to give than to receive. But we also noted that to be blessed in giving is to be a receiver. And so this week we are going to examine the nature of receivingin greater detail. Next week we will look at the goodness of the material world.
“And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat” (Matt. 10:7–10).
Summary of the Text
Jesus was sending His disciples out on a preaching mission, telling them to stay away from the Gentiles and Samaritans for the present (v. 5). They were to go to the lost sheep of Israel (v. 6). The message they were to preach as they went was this—the kingdom of heaven is at hand (v. 7). They were told to give as they went in particular ways. They were to heal the sick, cleanse lepers, raise the dead, and cast out devils (v. 8). They were to do this in the spirit of “freely they had received,” so also they should “freely give” (v. 8). As their intake had been, so also their output should be. Jesus then tells them not to take any provisions along with them (vv. 9-10) because a workman deserves his pay. This is quite striking because Paul quotes this in his teaching on ministerial pay (1 Tim. 5:18). So Jesus is teaching His disciples a lifestyle of both giving and receiving and giving some more. This is like a reciprocating engine with plenty of fuel.
We have already considered the fact that creatures are receivers, by definition. “For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7, NKJV). Ponder this. What do you have that you did not receive as a gift? And if that is the case, what is the ground for self-sufficient pride?
Gladness and Gratitude
There are many believers who are diligent in giving, but they have a very hard time in receiving anything—even thoughtful gifts. The initial impulse of self-reliance is good (Gal. 6:5), but the same passage also teaches us that we should bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). This is like breathing in and breathing out. We receive, which means that we are enabled to give, which means we need to receive again. Allow me to say it again—we give to get in order to give again.
It is frequently the case that when people have real trouble receiving help from others, it is because of a hidden root of pride. Someone who gives all the time might simply be generous. But he might also be very proud. He wants to be the alpha, the ring-giver, the one who bestows. He is haughty. He might give everything to the poor, and still be a man of pride (1 Cor. 13:3).
What would you think if you got the perfect Christmas gift for your overly-pious son or daughter, and found that he had thrown it away without opening it? When you (understandably) asked about this curious behavior, he said that the only thing he really cared about was his relationship with you, and he didn’t want anything to get in the way of that relationship. Value the giver, not the gift, you see. You might reply, and you might even be peeved when you replied, that him throwing a perfectly good fifty dollar present away might conceivably interfere with your relationship. You might even have to prevent your wife from chasing him out to the trash cans with a belt in hand.
This kind of thing is found everywhere in Scripture. I said in an earlier message that God gave us a set of training wheels in the tithe. But that is not the only training guide He has given us. He has given us our joy in receiving as a valuable indicator of how much joy for others we should seek in how we give to others.
The golden rule operates this way (Matt. 7:12). The second greatest commandment requires us to love others as we already love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39). Husbands are supposed to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Eph. 5:28-29). We are to extend forgiveness the same way we want to receive forgiveness (Matt. 6:14-15).
So one of the disciplines you should set before yourself in learning how to give is the discipline of setting your mind to rejoice in every gift you receive—every last one. Receive them with gladness. Receive them with gratitude. Receive them with humility. As you do, you are establishing a benchmark in your soul that will enable you to give to others as you ought to do. If you are a constant critic, with an eye always peeled for the inappropriateness of presents given to you, you are actually damaging your ability to give. How you receive illustrates for the principalities and powers what kind of giver you are.
The Headwaters of All Receiving and Giving
And the central place where we are being grown up into true givers is here, at the Table of the Lord. To be a true giver, you must become a true receiver. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread” (1 Cor. 11:23). True receivers are being equipped to give. You are filled in this meal, and then sent out into the world in order to overflow.
You have been taught before that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not simply cognitive head knowledge. They already knew it was wrong to disobey God. And neither did it mean the experience of sin because God Himself had the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3:22). Rather, the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was fruit that would equip them for dominion and rule, which is what they were destined for (1 Kings 3:10; 2 Sam. 19:35; Is. 7:14-16). Their sin consisted of grasping for that rule prematurely.
But here is the glorious thing. Adam disobeyed at that tree. The Lord Jesus obeyed on that same tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thus restoring all things, which includes restoring our access to the tree of life. And so we are summoned here every week to eat the fruit of that tree—His body which is broken for us. Receive it. And in the receiving we are equipped for dominion and rule, which is another way of saying that we are equipped to give it all away.
“Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21–23).
We have been given the world. Why did God do this? Why have we received the world? So that we might have the glory of giving it away. And whatever direction we look, whether behind or before us, we see Christ.