Gospel of Matthew

Matthew - Lesson 21A

Chapter 20:29-21:5

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  • We’ve reached the final major section of Matthew’s Gospel, a section that takes us through the final week of Jesus’ earthly life and the days after His death

    • In this section we’ll study Jesus’ entry into the city, the Last Supper, Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, His resurrection and His post appearances

      • On the calendar, these events take place over a very short period of time, barely 6 days according to Matthew’s account

      • But the retelling of these events requires almost a third of Matthew’s Gospel

      • So obviously, they are very important and worthy of careful consideration

    • And even before we begin that study, we have a brief moment at the end of Chapter 20 to cover, which bridges us into the final section

Matt. 20:29  As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him.
Matt. 20:30 And two blind men sitting by the road, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”
Matt. 20:31 The crowd sternly told them to be quiet, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
Matt. 20:32 And Jesus stopped and called them, and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
Matt. 20:33 They said to Him, “Lord, we want our eyes to be opened.”
Matt. 20:34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.
  • As you remember, Jesus had been in Perea on the eastern side of the Jordan river

    • But then Jesus crosses the Jordan back to the western side and now He’s headed up to Jerusalem for the last time

      • And the road up from the Jordan River valley runs by the ancient town of Jericho before reaching Jerusalem soon after

      • Jericho is set in a mountain range that runs parallel to the Jordon river on the west side of the valley

      • The road first passed through the ancient Jericho of the Old Testament times which Joshua and the Israelites invaded 

    • The OT Jericho was in ruins by Jesus’ day, so about a mile away stood a new settlement of Jericho built by Herod the Great

      • That city was built around Herod’s summer palace, where Herod later died

      • Today there is also a third Jericho, a modern Arab Jericho which extends toward the Jordan river

    • So in Matthew’s account, Jesus has passed by the old Jericho and was now entering Herod’s Jericho where He encounters two blind men

      • The other Gospel writers only mention one of these men, who Mark names as Bartimaeus 

      • But by Matthew we learn there were actually two men involved, so perhaps Bartimaeus was the more insistent or more vocal

  • The men hear that the Messiah was approaching, so they begin to cry out loudly for Jesus to have mercy on them

    • They say Lord, Son of David, which is a term that refers to the Messiah’s role as King sitting on the throne of David in the Kingdom 

      • In effect, they are declaring Jesus to be the King over Israel

      • Which leads some in the crowds to become uncomfortable with their cries

      • Matthew says in v.31 that some in the crowd were telling them sternly to be quiet, meaning they were being rebuked

    • Luke reports that these people were in the front of the crowd:

Luke 18:39 Those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
  • Remember, this scene is taking place near Jericho, home to one of King Herod’s four palaces 

  • So men loudly proclaiming Jesus is rightful heir to the throne of Israel is a statement of insurrection to the Romans

  • So no doubt the crowd was nervous about that, but for the same reason, we can see their statement as a clear demonstration of faith

    • These men knew where they were and how dangerous their speech might be, yet they persisted as Jesus approached

    • They keep yelling out for Jesus in a desperate hope for mercy

  • Being blind is never easy, but in ancient times it was an especially terrible fate

    • The blind were unable to work for the most part, and as a result Jewish society viewed them as worthless and a burden 

      • And to make matters worse, the Pharisees taught that blindness was a judgment from God

      • So Jewish society felt justified in withholding their pity leaving blind people with literally no source of support

    • As a result, the blind were limited to begging for subsistence, and without the ability to see, they were vulnerable to anyone and anything 

      • They might be cheated or abused by strangers if not ignored altogether 

      • And they were susceptible to animal attacks and to exposure to the elements

    • So we understand their persistence and desperation, because for them healing could be the difference between life and death

      • But we also understand that after Jesus was rejected in Chapter 12, He no longer heals crowds indiscriminately 

      • Back in Chapter 12 we found another time when people were asking is Jesus the Son of David?

