Following on from the previous chapters in Matthew, the upside-down nature of Jesus’ messianic kingdom, which turns upside down all of our value systems, continues to be revealed. Jesus comes as a servant king teaching that we gain honour by serving others. Instead of getting revenge he talks of forgiving and doing good to our enemies and that you gain true wealth by giving your wealth to the poor. To follow the servant messiah, you must become a servant yourself. This messiahship would not overthrow the Jewish oppressors, ie the Romans, as was expected by the Jewish leaders who wanted their Messiah to be victorious and revengeful and bring the revolution.
In Chapter 21 we begin to see how the two kingdom’s clash: Jesus’ kingdom and that of Israel’s leaders.
Firstly, he arrives humbly on a colt. Mark and Luke mention that the colt was so young that it had never been ridden. A small but sometimes overlooked matter. Firstly, how difficult should it have been for Jesus to ride an unbroken colt and secondly for him to ride through streets of noisy crowds which are shouting, jostling and waving palms? This poor colt, in normal circumstances should have been bucking to get his rider off and charging through the crowds. This situation could have been a complete disaster, but the fact is Jesus is able to calmly ride into Jerusalem. The colt is given complete peace in the situation and responds to Jesus’ authority. It knows who is in control. We should learn from the colt, which was fearful and afraid in difficult circumstances, feeling like it had lost all control, and yet obedient to Christ was able to be a masterpiece in Jesus’ plan to proclaim his messiahship and fulfil scripture.
Despite the humility of his arrival, it says that the whole of the city was ‘moved’. Imagine having that kind of effect when you arrive in a city. Jesus’s first action when he arrives in Jerusalem is to assert his royal authority in the temple. He goes straight to the heart of the problem. In Jesus’ view the temple is compromised by the hypocrisy of Israel’s leaders and so here he is challenging their authority and naturally they are deeply offended. They try and trap Jesus and shame him in public debate and they fail miserably.
Jesus then tells three parables which again tackle the problem he saw with the Jewish leadership. The first Jesus rebukes the fig tree which bears no fruit. Full of leaves, but no fruit. A false advertisement. This was exposing how unfruitful Israel was and the upcoming justice it would endure. The second parable implies their hypocrisy in pretending to be something they are not, whilst pretending to be doing the work God gives them, and the third parable of the wicked servants is a metaphor for how Israel’s leaders would plot to kill and eventually kill God’s own son. There are specific and direct warnings given about what will happen to the people in his parable. Three shots directly at the Pharisees. It says ‘they perceived that he was speaking of them’. A guilty conscience maybe. The choice before the religious leaders is the choice before every person. We can be broken in humble surrender before God or be completely broken in judgment. Let’s follow that colt’s example and surrender humbly to him.