When was the last time you couldn’t wait for something to happen? During the summer of 2020, my wife, Sierra, and I could not wait to meet our baby. Sierra was pregnant and our due date was August 4th. Every day in the months leading up to that due date, Sierra and I prepared. We read books and listened to podcasts and YouTubers, soaking up all we could about the birth process. We watched videos on infant CPR and prepared for emergency situations. We walked every day for 3 miles to get fresh air during COVID and stretch our muscles. We did prenatal yoga almost every day. We were ready.
So August 4th, that big day we had prepared for, came and went, and we were still waiting. Then August 5th came, and went, no baby. Then the 6th, the 7th … each day we woke up wondering, is today the day? Is today the day we’ve prepared for nine months? The days were long. We were exhausted from the mere anticipation of meeting our baby girl. When would our preparation finally be put to use?
Finally, on August 14th, at 6am Sierra’s water broke, and eight hours later we welcomed our little girl into the world, a moment that was worth ALL the waiting and then some.
In our passage today, Israel has been waiting. They are occupied by Rome and they have been waiting for the Messiah, their King, to come who would free them and restore Israel to its former glory and power. And all eyes are on Jesus. Jesus has just come to Jerusalem as King. There’s been a parade to welcome Jesus as he enters the city, which we remember on Palm Sunday. Jesus has come in the name of the Lord, the Son of David, the One to fulfill prophecy and liberate Israel. He has come to make Israel great again. It’s safe to say that expectations are high. When will the revolution begin?
While they wait in thick anticipation to see how it will all go down, Jesus’ first stop is at the temple.
(Read Matt. 21:12-13)
The Temple Is a Place of Exploitation and Exclusion
So what’s going on? Growing up in the church, I always heard this passage and the image of Jesus in the temple flipping tables as a story of the greed of the Jewish leaders. The Pharisees in the temple of God had turned religion into a means for money. There’s some truth to that, but there’s more nuance here. Our passage gives us a couple clues as to why Jesus is upset.
There’s a couple reasons. The first is exploitation.
The passage mentions those selling pigeons, or doves. This is importantbecause in the sacrificial system of the temple, doves were to be made available for those whocould not afford a lamb fortheir sacrifice. Leviticus lays out that “Anyone who cannot afford a is to bring two doves or two youngpigeons to the Lord as a penalty for their sin.” So, Jesus is not just upset at the general greed happening in the temple, Jesus isupset because they are EXPLOITING the poor.
The second reasonJesus is upset is exclusion. Jesus quotes the prophets: “My house will be called a house of prayer.” Here,hequotesIsaiah speakingof thetemple asa placefor ALLnationstocome toGod. It is aglorious vision ofall peoples to worshipGod at the templewithout exclusion.
Instead of that glorious picture, Jesus quotes Jeremiah, sayingthatthey have turned the temple into a den of robbers. The leaders of the temple have turned the place that is supposed to welcome people of allnations,bothJewandGentile, andturnedit intoamafia-like stronghold. It’s even theorized that the money changers are set up in theGentile courts of the temple, taking up space supposed to be for Gentiles to worship.
(Read Matt. 21:14-17)
A True House of Prayer
Jesus shows us what a true “house of prayer” looks like. He embraces the marginalized. Jesus invites the blind and the lame into the temple. These people who were outcasts of society, shunned, and cast aside, thought of as demon possessed. These people were historically excluded, unclean, and banned, from the temple of God. Here, Jesus welcomes them and shows his power. I can only imagine the overwhelming awe, wonder, and joy of each of these people coming to Jesus.
Can you imagine? A woman with the broken ankle who can never get where sheneeds to go. The young man with the twisted knee who was never able to run with his friends. The child who has yet to lay eyes on his parents or his loved ones.Eachof these, Jesuswelcomes into theholy temple and restores!
As all this goes down, we’re told there’s a soundtrack in the background. You know how in the movie Black Panther, the scenes are made way cooler with the Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack in the background? Here, it’s the children giving us the soundtrack! This soundtrack explains the whole scene for us. The chorus goes: Hosanna to the son of David!
