Many good stories tell of someone going to a high point, then plummeting to a low point. Hopefully, they rise again. A lot of times, they rise even better than before.
You may have heard of Dave Ramsey. He became a millionaire at a young age, but then he lost it all. He managed to claw his way out and once he did, he made a vow that he would never be in debt again. Since then, he’s become a financial advisor and helped many people overcome financial struggles. He has a book called “The Total Money Makeover,” and has a course called “Financial Peace University”
Not all stories have happy endings, however. That’s a tragedy.
Today, I want to discuss three such stories today. The first one is from history, the second one is about our Nation, and the third is about our own personal history.
21 When they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, on the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go over into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 All this was done to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying: 5 “Tell the daughter of Zion ‘Look, your King is coming to you, humble, and sitting on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their garments on them, and He sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their garments on the road. Others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went before Him and that followed Him cried out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!” 10 When He entered Jerusalem, the entire city was moved, saying, “Who is He?” 11 The crowds said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”
In Luke, this account says that some of the Pharisees were angry at what the crowd was saying and told Jesus to rebuke them. Jesus’ reply was, “I tell you, if these should be silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” (Luke 19:28-40)
Jesus accepted the praise of the people, as was His right. He was God in the flesh.
The triumphal entry as it is sometimes called, or Palm Sunday, was a great day. But we know that it wouldn’t continue. The celebrating would end. The week would go downhill after that.
One of Jesus’ disciples betrayed Him, and He was falsely accused and arrested. He was taken before Caiaphas, the High Priest, and accused of blasphemy. Caiaphas didn’t have the power, legally, to put Him to death, so He was taken to the Roman authorities, a man named Pilate. Even though Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, he allowed himself to be swayed by the crowd.
First Pilate thought that the crowd would be satisfied if he had Jesus scourged with an instrument called a cat-o-nine tails. He did so, and the flesh was ripped from Jesus’ body. The Bible says it was unrecognizable as human flesh.
That was not good enough for the Jewish leaders. They continued to incite the crowd. Pilate said he would release Jesus to the crowd, but, at the urging of their religious leaders, they said, “We have no king but Caesar. Give us Barabbas!”
Barabbas the murderer was set free, and Jesus was taken to Calvary and crucified. The wages of sin is death, and on the cross, Jesus truly died for our sins. He took our penalty upon Himself and He paid it.
All of His disciples, not just Peter, forsook Him and fled. It was a dark time in history.
It was a dark Friday, but Sunday was coming! We saw the triumphal entry, the tragedy of death, and then what? The victory of the resurrection. Death could not hold Him and He rose on the third day.
That is history. The two other stories are still being played out.
The United States of America
God brought our forefathers to this Nation and has protected us. Many good things have happened throughout our history.
In my sermons, I’ve been referring to a book called “100 Bible Verses that Made America” by Robert Morgan. One of the verses I spoke about was John 8:32, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
In the 1630s, many people were fleeing England and the Church of England. The church had already separated itself from the Catholic church. Many people wanted to reform the church as it had become abusive.
Reforming the Church of England
There were two schools of thought on how to reform the church. One group said it was too far gone, and they needed to, more or less, start over with new people. The group wanted to gather like-minded believers together and practice Christianity as they felt the Scriptures instructed.
The other group was reluctant to leave the main church. For whatever reason, they wanted to stay and reform it from within.
Both groups angered some people and were persecuted. The ones that pulled away from the Church of England were persecuted for doing that, and there were power struggles with the group that chose to stay. But both were persecuted by the government.
Then they heard about a New Land. A place where there weren’t a lot of set traditions. A New World where they could explore new possibilities.
So, in the 1630s, they began arriving in America by boatloads. Many of those who were coming were the descenders and the ones who had been forced out of the church. Many of these new arrivals were pastors, theologians, and Bible scholars. Once they arrived in America, they decided to establish a school.
As explained in the 1643 booklet, “New England’s First Fruits,”
“After God had carried us safely to New England, and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the city government; one of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.”
They wanted to establish education. They wanted to establish it for the ministry. They wanted to start a Christian school. But they also felt it was very important to educate the children.
This is good! This is a triumph. However, we also have tragedy within our education system.
John’s Triumphs & Tragedies
John was born in 1607. He was the son of a butcher and a restaurant owner. By the time he was 18 years old, the bubonic plague had destroyed many members of his family. Only John, one brother, and his mother survived.
Somehow, his mother was able to gather enough funds to send him to Emmanuel College, which was part of Cambridge University. After studying, John was ordained as a dissenting minister. So, he’s had some tragedy and now some triumph.
In either 1636 or 1637, John married a woman named Ann Sadler. The next year, they made the decision to go to America. After arriving in the new country John became an assistant pastor in Boston. He had the excitement of being in a new nation but still had some perils. It was discovered that he had tuberculosis, and he died in 1638. He was young; just over 30 years old.
Although young, John did something that would have a lasting impact on America. In fact, it still has an impact today. He left half of his property and his library of 300 books (my kind of man) to a new college that was going to be developed. They were so grateful that they named it for him. John’s last name was Harvard.
