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Sermons for this Week:

         Matthew 21:1-11 - Palm Sunday - "When the Cheering Stopped"
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Sermon on Matthew 21:1-11: 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?


1.  Jesus began to talk about commitment.

2.  Jesus said all people are worth loving.

3.  Jesus began to talk about a cross.

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John 18:1-19:42 - Good Friday - "It Is Finished."


The last word that Jesus spoke on the cross, as reported by John's gospel, chapter 19, verse 30, is "It is finished." That sentence is just one word in Greek--"Tetelestai." That sentence can have varied meanings depending on the context and the tone. A few years ago a professional boxer named Roberto Duran was locked in an epic championship bout with sugar Ray Leonard. Both fighters struggled heroically with almost superhuman endurance. But finally Duran was too exhausted to continue. He cried out in Spanish, "no mas," meaning "no more." It's over. I quit.

When Jesus cried out "It is finished," he was not quitting. Had he been announcing defeat, he would have spoken with a whimper. But that's not how Jesus said it. John is the only one of the four gospel writers who tells us precisely what Jesus said at this point. The other three report just the tone and volume and demeanor of Jesus. They are unanimous in reporting that he threw back his head and shouted loudly. That was the shout of a marathon runner who has finished successfully that grueling 26-mile race. And as he crosses the finish line, he throws back his head and shouts, "I have done it. I have completed the race!" The New English Bible renders "tetelestai" as follows: "It is accomplished." Perhaps one could compare Jesus' cry to that final push and scream by a birthing mother as she brings all her energies to bear at the end of a 24-hour ordeal, propelling into this world a brand new life. She screams, "It's done!" Something incredibly significant has happened.

When Jesus threw back his head and screamed "Tetelestai," he was declaring, "I have accomplished this awesome, painful mission. I have poured out every ounce of devotion, almost beyond my capacity to bear. Now it's done. I have taken the enemy's best shot but have not been defeated. History's most difficult assignment has been accomplished. Free at last, free at last, Great God Almighty, I'm free at last.

What precisely had Jesus finished or completed when his agony on the cross was over? Three things, at least. 


1.  The price of salvation was paid in full.

2.  Jesus revealed the character of God.

3.  Jesus established the Kingdom of God.


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John 20:1-18 - Easter Day: "Why I Believe in the Resurrection"


You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. During his day he was as powerful a man as there was on earth. A Russian Communist leader he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which by the way means truth), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it.

An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men's faith. "Are there any questions?" Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" En masse the crowd arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"

I say to you this morning: CHRIST IS RISEN! (congregational response should be: HE IS RISEN INDEED!). I am convinced! I have faith that Christ was dead and he was buried. That I believe. But, this too I accept as true: He rose from the dead and will come again in glory.

This is Easter. And to stand here on this day in this pulpit and proclaim this word. . . I cannot begin to tell you how this defines all that I am.

But, you will say to me, how do you know that the resurrection is real? How do you know that it is really valid? 

1.  I believe because somebody told me about the resurrection.

2.  I believe because the resurrection has stood the test of time.

3.  I believe in the resurrection because I have experienced it. 


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What Is Unique About Christianity?

The story of Jesus sitting and debating the Law with rabbis reminds me of another debate that took place in a comparative religions conference, the wise and the scholarly were in a spirited debate about what is unique about Christianity. Someone suggested what set Christianity apart from other religions was the concept of incarnation, the idea that God became incarnate in human form. But someone quickly said, “Well, actually, other faiths believe that God appears in human form.” Another suggestion was offered: what about resurrection? The belief that death is not the final word. That the tomb was found empty. Someone slowly shook his head. Other religions have accounts of people returning from the dead.

Then, as the story is told, C.S. Lewis walked into the room, tweed jacket, pipe, armful of papers, a little early for his presentation. He sat down and took in the conversation, which had by now evolved into a fierce debate. Finally during a lull, he spoke saying, “what's all this rumpus about?” Everyone turned in his direction. Trying to explain themselves they said, “We're debating what's unique about Christianity.” “Oh, that's easy,” answered Lewis, “it's....


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