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Faith Bible Church, NY
September 18, 1994
Condemned Worship; Condemned Nation
Proverbs 14:34 says, Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. There certainly can be no debate about the disgrace that has come upon the American people as our society continues its slide into sinfulness. Even the recent “Cairo” conference on world population showed that again as smaller nations around the globe looked at the United States with disgust and disdain as the United States delegates tried to force them into population control tactics, specifically through abortion, that is not even accepted by the majority here. We have gone from a nation that seeks to influence other nations into higher standards of morality into one that influences nations toward immorality.
We need to also understand that America’s slide into immorality did not start with those who are pushing immoral practices. It did not start with the drug culture, hippies and “free love.” It did not begin with radical feminism that disdains the way God has created male and female, nor did it did not originate in the homosexual movement. The immorality of our nation does not trace back to sinners pursuing sin, but in the supposedly righteous, those who profess to be Christians, departing from the proper worship of God. National immorality begins with the improper and/or lack of worship of the Lord God, Creator of all that exists.
When those who claim to belong to God no longer worship Him according to His design, then they worship something other than the true God, whether it’s an idol or simply the false religious system they develop in their attempt to worship God according to their own design. This is the beginning of the end because false worship leaders to immorality and all sorts of sin, and unbridled sin will bring any nation down.
Romans 1 makes it clear that the slide into immorality begins with an improper worship of God. In verse 21 we find that though they “knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.” The slide continues in verse 25 where we find they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator.” The result is that they are given over to their degrading passions, specifically marked by homosexuality. The slide continues in verse 28 when they “no longer see fit to acknowledge God any longer, and God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…”.
We are going to see Jesus apply this principle to the ancient nation of Israel. He condemned their worship and that resulted in the condemnation of the nation. Turn to Matthew 21:11.
COMING TO THE TEMPLE
Our text reads, “And Jesus entered the temple….”
Let me try to set the scene and try to describe what Jesus saw when He entered.
The day before, Jesus had come from Bethany, picked up the colt of a donkey in Bethphage, and rode into Jerusalem on the colt to the cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” Jesus entered into Jerusalem being proclaimed as the Messiah by the crowds that had come to meet Him as He journeyed into Jerusalem. Jesus had not come in the royal splendor many thought He would, but to the minutest detail Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament Prophecies about how and when He would come into Jerusalem as Messiah the Prince.
When Jesus came into the city, it was understandably in quite an uproar. The crowd that had surrounded Jesus as He came into the city through the East gate was quite a sight and a quite noisy one at that. People in the city that did not know what was going on kept trying to find out, “Who is this?”
Their answer to that question revealed the true hearts of the fickle people. Instead of continuing to proclaim Him as Messiah, they answered that it was Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. This was true, but Jesus was much more than just a prophet. He is the Son of God. He is God Himself in human flesh coming down from heaven to redeem sinful man.
Though the excitement in the city was great and people were wondering what Jesus would do next, Mark 11:11 tells that Jesus really did not do much after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. “He entered Jerusalem and came into the Temple; and after looking all around, He departed for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.”
With the population in Jerusalem swelled to 4-5 times its normal size because of Passover, there simply was not enough room in it for everyone to stay. Many people stayed in the surrounding villages, and here we find Jesus returning to Bethany where He and the disciples were staying, perhaps still with Mary, Martha & Lazarus or some other friend. This would become a retreat for Jesus from the turmoil of Jerusalem in the few days that He had left before He would be crucified.
Matthew picks up the story in verse 12 with Jesus entering the temple on the following day, Tuesday. What did Jesus find?