      • And at that time the Pharisees said no, Jesus was Satan, and the crowds agreed with their assessment

    • That led Jesus to reject this generation of Israel and withdraw the offer of the Kingdom

      • Since that time Jesus only heals those who first demonstrate faith in Him and usually only in a private moment

      • So certainly these men have demonstrated faith by their persistent cries and so Jesus will attend to them

  • When Jesus reaches them, He stops and calls for them to come to Him for a private audience

    • Mark describes the moment this way:

Mark 10:49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.”
Mark 10:50 Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus.
  • The same crowd that earlier had been trying to silence the men now encourage the men to stand up and answer Jesus’ call

  • So Bartimaeus stands up, and as he does, he casts aside his cloak

  • This is a very interesting and telling gesture because a cloak was an indispensable part of ancient attire 

    • For the common man, a cloak was one of the most important possessions he owned

    • A cloak protected a person against cold and rain, it was a shield against the harsh sun and a tent during sandstorms 

    • It was his blanket at night and in desperate times, it might be sold for a night in a shelter and a meal

  • So a cloak was not cast aside casually, and that was especially true for a blind man

    • When a blind man casts anything in the midst of a crowd, he would not expect to find it again

    • Because the moment that cloak left his hands, someone in that crowd would have picked it up and made it his own

    • A blind man is helpless to stop theft, since he couldn’t identify his property, let alone the thief

    • So a blind man always holds on to what he owns tightly

  • But not Bartimaeus…he casts aside his cloak when Jesus called for him

    • And this suggests Bartimaeus was expecting to be healed and with his eyesight restored, he knew he would find his property 

    • It’s the mark of someone who had absolute confidence and faith in Jesus’ power to heal

  • So in v.32 Jesus asks the man what do you want from Me, since all they had asked was for mercy

    • So the men specify they want their eyes opened, and moved by compassion Jesus grants them their sight

    • And they then become disciples of Jesus, following Him to Jerusalem

    • In Mark’s Gospel we see the connection between faith and Jesus’ healing even more clearly 

Mark 10:52 And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road.
  • The connection between faith and healing during the latter part of Jesus’ ministry is clearly evident, but we must be careful in what we do with this truth

    • It’s true that faith is a prerequisite for receiving the blessings of a relationship with Jesus

      • As the writer of Hebrews says

Heb. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
  • Without faith it is impossible to please God, and our faith includes an expectation that we will be rewarded

  • And at times that reward may include a temporary physical healing of one kind or another

    • I say temporary because eventually we all die…no healing lasts forever

    • And that’s where this truth can be distorted and manipulated until it’s made into a lie

  • Generally speaking, faith is a prerequisite for pleasing God and receiving reward or blessing  

    • But just because we have faith doesn’t mean we will always receive what we want, especially in the area of healing

    • As I just said, we all die eventually, so eventually our requests to be healed will be answered no

    • And that’s a good thing, because the death of this body makes possible the receiving of the next body, which is much better

  • So be wary of any teaching that suggests that God will always heal you

    • Saying that God will always heal us when we have faith is the equivalent of trying to push on a rope

    • A rope only works in one direction…it’s only useful for pulling, not for pushing

  • Similarly, faith is necessary for pleasing God and receiving reward, but that relationship only works in one direction

    • We can’t turn that formula around on God by declaring that reward always comes for those who have faith

    • Faith is necessary to receive blessings like healing, but it is not sufficient…God’s will must also be inclined to grant us healing

    • And self-evidently, God’s will is not always for us to be healed

  • Returning to our text, Matthew includes this moment on the road to Jericho because it foreshadows what’s about to happen as Jesus enters Jerusalem  

    • In a few days, Jesus will be met by hundreds if not thousands alongside the road leading from Bethany into Jerusalem 

      • As they greet Jesus, they will declare Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord

      • They will celebrate the arrival of their King, Who they assume is preparing to rule over their nation

    • But Jesus isn’t coming to rule, and so as He did with these blind men, Jesus does not acknowledge their call for Him to be King

      • He will only respond to those who come to Him in faith

      • The nation of Israel as a whole will not receive their kingdom in this day

      • And Jesus will soon die for their sins…we will study that moment now, beginning with the next section

Matt. 21:1  When they had approached Jerusalem and had come to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Matt. 21:2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied there and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to Me.
Matt. 21:3 “If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”
Matt. 21:4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
  • Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem comes from the east, and the east side of the city is marked by a series of mountain ranges and valleys

    • On the top of the two ranges to the east stand two small villages called Bethany and Bethphage