About 100 years later, there was a fire that destroyed all but one of those books. One student had checked a book out of the library. The title was, “The Christian Warfare Against the Devil World and Flesh and Means to Obtain Victory.”
Harvard University’s History
The college was named after John Harvard in appreciation for his generosity. The doors were opened, and a student handbook was published.
“Laws and Statutes for Students of Harvard College” read in part, “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, (John 17:3)
“Seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him.” (Proverbs 2:3)
“Everyone shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of the language and logic and in practical and spiritual truths as his tutors shall require according to his ability. Seeing the entrance of the Word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130)
That is how Harvard University was established. It began with triumph, but it’s gone to tragedy. Today, Harvard stands for universalism. Back then, it was for Jesus Christ: the only way to Heaven, the only One who gives true Light of the World. Scriptures used to be found all throughout the handbook. Today, they describe themselves as being very inclusive, having diversity of all types, and “, especially religions.”
That means that Christianity is good. But so are Hinduism, Buddhism, and all other religions on the same plane. Sometimes Christianity is criticized for being exclusive by saying there’s only one way to Heaven. However, Judaism is also exclusive; they say (correctly) there’s only one God. Muslims are very exclusive as well.
But, Harvard says they’re all alike. They have an inscription that says, “Facing death without religion.”
I have news for you. If you face death without a certain “religion,” Christianity, there’s no Heaven for you.
The term religion has gotten a bad reputation in past years. While Christianity is a religion, what I’m talking about is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. He’s the one who died for our sins and rose again and sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us.
Harvard would do well to return to its roots, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.
Even in the lower levels of schools, like grade school, junior high, and high school, references to God are not allowed.
In a city not far from me, Carbondale, Illinois, a substitute teacher once wrote a question on the board. I can’t recall what the question was, but the answer was “God.” Even though he didn’t write it out, even the suggestion of God was enough to get him into all kinds of trouble.
Then there’s relativism. It’s almost a crime to criticize or condemn a group of people who adopt a certain lifestyle or adhere to a certain belief; unless it’s Christianity. At Harvard, you can’t say anything about any particular group, unless it’s Christians.
Secularism is also rampant in schools. Critical race theory. Now, critical race theory is something that, as an idea, is a good thing. Racism in any form is bad and should not exist. But it takes things too far when it says that people of a certain background should be ashamed and need to apologize for something done hundreds of years ago. Everyone should understand that they have worth to God, regardless of their ethnic background.
There is sex education in schools today. While I have not seen any of the materials myself, I have heard that they are nearly pornographic in nature.
Confusion in the Land
Thanks to the great educational institutions of today, we can’t even decide what is a boy and what is a girl. You may doubt this is true but we have a new Supreme Court Justice who says she can’t define what a woman is because she’s “not a biologist.”
There is a school where some students are “identifying” as dogs and cats. People who tell them they are not a dog or cat can get in great trouble. It’s crazy! It’s a tragedy.
Will the morality and common sense of yesterday be recovered? I don’t know. Will Christian schools, such as Harvard once was, revive? Will there be a return, in the educational system, to Christianity?
These issues have, however, caused some parents to pay more attention. Some families have made the decision to home-school their children. I do realize that’s not an option that everyone has. That’s a bright spot in all this mess.
But our school system began with Christianity. It’s gone downhill since. Which way will it go? Will it continue its decline or go back to the way it was? I don’t know. It’s up to each individual family to decide, and figure out what sacrifices they want to make.
Our Personal Story
Now we come to the third story: our own personal one. We’re all members of the human race. When Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden, the human race was condemned to live in sin. With the first brothers, Cain and Abel, there was a murder, because sin had entered the world. It has been passed down from generation to generation ever since.
But, each one of us since has chosen to sin. At some point, we decided we wanted to go our own way and disobey God. That’s a tragedy. But, a tragedy, and then what?
If you ignore the message in the first story, where Jesus went to the cross, died, and conquered death, it will be an eternal tragedy. Revelation 20:14 says that Death and Hell will be cast into the lake of fire.
But, if you accept Jesus as your personal Savior, the tragedy turns to triumph and you will end up in Glory! Jesus made triumph possible for all of us.
I asked a member of my congregation to give a testimony during a recent service. You can watch it at the end of the video above. Her name is Janet.
“Good morning. Brother Randy asked me to give my testimony about our life before Christ, during Christ, and after.
“I’ll tell ya, before Christ, you know, you’re going along and you think everything’s wonderful because you made the plans, you designed your life. It was going pretty good, I thought, and Roger thought.
“I was 27 years old, and we had a baby. We had Adam, and he was 3. Neither one of us were really raised in church, and so you can see where that’s going. But, anyway, we decided that we would split our ways because I lived in a house with a lot of alcohol and a lot of fighting and a lot of, not really abuse, but it was abuse. It would, these days, be considered abuse. Anyway, we lived through that and we ended up agreeing that we would get a divorce, and that would be best.
“Well during the divorce, I had a good year. I thought, ‘I’m sailing through.’ I’m not thinking about the Lord, I’m not thinking about Jesus, God because it wasn’t in me. I didn’t have the Holy Spirit. I didn’t have any guide but my own self.