Jesus would have come in through the East gate that morning. That particular gate goes directly into the Temple area. Steps led up to the temple mount and to the outer most court, often referred to as the court of the Gentiles. The temple area was broken up into several courts by walls and buildings. Each court became more restricted as you get closer to the Temple itself and the Holy of Holies within the temple. Gentiles were allowed only in the outer most court. By each entrance that led into the inner courts, an inscription in greek and latin was placed that warned that no Gentiles were to enter further upon pain of death. The next court was the court of the Women and past that was the court of Israel which was in front of the Altar. The Court of the priest surrounded the Temple itself and only the High Priest could go into the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year. As Jesus came in through the East gate onto the temple mount and into the Court of the Gentiles, his senses where not filled with the activities of people worshipping God, but instead they were assaulted by the sights, sounds and smells of a street bazaar. Bulls, oxen, goats, sheep, and cages full of pigeons and turtle doves were all for sale to be used for sacrifices. Other men were hawking incense and grains to be used in offerings. These things were bad enough, but in the midst of all of them were the money changers.
Preparations for Passover began a full month prior with roads & bridges being repaired, sepulchers would get a fresh coat of white-wash to make sure no one would accidently make themselves ceremonially unclean by touching one. Various rituals of purification would get started, and the money changers would set up shop in the towns and villages throughout the country.
The money changers were needed because the annual temple tax could only be paid in exact half-shekels of the Sanctuary or ordinary Galilean shekels. In addition, many of the merchants in Jerusalem would only accept Jewish currency. All foreign currency (and Persian, Tyrian, Syrian, Egyptian, Grecian and Roman money circulated freely in Palestine) would have to be exchanged an
d the money changer would charge a percentage fee for his lucrative service. They were regarded as not much better than thieves. A couple of weeks before Passover, these money changers would leave the small towns and set up shop in Jerusalem.
To make matters worse, the High priest, Annas, and his family controlled what happened in the Temple Markets. In fact, the Temple-market was called the Bazaars of the Sons of Annas. They were paid part of the money changer’s and the merchant’s profits. The merchants gained access to what was nearly a monopoly. All the animals that were to be sacrificed had to be inspected by an official examiner to be sure it met the Levitical qualifications. A fee would be paid to this examiner, and if he did not like your animal, you had to bring another. Corruption here was also prevalent with the result that the people basically had to buy their sacrificial animals from Annas’ merchants in Jerusalem at greatly inflated prices.
CLEANSING THE TEMPLE
Verse 12 tells us what Jesus did when He saw all of this. “And Jesus entered the temple and cast out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who were selling doves.”
This is the second time that Jesus drove out these merchants from the temple. He had done the same thing several years before, but this time His accusation against them was even stronger. In verse 13 we find Jesus says, it is written, My House shall be called a House of prayer, but you are making it a robbers den. The first time (John 2) Jesus simply told them not to make the House of His Father a place of merchandise, but now Jesus quotes from two scriptures. In Isa 56:7 God says that “Mine House shall be called a House of Prayer for all people.” That was the purpose for which David collected materials to build the temple and what Solomon dedicated it for.
The court of the Gentiles was supposed to be the place where those that did not know God could come and learn of Him and be instructed in how to worship Him. It was supposed to be the place were the worship of God was showcased before the unbelieving that they might believe. Instead it had become a place no different than what was around any pagan temple. The worship of God was being turned into a money making venture.
It would have been bad enough if it had just been a case of honest merchants offering their products and services in an inappropriate place. But the practice of these merchants was corrupt. They were thieves and Jesus calls them just that in quoting Jer. 7:11. This generation was just as corrupt as those of Jeremiah’s day. They had turned God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers.
Jesus did not just clear out all the merchants and then leave Himself, He stayed there to make sure they did not come back. Mark 11:16 adds that Jesus “would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple.” Apparently people who were coming or going from the city would take a short cut through the temple instead of using the common roads. Jesus would not allow them to desecrate God’s house of prayer by using it as a common road. You would think that the either merchants or the corrupt priests would stop Jesus. There were many more of them, and they had the temple guard too, yet they fled before Him and didn’t even argue about it. Perhaps in part it was because they were afraid of the people who hated them anyway. A couple of decades later the people themselves did revolt against this corruption and threw the merchants out on their own, but more than a fear of the people was a fear of Jesus Himself. This was God at work.
