1. Three Warnings to the Church

    1. A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (MAT 21:13)


  1. There came a time in the Lord’s public ministry when He knew that the time was right to sum it up, or bring it to consummation.

    1. That consummation was to take place in Jerusalem, the physical and spiritual centre of the Jewish Church.

    2. And so, with this in mind, the Lord and His disciples travelled to Jerusalem to begin a week of teaching and confrontation that would bring an end to the life of His physical body and at the same time bring an end to the Jewish Church as His representative of a church on earth.

    3. Today we will look only at the first three things He did, and see the three warnings that He issued to the leaders of that church because those same warnings apply to the spiritual life of every church.

  2. The first warning took the form of His triumphant entry into Jerusalem as a king.

    1. Why is this a warning?

      1. At first He appears to be the kind of saviour that they want – one who will drive the Romans away and let the children of Israel rule over themselves as they did in the glorious days of kings David and Solomon.

      2. That He rode into Jerusalem on a colt was a sign to them that He was coming as a king.

        1. That they put palm branches and garments in the way was a sign to Him that they accepted Him as their Messiah.

          • They cheered because they believed their salvation was at hand – that Jesus was use His amazing powers to confront Herod and drive him from Jerusalem.

    2. What He was really doing was preparing them for teachings about His spiritual kingdom.

      1. Instead of going to the palace to confront Herod, He went instead to the Temple.

        1. Can anyone, looking back on these events from our perspective of history and doctrine, miss the message in this?

        2. The temple was His home, His palace, His throne room.

  3. The second warning came when He entered the Temple:

    1. (Mat 21:12-22) Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. {13} And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

      1. This was a judgement on the spiritual quality of the Jewish Church at that time.

        1. The Temple, which should have been the dwelling place of God with them was instead filled with natural things. Instead of being a place of communion with God, a house of prayer and worship, it had become a marketplace, a street bazaar.

    2. Then, having driven the moneychangers out of the temple, He taught them what should have been happening in the temple:

      1. {14} Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. {15} But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant {16} and 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 babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”

    3. Why were they indignant? Because by healing the sick and giving comfort, He was showing them what they should have been doing, but were not. So it made them feel guilty.

  4. The third warning in this series came then next morning as Jesus and the disciples return to Jerusalem after spending the night in nearby Bethany:

    1. {17} Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there. {18} Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. {19} And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. {20} And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” {21} So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. {22} “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

      1. Let’s not be distracted by the apparent teaching that if our faith is strong enough we can pray for anything – to heal disease, to win the lottery – and have that prayer answered.

        1. And the apparent corollary to that idea, that if you don’t get what you want, it’s not God’s fault, but just proof that your faith isn’t strong enough yet, that you need to pray harder.

    2. The fig tree is another way to picture the state of the church, here the Jewish Church at the time of the Lord.

      1. When the church (either a church organization, or the church as it exists in each individual) is healthy, it produces good fruit.

        1. The leaves receive the sunlight, turning it into energy which is stored in the fruit.

        2. In the same way, rational truths in our minds receive the Lord’s inflowing life and enable us to do what is good for others.

        3. A healthy church has a true doctrine that leads its members to do many things that are good.

      2. By cursing the fig tree, the Lord was teaching that the Jewish church had the doctrine (leaves) but did not produce good (fruit), so it was going to be replaced by another church that would produce goods.

  5. All three are pictures of the state of the Jewish church at that time and explain why He came when He did to consummate the church and establish a new church. All three are also pictures of the state of each of our minds when we allow the things of self and the world to take dominance over spiritual things.

    1. The Triumphant Entry teaches us that:

      1. There must first be the knowledge and acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is God

    2. The Cleansing of the Temple teaches us that:

      1. False ideas must be replaced by the truth from the Word.

      2. One of the great challenges that face us in our modern culture is the idea that we just need to be “nice” to each other.

        1. In order to be truly nice, in order to have heavenly good given to us by the Lord, we first have to stop doing the evil things we are inclined by our nature to do.

        2. How do we do that? By learning what good and evil are from the Word, then conscientiously avoiding those things we know to be evil.

    3. The Cursing of the Fig Tree teaches us that:

      1. Then, as evils are shunned as sins against God, and the effort is made to do what is good for others, genuine good is implanted by the Lord, and we can become like trees that produce good fruit.

      2. When we have spent a life working on these things, and through practice and perseverance we begin to make some headway, we will be preparing ourselves for a life of eternal usefulness and happiness in some society of heaven. It is there, in heaven, that the Lord’s promise to His disciples (and us) will be fulfilled.

        1. An angel of heaven has the power to move mountains, has the power to drive away all the devils of hell. An angel of heaven has the power and freedom to do anything they want, because they want nothing but what is good and will serve the Lord and the neighbour. What greater power can there be than to be free to do anything at all that you want?

(Mat 21:21-22) So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. {22} “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Amen.


      1. First Lesson: Mat 21:6-22

{6} So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. {7} They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. {8} And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. {9} Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “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 had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?” {11} So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.” {12} Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. {13} And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” {14} Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. {15} But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant {16} and 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 babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?” {17} Then He left them and went out of the city to Bethany, and He lodged there. {18} Now in the morning, as He returned to the city, He was hungry. {19} And seeing a fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it but leaves, and said to it, “Let no fruit grow on you ever again.” Immediately the fig tree withered away. {20} And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither away so soon?” {21} So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. {22} “And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”

      1. Second Lesson: TCR 753 - 754

753. There have been several churches on this earth, and in the course of time they have all been consummated, and after their consummation new churches have arisen, and so on to the present time. The consummation of the church takes place when there is no Divine truth left except what has been falsified or set aside; and when there is no genuine truth no genuine good is possible, since every quality of good is formed by means of truths; for good is the essence of truth, and truth is the form of good, and without form there can be no quality. Good and truth can no more be separated than will and understanding, or what is the same thing, than love’s affection and the thought therefrom. Consequently when truth is consummated in a church, good is also consummated there; and when this takes place, the church comes to an end, that is, is consummated.

754. The church is consummated by various means, especially by such things as cause falsity to appear to be truth; and when falsity appears to be truth, good that is essentially good, such as is called spiritual good, is no longer possible. The good that is then believed to be good is merely natural good, such as is brought forth by a moral life. The chief cause of the consummation of truth and of good along with it, is the two natural loves that are diametrically opposed to the two spiritual loves, and that are called love of self and love of the world. Love of self when it is predominant is the opposite of love to God, and love of the world when it is predominant is the opposite of love to the neighbour. Love of self is a wishing well to oneself alone, and not to any other except for the sake of self; and the same is true of love of the world; and these loves when they are fostered spread like gangrene through the body, gradually destroying every part of it.