“About a year went by, and I was in a movie theatre, I was dating someone. Very nice man, he didn’t drink. That was my number one thing – he couldn’t drink. So, we were sitting there and I thought, ‘Everything’s wonderful. It’s great. I’ve got this really nice man.’ and all of a sudden, a voice spoke to me in that movie theatre in Carbondale. It was God.
“He said, ‘Get up and go back to your husband.’ I looked around because I thought, ‘Somebody is talking to me. Who is it? Somebody knows me here.’ I looked around but nobody was standing looking at me.
“I’m giving you a short version of this, but God – once again, I’m a hard-headed person Roger will probably “amen’ to that – but I have to be told twice sometimes. So if you ask me to do something I might forget or I might not do it so you have to tell me twice. But God, in His great mercy, said it again. Just a little bit more bolder, but not mean or anything, He said, ‘Go back to Roger. I want you to get up and go back to Roger.’
“And I’m telling you, my body lifted out of that seat without my hands pushing my body up, I stood up, I ran outside and I began to cry. The person I was with came out there and said, ‘Are you ok?’ And I said, ‘No, I’m really not. I need you to take me home. I need you to not talk to me. I’m going to look out the window and I don’t ever want to talk to you or see you again after today. And he just was beside himself.
“You know, you can’t explain God. God is God and He will do what He wants to do in your life. And it’s best that you surrender if you’re fighting something. It doesn’t have to be what I went through but, you know, don’t fight it, because He knows best.
“So, he took me home – it wasn’t the end of him – him and Roger had to have a little talk. He thought he was the man for me, Roger thought he was the man for me, and God knew Roger was the man for me, so you see the point.
“But, anyway, during the time after I accepted…I went home, knelt by my bed, and cried my eyes out all night long. And these verses are the ones I had marked in another Bible that I had read when I calmed down from crying. It’s in Jeremiah (29). It says, ‘For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord. Thoughts of peace and not evil. To give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me and I will listen to you.’
“Well I had already cried and I had already prayed for hours. I didn’t think my body could do that. ‘And you will seek me and you will find me when you search me with your whole heart.’
“And I’m telling you, I never searched for something so much in my life. I’ve lost a ring before with a diamond in it. I’ve lost a watch before. I’ve lost things that doesn’t even touch the value of Christ.
“But that day I cried out to Him, I prayed and He heard me and He listened and He kept His promise to me.
“Well the next day I woke up and I said, ‘I’ve got to go see Roger.’ And he was living in his own house in town and I was still in the country and I went, knocked on his door and I think he seen me that he didn’t come to the door.
“Anyway, don’t blame him. Anyway, I went in and I said.’Roger, I really need to have a talk with you. This is serious.’ And he looked at me like I was crazy. And we went to the kitchen table and we sat down and I said, ‘I want to tell you something. The Lord grabbed ahold of me last night and He told me to come back to you.’ I go, ‘Now in my own self, I didn’t want to, but when He spoke to me, I wanted to. And I’m here and I want you back, and I want a marriage that God wants and I want what He wants.
“Well, you know, it don’t happen like it does in the movies. He said, ‘No. I don’t know. I’ll have to wait.’ He kept saying no and I wouldn’t leave until he said maybe. So, the maybe was ok and I left and prayed and prayed and prayed.
“I think a couple of weeks went by and it was around Christmastime and he showed up. And we had a pot roast and stuff together and God began to work and to mend things.
“In that time I had gotten saved and I went to the church down the road and I gave my heart to the Lord. I didn’t tell Roger nothing about that, but I just began to give my heart to the Lord and just cried out for Roger.
“I went to the altar every Sunday and then, I don’t know, you can ask him, maybe it was a year, he showed up. He sat on the back pew with knuckles gripped – he was not going to the altar. I was just thankful he was hearing the Word of God.
“I went down and prayed even though he was there and I cried out and I said, ‘Lord, it’s got to change. I want him back and I want him in my house but I don’t want this same life. I don’t want to go back to the old ways. I want You and I want to move forward for You.’
“So I was down there crying, and crying, and crying, and the preacher’s wife put her hand on my back and whispered, kind of like God did, and said, ‘Janet, you don’t have to pray no more.’ I looked at her like she was crazy and I said. ‘What?’ She said, ‘You don’t have to pray no more. He’s here”
“I looked over there and he was squalling like a baby.
“I’m telling you, I had an experience with God I’ll never forget. It changed my life. I was in captivity. I mean, I was in a bad place and I thought it was a wonderful place. But the devil deceived me. He made everything look good. So if I’d had my way I’d be in Hell, if not now, sometime down the road I would be. My kids probably wouldn’t have been saved, I wouldn’t even have Shelby. You know, I just give God all the glory today because He does know what path He wants for us. He does know what’s best for us. We’ve got to get ourselves out of the way and let Him do His work in us. And listen to that still, small voice because He does speak. He still speaks to people, I know,
“I love you all and I just wanted to share that with you.”
Which way will it be for you? There’s tragedy because we’ve all sinned. But will it be continued tragedy for you, or will you choose to live in Glory?