1. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-17
1 And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If any one says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon. 8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”
12 And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, `My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.” 14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant; 16 and they 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 babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?” 17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.
Does the King of glory find a welcome entry in your heart and home? Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing full well what awaited him – betrayal, rejection, and crucifixion. The people of Jerusalem, however, were ready to hail him as their Messianic King! Little did they know what it would cost this king to usher in his kingdom.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem astride a colt was a direct fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, and riding on an ass and upon a colt the foal of an ass. – Zechariah 9:9
The colt was a sign of peace. Jesus enters Jerusalem in meekness and humility, as the Messianic King who brings victory and peace to his people. That victory and peace would be secured in the cross and resurrection which would take place in a matter of days at the time of Passover.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), comments on the significance of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem:
“The master of humility is Christ who humbled himself and became obedient even to death, even the death of the cross. Thus he does not lose his divinity when he teaches us humility… What great thing was it to the king of the ages to become the king of humanity? For Christ was not the king of Israel so that he might exact a tax or equip an army with weaponry and visibly vanquish an enemy. He was the king of Israel in that he rules minds, in that he gives counsel for eternity, in that he leads into the kingdom of heaven for those who believe, hope, and love. It is a condescension, not an advancement for one who is the Son of God, equal to the Father, the Word through whom all things were made, to become king of Israel. It is an indication of pity, not an increase in power.” [Tractates on John 51.3-4]
Psalm 24 is another prophetic passage which echoes this triumphal procession of the King of glory:
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. – Psalm 24:9
Jesus Christ came to bring us the kingdom of God. He is the true King who offers peace, joy, and everlasting life for those who accept his kingship. Do you give the Lord Jesus full reign in your heart and in your home? And do your walls echo with the praise of his glory?
Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple was seen by his disciples as a prophetic sign of God’s action. The temple was understood as the dwelling place of God among his people. When God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt, he brought them through the sea, and finally to Mount Sinai where he made a covenant with them and gave them a new way of life embodied in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). God gave Moses instruction for worship and for making the Tabernacle, or tent of meeting, which was later replaced by the temple. The New Testament tells us that these “serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary” – God’s Temple in heaven (Hebrews 8:5).
Jesus referred to the temple as his Father’s house which was being made into “house of trade” (John 2:16) or “den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17). That is why he used physical force to expel the money-chargers. The prophecy of Malachi foretold the coming of the Lord unexpectedly to his Temple to “purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord” (Malachi3:1-4). His act of judgment in the temple is meant to be a prophetic sign and warning to the people that God takes our worship very seriously.
In this incident we see Jesus’ startling and swift action in cleansing the temple of those who were using it to exploit the worshipers of God. The money changers took advantage of the poor and forced them to pay many times more than was right— in the house of the Lord no less! Their robbery of the poor was not only dishonoring to God but unjust toward their neighbor. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple is also a prophetic sign of what he wants to do with each of us. He ever seeks to cleanse us of sin and make us living temples of his Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). Do you thirst for more of God’s grace and way of holy living for him?
“Lord Jesus, be the King and Ruler of my heart, mind, life, and home. May my life reflect your meekness and humility that you may be honored as the King of glory!”
2. Lesson of the barren fig tree
Scripture: Matthew 21:18-22
18 In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he was hungry. 19 And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. 20 When the disciples saw it they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” 21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Meditation: Why did Jesus curse a fig tree? Fig trees were a common and important source of food for the Jews. Bad figs or a decaying fig tree was linked with evil deeds and spiritual decay. The unfruitful fig tree symbolized the outcome of Israel’s unresponsiveness to the word of God. The prophets depicted the languishing fig tree as signifying the desolation and calamity of Israel due to her unfaithfulness to God (see Joel 1:7,12; Habakuk 3:17; and Jeremiah 8:13). The history of Israel is one long preparation for the coming of the Promised One. But the promise is unfulfilled in those who reject Jesus through unbelief. (See also Jesus’ parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13:6-9). Jesus’ cursing of a fig tree is a prophetic action against the faithlessness of those who rejected his message. For faith to be fruitful and productive, it must be nourished with the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16; Col. 3:16) and be rooted in love (Galatians 5:6).
