The Son of David and His Donkey

As the Gospel describes the entry of the King into Jerusalem, why does Matthew 21:1–11 focus so much on the donkey that Jesus rides?

Worship your humble King. The crowds herald the Son of David as King. Jesus is arriving at Jerusalem. The remainder of the Gospel is concerned with the final week of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus and his disciples enter Jerusalem along with the crowds coming to celebrate the Passover. The need for secrecy is gone, and Jesus allows the crowds to hail him as the Messiah. The confrontation with the leaders of Israel will take place, and will culminate in the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus. Crowds (plural) join in hailing Jesus as the Messiah. The acclimation, “Son of David” identifies Jesus as the Messiah. “Of greater significance perhaps is [Matthew’s] report of the employment of this title [‘Son of David’] in the acclimation which Jesus received as he entered Jerusalem, which may be compared with the records of the other synoptists [Mt. 21:9, 15; Mk. 11:9f.; Lk. 19:38]. In all these reports there is the same expectation of the messianic kingdom and of the coming king, and Mark as well as Matthew recalls the promise made to David, but only Matthew’s quotation centers attention explicitly on Christ as Son of David.” (Ned B. Stonehouse, The Witness of Matthew and Mark to Christ, pages 223–224) The very route that Jesus takes into Jerusalem retraces a path, walked the other direction, by his ancestor: 2 Samuel 15:23, 30. Hosanna (literally “save now”) became not only a prayer, but a shout of praise. The blessing upon the one coming in the name of the Lord is taken from Psalm 118, a Psalm used in connection with the Passover celebration. The crowds have their own notion of who the Messiah is and of what he came to do. The palm branches and carpeting of cloaks, along with the shouts, indicate the presence of a king. The crowds welcome Jesus, but have little time for him as the Christ. The Galilean pilgrims identify him a prophet from Nazareth. They are concerned that shouts of praise be sounded in the heavenlies, but they pay scant attention to what he would really do on earth.

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Forecasts, Signs, and Faith

How good are you at forecasting the weather? Better than the weather person on the news? In Matthew 16:1–12 Jesus talks about recognizing weather patterns as he is challenged to produce a sign. But he goes on to rebuke his disciples for their lack of faith and to warn them against what he calls the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. What does he mean by yeast, and does it still threaten the church?

Don’t demand signs. Demanding signs betrays a wicked heart. The Pharisees and Sadducees, though usually opposed to each other, came together to test Jesus by demanding a sign from heaven. They could not have been unaware of the many miracles performed by Jesus. But these were earthly miracles. Did they want some powerful sign from heaven, a plague of darkness, the sun and moon to stand still, a hailstorm to drive out their enemies? Even when Jesus cast out an evil spirit, they attributed the miracle to the power of Beelzebub! Matthew 12:24. Their motivation is clearly not to seek an aid to faith, rather, they are trying to put Jesus on the spot, to embarrass him. Although they could forecast the weather, they ignored the presence of the Messiah, the greatest sign that God could give. (The reference to the weather is not included in some old copies of this Gospel, but is probably original.) The “signs of the times” is not primarily a reference to the details surrounding the second coming of Christ, but rather to what should have been obvious—his first coming, the presence of the Messiah in their midst. Their forefathers, as Zephaniah points out, had longed for the day of the Lord, anticipating God’s judgment on his and their enemies, but not realized that they too fell under condemnation. So these people refused to recognize the reality of God’s presence. Their problem lay not in a weak faith, but in unbelieving and rebellious hearts. Jesus, using strong language, calls them “a wicked and adulterous generation.”

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Glorify the God of Israel

Why are you in church today? To learn something about God? To have fellowship with his people?

To grow in your sanctification? All are good reasons, but they fall short of the most basic one. We meet together to worship God and to glorify him. That is the reaction to Jesus by the 4,000 in Matthew 15:29–39 — they glorify the God of Israel.

Reflect the compassion Jesus shows. The compassion of Jesus is seen in his miracles. The setting is apparently the predominately Gentile area to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Note the reference to “the God of Israel,” and also Mark’s more specific geographic location, Mark 7:31. Jesus healed the multitudes. Jesus’ compassion is particularly evident in his concern for the hungry crowd. This miracle is distinct from the feeding of the 5,000, Matthew 14:13–21. Consider why Jesus performs this second, similar miracle.

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Lost Sheep, Pet Dogs, and Children

You think of Jesus, appropriately, as compassionate. Why then, as Matthew 15:21–28 records, when a woman is crying to him desperately for healing for her daughter, does Jesus first remain silent, and then tell her that it’s not right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs? It seems out of character.

Jesus came as the shepherd of the lost sheep of Israel. A Canaanite woman pleads for mercy. Jesus may well have been avoiding the crowds of Israel. He had withdrawn with his disciples after John’s death (Matthew 14:12), only to be followed by the crowds, whom he healed and fed. The withdrawal may also have defused and postponed confrontations with the Pharisees and other leaders of Israel (Matthew 15:1; 16:1), because his time had not yet come. In any case, Jesus is outside the bounds of Israel, in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, in relative seclusion with his disciples. The Canaanite persistently cries out for mercy. Matthew (a Jew, and writing his Gospel originally for fellow Israelites) significantly identifies her as a Canaanite, a descendant of the original inhabitants of the land, whom the Israelites had only partially removed from the promised land. She is not one of the covenant people. She addresses Jesus respectfully, and by his messianic title as “Son of David.” Her concern is for her daughter,who suffers from demon-possession. Her persistent cries result in the disciples asking Jesus to send her away, possibly implying that he ought to grant her request in order to dismiss her.

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