Cheers and Tears

We find ourselves today in the eleventh chapter of Mark. (Mark 11:1-11) Like visiting an old friend, we find these words to be comforting. According to the text, it was time for the Passover. A time to remember their proud past as God’s Chosen People. The law required the people to attend within a certain radius, however no legislation was necessary. Everyone wanted to be a part of the great holiday. It was a time to do three things. First, they made their annual animal sacrifice at the temple. Second, they paid their annual taxes. Third, it was a time to reconnect with family and friends. It is for that reason that everyone wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. Over the years, preachers, including myself, have emphasized the massive cheering crowd. Let me say this clearly.

It was a great crowd of people! The size of the crowd cannot be over emphasized. Mark says many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from nearby fields. Some people followed Jesus; some people ran ahead of Jesus (Mark 11:8-9). Matthew calls it a very large crowd (Matthew 21:8). Luke says the crowd was so great that the religious leaders encouraged Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 19:39). John tells of a great crowd that had gathered for the festival (John 12:12). You cannot question the size of the crowd.

It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to 2,500,000 on that Passover. That is based on the number of animal sacrifices made. That was a massive crowd at that time in that place in history. That was 1% of their world’s population. According to the United States Census Bureau, the total world population in the year 33 AD was approximately 285 million. If 2.5 million people were present in Jerusalem on the day Jesus entered, then approximately .9% of the world’s population was present. Those numbers are hard to comprehend, but it is safe to say approximately 1% of the world’s population was present in Jerusalem that day. (1% of the world’s population today is 7.8 million.) The largest Christian gathering in the history of the world is six million. That crowd gathered in 2015, when the Pope went to Manila. It was a great crowd of people. However, the size of the crowd was not everything. You can question the integrity of the crowd. They were selfish. They all wanted something from Jesus.

There is an old preaching story about a rabbi who was visiting a friend. He took the friend to a window and asked him what he saw. The friend replied, “I see men, women and children.” Then, he took his friend to a mirror and asked, “What do you see now?” The friend replied, “I see myself!” The rabbi replied, “That is the choice we must make in life! Are we going to look through the window and see others? Or are we going to look at the mirror and only see ourselves?” You are a disciple of Jesus Christ! You have no choice. Jesus looked through the window and saw the needs of this world. You must look through the window too. That was not the case of the crowd. That is not the case of many in our world. Selfishness blinds us of the real meaning behind Palm Sunday. Just think about it.

Some cheered for Jesus for political reasons! Some in the crowd expected a political Messiah. They had grown tired of foreign domination. They had grown tired of Roman ways and laws. They longed for independence and believed Jesus had everything needed to lead a successful political revolution. Just like their ancestors did in the past after a successful military campaign, they waved palms and chanted political slogans. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” Hosanna in the highest heaven.” They were not wrong. Jesus did have the right stuff for political success, but they missed the memo. Jesus did not come with a political agenda. Jesus came for spiritual reasons. Jesus came to be the bridge between mankind and God. Do you know of anyone who tries to use Jesus politically? They say true Christians are their political party.

Some cheered for Jesus for personal reasons! Jesus’s miracles were well known. They had heard how Jesus brought sight to the blind. They had heard how Jesus got the lame to walk. They had heard how Jesus had exercised demons. If Jesus could do that for others, then why not them, or a loved one? The crowd was filled with the blind, the lame, and the limited. They cheered for Jesus to get his attention because they wanted a healing. The problem is they did not get the memo. Jesus did not come to improve their health care system. Jesus came for spiritual reasons. He came to be the bridge between mankind and God. If you get the point say, “Hosanna!” Do you know of anyone who is mad at God because a sick loved one was never healed?

Some cheered for Jesus because Jesus was popular! In 1997, Hanson had their one hit wonder, MMMBop. The song was nominated for a Grammy because everyone was listening to that catchy tune and those clever words. Hanson even sang the National Anthem the 1997 World Series between the Indians and the Marlins in Cleveland. Their father predicted they would become more popular than the Jackson Five. He was WRONG! Their popularity faded and no one has heard from Hanson in years. Rumor has it they are singing at birthday parties and grocery store openings. However, in 1997, they were trending. On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus was trending.

On the lips of everyone was the name Jesus. Everybody seemed to have an opinion about him. Some believed and some did not believe, but everyone had an opinion. The problem is they did not get the memo. Jesus did not come to be a celebrity. Jesus came for spiritual reasons. He came to the bridge between mankind and God.Do you know of anyone who must be in the middle of the action?

