Reading the Gospels: Matthew, Chapters 21-24

Chapter 21 begins with Jesus at the Mount of Olives, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He sends two disciples to go into the village where they will find a donkey and a colt tied. He tells them to untie them and bring them back and if anyone questions them to say “The Lord needs them.”

The disciples, surprisingly, got it right and brought back the donkey and colt. The laid their clothes on the animals and Jesus sat on them (both of them?). As he rode into Jerusalem, the multitudes spread their clothes on the road and cut branches from the trees and laid them in His path. He finally enters Jerusalem and the city is all stirred up, not knowing who He is.

Jesus enters the temple of God and throws out all those who sold and bought there and turned over the moneychangers’ tables. In the now empty temple, people came to be healed and children were crying out in wonder. The chief priests and scribes were indignant and said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these are saying?” To which Jesus replies:

“Yes. Did you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and nursing babies you have perfected praise.’”

He spends the night in Bethany and returns to Jerusalem in the morning. He’s feeling hungry and sees a fig tree, but finding no fruit on it, curses the tree and causes it to wither away. He goes back to the temple and starts teaching the multitudes. The priests and elders ask him “By what authority do you do these things?” Jesus says he will answer their question if they answer His:

“The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?”

The priests feel backed in the corner. If they say “from heaven” then Jesus will want to know why they didn’t believe him. On the other hand, if they say “from men” the multitudes will go crazy. So they cop out and say “We don’t know.” Jesus answers with a couple of parables that are very clearly about the priests:

“Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruit.”

The chief priests and Pharisees wanted to seize him then and there, but feared the might of the multitudes.

Chapter 22

The Pharisees huddled up and began plotting against Jesus. They sent some lackeys to Jesus who asked “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.” Jesus asks to be shown the tax money and points out the face of Caesar on the denarius coin. He answers:

“Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Then the Sadducees, people who do not believe in resurrection, ask him a crazy question about a wife who gets passed down to seven brothers after each dies. “In the resurrection therefore, whose wife will she be of the seven?” Jesus says in the resurrection, they aren’t married, but like “God’s angels in heaven.”

“God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”

More questions. They ask which is the greatest commandment in the law. He replies:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

The chapter ends with one more question. This time, Jesus asks the Pharisees who they think the father of Christ is. They answer, “David.” Jesus shuts them up once and for all with:

“How then does David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet?’ If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”

Silence from the Pharisees.

Chapter 23

This chapter is one long speech to the multitudes about the scribes and Pharisees. Basically, he tells them do not do their works for the Pharisees don’t do what they say. The Pharisees put heavy burdens on men but don’t lift a finger to help. They enlarge the fringes of their garments and love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, but don’t follow the laws of God.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and as a pretense you make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men; for you don’t enter in yourselves, neither do you allow those who are entering in to enter.”

He blasts them for loving gold more than the temple that sanctifies the gold. He blasts them for tithing mint, dill, and cumin, but do nothing about the “weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith.” He says that they appear righteous on the outside, but on the inside are full of “hypocrisy and iniquity.” He calls them serpents and the offspring of vipers (ouch). He ends with:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me from now on, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Chapter 24

Another long speech, this time to his disciples who asked him, “What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” Jesus says that many will come in His name, that nation will rise against nation, there will be famines, plagues, and earthquakes. False prophets will arise, many will stumble and deliver up one another, and will hate each other. Oppression will be everywhere.

“But he who endures to the end, the same will be saved. This Good News of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

“But immediately after the oppression of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shakened; and then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky. Then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

“But no one knows of that day and hour, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

“Therefore also be ready, for in an hour that you don’t expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Next week: Matthew, Chapters 25-28 (and we finish up the first of the Gospels!)

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