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Palm Sunday, Judgment, and the Suspension of Worship

Matthew’s account of Palm Sunday includes a critical and oft overlooked aspect of the Triumphal Entry, an aspect that seems particularly significant for 2020. In Matthew’s account, Jesus’ first action in the city is the temporary suspension of worship. He overturns the mechanism by which the needed sacrificial animals were made available so that worship could proceed. The effect of His action is to put a temporary halt to the sacrificial system of Temple worship. There is here an allusion to Him permanently ending the sacrificial system by His own sacrifice. But this is an act of judgment. Only after this act of judgment does He then proceed to healing in Matthew 21:14.

In 2020, we came to Palm Sunday in a time when formal worship has been suspended throughout our nation. God’s Hand is in this in many ways. But surely Matthew’s text would have us interpret this in part as an act of judgment, to be followed by healing (Matthew 21:14). Why has God closed the doors of our churches? Is there something in our worship that needs rethinking, and even repentance? Or perhaps, as in Jeremiah 21, is there something hypocritical about our conduct as we enter the doors of the church?

Jeremiah 7:4–7 (NKJV)

“4Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’

5“For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor,

6if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt,

7then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.”

The advance of true liberty can only come from the hand of God. The book of Job reminds us that not all afflictions are a direct result of sin. But since most of us can’t hold a candle to Job’s godly conduct (see Job 1:1), when they come, and come hard, when God‘s hand seems to close, we would do well to turn first to Him in meditation unto repentance, and then expectantly await His healing.

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