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Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week, Good Friday - Cheering to Jeering

Pastor Shim Habte's sermon, Cheering to Jeering
Matt.21:1-11 “See, your king comes to you gentle and riding on a donkey." Zechariah 9:9

Some years ago a book was written by a noted American historian, Gene Smith, entitled "When the Cheering Stopped." It was the story of President Woodrow Wilson and the events leading up to WW1. 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 more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Viennese hospital, a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said President Wilson was coming and they knew everything would be all right.

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 with 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. ~ Brett Blair

Our text in Matthew 21 tells us that Jesus' triumphal entry to the city of Jerusalem was filled with excitement and shouts of joy by a large crowd. This was the Passover Celebration commemorating the deliverance of Jews from the bondage of Egypt. A crowd of up to 2.5 million people would come from all over for this most important holy day. The city was ready to celebrate, and Jesus’ arrival added to the excitement.

When people saw Jesus entering Jerusalem riding a donkey they began cheering for their king, their deliverer. They threw down their clothes and branches on the path for Jesus. Why were they so excited? What were they expecting to happen? They expected freedom from the Roman oppressors. They believed the long awaited Messiah/Savior had arrived. This was the good news that they were waiting for in their bondage.

When the crowd saw Jesus coming toward Jerusalem riding a donkey they remembered these five prophecies from the Old Testament:
1) The Messiah riding a donkey (Zechariah 9:9)
2) Regarding the cry of the crowds (Psalm 118:26)
3) His entrance into the temple (Isaiah 56:7)
4) The purpose of the temple (Jeremiah 7:11)
5) Praise from the lips of children (Psalm 8:2)

All of the above prophecies were spoken over 500 years before the day of Jesus' appearance in Jerusalem. Zechariah 9:9 says: "Rejoice greatly, 0 Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey ...” All three synoptic gospels quote this verse to prove Jesus was the expected Messiah or Savior.

When the crowd saw Jesus entering Jerusalem riding a donkey as it was predicted by the prophets hundreds of years before, they began to praise and cheer. Emotion was high. Listen to them: (“Hosanna” in Hebrew means, “Lord help us” or “Lord save us.")

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

"Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David."

"Hosanna in the highest."

So far so good for Jesus and the crowd; they were all happy: Jesus, for doing his Father's will, and the crowd because their expectation of freedom. However, Jesus and the crowd were on two different paths. Jesus looked to the hill of Calvary’s cross. The crowed expected him to wear crown of gold and be a king to deliver them from the rulers of Rome. This misunderstanding caused people to condemn Jesus.

The crowd stopped cheering for Jesus when he did not meet their expectations.

In Matthew 21:12-16, we see how Jesus' kingship clashed with the expectation of the crowd. When Jesus entered the temple of Jerusalem, he saw how the religious leaders turned it into a place of business to profit themselves. Matthew 21:12 records, "Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves."

Why was Jesus angry enough to react the way He did, upsetting such nice people at God's temple? They were in the temple of God, but they were not seeking the God of the temple, only their own benefit.

Jesus told them the reason for his anger and radical action. "It is written, He said to them, my house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers." The Life Application Bible makes this comment about Jesus’ actions:

Matthew 21:12 This is the second time Jesus cleared the temple (see John 2:13-17). Merchants and money changers set up their booths in the court of the Gentiles in the temple, crowding out the Gentiles who had come from all over the civilized world to worship God. The merchants sold sacrificial animals at high prices, taking advantage of those who had come long distances. The money changers exchanged all international currency for the special temple coins—the only money the merchants would accept. They often deceived foreigners who didn't know the exchange rates. Their commercialism in God’s house frustrated people's attempts at worship. This of course angered Jesus. Any practice that interferes with worshiping God should be stopped. We should shout, “Amen!”

After cleansing the temple from a self-serving crowd, Jesus paid attention to those who needed help. It's amazing the capacity of Jesus to be angry for the right reason, and then immediately compose himself and show compassion to the hurting people and minister to them. It’s unparalleled in human characteristics.

“The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them." With this kind act of Jesus, the cheering of the crowd is going to end because of the jealousy of the religious leaders. They were not happy that Jesus destroyed their business. Now they were ready to destroy him.

Matthew 21:15-16 puts it like this: "But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, 'Hosanna to the son of David,' they were indignant. ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ they asked him. ‘Yes,’ replied Jesus, ‘have you never read, “from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?”"

Jesus left his enemies with the above words for them to contemplate and come to the side of truth. As some say, "Contemplating deeply for one hour (with sincerity) is better than 70 years of (mechanical) worship." The Pharisees had a lot of book learning but lacked wisdom to discern God's saving grace given in Jesus Christ.

The cheering crowd became the jeering crowd. And the religious leaders and the crowd exchanged the Savior for a murderer, Barabbas. What a horrible mistake! They chose to kill him to save their positions rather than their souls. The cheering joy ended that day and the fickle crowd that shouted “Hosanna,” a few days later joined the religious leaders, handing over Jesus to be hung by the Romans. After examining Jesus, when Pilate said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release the king of Jews?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!”

If you were among the crowd that cheered and turned against him to jeer him, what do you think you would have done?

The answer is not to be found on the Sunday’s triumph celebration - For without the suffering and death of Jesus they have no meaning. It is what is between Palm Sunday and Easter that counts: the hard words - No pain, no gain. No cross, no crown. There is no free lunch. Life is unfair. If you can’t endure the darkness, you will never recognize the light. ~ Lowell D. Streiker.

The day Jesus died, Satan and his cohorts had a party in hell; but on Easter morning Jesus showed up, conquering death and Satan. God and his angels rejoiced. I’m looking forward to joining the party; are you?

Pastor Shim Habte, 1st UMC – Willows, CA
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