      • Bethphage stood directly the east side of Jerusalem on top of the Mt. of Olives

      • At this point, Jesus stops walking and directs two disciples to enter Bethphage looking for a donkey

    • In fact, Jesus gives the men explicit instructions on where to find a donkey and her colt, and to bring both the mother and the foal to Him

      • And if someone asks what they are doing, Jesus says just tell them the Lord has need of it and they will immediately allow it

      • This is the only time in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus refers to Himself as Lord (Yahweh), which is the proper name of God

    • Mark says this happened just as Jesus predicted, when a crowd did object to the disciples trying to take the animals  

      • Yet the crowd relented when the disciples gave the response Jesus commanded

      • And so they brought the two animals back to Jesus 

  • As strange as all this sounds to us, it wasn’t altogether unusual for someone to borrow a donkey or for a dignitary to ride a donkey

    • Just as we have rent-a-car services today, it was common to have rent-a-mule services for travelers in that day

      • Mules and donkeys were a common form of transportation in that day, especially near a large city like Jerusalem 

      • And a donkey was not associated with poverty or degradation

      • They were an appropriate way for a dignitary to enter Zion 

    • Horses were extremely rare in common day life and almost exclusively used for war 

      • Mules and donkeys, on the other hand, were associated with peace 

      • So kings and princes would commonly ride mules and donkeys in peace time instead of horses so as not to send the wrong signal

      • You may remember that Solomon rode a mule to his inauguration in 1 Kings 1

    • Luke tells us that this foal had never been sat upon, so Jesus was getting a rent-a-mule with zero miles on it and it had that new-mule smell 

      • In Jesus’ day, an animal reserved for royal use could not be used for common purposes 

      • So by requiring an animal that had not been used for any common purpose, Jesus was indicating He was royalty 

  • Obviously, the Father has made this provision available for His Son which means God was working well ahead of time to bring it about

    • Consider all the things that had to happen at just the right time to make this possible

      • The Lord first had to bring the coal to birth at the right time and place

      • Then He had to ensure someone tied it up at the right place and time

      • And then He had to prepare the hearts of the people to accept the disciples’ explanation 

  • This is such a simple and obvious display of God’s sovereignty

    • We like to say God didn’t make us robots, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t control our actions

      • Everything happened according to God’s will, and yet the people involved made personal choices according to their own desires

      • Yet behind the scenes the Lord moved hearts and heads to achieve a specific outcome…and the Lord does this all the time

      • His sovereignty over all details on earth is what gives us confidence to place our faith in His word

      • Including in His promises that He will provide for us according to our needs

    • You may have heard Christians saying God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, which is a verse taken from Psalm 50

      • And when we say this, we mean it literally as an encouragement that God has the means to provide us anything we need

      • Everything in the Universe belongs to God, so He can put it to work in any way He wishes

    • In this case, someone owned those animals, yet they were God’s property, so He made the decision to give these animals to Jesus

      • And time and time again, the Lord makes provision for Jesus in this way

      • Jesus lived during His entire ministry owning nothing in human terms…Jesus Himself said He had no place to lay His head

      • Yet because God owns everything ultimately, when Jesus needed something, He received it just in time

      • We’re going to see this happen again when the time comes for Jesus and the disciples to share a Passover meal

    • Furthermore, nothing we own is truly ours, because it remains God’s property even as He allows us to possess it for a time

      • Think of your possessions like a book you borrow from the library

      • We have checked it out, and we possess it for a time and enjoy it while we have it, but eventually it goes back to the library 

      • And after it does, someone else is going to check it out and enjoy it

      • So while it may have felt like our property for a time, we knew it wasn’t forever 

  • We should approach our possessions with that same understanding…our needs are met by God and what we possess belongs to God

    • So when we truly need something, we should have confidence to know the Lord will provide it in the nick of time through some means

      • I’m not saying those means will be supernatural…they are most often natural

      • But they will often come in surprising ways, and usually just when we need them most

      • Which means we must have patience to wait if we are going to see the provision the Lord has planned for us

    • And when we do receive things through whatever means, hold on to them loosely knowing they are only passing through your hands

      • They remain the Lord’s possessions, and just as He gave them to you for a time, they still remain the Lord’s property 

