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Jesus and the Hypocrite | Matthew 21-23

As preached by Zach Thompson.

1) Jesus is the Promised Messiah–King, Prophet, and Priest (21:1-17).

2) Hypocrites reject Jesus and earn condemnation (21:18-23:36).

3) Jesus weeps over those who reject him.

Matthew 21-23

Good morning Christ Fellowship! 

If you haven’t already turned there, go ahead and turn to Matthew 21. For our public reading today, we’ll read from chapter 21:1-17, then we’ll turn to Matthew 23:37-24:2.

If you are able, please stand in honor of the reading of God’s word. 

Matthew 21:1-17 

“Now 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 in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.' 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 

            5       “Say to the daughter of Zion, 

                  ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, 

      humble, and mounted on a donkey, 

      on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks 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 were shouting, “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, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” 

12 And Jesus entered the temple 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 infants and nursing babies, 

      you have prepared praise?' ” 

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

Let’s Pray. 

I grew up in middle Tennessee in a house that was built in 1981, and it was right across the street from our church. But the home I grew up in wasn’t the first structure on the property. 

Before our home was there, there was a historic Civil War Boarding house in the same spot. 

Now, I’m pretty sure this story is true. The old boarding house was the property of our church, and anything that happened to it required a vote. Winter was coming, and they knew that they needed to get started on the construction if they weren’t going to be seriously delayed. The plan was to tear down the boarding house and build what is now our house from the same materials.

They tried to get a member’s meeting scheduled so that they could get a final vote to tear down the boarding house, but they couldn’t get one scheduled on the timeline that they needed. Well, the deacons already knew where everyone would probably land on the vote, so they went ahead and started demolition. Just to try and keep on schedule. I’m not sure how this happened, but by Sunday evening when they had a members meeting to vote on whether to tear down the boarding house, there was nothing left of the house except for the front and side walls. Even the back wall of the home had been torn off. The property was literally across the street from the church building, so everyone could see it. But from the front, it looked just fine. Curtains on the interior windows so that you couldn’t see the yard through the massive hole in the back of the building. 

Thank goodness the vote passed. And my home was built. 

Our text today addresses hypocrisy. And this is where I want to start today. 

How many of us here this morning have shaped our hearts to be just like that house? We keep the front nice and clean so that no one outside will think less of us, but behind the shades, we are in shambles. And we just hope that no one will get too close or ask too many questions. 

Throughout our text today, Jesus is speaking to religious insiders. He is talking to people who look the part – people who are deeply religious – or at least people who look deeply religious. 

For all of us, no matter who we are, the call of our text is that we would come to Jesus in our need and accept him as the Promised Messiah who freely gives grace to all who come to him.

So let's start with a quick exhortation to you. Hypocrites love to point out the speck in other people’s eyes, and there is a place for that. But as we look over this text today, make your first consideration your own heart. 

  1. Jesus is the Promised Messiah–King, Prophet, and Priest (21:1-17).

These are offices that Jesus fulfills as the Christ–the Messiah. And most people at that time would have recognized the Messiah as identifying with at least one of these, and depending on who you were talking to, maybe two or even all three. 

But everything that Jesus does in these verses is in fulfillment of these realities. 

I know the order probably feels weird at this point because we usually say it in a different order, but I ordered it as King, Prophet, or Priest because that’s the order that shows up in the text. 

First, in verses 1-9, Jesus enters the city as a king.

In what seems like a strange move Jesus makes special arrangements so that he can ride a donkey into the city, but he does this to fulfill what scripture says about the Messiah. Matthew quotes Zechariah 9:9 to draw our attention to this. Look in verse 5. 

      Behold, your king is coming to you, 

      humble, and mounted on a donkey, 

      on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ” 

Jesus wasn’t riding to war on a horse. He was riding into the city where his throne should be. It’s supposed to call our minds back to King David in 2 Samuel 19-20. Those chapters happen after David’s son Absalom betrays him and tries to take over the kingdom, Absalom is defeated by David’s army, and David is broken for his son because he died. And as David approaches Jerusalem, you expect him to destroy everyone who betrayed him because the city was full of traitors who got behind Absalom as soon as he came into power. And people keep coming out of the city to meet him, and again and again, David responds with mercy and forgiveness when everyone knows that they already stand condemned. They deserve death.

