The Children Could See It

February 1, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 21:12-16

1. Just before today's gospel reading, the circumstances of when Jesus entered the capital city of Jerusalem are recorded. A great crowd accompanied Jesus on his trip heading upwards towards* Jerusalem. At last, when they could see the gates of Jerusalem, the hopes of the people surged at once and their zeal reached its peak. The people hung all their hopes on Jesus. He was the very person who would undoubtedly set Jerusalem free from Gentile rule. He would undoubtedly deliver Israel from Roman hands. He would undoubtedly restore the lost throne of David and rebuild Israel for them. At last the hour has come! That's what everybody thought. So, some of them spread out their clothing on the path, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them out on the path, and people going on up ahead and people following from behind were shouting unanimously, "Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the highest!," (verse nine).

2. In this way then, Christ had entered into Jerusalem at last. So now, the Gospel According To Matthew records the events right after that, which we read out loud today. What the folks seeking deliverance and liberation witnessed first in Jerusalem was not the figure of a political liberator responding to the zeal of the people with stirring words that promised deliverance. That's not what they saw first, rather, first thing, Jesus began to drive out the folks buying and selling within the temple compound. Turning over the tables of the moneychangers, he shouted, "Thus says the scripture, 'My house ought to be called a house of prayer.' But, you have made it into a den of thieves," (verse thirteen). [The] first [thing] that came across to the people was this kind of figure of Christ.

[They] Made A House Of Prayer Into A Den Of Thieves

3. On the temple grounds, it was animals offered up as sacrifices that the people were buying and selling. Only "doves" are found here in the text, but those with money sacrificed cattle and sheep. Since it was a sacrifice unto God, each [animal] must be free of injuries. That was prescribed in the law. Each one must undergo inspection by a priest and pass it. Therefore, the animals that had already completed the inspection were being sold. They were for the pilgrims to perform their service of worship according to the law. The moneychangers were there for the same reason. Whenever one made a donation, you must present it with half shekel gold coins from Judea. This was also a rule in the law. As a matter of fact, though, half shekel gold coins were not generally used because it was Roman coinage that was in circulation. Therefore, it was necessary for a person to have someone make the exchange for him or her into the old half shekel gold coin from Judea. That [someone] was the moneychanger. All of their business was so [the people] could perform their spiritual duty in accordance with the law of Moses.

4. The scripture has "My house ought to be called a house of prayer." That's what Jesus had said. "A house of prayer." That's right; the temple is a house of prayer and it is a house of worship. So, the problem was not at all with the fact itself that animals were being sold and money conversions were being made. If it was the case that they were preserving the honor and the pride in which they served for the purposes of the worship services, mindful of both God and the worshippers, then the temple might have continued to be a house of prayer for them. But that wasn't the case. Jesus was looking at this truth. They weren't thinking any more about the aspects of worship. Nor were they thinking about God. If they have gotten to the point where their interests were only on business and only on profits, then it was no longer "a house of prayer."

5. This same thing could be said in regard to the chief priests who appear later in the text. They are the temple insiders, the people on the inside of the temple. The temple authorities provided the temple grounds to the businesspersons. A system, [whereby] one part of the proceeds [was given to the temple authorities] found its way into the temple. At times like festivals when there were a lot of pilgrims, naturally, the revenue that found its way into the temple was probably a whole lot. No longer thinking about God, the chief priests did not set their concern on the services being performed in the temple, but on how they should tend their interests only towards the number of pilgrims and the revenue stream from that. It was no longer "a house of prayer" for the persons on the inside of the temple.

6. The place that ought to be "a house of prayer" is no longer "a house of prayer." It is not a place where the one who is worthy to be praised is praised. It is only a place where God's name is employed for the satisfying of human desires. [They] are only concerned with getting what self wants and not what God wants. Therefore, Jesus expressed the situation in the radical words that Jeremiah had once used. "You have turned it into a den of thieves."

7. According to what this gospel is saying, this is the figure of the Christ which those seeking for salvation and liberation in Jerusalem had first seen. The people saw the problem as being under Roman rule. They saw the problem lying in the political situation that surrounded them. They thought that the evil that afflicted them and oppressed them was outside them. For that very reason they were seeking for liberation. However, the figure of Jesus, the way he was acting, was telling a whole other story. The real problem was not in the Roman government. It was in the relationship between them and God the Father. They were not facing the one who was truly worth facing. They were not worshipping the one who was truly worth worshipping. They were not trusting the one who was truly worth trusting. They were not loving the one who was truly worth loving. The most important relationship of all was broken. That's where the problem was. Yes, it was. The problem was not in the surrounding world [around them]. It was between [them and] God.

8. Jesus did not only show the problem clearly by his radical actions. This is what is briefly written after that. "On the temple grounds, as the blind and the lame drew near, Jesus healed these people," (verse fourteen). This was truly a symbolical event. They were blind and lame persons. They were only allowed to enter up to the temple grounds. As it were, they were excluded from the services of the temple. Therefore, the fact that the eyes and the feet of these persons were healed had more meaning than the mere physical suffering being removed. It meant, namely, that they were restored as worshippers. What was being shown through the deeds of Jesus was the hand of invitation filled with God's mercy. That's right; even more so, God was inviting them with his mercy. He was inviting them to worship and to prayer, and to a fellowship that was filled with truth and love for and from God.

