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When the Cheering Stoped April 01 07

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When the Cheering Stopped

Sermon, April 01, 2007

Palm Sunday

Some years ago a book was written by a noted American historian entitled “When The Cheering Stopped.” It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to and following WWI. When that war was over Wilson was an international hero, there was a great spirit of optimism abroad, and people actually believed that the last war had been fought and the world had been made safe for democracy.

On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn’t believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be alright.

The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that after the war the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President’s health began to break. He suffered a stroke and in the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.

It’s a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.

It happened that way to Jesus. When he emerged on the public scene he was an overnight sensation. He would try to go off to be alone and the people would still follow him. The masses lined the streets as he came into town. On Palm Sunday leafy palm branches were spread before him and there were shouts of Hosanna. In shouting Hosanna they were in effect saying “Save us now” Jesus. Great crowds came to hear him preach. A wave of religious expectation swept the country.

But the cheering did not last for long. There came a point when the tide began to turn against him. Oh, you didn’t notice it so much at first. People still came to see him, but the old excitement was missing, and the crowds were not as large as they had been. His critics now began to publicly attack him. That was something new. Earlier they had been afraid to speak out for fear of the masses, but they began to perceive that the fickle public was turning on him. Soon the opposition began to snowball. When they discovered that they could not discredit his moral character, they began to take more desperate measures. Before it was all over a tidal wave welled up that brought Jesus to his knees under the weight of a cross.

Why did the masses so radically turn against him? How did the shouts of Hosanna on Sunday transform into the shouts of crucify him on Friday? I am not just talking about the immediate events that may have brought it about, but the deeper root causes. What were the underlying issues? In five days it all fell apart. Why? That is the issue that I would like for us to concentrate on this morning. Why did the cheering stop?  Let me suggest three reasons the cheering stopped

The first reason the cheering stopped is that Jesus began to talk more and more about commitment.  When we follow Jesus, we do not get to do what we want, we must do what he wants.  He will enviably ask us to do more than we possible can do.  We understand commitment as doing our best—He understands commitment as us doing His Best!  During the last week of Jesus life a very interesting scene occurred, and even more significantly, it occurred in full view of the people. A rich young ruler came enthusiastically running to Jesus. You are all familiar with the dialogue that took place. Jesus says: Go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor and then come follow me. The masses were stunned. They were troubled first for a theological reason. They had been raised to believe that God had especially blessed rich men.  But Jesus says, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”" (Matthew 19:24, ESV NT Rev. Int.)

Chuck Colson who went to prison during the Watergate scandal found Jesus in prison and was saved there.  He committed himself to a prison ministry after he got out.  He tells of speaking on the campus of a secular university. He was talking about his commitment to Christ and mentioned that he was willing, if necessary, to die on behalf of the Savior. A young man in the crowd angrily interrupted, shouting, “C’mon, Colson! Nothing is worth dying for!”

To which Colson replied, “If there is nothing you are willing to die for, then I submit you have nothing to live for.”  Commitment says that when we die to ourselves, we will then begin to live for Jesus!  Commitment means after the shouts of Hosanna we walk to Golgotha carrying his cross of suffering. I would suggest to you that when that rich young ruler walked away sorrowfully that day, he was not the only one. I think that it is safe to assume that a host of uncommitted people also walked away. D.L. Moody, famous American preacher said, “There are very few who in their hearts do not believe in God, but what they will not do is give Him exclusive right of way. They are not ready to promise full allegiance to God alone.” The cheering began to stop when Jesus began to speak of commitment.

Secondly, I think that the cheering began to stop when Jesus dared to suggest that all people are worth loving. No one is exempt from God’s love and therefore is not exempt from our love. Sometimes we stop cheering when we realize that we must love those who we really don’t want to love.  We realize that when we choose to love, we don’t get to choose who we love.  Jesus tells us that we must love our enemies and those who despitefully use us.  That love has nothing to do with economic position, beauty, or personality.  All people are worthy of his love and therefore our love—the poor and the powerful.  The Bible tells us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Some times we believe that God would have a hard time saving somebody that we think could never accept the Gospel message.   God truly is no respecter of persons.  Look what happens on Palm Sunday. Jesus goes to the temple and drives the moneychangers out. After the temple has been emptied, however, he then invites in the lame, the poor, the sick, the outcasts of society (in Matthew). He brings into the church those whom we would refer to today as seedy street people. By bringing in these people it is his way of saying all people have access to God. It is his way of saying that this is what the Kingdom of God is going to be like.

I cannot help but notice the chain of events as Jesus comes to Jerusalem. The ones who are constantly making reference to Jesus’ Messiahship are the disenfranchised of society. On the way to the capital city a poor blind beggar cries out: “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.” And what was the response of the crowd? They rebuked him and told him to shut up. Then Jesus makes his triumphant entry into the city and there are shouts of Hosanna, blessed be the son of David. But look who it is in the temple court that is yelling out this proclamation: We are told that it is none other than the children (Mathew 21). It is the children who are getting under the skin of the Pharisees. They ask Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying? Are you going to allow this Jesus? Do you not deny this?” Jesus says: If I tried to quiet them the very stones would still scream it out.  Why did the cheering stop? All people qualify for God’s love. No exclusion—not one!


Finally, let me suggest to you that the cheering stopped because Jesus began to talk more and more about the cross. In the early part of his ministry Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. This they wanted to hear about, especially since they misunderstood this kingdom to be a restoration of Israel to the days of King David’s glory. But increasingly Jesus began to talk about sacrifice—about giving up our life for him.  Sacrifice and service go hand in hand.

Late in the fifteenth century, two young woodcarving apprentices in France confided to each other their desire to study painting. But this plan would take money, and both Hans and Albrecht were poor.

Finally though, they had a solution. One would work and earn money while the other studied. Then, when the lucky one became rich and famous, he in turn could help the other. They tossed a coin and Albrecht won.

So while Albrecht went to Venice, Hans worked as a blacksmith. As quickly as he received his wages, he forwarded money to his friend.

The months stretched into years—and at last Albrecht returned to his native land, an independent master. Now it was his turn to help Hans.

The two men met in joyous reunion, but when Albrecht looked at his friend, tears welled in his eyes. Only then did he discover the extent of Hans’s sacrifice. The many years of heavy labor in the blacksmith shop had calloused and bruised Hans’s sensitive hands. His fingers could never handle a painter’s brush.

In humble gratitude to Hans for his years of sacrifice, the artist, the great Albrecht Durer, painted a portrait of the workworn hands that had labored so faithfully so that he might develop his talent. He presented this painting of praying hands to his devoted friend.

Today this masterpiece, a symbol of friendship and sacrifice, is familiar to millions of people throughout the world.

David Livingstone, Scottish missionary to Africa said, “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of the great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own reward of healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? “Away with such a word, such a view, and such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us.”

There is no real commitment without the cross.  There is no real love without the cross. There is no real sacrifice without the cross. On that first Palm Sunday, the crowd lifted their voices in praise saying, Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  We can lift our voices in song this morning because indeed, He saves! Hosanna in the Highest!

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