He approaches with meekness and forgiveness. 

And the crowds know that Jesus is leaning into his identity as the Messiah. That’s why they cry out a quote from Psalm 118. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

Now if you go back to Psalm 118, you won’t see the word Hosanna there. And that’s because it’s translated to its actual meaning. In its original context, the word Hosanna is a plea. “Save us!” That’s what it says in Psalm 118. “Save us, O Lord!”

Jesus was the better king. 

Then in verses 10-11, the crowds rightly identify him as a prophet. We aren’t going to spend too much time on this because the text doesn’t. But we don’t have to stretch too far to say that they suspected that Jesus might have been the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses that the Lord would send a prophet like him from their brothers (Dt.18 & 34). 

Then in verses 12-17, we see Jesus operating as the better priest. When Jesus cleanses the temple, he is protecting the temple in the way that priests always should have. In 21:13, He quotes Jeremiah 7 when he says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” That’s a reference to a point when Israel was performing the function of religion in the temple, but they were ignoring God’s law. They were oppressing sojourners and taking advantage of them, but they would still offer sacrifices. 

And that’s exactly what’s happening here. These money changers were in the actual temple. What did money changers do? If you were traveling a really long way, you wouldn’t want to carry your sacrificial animals with you, so these money changers would exchange your sacrifice for money. But it couldn’t just be any money. Any money used at the temple needed to be the shekel of the sanctuary. It was temple money. And they would handle all of these exchanges right there in the temple. 

The temple was supposed to be reserved for worship, but they were using it as a marketplace. This outer court was supposed to be a place where Gentiles could worship. But it was made into a place of commerce and salesmanship. 

And after Jesus cleanses the temple, we see two reactions to Jesus. And this sets the stage for everything else that we see in our text today. Look in verse 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?” 

Stop there for a second. There are some who come to Jesus asking to be healed. Some who praise his name. But these religious leaders are indignant. 

When they ask this question, they expect Jesus to be ashamed. They expect him to shush the children. But Jesus does the opposite. He embraces it. 

Look at how he responds in verse 16. 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?' ”

Jesus steps into their rebuke and he says, the children are right. They cry Hosanna to the Son of David. They cry out “Save us, O Messiah.” And they are right. 

This sets up our entire time today. You either follow Jesus or you don’t. There is no middle ground. 

The weak and the lame and the children sing his praises. Those who are most familiar with their neediness. 

Jesus was received by the lowly and rejected by the exalted.

And in the next section, we see Jesus respond to those who reject him. 

  1. Hypocrites reject Jesus and earn condemnation (21:18-23:36)

That’s an uncomfortable idea. Isn’t it? But it’s just so clear in the Bible. If someone doesn’t trust in Jesus, then they will not inherit eternal life. 

This is especially appropriate to point out in the age we live in today. I feel like I hear things like this all of the time. People say things like, “I’m glad that you believe that. We need more people of faith around here. Every person finds God in their own way.” 

It doesn’t matter if we say that we love God. It doesn’t even matter if we are strict in how we follow God.

To be born a human is to be born an enemy of God. And to be an enemy of God is to deserve God’s righteous judgment. 

As the Messiah, Jesus comes with healing and peace. He brings reconciliation to God because he died on the cross for our sins and was raised for our vindication before God.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no man comes to the Father except through him. So if anyone claims to love God, but they reject Jesus, it will only result in condemnation.

Claiming to love God while rejecting Jesus is ridiculous. It’s like saying that I love being with my wife Courtney, but I hate being in her presence. 

Something is clearly wrong with that statement. It’s inconsistent. 

The hypocrite claims to love God but they reject Jesus. 

It’s false advertising. It’s like the fig tree in verses 18-19 that only had leaves. The leaves promised fruit, but it was a lie. And it was cursed. 

Jesus cursed the fruitless tree. That wasn’t Jesus throwing a temper tantrum. It was Jesus giving a picture for us to see God’s response to hypocrisy. And his response was a curse. 

And Jesus wants us to draw a direct line here. The fig tree is the hypocrite. The green leaves promised fruit, but there was no fruit. The religious leaders advertised fruitfulness, but they were fruitless. Look down at 21:43. 

