Sounds of the Passion: Cheering Children

Mark 11:1-11 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'" 4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" 10 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" "Hosanna in the highest!" 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Matthew 21:15 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.

There was a lot of cheering going on this past week. After winning the Lutheran State Basketball championship, our WLS girls’ team went to Valparaiso University to play in the Lutheran Basketball National Tournament. They won the Consolation Championship! The way I look at it, that means they were the fourth best Lutheran girls’ grade school basketball team in the nation! Parents and family were cheering at the university or cheering from home as they watched the games online. It is especially cool to have the girls’ younger siblings cheering them on.

Last weekend, my wife and I took my daughters, Lydia and Belle to Uihlein Hall in Milwaukee to see the Broadway production of “Beauty and the Beast.” The entire show was amazing. But the cheers were especially loud for Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs. Potts singing “Be My Guest.” The loudest cheers probably came from the little girls dressed in their yellow Belle dresses.

How different would the atmosphere have been at the National Tournament if the referees demanded that everyone in the stands remain quiet? The stakes would have been just as high for the team, but the energy level would have been much lower.

How different would the ambiance have been in the theater if the ushers required everyone in the seats remain stoic? All the little boys pulling for the Beast; all the little girls rooting for Belle; but no one allowed to cheer.

After touring the Judean countryside for over three years, Jesus was entering Jerusalem for the final week of His life. The number of people in Jerusalem that week had swelled because of the Passover celebration. A murmur went through the crowd entering Jerusalem that Sunday that Jesus was coming. Most of the people had never met Jesus. Oh, they had heard plenty about Him.

Some of the people in the Palm Sunday parade had heard of Jesus as an authoritative teacher. They shouted, “Hosanna!” Some had come to see if the news was true that Jesus had raised a Bethany man to life just a few days earlier. They shouted, “Hosanna in the highest!” Some had come to expect that Jesus was the promised Messiah in the line of King David. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” But others were bothered by all this shouting. They asked Jesus, “Can you rebuke your disciples? Can’t you get these people to tone it down a bit? Can you at least hush up these cheering children?”

The religious leaders offered no hosannas to Jesus. They wanted no part in praising Jesus. They even asked Him to keep the children quiet so their songs of praise would not be heard. But Jesus quoted Psalm 8:2 back to them, “Have you never read: ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise?’” (Matthew 21:16)

Why should Jesus silence their cheering? Jesus was the One who made such genuine, childlike faith possible. The blind and lame saw Him as their only hope. Those who heard about the raising of Lazarus believed in Him as the Son of God. The children worshiped Him as the Promised Savior.

But the chief priests and the teachers of the law wanted nothing to do with it. They wanted the crowd silenced. They wanted the cheering stopped. Above all, they wanted Jesus dead.

Nothing has changed in two millennia. Jesus’ enemies still want His message toned down. They don’t want Christians publicly speaking about their God. They don’t want to hear children cheering for their Savior. They want to believe that Jesus is dead … and stayed dead.

Today, we can find Jesus’ enemies opposing Jesus’ message and followers all around us. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Navy ordered Navy chaplain Lt. Commander Wes Modder to no longer pray or counsel soldiers using Jesus’ name. Our government funnels our tax money to abortion mills like Planned Parenthood and then uses the IRS to investigate Christian organizations. On the reality show, “The Bachelor,” one of the contestants, Becca, was constantly ridiculed by the other contestants for stating that she was a virgin.

This past Christmas, the American Atheists’ group worked hard to design a billboard they hoped was witty and catchy enough to stop Christians from celebrating the Savior’s birth. These billboards were placed in Nashville, Memphis, St. Louis, and Milwaukee. The ad featured the photo of a young girl who is writing her letter to Santa. That letter says, “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.”

Christ’s enemies work hard to silence Christ’s followers. But what is truly sad … and shameful is that they often don’t have to work all that hard. We do a great job of silencing ourselves.

We are called by God to be different from everybody else in the world. But we move in together and sleep around and get divorced at pretty much the same rate as non-Christians. We are commanded by God to stand up for the weak and abused, the elderly and unborn. But we stand on the sidelines with our hands in our pockets watching the confused euthanize their elderly parents and the scared murder their unborn children. We are directed by God to confront the sins we see in others. But we are afraid to speak God’s truth to our children or siblings because we love peace in our family more than we cherish Christ’s peace.