After this incident Jesus exhorts his disciples to “have faith in God”. They are to pray with expectant faith no matter how difficult the situation may be. The phrase “to remove mountains” was a common Jewish expression for removing difficulties. A wise teacher who could solve difficulties was called a “mountain remover”. If we pray with faith God will give us the means to overcome difficulties and obstacles. If we want God to hear our prayers we must forgive those who wrong us as God has forgiven us. Do you pray with expectant faith?
“Lord increase my faith and make my life more fruitful and effective in serving you. Help me to forgive others just as you have been merciful and forgiving towards me”
3. Jesus’ authority questioned
Scripture: Matthew 21:23-27
23 And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24 Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. 25 The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, `From heaven,’ he will say to us, `Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, `From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Are you willing to take a stand for the truth, even when it costs? Or do you look for the safe way out? Jesus told his disciples that the truth would make them free (John 8:32).
Why were the religious leaders opposed to Jesus’ and evasive with the truth? Did they fear the praise of their friends and neighbors more than the praise of God for those who stand up to his truth? The coming of God’s kingdom or reign on the earth will inevitably produce conflict – a conflict of allegiance to God’s will or my will, God’s way of love and justice or the world’s way of playing fair, God’s standard of absolute moral truth or truth relative to what I want to believe is good and useful for the time being.
Why did the religious leaders oppose Jesus and reject his claim to divine authority? Their view of religion did not match with God’s word because their hearts were set on personal gain rather than truth and submission to God’s plan and design for their lives. They openly questioned Jesus to discredit his claim to be the Messiah. If Jesus says his authority is divine they will charge him with blasphemy. If he has done this on his own authority they might well arrest him as a mad zealot before he could do more damage.
Jesus, seeing through their trap, poses a question to them and makes their answer a condition for his answer. Did they accept the work of John the Baptist as divine or human? If they accepted John’s work as divine, they would be compelled to accept Jesus as the Messiah. They dodged the question because they were unwilling to face the truth. They did not accept the Baptist and they would not accept Jesus as their Messiah. Do you know the joy and freedom of living according to God’s truth?
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Let your light shine in my heart and mind that I may know your truth and will for my life and find freedom and joy in living according to it.”
4. Jesus anointed at Bethany
Scripture: Matthew 26:1-13
1 When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, 2 “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of man will be delivered up to be crucified.” 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 and took counsel together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. 5 But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult among the people.” 6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Meditation: The Feast of Passover was a time of great anticipation for the Jewish people. Emotions ran high as people recalled the history of their ancestors’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. For weeks leading up to the feast intense preparations were made. The Roman authorities sent extra forces to Jerusalem to deal with potential disturbances and uprisings. It was Jewish belief that the Messiah would come at Passover time to deliver his people from oppression. Jesus’ enemies were expecting him to make his appearance into Jerusalem and they were hoping to arrest him before he had the chance to incite the crowds to make him their Messiah and King.
As Jesus makes his way towards Jerusalem for what he knows will be his last Passover celebration with his disciples, he stops in the village of Bethany where he is invited to dinner by a well-to-do host named Simon. Mark (14:1-11) and John (12:1-8) recount this story as well, and Luke tells us that Simon was a Pharisee. In Luke’s account (7:36-50) we are told that Simon did not treat Jesus with the normal courtesy given to guests, such as washing their feet and anointing their head before they reclined at table. Why did Simon invite him to dinner and then neglect to give him the customary signs of respect and honor? Simon was very likely a collector of celebrities. He patronized Jesus because of his popularity with the crowds.
