Scandalizo is the latin word for scandalize; more specifically, it is the present active indicative form of the word. The good news of Christ crucified for sinners is scandalous – a stumbling block so large that it will crush any who fall underneath. It seems as if our culture has attempted to transform this cornerstone into a pebble. This radical truth is intrinsically scandalous and therefore no less so today. Meditation on Matthew 21 as an entire chapter helps us feel the renewing scandal of Jesus’ true identity and purpose.
1. Jesus conquers through humility
As the savior rode into town on a colt, He had all authority. This is a perplexing reality. Consider the provision of the colt and the prophetic, yet naive, cries of the crowd. While their lips proclaimed salvific words (hosanna – oh save!); their minds couldn’t grasp the means of that salvation. Christ would ride on to die.
Strength through weakness is a kingdom reality which seems just as foreign to us today. Do we really put our faith in a man of Nazareth? A man riding a foal? A man crucified? A man supposedly resurrected (asked from another perspective)?
2. Jesus demands total submission
Jesus’ outrage at the vendors in the temple and His cursing of the fig tree in Matthew 21 are connected. Both involve the appearance of life without the reality of life. The temple appeared to be a house of prayer but had been made into a den of thieves. The fig tree looked the part but bore no fruit.
This blasts away our righteous veneers and demands our total submission. Going through the motions of a Christian life is not enough. We must actually follow Christ in word, desire, and deed.
3. Jesus demands belief
As the pharisees challenged the authority of Jesus, it becomes clear that believing is scandalous. They were only interested in saving face before the crowd, and so Jesus refused to answer their question. Instead, He shares two parables to awaken their sleeping senses. They were in fact awakened, but only to the realization that He was speaking about them.
His demand to believe is no less direct to us. We are the religiously inclined pupils under Jesus’ teaching and we must decide if we will relinquish ourselves to His scandalous revelation. Will we accept grace, identify with prostitutes and tax collectors, and therefore be identified with Christ?
Jesus’ American paradigm shattering message of salvation by grace through total surrender goes against the grain of every fiber in our sinful beings. This is the stumbling stone and cornerstone. We will either be scandalized by the message and be crushed beneath the weight of judgment or scandalized by the message and find ourselves marveling at such a precious cornerstone. The perplexity of that statement begs us to consider Christ crucified for our redemption, Christ’s indignant intolerance of hypocrisy, and His exclusive claim to the kingdom.
This is the beautiful, costly, sweet, and terrifying image of the King of Kings riding into Jerusalem on a foal’s back. This is overturn tables and a withering fig tree. This is a parable you must consider. Feel the scandal, submit to grace, and produce the fruit of eternity.