We are given a weekly opportunity to join in the parade in Jesus’ honor. But about 60% of our members are absent from the parade route any given Sunday morning. We fill up our ears with all kinds of noise. But we are embarrassed to put Christian hymns on our play list. Holy Week and Easter is one of the greatest times to invite friends and family to come worship the Savior with us. But how many of you used a postcard or a doorhanger or shared a Facebook invitation – or better yet – actually spoke to a real, live person – to invite them to worship with you this week? At Wednesday’s chapel service, I was pleased to see the offering plate overflowing with gifts from our preschoolers through 2nd graders. But this morning the church’s offering plates won’t come close to overflowing with financial gifts to our Lord.

We have a Savior so great that He could give sight to the blind, restore hearing to the blind, allow the lame to walk and run again, and restore relationships for the leprous and the demon-possessed. We have a God who not only created life, but He even restored life to those who once were dead. We have a King of glory who could tell the future – that a donkey would be freely given to the disciples; who could ride an unbroken colt with no problem; who came in the humility He desired instead of the glory He deserved. Yet we remain silent. We remain stoic. We have quieted our own praises. By our actions we echo the refrain of the religious leaders, “Silence all this cheering!” The stones must cry out in dismay (Luke 19:40)! The stars in heaven must take up the praise that we let dwindle (Psalm 148:3)!

Jesus triumphantly entered on that Palm Sunday so He could humbly go to the cross on Good Friday. He heard the cheers of “Hosanna!” during the parade into Jerusalem, but He heard the shouts of “Crucify Him!” during the parade out of Jerusalem. The streets were lined with people praising Him when He appeared like a king. But the streets were lined with people wailing over Him when He appeared like a criminal.

Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem so that He might resolutely go to the Golgotha. There on Golgotha’s hill, Jesus forgave the sins of our stillness. He was nailed to the cross for our apathy. He hung on the tree for our lethargy. He overcame our laziness. He triumphed over our lack of excitement. He died for His enemies who tried to silence Him … and He also died for His followers who so often choose silence over Him.

From eternity, the Son of God was excited to suffer for those who would reject Him. He was enthusiastic to challenge those who wanted nothing to do with Him. He was compassionate in coming for those who would be apathetic toward His entrance into our world. It didn’t matter whether enemies opposed Him or followers fled from Him or church-goers remained lukewarm about Him … Jesus still came.

The other day, one of our WLS preschool girls said to me out of the blue, “I love Jesus best of all.” I told her, “That’s great! You know, you can see Jesus in person this Sunday.” She scrunched up her face like she didn’t believe me. “Really?” she asked. “Really,” I said.

Jesus really is here. Just as He rode that donkey humbly through the Jerusalem streets, so Jesus still comes to us in the humble Means of Grace in worship. He comes riding to us in the humble waters at the font. For when we see an infant baptized, Jesus is coming to exorcise the devil and claim another child for the Lord. And we cheer!

He comes riding in the humble words of Scripture. For with those words of the Spirit, another teenager is confirmed, another adult is converted, another grandparent is comforted on his deathbed. And we cheer!

He comes riding in the humble words of absolution. For with those words of forgiveness, the marriage that has been broken by adultery can be restored, the tears of a young lady who aborted her child are wiped away, the college student who left his life of sleeping around is encouraged. And we cheer!

He comes riding in the humble unleavened bread and fruit of the vine of the Lord’s Supper. For with those words, every time we eat His broken body and drink His shed blood, Christ is really here. He comes to us individually, personally, tangibly offering us forgiveness, strength and new life. And we cheer!

He comes in His humble manger birth. He comes riding a humble, lowly donkey. He comes on a humble, rugged cross. He comes from a bright resurrection grave. He comes from the powerful right hand of God. He comes amid glorious, blaring trumpets. He comes whether the parade route is filled with palms and coats and hosannas or whether the parade route is filled with weeping and wailing and shouts of crucify. He comes for you. He comes for me. He comes for all.

It is great to cheer at a basketball tournament or at a Broadway play. Cheering changes the entire ambiance and atmosphere. But if we are going to cheer on students we are proud of or performers we enjoy, shouldn’t we especially cheer on our Savior who bled, suffered, died and rose for us?!

The King of glory comes. The nation rejoices. Open the gates before Him! Lift up your voices! Shout! Praise! Pray! Worship! Share! Be excited! Be enthusiastic! Open your mouths! Raise your hands! Make a joyful noise unto the Lord! Join with the children in cheering our Savior! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.