As the crooked merchants were kicked out, we find that the blind and lame began to come it. Verse 14, And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and He healed them. Again we find Jesus compassion towards those in need and He healed them. Another demonstration that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
The chief priests finally react when Jesus does these miracles and the children in the Temple start to imitate the praise they had heard the day before. Verse 15, But when the chief priest and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David, ” they became indignant and 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 babes Thou hast prepared praise for thyself’?”
The chief priests were corrupt, but they were not stupid. They said nothing publicly about Jesus disrupting their business, but now that Jesus is getting praise as the Messiah from these children, they can stand it no longer. They must destroy Him and to do that they must discredit Him first. They do not believe that He is the Messiah so it must be blasphemy for Him to receive this praise by the children. Never mind the miracles He has been performing which attested to who He was, they want Jesus to make the children be quiet. But Jesus uses the occasion to again proclaim that He was the Messiah and that He is God.
Jesus answered simply and pointedly, “yes.” He heard the praise of these youths and by the word used here we would understand these to probably be 12 or 13 year old boys who had been through bar-mitzvah. Yes, Jesus heard and then He added a quote from Psalm 8:2, the implication being that if God prepares praise to Himself from babies under three, then certainly the same is true of older kids. And in quoting this Psalm and accepting their praise Jesus equates Himself with God.
From Mark we know that Jesus stayed in the Temple until evening. And then, as verse 17 says, “And He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.”
Jesus came to the Temple, condemned the corruption that was occurring there and cleansed it from these who perverted the worship of God and made His house of prayer into the abiding place of thieves. From the accounts of the historian Josephus, the corruption and debauchery in later years only got worse. Their false worship was rightly condemned.
But as I said earlier, incorrect worship will eventually bring about a corruption that condemns the whole nation. It is this principle that explains to us why Matthew records Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree as he does.
CURSING THE FIG TREE
Our text in verse 18 says, Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and he said to it, “no longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” Stop there.
If you were not careful you would assume that this was the next day, but a careful examination of Mark lets us know that this occurred the morning of that same day. As Jesus was traveling from Bethany He became hungry and saw a fig tree in leaf. It was early spring and not the normal season for the early figs, but this tree was unusually early. The normal characteristic of the kind of fig grown there was for an early spring crop to be produced before or at the time of it leafing out. A second crop would be produced in the late summer. It was early in the year, but this tree had leaves and therefore should have had figs. So Jesus, being hungry, went up to it and found there was no fruit. A demonstration of His humanity in that He was hungry. A demonstration of His deity in that He could pronounce judgement on it.
This was the prelude to what would occur in the temple later that day. The “leaves” of Judaism were out. People were flocking into Jerusalem to worship God, but the leaves only hid the bareness that was there. Like the fig leaves on Adam and Eve in the garden, they gave only superficial covering for their nakedness. Like the parable of the fig tree Jesus gave in Luke 13, the owner gave the fig tree extra time to produce fruit, but time was now running out. It would be chopped down. Time was running out for Israel. Whe
n Jesus had wept over Jerusalem a day earlier, He had prophesied that Jerusalem would destroyed and leveled to the ground (Luke 19:42).
Matthew 21:19 says that “at once the fig tree withered.” The word here does not mean immediately, but in a short time. That matches Mark’s account which puts this as the following morning. Peter remembered what Jesus had said the day before about the fig tree, and now it was withered. He and the other disciples were astonished. Verse 20, And seeing this the disciples marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once? They were amazed that a tree could die so quickly.”
Trees normally take a long time to die, but there are diseases that can kill them rapidly, like “fire blight,” so named because of the speed with which it kills and color it turns the leaves. The disease can be present for awhile, but once it gets into the tissues that transport water and soil nutrients to the tree, it kills quickly. Nations normally take a long time to die as well, but once their source of life is cut off, they die quickly too. Israel was already diseased and the corruption was beginning to attack its source of life. It would not be many years before Jesus prophecy would be fulfilled, and the ancient nation of Israel would die quickly.
