Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 21:14-17

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 infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

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Last week’s entry — ‘Jesus cleanses the temple’ — discussed how He restored His Father’s house to its rightful place of honour and worship by purging it of sin, specifically deception and greed.

There is a place for a consecrated building to be designated as God’s house. Whilst we are God’s people because we love and worship His Son Jesus Christ, let no one convince us that there is no place for a church building. Over the past decade, if not longer, increasing numbers of clergy have been saying that a structure is unimportant. In the short term, where there is a new church plant, it’s understandable. Looking towards the long term, however, a congregation should be saving money and raising funds for a church building.

If a building dedicated to worship were that negligible, Jesus never would have bothered to cleanse the temple. He could have simply said that the temple was man-made and flawed by definition, therefore, it had nothing to do with Him or God. As it was, He reminded the swindlers that God called the temple ‘My house’.

Today’s verses complete the story. What is particularly striking is that no sooner did Jesus purge the temple of sin than He went on to glorify God through healing the blind and the lame, restoring them to full health immediately (verse 14).

He would be hanging agonisingly on a cross within a few days, yet He reached out to the infirm for one last time. His compassion and love know no bounds.

Matthew Henry has a beautiful analysis, wherein he says that Jesus also granted them spiritual health. How much more proof of His divinity could He give? Emphases mine below:

When he had driven the buyers and sellers out of the temple, he invited the blind and lame into it for he fills the hungry with good things, but the rich he sends empty away. Christ, in the temple, by his word there preached, and in answer to the prayers there made, heals those that are spiritually blind and lame. It is good coming to the temple, when Christ is there, who, as he shows himself jealous for the honour of his temple, in expelling those who profane it, so he shows himself gracious to those who humbly seek him. The blind and the lame were debarred David’s palace (2 Samuel 5:8), but were admitted into God’s house for the state and honour of his temple lie not in those things wherein the magnificence of princes’ palaces is supposed to consist from them blind and lame must keep their distance, but from God’s temple only the wicked and profane. The temple was profane and abused when it was made a market-place, but it was graced and honoured when it was made an hospital to be doing good in God’s, is more honourable, and better becomes it, than to be getting money there. Christ’s healing was a real answer to that question, Who is this? His works testified of him more than the hosannas and his healing in the temple was the fulfilling of the promise, that the glory of the latter house should be greater than the glory of the former.

While the children nearby rejoiced in the most glorifying of ways, the chief priests and scribes became angry (verse 15). Of these men, Henry observes:

Proud men cannot bear that honour should be done to any but to themselves, and are uneasy at nothing more than at the just praises of deserving men … When Christ is most honoured, his enemies are most displeased.

He explains their indignation:

They were inwardly vexed at the wonderful things that he did[;] they could not deny them to be true miracles, and therefore were cut to the heart with indignation at them, as Acts 4:16,5:33. The works that Christ did, recommended themselves to every man’s conscience. If they had any sense, they could not but own the miracle of them and if any good nature, could not but be in love with the mercy of them: yet, because they were resolved to oppose him, for these they envied him, and bore him a grudge.

We might well wonder if the children fully understood why they sang hosannas and referred to Jesus as the Son of David.

John MacArthur reminds us that this event came shortly after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, so the children might have been repeating what they had heard then or afterwards:

… we don’t know really how perceptive they were. I’m sure they were perceptive enough to see that He had healed people and that’s pretty overwhelming. You say, “Well, where did they get the idea that He was the Son of David?” Hey, what had been going on all day the day before? And kids learn from their parents, they were just echoing what they heard the day before only it was no problem for them, boy, it seemed really clear now. Mom and dad yesterday had been shouting hosanna to the Son of David, the one coming in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest. They had been praising Him as the King. And as far as these kids could see, it was pretty clear that that’s who He was.

Henry is of the same perspective and adds this practical application by way of warning:

Little children say and do as they hear others say, and see others do so easily do they imitate and therefore great care must be taken to set them good examples, and no bad ones. Maxima debetur puero reverentia–Our intercourse with the young should be conducted with the most scrupulous care. Children will learn of those that are with them, either to curse and swear, or to pray and praise.

Henry goes a step further than MacArthur in saying that the children were divinely inspired:

The Jews did betimes teach their children to carry branches at the feast of tabernacles, and to cry Hosanna but God taught them here to apply it to Christ.

That’s a beautiful thought.

Furious, the chief priests and scribes asked Jesus if He had heard what they were saying? In response, Jesus simply cited Psalm 8:2, the source of the centuries-old saying, ‘Out of the mouths of babes’, indicating profound truth emanating from a blameless innocent who does not understand what he is saying:

Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

What a perfect response to the imperfect souls of the hierarchy!

MacArthur says that the idea here was that God would elicit praise for His Son, and if adults wouldn’t justly do it, children would:

God is going to get His praise to His Son, even if the stones have to cry out, as Luke 19:40 said. Like the stones, Christ is to be praised. Like the children, Christ is to be praised. Like people, they are to praise Him as well. He will get the praise either from mature people or infants or rocks if need be. He just alludes to that Psalm as an illustration of what is happening. And I say that so that you’ll understand it isn’t to say that these were zero to three-year-old babies all chanting together, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” But rather an allusion to that principle there.

With that citation, Jesus left the heartless hierarchy standing there. It is also possible that He did not wish to be in their presence lest they seize Him before time. He made His way towards Bethany (verse 18), which, as Henry says, was but a short distance away:

He left them, in prudence, lest they should now have seized him before his hour was come in justice, because they had forfeited the favour of his presence. By repining at Christ’s praises we drive him from us. He left them as incorrigible, and he went out of the city to Bethany, which was a more quiet retired place not so much that he might sleep undisturbed as that he might pray undisturbed. Bethany was but two little miles from Jerusalem thither he went on foot, to show that, when he rode, it was only to fulfil the scripture. He was not lifted up with the hosannas of the people but, as having forgot them, soon returned to his mean and toilsome way of travelling.

Jesus’s good friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus — whom He had recently resurrected — lived in Bethany. Scripture does not tell us, but their house might have been a haven of peace and prayer for Him. They would have rejoiced at having Him as a houseguest.

Next time: Matthew 21:18-22

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