9. This scene was not the first time God's mercy had been shown like this. Jesus' healing many persons up to this time and Jesus' having dined with tax collectors and sinners both had been signs of invitation that were filled with God's mercy. And so that we might turn to God and live in fellowship with God, ultimately the Lord would die as a sacrifice for the atonement for sin upon the cross. In this manner then did God's love and invitation completely come to be shown.

What The Children Could See But The Adults Could Not

10. Well, the responses to the figure of Jesus like this was split into two kinds. On the one side were the children. The children were shouting on the temple grounds. "Hosanna to the son of David!" They kept praising Jesus as the messiah and as the savior. However, on the other side were the angry people. They were the chief priests and the scribes of the law. "On the other hand, as the chief priests and the scribes of the law saw the marvelous deeds that Jesus did, they became angry as they heard the children were even shouting on the temple grounds and saying, 'Hosanna to the son of David!," and they said to Jesus, 'Do you hear what the children are saying?' Jesus said, 'I can hear them. Have you not read yet the words, In the mouths of toddlers and suckling babes, you have let them praise?'," (verses fifteen and sixteen).

11. The text has, "They saw the marvelous deeds," and this has the meaning that this was something "amazing" and does not indicate only that the blind and the lame were healed. The radical actions that Jesus did just before that -- these very behaviors of his also -- are included in what was "amazing." They were mad seeing that from the start. Beyond their control, the chief priests suffered a setback. In addition, they probably felt that because the customs [from which they benefited] to that point in time had been openly denied, the leaders of the people whom the people had been recognizing would be denied authority as well. Worse, that agitating and irritating man was healing the eyes of the blind and healing the feet of the lame. He was doing what they could not. This was irritating to them. And as an additional setback, the children were seeing it. They children were seeing this Jesus and were happy singing his praises. The honorable reputations of the leaders of the people were in complete ruin. So, they were angry. [And they were angry], to begin with, because they were not amused by his entrance itself into Jerusalem as a man covered over by the jubilant voices of acclamation, saying, "Hosanna to the son of David!"

12. Even though the children as well as the chief priests and the scribes of the law were looking at the same thing, they had entirely different responses. The children could see. [They saw] the true nature of what Jesus was doing. Jesus shouted that "You have made the place that should be called a house of prayer into a den of thieves," and they could see the truth of what he was saying. In their own way, the children had probably felt that what had been going on at the temple until that moment and what had been done in the name of God was falsified with lies. [The adults] were keeping the detailed rules of the law, however, they were not truly looking to God, they had no kind of relationship with God. They could probably see the figure of these adults like this. On the other hand, through this one named Jesus they could probably see the compassion of God the Father flowing abundantly and in a fresh and vivid way. Those who had not been able to enter the temple until now, those who didn't even know the law accurately the way it should be observed because they had been excluded from the world of the law, were now truly praising God in a fresh way. They could see this truth.

13. Yes, indeed, it was the children who could see. Every month, we hold a joint worship service with the children. I think our worshipping together is a mission for the children. By placing them into the service, by placing them among us who live and believe in Christ, we want the children to see what is truly worth seeing. In that way then, we want to faithfully pass on to our children what should be passed on to them. But, on the other hand, if we've got a tendency for falsehood but the surface is religiously all prettied up, the children will be sensitized to it. Unless we're truly turning to God and unless we're truly worshipping, the children will sense it. We can't tell them the faith in that condition. When we are worshipping with the children in the [same] room, it is not the way the children are that is questioned, but the way we are that comes under questioning.

14. The children who were on the temple grounds could see reliably what one was truly supposed to see. So, the voices of praise among them broke out. On the one hand, what the children could see was not visible to the high priests and the scribes of the law. Why was that? -- Because they were angry, only thinking how they couldn't stand how they were suffering setbacks, their positions were being denied, and their reputations were being crushed. So they did not understand what Jesus was doing. It is not just this scene here, but it is found repeatedly in the gospel account. Even though God's mercy appears among them, it doesn't come into their view. Even though God's hand of invitation was being extended, they did not understand that either. God looked like he was making it happen right in front of their eyes. But, they couldn't see. It was truly a waste. But, such things often happen with adults. Wouldn't you agree?

15. We must turn away from being like that and to ourselves in our better natures. We are invited to the house of prayer. Now, here we are surrounding the Lord's Table. Here we have an invitation filled with God's mercy. Here we have the salvation which Jesus gave us after he was crucified. We must turn our eyes in that direction. The problem does not lie on the outside of us. The problem, as always, lies in the relationship between us and God. Let's turn our thoughts in the direction which the children, [when] they were on the temple grounds, were looking!

End Notes:

* エルサレムへと Jerusalem is the direction they are heading towards. エルサレムへ Jerusalem is the goal they are heading to.