For years preacher, including myself, have made a big deal about the size of the cheering crowd on that day. Perhaps, there is more. After all, the cheering crowd disbanded after a short time and the streets of Jerusalem grew quiet. However, the committed stayed near Jesus. It is safe to say a small minority in the crowd understood what was happening on that day. The Apostle Paul said it best nearly 30 years later in his letter to the Philippians. Speaking of Jesus, he said, “And being found in the appearance of a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.” 

Annually, I attend the Mahoning Valley Spring District Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is not favorite part of my job. Our district is made up of 57 congregations. It is an afternoon filled with reports and voting. It is as exciting as it sounds. It never disappoints. The meeting rotates annually. This year, we host in on April 18. Several years ago, it was held at Warren Grace. On that day, a woman came up to me when the meeting concluded and asked, “Did you go to McKinley School?” I said, “Yes!” McKinley was my elementary school. She said, “I was your first-grade teacher!” I drew a blank. I had to look at her name tag. Her name is Mary Fuller. I thought, “Are you still alive?” I said, “You were a lot taller in those days.” We talked for a few moments about my experience in the first grade and then it was over. I enjoyed talking to her.

As I drove home, I thought about Mrs. Fuller. I do not have many memories. It was a long time ago. To be honest, I only have one clear recollection of the first grade. The date was November 22, 1963. The public address system crackled on. I can still hear our principle’s voice, Mr. Yerman, telling the school that President Kennedy (1917-1963) had been assassinated in Dallas. I remember looking at Mrs. Fuller. She seemed stunned. She walked out of the classroom and into the hall. She gathered with the other teachers. They were talking about the sad news, then something happened that caught me off guard.  I can remember one of the teachers began to cry. I do not think I will ever forget that sound. Those tears pierced my heart. Maybe we give too much time talking about the cheers of the massive crowd, and not enough time talking about tears of the committed minority? The crowd cheered on Palm Sunday. The committed cried on Good Friday.

On Friday evening we are going to gather at Green Haven Memorial Gardens. It is one of our local cemeteries. For what it is, it is a nice place. But what is it? It is a place for the dead. Some people will not go because it is a cemetery. They will be there soon enough. However, I think it is a place we must go. It underscores the fact that Jesus died. We will read the final words he uttered, and we will remember his pain. It is five days from now, but I know what I will hear when I leave. It happens every year. As I walk through the silent crowd after the closing words, I will hear someone crying. It will hit them like a ton of bricks, Jesus died for them! Jesus died for us! Jesus died for you and me. There will be no cheers on Friday evening, only tears. How many tears will you shed for Jesus on Friday? Rick Warren (born 1954) of the Saddleback Church in California said, “Nothing will shape your life more than the commits you make.” How committed are you?

Do You Remember?

We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew. Like visiting an old friend, we find these words to be comforting. According to the text, a great crowd had gathered in the city of Jerusalem. The size of the crowd can’t be over emphasized. Matthew calls it a very large crowd (Matthew 21:8). Mark says many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from nearby fields. Some people followed Jesus; some people ran ahead of Jesus (Mark 11:8-9). Luke says the crowd was so great that the religious leaders encouraged Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 19:39). John tells of a great crowd that had gathered for the festival (John 12:12). You can’t question the size of the crowd. It was great.

They had all come to celebrate the Passover, a time to remember their proud past as God’s Chosen People. The law required the people to attend, but no legislation was necessary. Everyone wanted to be a part of the great holiday. It was a time to do three things. First, they made their annual animal sacrifice at the temple. Second, they paid their annual taxes. Third, it was a time to reconnect with family and friends. It is for that reason that everyone wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to 2,500,000 on that Passover, and the name on the lips of everyone was “Jesus”. What was on the mind of the many was revolution.

They had grown tired of foreign domination. They had grown tired of Roman ways and laws. They longed for independence, and Jesus seemed to be the best person to lead a revolution. He seemed to have it all. He had the power to heal the sick. He had the power to control nature. He had the charisma to win over any crowd. The crowd seems to be trying to draft Jesus for this military position. Don’t ignore the next line. The crowd did political things. Just like their ancestors who experienced military victories, they spread cloaks and palm branches on the ground. Others waved palm branches and yelled, “Hosanna to the son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” They did all they could do to enlist Jesus, but there is something wrong with the picture. Two thousand years later, we see the imperfection clearly. Jesus wasn’t interested in the political scene of that generation. Jesus was only interested in eternity. That is why Jesus rode in on a humble animal and not a mighty steed. That generation was nearsighted and missed the reason why that day was so important.