When a woman interrupts the meal to anoint Jesus’s feet, she causes a scene and provokes Simon’s company to criticize her action. Why did this woman approach Jesus and anoint him at the risk of ridicule and abuse by others? Her action was motivated by one thing, and one thing only, namely, her love for Jesus. She was oblivious to all around her, except for Jesus. She also did something which only love can do. She took the most precious thing she had and spent it all on Jesus. She didn’t just pour a few drops of ointment on Jesus. She poured out all the contents! Her love was not calculated but extravagant.
The perfume she anointed Jesus with was a very precious ointment made from a rare plant in faraway India. This ointment was often used for anointing the body at burial. It was very expensive, almost a year’s wages for an ordinary worker. In a spirit of gratitude and with intense love, this woman lavishly served the one who showed her the mercy and kindness of God. John’s Gospel tells us that this woman was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, close friends of Jesus. Since Jesus was passing through her neighborhood she lost no time to show him a spontaneous act of love and gratitude.
Why did Simon’s company view this woman’s act as extravagant wastefulness? They were greedy. A person views things according to what is inside the heart or soul. Jesus remarked that this woman had done a lovely deed. We can never outmatch God in showing kindness and generosity. The greatest proof of his love for us is the willing offer of his only begotten Son who poured out his blood upon the cross for our sins. Are you ready to pour out your love upon the One who offered up his life without reserve for your sake?
“Lord Jesus, your grace is sufficient for me. Fill my heart with generous love and gratitude for the mercy you have shown to me, and give me joy and freedom in serving others as you have taught.”
5. Judas decides to betray Jesus
Scripture: Matthew 26:14-25
14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. 17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.'” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover. 20 When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; 21 and as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. 24 The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Meditation: Why did Judas betray his Master? Was his treachery motivated by greed, bitter disappointment with Jesus, or hatred because of disillusionment? It may be that Judas never intended for his Master to die. Maybe he thought Jesus was proceeding too slowly and not acting aggressively enough in setting up his messianic kingdom. Perhaps Judas wanted to force Jesus’ hand by compelling him to act. Nonetheless, his tragedy was his refusal to accept Jesus as he was. Aren’t we tempted to use God for our own purposes? It is not God who must change, but we must be changed by him. Jesus knew beforehand what would befall him.
As Jesus ate the passover meal with his twelve apostles, he put them under trial and suspicion (“one of you will betray me”). He wanted to teach them to examine themselves rightly, lest they be high-minded and think themselves more strong than they were. We, also must examine ourselves in the light of God’s truth and grace and ask him to strengthen us in faith, hope, and love that we may not fail him or forsake him when we are tempted. Do you pray with confidence in the words Jesus gave us to petition our Father in heaven: Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil?
Every male Jew, who was of age and lived within 15 miles of Jerusalem, was bound to celebrate Passover every year in Jerusalem. This annual feast commemorated the deliverance of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 12). On that night the angel of death slew the first-born of the Egyptians; but he “passed over” the homes of the Israelites, because the lintel of their doors was smeared with the blood of an unblemished lamb sacrificed for the occasion.
It was at Passover time that Jesus came to Jerusalem knowing he would be betrayed and put to death as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus fulfilled the Passover of the Old Covenant. His death and resurrection, which occurred at Passover time, redeems us from our bondage to sin, Satan, and death. His blood, like the blood of the first Passover lamb, protects God’s people from the angel of death and breaks the oppressive rule of Satan. Our celebration of Easter is the Christian Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). Do you celebrate the Passover with sincerity and truth (see 1 Corinthians 5:7-8)?
“God our Father, we are exceedingly frail and indisposed to every virtuous and gallant undertaking. Strengthen our weakness, we beseech you, that we may do valiantly in this spiritual war; help us against our own negligence and cowardice, and defend us from the treachery of our unfaithful hearts; for Jesus Christ’s sake.”(Prayer of Thomas a Kempis)
Top image of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, watercolor illustration by James Tissot, image in the public domain. See The Life of Christ Illustrated by James Tissot: An Artist with a Burning Compulsion to Paint the Narrative Story of the Bible.