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When The Cheering Stopped / Sunday of the Passion / Confirmation

Matthew 21:1-11

And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

A few years ago, a book was written called “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, 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 more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy.

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 of a lasting peace. At home Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the 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. So, Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year earlier had been proclaimed 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’s not unfamiliar.

It happened that way to Jesus. He was an overnight sensation. He would try to go off to be alone and the people would still follow Him. The crowd lined the streets when He came to 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. Huge crowds came to hear Him preach. A wave of religious expectation swept the country.

But the cheering didn’t last long. There came a point when things 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’d been afraid to speak out for fear of the masses, but they started to see that the unpredictable public was turning on Him. Soon the opposition began to snowball. When they discovered that they couldn’t discredit His moral character, they began to take more desperate measures.

Why did they radically turn against Him? How did the shouts of Hosanna on Sunday change to 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’s the issue that I would like for us to concentrate on this evening/morning. Why did the cheering stop?

One reason why the cheering stopped is that Jesus began to talk more and more about commitment. 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’re 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 people were stunned. They were troubled first of all for a theological reason. They’d been raised to believe that God had especially blessed rich men. Yet, here is Jesus turning the big money away. I wonder how many churches would do that today. We think that people who are wealthy and prominent are individuals who need to be recruited and cultivated. We think their success in the world will lead to our success in the church. It bothered them to see Jesus turn away a rich man.

They were bothered for a second reason. Prior to this, Jesus’ message had been one of grace. When the 5,000 were hungry, He feed them. When they brought their sick to Him, He healed them. When a woman is caught in adultery and is about to be stoned, it’s Jesus who comes to her rescue and saves her. The message of His ministry is one of grace upon grace.

But now He seems to be saying, “The time for miracles is over. The time for commitment is now.” It’s interesting to note that in all four Gospels after Jesus enters Jerusalem to the shouts of Hosanna and palm branches there’s not another miracle recorded. There are some events we might count as miracles, but no miracles are done for the people. On the face of it this may not seem significant but when you consider that nearly one half of the Gospels is devoted to the last seven days of Jesus life, you then understand the significance of this. Open your bibles and see if that’s not true. But listen to this: While there are no miracles recorded in these chapters, what you will find is a persistent call to commitment.

Hungry one morning Jesus stops by a fig tree and finds no figs. He withers the tree because it’s producing no fruit. Jesus demands fruitful committed lives.

Remember the parable? The son who says, “I will work” and then doesn’t or the son who says, “I will not work,” repents, and gets the work done? Who is more committed? It’s the son who does the work.

The greatest commandment Love God and Love your neighbor; again, a call to commitment.

His teachings, “be watchful for we do not the day or hour of His return,” is also here. After the triumphal entry, Jesus asks for commitment and devotion from the people and what He heard in response, He didn’t like.

The church of today has become an institution in which even belief in God is optional or peripheral. Marketing techniques of recruiting members for a country club style of institution have replaced the response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The basic appeal is to self-defined needs rather than a call to radical discipleship. The church’s mission all too often is to meet its members superficial needs rather than to serve God’s need for a redeemed, reconciled, and healed world.

When that rich young ruler walked away sadly that day, he wasn’t the only one. I think that it’s safe to assume that a lot of uncommitted people also walked away. Jesus was no longer talking only grace. He was now speaking about the other side of religion, that of obligation. He began to talk about the obligation that rests with a person who has accepted God’s grace. The cheering began to stop when Jesus began to speak of commitment.

Also, the cheering stopped when Jesus suggested that all people are worth loving. Now 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 dares to bring into the church those we would refer to today as those seedy street people.

Jesus, that isn’t the way to win friends and influence people. Don’t you know that? Because by bringing in these people it’s His way of saying all people have access to God. It’s His way of saying that this is what the Kingdom of God is going to be like.

I can’t help but notice the chain of events as Jesus comes to Jerusalem. The ones who are saying that Jesus is the Messiah, are the outcast of society. Jesus makes His triumphant entry into the city and there are shouts of Hosanna, blessed be the son of David. Jesus enters the temple and look who’s in the temple court that’s yelling out this proclamation: We’re told that it’s none other than the children (Mathew 21). It’s 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. The point is that time and again it’s the ones who are powerless in society who recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Those who have power resist it.

Why did the cheering stop? Because on Palm Sunday, Jesus opened the doors of the church to everyone. It angered some people then, and let me tell you, it stills angers people today.

Finally, I think the cheering stopped because Jesus began to talk more and more about a cross. In the early part of His ministry Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. This is what 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, even giving up your life.

When the young boy got up to the plate at a pee-wee baseball game he looked over to the coach, who gave him the signal to sacrifice bunt. He then promptly proceeded to take three big swings and strike out. The coach ran up to him and said: didn’t you see me give you the signal to sacrifice? Yes, the boy replied. But I didn’t really think that you meant it.

Isn’t that what we so often say to God? Yes, LORD, I heard that talk about sacrifice, but I didn’t really think that You meant it. The cross says undeniably that He did mean it.

Commitment is what these young adults will be doing and saying today, they will announce to their families and to the world that they will commit their lives and profess their faith, the same faith their parents professed over them when they were younger.

I began this sermon with the question, “Why did the cheering stop?” It stopped because Jesus starting talking about commitment; it stopped because Jesus opened up the doors of the church and invited people to come in. But most importantly of all, it stopped because Jesus began to talk about a cross.