What Matthew 21 Says About Faith, Worship, and Ministry

Jesus Curses a Fig Tree in Matthew 21

This 9-day devotional study on Matthew 21 unpacks truths on Faith, Worship, Ministry, the Parable of the two sons, the parable of the two tenants, Jesus' triumphal entry, and His cursing of the fig tree.

Day 1
Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:1-11
Marked verses: v.8-9
Notes /Impressions:
  • Jesus’ triumphal entry fulfills and quotes from Isa.62:11, Zech.9:9, and Psalm 118:25-26.
  • The crowds and the disciples prepared His entry and became His entourage and announcers,. However, they did not fully understand Jesus’ role as the Suffering Messiah who will have to die. Some from these crowds most definitely even abandon Him later.
Lesson(s) Learned:
  • Who we worship and why we worship is essential to a true worship experience. Many Christians get so “hyped and emotional during worship” without trying to understand even the most basic things about Christ. 
  • Understanding who Christ is and His role in our lives gives us a true and far more rewarding worship experience.

Day 2

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:12-13
Marked verse: v.13
Notes /Impressions:
  • There were currency exchange tables in the temple courtyard along with animals being sold for offerings. Merchants were most probably making much profit from these trades and the religious leaders allowed this.
  • Jesus’ anger was mainly due to the fact that the temple courtyard has become more of a market than a means of simply helping people with their offerings and worship. Many of the merchants were there to make profit and not assist in the people’s worship. 
Lesson Learned:
  • Worship and ministry should never be a means to make money for personal gain.

Day 3

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:14-17
Marked verse: v.15
Notes /Impressions:
  • These priests & scribes were clearly seeing what Jesus was doing. The wonderful works He was doing most certainly proved His Messianic claims. If they had only searched Scriptures again or recalled what they had learned about the Messiah, they would have clearly seen who Jesus truly was. But they were blinded by their personal biases and their fear that their established traditions were being attacked.
Lesson(s) Learned:
  • It doesn’t take supreme intelligence to perceive truth. The humble and childlike more often see truth more clearly than those who profess to be highly educated.
  • Closed-minded people are very difficult to deal with.  Their personal (or doctrinal) biases make them blind and deaf to the truth. They play a deaf ear to the most sensible reasonings and a blind eye to the most compelling evidences.
  • Many are so close to the truth but they’ve distanced their hearts to an unreachable point.

Day 4

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:18-19
Marked verse: v.19
Notes /Impressions:
  • Fig trees bore fruit before the leaves came out, or sometimes they appear at about the same time. Having leaves mean that it should have fruits at that point yet it didn’t have any.
  • There are differing views on what this cursing of the fig tree really means.  Basing it on the context, I believe Jesus taught 2 lessons here:
  1. On faith, in response to what the disciples observed and asked (this will be discussed in the next verses).
  2. On blatant hypocrisy of that generation of Jews who professed faith in God but were fruitless. In a matter of days, they would reject Christ. Jesus’ curse on them was a judgment on their hypocrisy and their rejection of Him.
Lesson(s) Learned: 
  • Many profess faith in God but lack the fruits that should result from it. A genuine understanding of Scriptures leads to a genuine understanding of God and His salvation. In turn, it leads to fruits becoming of the faith produced.
  • Some bear supposed fruits that are no fruits at all. Revelation 2 & 3 clearly show how Christ sees through either the ignorance or the hypocrisy of some who do “much work” but “bear little to no fruits” (John 15).
  • Genuine fruits result from genuine faith.
  • Sincerity of heart is the difference between supposed fruits and genuine fruits.

Day 5

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:20-22
Marked verses: v.21-22
Notes /Impressions:
  • Jesus used the disciples’ amazement with this miracle to teach them a valuable lesson on faith. Mark’s account puts this withering of the fig tree and the disciples’ astonishment a day later. (no contradiction there). 
  • Jesus here is using a hyperbolic statement of “moving a mountain” to teach about the miracles that faith can accomplish. We have to remember that God responds to faith, based on His character and will. He is never “forced” to “give” because we “believe” in something we want. Sadly, this is how some people understand this passage.
Lesson(s) Learned:
  • Faith is about placing your trust in Who God is and not doubting Him. It is not a blind leap to what is unknown (as dictionaries would define it). It is not about strengthening your belief in what is uncertain nor trying to make things happen by “believing it wholeheartedly”.
  • This wrong faith is about trusting your capacity to believe something unknown, rather than belief in Who God is and what He can and will do.
  • Faith is strengthened by your understanding of God’s character. When you begin to know God more, you begin to trust Him even more.
  • Faith depends on your clear understanding of God’s will and His capacity to make things happen, not on your capacity to make things happen just because your believe it. The latter is faith in yourself rather than faith in God, for it disregards God’s will in the equation.
  • God grants the prayer request that is in harmony with His will (v.22, Cf. 6:9-13; 7:7-11; 1 John 5:14-15).
  • God's works are always consistent with His character and His will.