Look what Jesus tells the religious leaders. “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”

Then in chapter 23, Jesus curses the religious leaders for their hypocrisy as he pronounces woes on them. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” He says it over and over. 7 times. 7 woes. And then in 23:38, Jesus says, “See, your house is left to you desolate.” And then in 24:2, Jesus said “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

The religious leaders are hypocrites, like a green leafy fig tree with the promise of fruit but the reality is fruitlessness, and their end is condemnation. 

So we have this reality in front of us this morning. Jesus is the Messiah, and the question is just hanging there. Will you receive him? Or will you reject him? Will you bear fruit? Or will you remain fruitless?

So let’s consider the hypocrites. What characterized these men who were cursed? What were the specific ways that they rejected Jesus? 

Hypocrites reject Jesus and earn condemnation (21:18-23:36) as they : 

  • Pursue their own endeavors over God’s endeavors 

We see this really clearly in the three parables that Jesus tells in 21:28-22:14. 

First, he tells the parable of the two sons. One who says no, but obeys. And another son who says yes, but disobeys. The second parable is the parable of the tenants. These tenants lent a vineyard from a master, and they refused to give him the fruit of the vineyard as they beat or kill all of his messengers. Third, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast where the King sends invitations to his people, but they refuse to come because they have their own business to attend to, or some even beat or kill the king’s servants.

And in all of these, Jesus is making eye contact with the religious leaders. You are the son who says yes but continues to disobey. You are the tenants who don’t give fruit to their master because they want it for themselves. You are the ones who were invited to the wedding feast, but you dishonor the king by saying that you have your own things to attend to. 

And that isn’t all, this makes up a lot of the substance of the section down in chapter 23 where Jesus says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” In 23:13-24, Jesus makes the point that they didn’t just stay out of God’s kingdom, they kept others out of God’s kingdom. They were blind guides who taught people to ignore God’s most important laws and be strict on the small easy ones. 

The religious leaders weren’t interested in God’s purposes. They were interested in their own. 

Their own exaltation. Their own interests. 

So consider it for a minute. What are you chasing? How do you spend your time? 

If you took everything where you have spent your time over the past week and all of your aspirations came true, what would you have? 

Would you have the praise of your boss and your friends? Would you have an endlessly mind-numbing stream of amusing videos?  

What are you pursuing? What are the great endeavors of your life? 

I used to listen to a podcast about the construction industry where the host would ask the same question to his guests every week. He would ask them if they could wave a magic wand over the construction industry, what would they change? 

I have often found that to be a helpful question. 

If God could have his way in you without any qualifications, what would he change? Is there something on your phone that he would delete? Is there a window of time every week where he would have you be with someone rather than alone? Would your alarm clock go off earlier? 

Hypocrites pursue their own endeavors, not God’s. May we be a people whose every endeavor is in line with God’s purposes. 

Hypocrites reject Jesus and earn condemnation (21:18-23:36) as they : 

  • Trust their own word over God’s word 

I think that we see this most clearly in the questions that the religious leaders ask to Jesus in 22:15-46. 

After Jesus rails on the religious leaders through his parables that we just discussed, the religious leaders hate him, and they plot to entangle him in his words. So they decide to try and ask him questions that they don’t think that he can answer without incriminating himself. 

They ask him three questions, and he gives them three answers. 

First, they ask if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. And Jesus says that they should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. In saying this, he was telling them to submit to the government but that God is the ultimate power. And in verse 22, it says that they heard it and they marveled. 

Then the Sadducees decide to have a go at Jesus. The Sadducees were a group of religious leaders who were very conservative. They limited their teachings to only the first five books of the Old Testament, and as a result, they didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they put forward a question about eternal marriage. If seven different brothers marry the same woman one after the other and each one dies without children, who will be married to her in heaven? 

And I love Jesus’s answer. Look in verse 29, “But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong.’ How is that for an answer?  

But Jesus explains himself. “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Then Jesus refutes the entire system of the Sadducees when he says that God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God is the God of the living. If they are alive, then of course there is a resurrection. 

At the end of both of these questions, it says that they marveled and that they were astonished. But do you know what it doesn’t say? It doesn’t say that they believed him. 

The religious leaders were silenced, but they weren’t convinced. 

How often do you hear the words of Jesus, but his words just slide off your back? 