This is important! Prophecies throughout the centuries told of a descendant of David who would come back to make things right and to sit on the throne of King David. So as the children shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” their soundtrack explains our scene today: THE KING HAS RETURNED!
The King Has Returned
The King long awaited has returned. It is not the King we thought we wanted, the one who gathers the strong and the brave to stage a revolution, the one that they’ve been waiting for. Instead, it’s the King who returns to his temple to stop exploitation, to stop exclusion, to remove barriers to the God of Israel. Jesus comes and welcomes the marginalized and receives the praise of babes. It’s a powerful scene. It’s the return of the King. Jesus is the king we’ve been looking for.
How does this fit in 2021? We aren’t coming into this season of Lent in a vacuum. It has been over a year of challenges, hardships, and grief. It certainly hasn’t felt like Jesus is on the throne. So where does this fit? It is precisely in the challenges of our day that Jesus’ kingship is good news. I’ll give us two reasons why this truth that Jesus’ Kingship matters for us today.
The King Judges
Judgment is often seen as a scary thing, as though we are going to be punished by our God for all of our wrongdoings. A divine timeout. But our passage shows us that Jesus’ judgments are a GOOD thing! In the Greek, judgment/righteousness are actually the same word—it gives a sense of making things right.
Isn’t that what we want? It’s clearer than ever before that things are not right. Covid has exposed the systemic inequity our country faces. Neglect of the least among us has been done by those who call themselves Christian. A “Jesus 2020” banner is displayed as the Capitol was sieged by insurrectionists. Barriers to worship our God have never been higher.
Jesus meets us in these broken places, these inequities, and he makes them right.
Abraham Heschel, late Rabbi and co-runner with MLK Jr. in the Civil Rights Movement, says this, “Justice is not an added attribute to [God’s] essence, but given with the very thought of God. It is inherent in His essence and identified with his ways.” Justice is identified with the ways of Jesus. It is not just something he does, it is a part of who he is. Jesus fights for those excluded and exploited amongst us. Jesus helps the vulnerable amongst us. We get to participate in the work of the just King.
What comes with justice is healing. In our passage today, we see Jesus healing people. This is one of the signs that he is the true king.
During the summer of 2020, while my wife and I were waiting and preparing for the arrival of our baby girl, one of the ways that I passed the time was by reading The Lord of the Rings. Now I had seen the movies before but there was something so amazing about reading these stories.
In this book, there’s this fellowship of people whose job it is to destroy an evil ring and fight the armies of evil along the way. One of these characters, Aragorn, is a man who is the rightful heir to the throne of men in a place called Gondor but has been far away surviving and protecting other lands. Right after the battles that happen in the final scenes of the book, we see the tents where all the wounded and sick are. They are filled and overwhelmed so that the healers cannot tend to them all. In the chaos, one of the healing wives says this, “For it is said in old lore: The hands of a king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.”
Of course, as he returns from battle, Aragorn the rightful king returns to the city and reveals himself to be the true king by healing those who were wounded in battle, bringing back people who were near death to full health.
The hands of a king are the hands of a healer. Jesus is the king we have been waiting for and therefore the healer we have been waiting for.
Jesus can heal us from disease and disability. He can heal us from the deep trauma we have experienced. He can heal us from the mental distress and anxiety that presses upon us each day. Jesus the King heals.
The King judges and the King heals. Where does that leave us?
I believe our passage gives us an invitation today to respond in worship, to join with the children’s soundtrack in the temple singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And as we do so, we acknowledge our King, the One who makes all things right and the one who heals.
Jesus quotes Psalm 8, which says, “Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.” Guess what? I have a nursing baby at home, and even though she can’t speak a word, she knows how to communicate praise and wonder to our God! Every time we go out for a walk, she notices the beauty of creation and awes and coos at the contrast of the trees or the colorful sunsets.
Jesus doesn’t need eloquent words or elaborate demonstrations of praise. We can join with the praises of the most vulnerable and helpless among us as we praise the name of the only true King! Because Jesus is the King we’ve been looking for.
Luke Thoreson worked as an immigration paralegal for a few years before the Lord called him to Gordon-Conwell to pursue pastoral ministry.