A WARNING TO US
There is a warning to us in this passage, both as individuals and as a nation.
As individuals we need to realize the truths of Romans 1 as I mentioned earlier. Sin and immorality begin with a wrong view of God and improper worship of Him. It descends from there. Sin gives birth to more sin and it does not take long to be led astray from God and into debauchery. The excuses and rationalizations you give now for the sinful things you do can quickly lead to a seared conscience that will no longer bother you. From their depravity enters in and in twisted thinking you can even end up advocating immoral, evil things as good things to do. Be warned, the end can come quickly and you do not know when it will come. Don’t even start on the road that leads to destruction. Stay on the narrow path leading to eternal life.
As a nation we should realize that same thing is happening to the United States, and it can die quickly as well, not because of outward forces against us, but because of internal corruption. Alexis de Tocqueville said after his study of America in the early 1800’s that America was great because it was good. If it ceased to be good it would cease to be great. The present generations are now finding out about the later statement.
Is America great? In some ways it still is, but the rottenness of sin has already brought deep decay in her. There is nothing great about having some of the world’s highest rates of violent crime. There is nothing great about killing people before their born and claiming to have a right to do so. There is nothing great in flaunting and advocating all sorts of sexual immorality as is now done in all the media as entertainment through TV, Radio, Movies, Theater, Magazines, and the internet, and as policy in our public schools and by our government.
Should we be alarmed. Yes. Should we be “Chicken littles.” No. Our God is still sovereign. He has authority and He knows what He is doing. He will direct us to fulfill our lives in service to Him if we will let Him.
Jesus uses the disciples astonishment about the fig tree to remind them of a very important principle of faith and prayer.
THE PRINCIPLE OF PRAYER & FAITH
And Jesus answered and said to them, “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
Matthew condenses this story and places it hear because Jesus’ authority will be consistently challenged from now on, and in a few days He will be crucified. Matthew uses this to remind his readers that Jesus does have authority and He gives authority to those that follow Him so that the Father’s will can be accomplished.
The principle is simply this: God is not limited by what you can see and understand for yourself. They did not understand the miracle about the fig tree, just as they did not understand any of the miracles Jesus did. Yet, those things happened.
The disciples would face much challenge and persecution themselves in the future. They must learn not to limit God, but have faith in Him to accomplish His work. I might add, to do that work according to His will in His way.
Some have used this text to claim they can get anything they want from God simply by believing it. That is faith in faith, not faith in God. You do not receive because you believe, you receive because the one you trust in is gracious and gives. If you have faith in Him you will come to Him and make your request according to what you believe about Him.
And Yes, it is all things, but those things are asked for in prayer, and all prayer is conditional upon God’s will, not our will. James 4:3 states it clearly “You ask and do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” We receive in prayer when the request is according to God’s will. Like 1 John 5:14 says, “this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” and if He hears us “we have the request which we have asked from Him.”
Prayers with this sort of faith are unselfish, based in true knowledge of God and His will, and have an unqualified confidence in God. Prayer with kind of faith can move a mountain if God wants the mountain moved.
What sort of faith do you have? Have you grown sufficiently in your understanding and knowledge of Him to have an unqualified confidence in Him so that you will be unshaken regardless of your circumstances. I don’t know what the future of this nation will be. God may grant revival or He may abandon the nation to the sinful course it has set for itself. Things could get difficult for believers, real physical persecution could break out against true Christians. If that happened, would your faith fall away, or would you be like those early disciples whose faith did not literally toss mountains into the sea, but it did, according to Acts 17:6, turn the world upside down by their proclamation of Christ.
The starting place is in your worship of God. Don’t play church, but come to Him in true humility giving praise to Him while seeking His grace to live according to His will.
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