“And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple and he healed them. 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 … Jesus said to them, …have you never read, “’Out of the mouths of infants … you have prepared praise?’”
Nothing in the Gospel of Matthew is put down randomly. We have noticed that many times already. Now we have two further examples. If religion is not buying and selling – if it is not the thriving religious establishments of the Jewish past or the evangelical present – then what is it? We can hardly miss the answer Matthew gives. He says here that it is two things.
The care of the needy. This is why he records that although Jesus had driven the changers of money and the sellers of animals from the temple, he welcomed “the blind and the lame” who came to him “at the temple” and that he healed them (v.14). Matthew is the only Gospel writer to record this. Making the same point in the next chapter, Jesus tells a story about a king whose wedding banquet was ignored by the important people of the day but was attended by people collected from the streets (Mt.22.8-10). The point is that many who seem to be religious do not get into the kingdom but that the needy come and do get in. We need to seek out and help such people.
James, the Lord’s brother, made the point like this: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1.27).
Most Jewish authorities of Christ’s day forbade the lame, blind, deaf, or otherwise handicapped people from offering sacrifices at the temple, a ruling based on II Samuel 5.8. But here, in striking reversal, the handicapped come to Jesus and are healed by him!
The praise of children. The second answer Matthew gives to the nature of true religion is the praise of Jesus by the children. We can understand how this must have happened on the natural level. When the crowd accompanied Jesus into the temple the day before this, children would have been among them. They would have heard the praises of the people recorded in verse 9 (“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”). On the following day they would have been in the temple complex and quite naturally would have begun to repeat what they had heard the adults say earlier (v.15).
But there is more here than this. On two earlier occasions Jesus used children to illustrate the kind of humility and faith every person must have if he or she is to become a member of Christ’s kingdom. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said (Mt.18.3). Again, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt.19.14). When we remember this, we cannot miss seeing that what we are given in chapter 21 is a picture of what is required. What is needed, the religion God accepts, is not the religion of commercial success or captivating enterprise but of humble, genuine praise of Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior.
What a contrast! Jesus is praised by children, but the chief priests and teachers of the law, who should have been leading that worship, were indignant. They may have had religious objections, of course – “shouting” in the temple area may have seemed irreverent – but what they really hated was that Jesus had gotten the people’s attention and that He, rather than accepting and promoting their commercial interests, had upset them.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked.
Jesus had, of course, and His reply was brilliant as always. He quoted from Psalm 8. “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” The answer did three things: (1) It provided a biblical basis for Jesus’ refusal to silence the children; (2) it was a claim to deity, since the words of the psalm are praise directed to God; and (3) it reminded everyone that it is only those who are willing to become like children who perceive the truth about Jesus and are saved.
When Jesus comes to His temple, what He offers is Himself, not a pattern for success. If we believe on Him, we pass from death to life and become citizens of His kingdom. If we will not have Him, what happens is what we discover ominously in verse 17: “He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.” Jesus did this every night, retiring to Bethany, where He and His disciples were staying. But Matthew’s words mean more than this. They warn of a final withdrawal by that One whom even many religious people reject. If you will not have Jesus, He will go. But when He does, life, light, and the only hope of salvation go with Him.
The Western world has become post-Christian, with large numbers of people born in the last forty years rejecting religious faith. Christians must challenge the lies wherever they are found. Rod Dreher states it concisely when he writes that, “We [Christians] cannot hope to resist the coming soft totalitarianism if we do not have our spiritual lives together.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn believed that what created and sustains communism is spiritual.
Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Pastor Steve can be reached at PastorSteve@MaranathaBibleChurch.org