Summary: If your are going to withstand the pressure to conform to the world it is necessary to understand: 1. Who you are 2. Life 3. What is important
In 1964, Gene Smith published his book entitled When the Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson. It is the story of President Wilson and the events which led up to and followed WWI. Wilson was an international hero at the end of the war, and both in the United States and abroad there was a great spirit of optimism. Most believed that this was the war to end all wars, and that the world had now been made safe for democracy. When Wilson visited Paris he was greeted by cheering crowds wild with enthusiasm. He received the same reception in Italy and England. The book tells the story of a Viennese Red Cross worker who had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents that year because of the shortages caused by the war. But the children didn’t believe her because they said President Wilson was coming and he would make everything alright. The cheering lasted about a year, and then began to fade. Old rivalries surfaced in Europe which became more important than peace. Back in the States, President Wilson ran into opposition in the Senate, and his proposal for a League of Nations failed to be ratified. Wilson soon felt the strain and his health began to break. Then he lost the next election. Only a couple of years earlier Wilson was hailed as a new world Messiah, but the glory quickly faded, and he was spurned as a loser. He had experienced both the adulation of an adoring world and rejection by that same world. He came to the end of his days a broken man.
Today we celebrate Palm Sunday when many of the people of Jerusalem greeted Jesus and welcomed him into their city with shouts of praise, placing their garments and palm leaves from the nearby trees in his path. This was a reception usually reserved for kings and generals, but Jesus was hailed in like manner — a glory that soon faded. It is interesting that the tradition of the church is to save the palm leaves from Palm Sunday and burn them at the beginning of Lent the following year, placing their ashes on the foreheads of believers as a sign of penitence — which begins the lenten season of sorrow. It is a sign that the palms of praise soon turn to ashes. This was certainly the case with Jesus. One day he is hailed as Messiah and King. A few days later the crowds are shouting for his crucifixion — and the shouts lead to his ignominious death.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he was giving the people an opportunity to receive him as the king he was. But not the kind of king they wanted and expected. He would not come riding a great strutting horse as a king or general would do. He would come humbly riding a donkey. Zechariah prophesied of it saying: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah. Hosanna was a Hebrew expression meaning, “Save us, we pray ” It eventually became an expression of praise for a person considered to be a kind of savior. The pilgrims from northern Galilee streaming into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, had been singing the whole way the words of one of the Psalms of Ascent: “O Lord, save us; O Lord, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you” (Psalm 118:25-26). Hopes were high that Jesus would be a hero who would save them from their oppressors. And when he did not do that, they turned on him with a vengeance. The world will always welcome a military deliverer, but they do expect him to deliver.
I want us to look at the events of Palm Sunday and see what we can learn from this event in the life of Jesus. There are things he knew and understood which we need to learn. They are the things that allowed him to go through the experience of Palm Sunday and the following week of suffering. If you are going to survive the fickle and shifting plaudits of the world, the first lesson that you need to learn is: It is necessary to understand who you are. Jesus had the proper perspective on the praise of the people because he knew exactly who he was. He was not dependent on them for his identity. He was the Son of God and he had been given a mission. So whether they praised him or hated him, it did not matter — he was secure within himself.