Day 6

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:23-27
Marked verses: v.24-27
Notes /Impressions:
  • The “elders” were lay people who represented leading families in Israel. Along with the chief priests, they were part of the Sanhedrin, their ruling council.
  • These rulers were trying to trap Jesus by questioning His authority. Jesus knew that whatever answer He would give at this point will be used against Him, so He employed a common rabbinic debate technique (15:3) of countering them with a question of His own. A question that trapped these leaders instead (v.25b-27a).
  • They were caught in their own trap.
  • They couldn’t stand on their conviction (though it was understandably wrong) because of their fear of the people.
Lesson(s) Learned:
  • You reap what you sow. The evil that you plan against another can just as easily backfire and cause you grief.
  • These rulers were in this same situation a number of times with Christ. In their effort to trap Him, they always end up silenced. (Cf. Esther 3:5-7:10)
  • A man’s commitment to his convictions is determined by his response to what people say or do. A man who is afraid of or easily swayed by people’s reactions is a man with little or no faith.
  • These rulers were obviously afraid of the crowd, thus couldn’t voice out what they believed. 

Day 7

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:28-32
Marked verses: v.31-32
Notes /Impressions:
  • In this parable, the Lord likens the tax collectors and the prostitutes who believed, to the first son (the obedient one). They seemingly rejected God before because of the way of life they chose to live, but upon hearing the message, they repented. The Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were likened to the other son (who said yes but did nothing), for they professed faith in God but rejected His message and His Son.
Lesson(s) Learned:
  • There is more hope for the sinner who realizes his need than the religious who refuses to acknowledge his faults and his need, thinking he is better than others.
  • The worst sinners who humble themselves before God, repent and believe, will be saved. There is no hope for the religious who trust wholly on his own understanding of spiritual things and rejects God’s true message (v.32c)
  • Many profess to know God but instead of obeying His will or listening to Him, they come up with their own laws to obey and regulations to follow. In thinking they know God better than others, they assume that their man-made laws and regulations speak for God.
  • **(Const2014) Both the NASB and the NIV have translated the last verb in this sentence poorly. The Greek verb proago ("get into . . . before" or "entering . . . ahead of") here means "enter instead of."

Day 8

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:33-39
Notes /Impressions: 
  • This parable speaks of how the religious leaders (tenants in the story) misused and abused their position in Israel (the vineyard). They have established their own laws and traditions, and have rejected the prophets (servants) sent by God (the Master). They have also rejected Jesus Himself (the Son).
  • They’ve not only failed in their responsibility to care for the spiritual welfare of Israel but they’ve also rejected God’s message, authority, and right over them.
Lesson(s) Learned:
  • Like these leaders, Christian leaders sometimes tend to use their positions in the wrong way.
  • Christian leadership is not just a position of privilege and authority, it is also a position of servanthood and care.  
  • Christian leadership is not about imposing our views and convictions on people, but about directing them to form and have the right views and convictions.
  • Christian leadership is not about getting people to submit to our authority, but getting them to submit to God and respect His given authorities over them.

Day 9

Devotional Reading: Matthew 21:40-46
Marked verses: v.42-44
Notes /Impressions:
  • Jesus draws out the obvious response to these tenants’ (religious leaders) failure, and treachery - judgment.
  • Jesus’ constant use of Scriptures (a passage which may have also applied to David as well) was not only an attestation to His Messianic claims, but it was also a direct rebuke of the  ignorance of these religious leaders. These leaders profess to know Scriptures but they have missed out on the important truths about Jesus. And many times, they’ve missed out on the essence of Scriptural messages, dwelling rather on regulations and the mere practices of rituals.
  • The kingdom was taken away from that generation of religious leaders. They will have no part in it for they rejected Christ. Instead, the responsibility of producing fruits for the kingdom was given to the church.
Lesson(s) Learned:    
For us today:
  • The Scriptures always leads us to a deeper understanding of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. This should always be our anticipation whenever we come to His Word.
  • Many profess to know God but miss out entirely the very essence of His messages and commands. We should always understand the reasons behind God’s commands and not just blindly follow the practices others impose on us. 
  • The privilege and opportunity given to leaders is something to be valued highly for it carries such great responsibility. A leader’s willful neglect and his deliberate rejection of God’s message may result in judgment.
More on Matthew:
credit to Daniela Mackova