If you really consider what he said, then your system might break. You might have to rethink your entire life. 

Have you ever played Jenga? It’s that game with all of the little wooden pieces that make a tower, and you take a piece out then you set it on top until the tower eventually falls. 

In that game, you always come to a point where you are scared to take out the next piece because everything just might crumble. 

But listen. Jesus isn’t interested in your Jenga tower. He has a skyscraper with his name on it, and you are invited to live inside. 

We can get so caught up with our own thoughts and our own priorities that we forget that God has made it straightforward for us. Hear his word and respond to his word. 

Is there some way of thinking where you need to submit to his word? 

Hypocrites trust their own word over God’s word. May we be a people who take every thought captive and conform every structure of thought to the word of God. 

Hypocrites reject Jesus and earn condemnation (21:18-23:36) as they : 

  • Fear man over God

We see this all over our text today. 

21:46, “But if we say [that John was], ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

22:46, “Although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.”

But this isn’t only in regard to pure fear. It’s also in regard to glory and opinion. 

Look down in 23:5-7, “They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.” 

They wanted to be perceived as holy by men, regardless of what God thought. 

Then down in 23:25-28, Jesus likens them to dirty cups and white-washed tombs. Things that look shiny and pristine on the outside, but inside, they are filled with filth and death. 

This is why if you invite Timothy over to your house, he will always choose a white coffee mug if he has a choice because you can look in the cup and immediately know whether it is clean. 

Friends, God knows our hearts. He already knows our sins. He sees in the cup. He knows the death that’s in the tomb.

So stop fearing man and start fearing the one who has sway over your eternal soul. 

Stop trying to hide sin from God. Stop acting like it isn’t there or that he doesn’t care. 

Courtney and I recently found some old pajamas stuffed in a crevice in my son’s room. These pajamas hadn’t been worn in a bit, but they had obviously been intentionally stuffed into place. And when Courtney picked it up, she smelled it to see if they were clean, and to her horror, it was obvious that these wreaked of urine. The clothes were hidden, and we just didn’t know. 

But you know what? God knew. God knows the hidden things. He smells the stench of the rotten things in our hearts that we think no one can smell. He even knows the things that no other person ever finds out about.

It’s right for the hypocrite to live in fear, because God sees everything, and for all who are not in Christ, only judgment waits. 

[Story about Lowes?]

Beware of pursuing external righteousness while ignoring God. 

Hypocrites fear man over God, so may we live fearing God above all else. 

Hypocrites reject Jesus and earn condemnation (21:18-23:36) as they : 

  • Continue in Unrepentance

This is exhibited all over our text, but I think it is really clearly stated in 21:32. There, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

They didn’t believe John, and even after they saw Jesus, they still didn’t believe. 

Then in 23:29-35, Jesus says that they were just like their ancestors. They decorate the tombs of the prophets and the righteous men of old. And they talk about how things would have been different if they had lived back in those times, but they are rejecting God the same way that their ancestors did. They are stubbornly continuing in unrepentance, even though they have seen better. 

Last week, Timothy taught us about the word of God and how it can help us see more clearly. That reminded me of when I got my glasses. I was in 7th grade, and on the day when I walked out of the optometrist. I was indignant. I’m not the type of person who needs glasses. I’m not a nerd. I was in denial. I convinced myself that it’s normal when you stop at a road sign to turn your head really fast so that you can see the big letter when you pass it. My eyes were bad. 

And I remember as we walked out of the optometrist, my dad asked me if I could see more clearly. I looked out over the expanse of newly crisp cars and signs, and I said, “Eh, not really.” I remember that I could read a stop sign that was on the far end of a massive parking lot. It would have been a red blob without my glasses, but I acted like I didn’t need the glasses, even though I knew that I was blind. 

I wasn’t ready to admit my need. I wasn’t ready to forfeit my identity as someone who has great vision. 

I was unrepentant. 

One final reality. 

  1. Jesus weeps over those who reject him.

Look in 23:37, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate.”

These words aren’t spoken with vicious glee. They are spoken with tears. Everything in this text is spoken with trembling brokenness and firm resolve. 

Jesus loves you. Nothing in this text is meant to wound you for the sake of mere pain. 

He wants your heart. He wants you to reject your old self and turn to him. 

There’s still time. It’s not too late. 


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