I hope you don’t miss the significance of that day. Palm Sunday is not just the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week we remember what Jesus did each day. It is a spiritual pilgrimage. If you just show up next week and celebrate the resurrection, then you have cheated yourself of an opportunity to draw near to Jesus. In the history of the American church, there has never been a Palm Sunday like this one. Due to the pandemic, our daily routine has been upset. We suddenly have extra time. I would challenge you to take some of that time and remember what Jesus did every day of Holy Week. It is important for you do it this year, because we may never have this opportunity again. So, let me ask you this question: what do you remember?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Monday? According to the Bible, two significant things happened on that day.  The first event of Holy Monday was the cleansing of the Temple. It had nothing to do with fundraising to help some good cause but had everything to do with using the faith for personal gain. The Temple was a place of prayer, not profit. The church is a place of prayer, not profit. The second significant event of Holy Monday is the cursing of the fig tree. It was the only thing Jesus ever cursed. Like the bald eagle symbolizes America, the fig tree symbolized Israel. The cursing of the fig tree was an act of judgement upon Israel. God was doing something new. Do you remember what happened on Holy Monday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Tuesday? According to the Bible, Jesus went back to the Temple, where he was challenged by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It was also there that he taught about the Kingdom of God. Two great stories came from that day. He taught about paying taxes to Caesar and he noticed a widow’s slim donation. He also told the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants and others. Then, he went to Bethany, near Jerusalem, where he was anointed. He was being prepared for death. Do you remember what happened on Holy Tuesday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Wednesday? Some call it Spy Wednesday. It was on that day the plan to trap Jesus was conceived. One of his own, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Some say, he did it because he was greedy. Some say, he did it because he had grown tired of being an outsider. He was the only non-Galilean of the twelve. Some say, he did it to force Jesus’ hand. He never dreamed Jesus wouldn’t fight back. We don’t really know why he did it, but he did it. In the end, Judas Iscariot regretted his betrayal and committed suicide. There is nothing else to say. Do you remember what happened on Holy Wednesday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Thursday? We call it Maundy Thursday. That was the day Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, showing true servant leadership. Then, they observed the Seder. It was a meal with a message. Everything they ate and everything they drank reminded them of their people’s past. After all, they were God’s Chosen. During the meal, Jesus changed the words and created a new memorial, Communion. The bread is his body and the wine’s his blood. After the meal was completed, Jesus comforted the disciples and went to the garden to pray. It was in the garden Jesus was arrested. Do you remember what happened on Holy Thursday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Friday? We call it Good Friday. It was good for us, but bad for Jesus. He had two trials on that one day. The first trial was in front of his own people. It was a “kangaroo” court. Jesus never had a chance. He was found guilty. They wanted to execute Jesus, but they lacked the legal authority. For this reason, they sent him to the Roman Governor, Pilate. He knew Jesus was an innocent man, but he feared the mob. They rejected Jesus and accepted Barabbas. The order was given that Jesus must die. It was a public affair. It was a way of deterring crime. First came the whipping. Then came the crown of thorns. Finally came the cross, a Roman way to execute. Jesus was not tied to the cross; he was nailed to the cross. He was hung between two common criminals. His death came quickly, and they put his body in a tomb. The sky grew dark and the people wondered. His family and friends cried, because he was dead, and their dreams were gone. Do you remember what happened on Holy Friday?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Saturday? Some call it, Silent Saturday. Others call it Black Saturday or Easter Eve. There is nothing to remember about that day, because Jesus was dead. The people who loved Jesus, both family and friends, struggled with his death. Some of them were in shock. Some were in denial and some of them cried. Their great dreams of a bright future were over. Jesus was dead! Even today, people are uncomfortable with the death of Jesus. How comfortable are you with the death of Jesus? You know what happened on Sunday. It is the worst secret in the history of the world. It is also the very foundation of our faith. It changed everything.

One of the most beautiful places in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. I had the good fortune to worship there several years ago. Worshippers are welcomed by three magnificent doorways. Over the first one, is a carving of a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, “All which pleases is just for a moment.” Over the second is a sculpted cross, and the words, “All that troubles is just for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” The message is clear. We should live for the permanent and the eternal. How much time do you spend worrying about the temporary? The great pandemic has forced millions to worry around the world. How much time do you spend worrying about the eternal? The only things that really matter are those things that will matter in 100 years. What matters in 100 years? The only thing that will matter in 100 years is Jesus. Rick Warren (born 1954) is the founding pastor of the Saddleback Church in California. He once said, “Nothing will shape your life more than the commitments you make.”  How committed are you?