Our daughter Carrie was a little more than four years old when the two of us took road trip to attend my uncle’s funeral. On the ride home Carrie chattered away about seeing Grandma and her cousins, but eventually the conversation dropped off. I had assumed that Carrie had fallen asleep until that sweet little voice broke the silence with a question I’ll never forget: “Daddy, if I died, would you be sad?” A lump, the size of a grapefruit, formed in the back of my throat. I swallowed hard, but it didn’t help a bit. Immediately I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by taking her to the funeral. Had the experience upset her? Is that why she was asking? There wasn’t much I could do at this point but to let her know how loved she was and how sad I and her mother would be if anything happened to her. I peered into my rearview mirror hoping to catch a glimpse of her in her car seat. Had my words calmed her fears? To my surprise she didn’t look at all upset. Instead she had a puzzled look on her face as she asked: “But daddy, wouldn’t you be happy that I was in heaven with Jesus?”
From the mouth of babies! While I was busy fearing the worst, God was busy working faith through his Words and promises – the precious truths Cindy and I had been trying to teach our little girl. She saw and said it all so clearly, so simply as do the children we meet today here in the Scriptures, the ones who see Jesus for who he really is and praise him for what he has really done. Do you hear what these children are saying?
That’s today’s question – a question that takes on very different meanings depending upon who’s asking it. The father who has just heard his son say, “Daddy” for the first time asks his wife, “Did you heart that? Did you hear what my son said?” His question is born of pride and excitement. While the mom who overhears her son cursing, will say to her husband “Do you know what your son just said?” Her words are born of anger. Her tone suggests that her husband may in some way be responsible for what has taken place and he had better do something about it.
Now back to the words before us: “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Were these words first spoken in excitement or disgust? Well, let’s look at who’s asking the question? “But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things Jesus did and the children shouting in the temple area, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant” (Matthew 21:15). I don’t know about you, but I’m confused. These religious leaders are seeing something amazing. You might expect their tone to convey wonder and excitement. But Matthew tells us they were indignant. They were outraged. Why? The wonders they had seen were nothing short of miracles. On Sunday they saw Jesus enter Jerusalem as a King, adored by the crowds. Now on Monday they see Jesus healing the lame and blind but only after he had walked into the temple they were in charge of and cleaned house. He overturned the tables and benches of merchants and money changers who were working there with the permission and perhaps for the financial gain of the priests and scribes. Where’s the miracle in that? How did one man manage to shut down this huge operation? Where were the temple guards? Why wasn’t Jesus thrown out of there and made to look like a lunatic? Our answer is found in the words of Scripture Jesus spoke: “’My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers” (Matthew 21:13).
With these simple words, “My house” Jesus is identifying himself as God, the One to whose glory and for whose worship the temple had been built. He was claiming ownership of the temple and the fact that no one could lift a finger against him as he cleaned his house proved he was speaking the truth. Why did this outrage the chief priests and teachers of the law? Because if Jesus spoke with the authority of God, it meant that what he had said to them moments earlier was true. They were guilty of turning Jesus’ house of prayer into a den of robbers.
Robbers? Is Jesus accusing the chief priests and their associates of shady business dealings in the temple? Is this his way of condemning fund raisers? That’s possible I suppose. But there’s more going on here. The One who owns the temple wants even more to make the hearts of sinners his house of prayer. But first he must show these men how much they need him. To do so Jesus refers to the words of the Prophet Jeremiah through whom God said: “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and…follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’–safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 7:9-11).
The robbers’ den isn’t the place where robbers commit their crimes. It’s the place they go to hide out after they’ve killed or stolen or cheated or lied. More than anything else, Jesus is telling these men that their hearts are sick. Their idea of sin and mercy is twisted. They come to God’s house not to have his forgiveness, but to hide out while they plan their next crime. Oh, they want to look all religious even as they are sinning. What better way to do that then to spend their time in the temple? Jesus is calling these men hypocrites plain and simple and while they may be fooling everyone else, they aren’t fooling God. He sees them for what they are – impenitent sinners in danger of hell itself.