      • And one day He will ask you to pass them on to someone else, whether while you are alive or after you die

      • It’s better for you to release them while you’re alive while you may still gain the credit for generosity than to hold on to them 

    • If we live with this outlook, two good things will happen

      • First, we will waste much less time worrying about possessions 

      • We all spend way too much time and energy focused on gaining and maintaining possessions that we lose in the end

    • Secondly, if we wait for God to provide what we need to serve Him, our faith will grow tremendously 

      • Because nothing builds your faith faster than recognizing how little you need and how much you depend upon God for it

      • I had a missionary friend once tell me that Christians in developed countries miss the blessing of dependence on God

    • A missionary is typically very aware of their dependence because they lack for most things and live off donations, etc. 

      • It’s living as close to Jesus’ lifestyle as we can get today, and it forces us to recognize God provides everything

      • Similarly, when we lose a job and feel the insecurity of no paycheck for a time, we’re reminded of our dependence on God 

      • So expect the Lord to provide according to your need (not your wants)…and don’t hold on to what He gives you too tightly

  • But now to the bigger question….why did Jesus need to ride a donkey now after having walked everywhere for the entirety of His ministry?

    • Matthew gives us that answer in vs.4-5 quoted from Zechariah 9

      • In Zechariah 9:9 Israel was told that their Messiah would arrive in a humble fashion, riding on a colt, a juvenile donkey

      • The first coming of the Messiah was a ministry of humility, in keeping with His plan to make Himself a sacrifice for our sin

    • So in keeping with that humble mission, He enters Jerusalem in a particularly humble fashion that fulfills the Scriptures

      • And as we begin the final week of Jesus’ earthly life, we’re going to see a lot of Scripture fulfilled

      • And we’re going to correct a lot of misconceptions and false traditions about the events of this week

      • In particular, the timeline of the events that follow offers us an opportunity to do both

  • We will study this moment in greater detail in weeks to come, but for now we can see how the timeline offers fulfillment of one Old Testament prophecy 

    • Jesus is about to enter the city of Jerusalem through the east gate, on a Sunday, the first day of the week

      • Mark says Jesus arrives at the temple late in the day so He quickly leaves to spend the evening outside the city in Bethany

      • Following Sunday night, Jesus will return to the Temple each of the next three days prior to Passover

    • Over these days, Jesus will teach in the temple grounds and be interrogated by various religious leaders trying to discredit Him

      • Those four days Jesus spends in the temple from Sunday through Wednesday are a fulfillment of Scripture

      • Specifically, Jesus is fulfilling a commandment associated with the Passover feast described in Exodus

    • In Exodus the Lord gave Israel the Passover observance, where He told them to select a lamb on the tenth of Nisan

Ex. 12:3 “Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household.
Ex. 12:4 ‘Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb.
Ex. 12:5 ‘Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.
Ex. 12:6 ‘You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight.
  • The lamb was selected on the tenth of Nisan, and it was kept in the house of the family for four days until the fourteenth 

  • During these days the family would continually inspect the lamb looking for any spot that might disqualify it

  • Then at twilight on the 14th, the spotless animal was sacrificed and consumed that night…nothing was to remain at morning

  • We know from John’s Gospel that Jesus was our spotless Passover Lamb sacrificed for the sins of the world so He too must be inspected for four days

    • The tenth of Nisan fell on a Sunday the particular week Jesus’ died

      • So Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on that day, and He immediately proceeds to the house of God for four days of inspection  

      • Starting Sunday and continuing for part of each of the next three days, Jesus is inspected by the religious leaders

      • This process of inspection will show once again that Jesus is qualified to be our sinless, spotless Lamb 

    • So this entry into Jerusalem is not an opportunity for Jesus to reign or rule over Israel…He is entering to fulfill the Passover 

      • Therefore, each detail in the account reflects the requirements of that feast

      • And even the timing of the events will mirror the Passover so that even as Israel celebrate the feast Jesus is at work fulfilling it

    • We will study the events in detail, the timeline in detail, the movement of Jesus in and out and around the city in detail

      • We will trace it all so that we can see the sovereignty and wisdom of God at work to bring all these events to the appointed end

      • By the way, in the middle of it all we have the single most important discourse that Jesus gives on the subject of end times

      • Be sure to be a part of this study