I hear these words of Scripture and I’m ashamed to think how often I’ve made this house of prayer a robber’s den, a hideout where this sinner comes for reasons that too often have been less than pure. Have you ever done the same? Have you ever come here clinging to some sin – a grudge you refuse to let go of, a lie that that you’re not ready to admit, a deep-seated anger that has become so familiar, so comfortable that you can’t imagine life without it? Certainly this is the place to come with sin, all sin, but if we plan to hang onto the sin and take it back home with us, we’ve come for a wrong and dangerous reason. We’ve come to pretend that all is well, that we’re in a safe relationship with our God. Maybe we have convinced ourselves that we can con even him into believing our lie and so escape his judgment.
But like these sinners in our text, we find that God’s house becomes a hard place to be when we are here under false pretenses. For here God’s law cuts deep like a double-edged sword, exposing our hypocrisy for the damning sin it is. Here the guilt we cling to warps our attitude toward those around us. We find fault with everyone and everything, hoping against hope that doing so might make us feel better about ourselves. Perhaps even the children’s praises begin to grate on our nerves. Now we’re the ones tempted to ask: Do you hear what these children are saying? How happy they sound when I am so miserable? Make them stop.
But Jesus does nothing of the sort. Instead he replies: “…have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” (Matthew 21:16). Jesus is quoting the words of Psalm 8 where we learn that God is pleased to use his truth, spoken by children, to silence his enemies. Isn’t that just like our merciful God? Rather than sending an army of angels out to destroy those who oppose him, God means to save his enemies from themselves and from their sin. Rather than intimidating his enemies with force, God often sends the tiniest messengers to the rescue. Tiny yes, but he equips them with all they need – the life-saving gospel of Jesus. God does this again today. Give your attention to the little ones in our text. Do you hear what these children are saying? “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:15).
“Hosanna” is a Hebrew expression of praise offered up to God. While there are many reasons to praise God every day, this praise is very specific. It’s offered up to the Lord for deliverance he has granted or has promised. “Son of David” is the title God’s prophets used to speak of God’s Anointed – the Promised Messiah, the Christ of God. The children in our text are praising God for sending the Christ who delivers sinners from their sin and guilt. This is the best news we could hear this or any day! The praises of children from nearly two thousand years ago are carried by the winds of time to us in this place on this day. These praises together with those of our own children bring needed relief to our hurting souls, urging us to lay our sin and guilt at the feet of great David’s greater Son. There’s no need to cling to sin. There’s no reason to live with guilt. Jesus has owned all our sin and all our stubbornness. He carried it all to the cross. Long ago he suffered in our place. Long ago he endured our punishment in hell. Long ago he bowed his head and died with one goal in mind—that we should live forgiven and at peace with our God.
Our children know this forgiveness. Our children enjoy this peace. They praise Him who died and lives again as the one and only friend of sinners. Our children do this not because they are naïve. It’s because God has given them faith to see things that we so often lose sight of. We let our human reason blind us to God’s truth. We let pride bully us into thinking we don’t need God’s help. We let doubt rob us of faith’s assurance that God is our ever present help in trouble. But pride and doubt aside, do you hear what these children are saying? Who’s joining in the praise? Will you? There’s no reason not to. You don’t have to be four or five years old to have a child-like faith. Not at all. I think what happens is that somewhere along the line we get the notion that child-like faith simply means counting on the fact that we’ll remember the things we learned as a child. Is it any wonder that as our memory of Bible truths grows foggier our faith grows weaker?
That little girl of mine chatting at me from her car seat wasn’t naïve. At the tender age of four she had the sense to know that life in this sinful world can be very short. But better yet, the promises of Jesus had given her faith’s confidence that the earthly life of a believer no matter how short it might be, gives way to eternal life in Christ. She was sure, not because she was relying on some distant memory of something she had once heard. Her faith was built on truths that she heard every day and prayed again each night at bedtime: “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” You see, the childlike faith we want is ours for the taking, or better said, it’s God’s for the giving. It’s the faith he is so pleased to work in the hearts of all his children no matter their age. He does this as often as we spend time with him in his Word – a morning devotion, a Scripture reading at noon, Bible class on Sunday or Wednesday mornings, a Life Group study in the evening, a replay of the Sunday sermon online. God uses his precious Word to keep and grow us as his children until that day when all of us are gathered before his throne to offer him our perfect praise forever and ever: Hosanna to the Son of David. Amen