So, Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.
It’s been a while since I started off a sermon with a really bad joke. I know what some of you are thinking: The only kind of joke you’ve ever heard me tell is a really bad joke. Well, here goes again.
A dog walked into a Dodge City saloon and ordered a root beer. The barkeep snickered, we don’t serve dogs and we don’t sell root beer in this saloon. The dog said, I’ve got money and my money is as good as any man’s. Give me a root beer! The bartender was tired of talking so he reached under the bar, pulled out a gun, and shot the dog in the foot. Now, said the bartender, get out of here and don’t ever come back. A week later, the dog came back, this time wearing his gun belt that holstered two guns. Not seeing the man who shot him behind the bar, he walked up to the new bartender, looked him squarely in the eye, and said very slowly and very deliberately, I’m lookin’ for the man who shot my paw. I warned you it was a bad joke.
Well, how about another? An Irish comedian explains that, not only are some of his countrymen quite devout, but they also take written instructions quite literally. One Irish friend, while visiting New York City, used the subway system rather late one night. As he exited his train and walked toward the escalator, he spotted a sign that read: DOGS MUST BE CARRIED ON THE ESCALATOR. Pausing for a moment, this Irishman was quite distraught. He thought to himself: Where the heck am I going to get a dog at this time of night? I should have stopped when I was ahead, shouldn’t I?
How many of you are dog owners? How many of you are cat owners? How many are both? We have some gluttons for punishment, I see.
C.S. Lewis owned a dog of which he was very fond. And he used that dog to explain in non-theological language about the Incarnation, why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He described the Incarnation this way:
Lying at your feet is your dog. Imagine, for the moment, that your dog (and every dog) is in deep distress. Some of us love dogs very much. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like men, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, your hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead of the intimate communion with your beloved, the poor substitute of looking into the beloved’s face and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak?
Christ, by becoming man, limited the thing that to Him was the most precious thing in the world; his unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father.
Paul explained the same concept of the Word becoming flesh in much loftier language in our lesson from the Epistle for the day, Philippians 2:5-11. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!
Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What a beautiful passage of Scripture that explains the price Christ paid to become a human being: He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!
There is an old spiritual that puts it this way, Jesus walked this lonesome valley, He had to walk it by Himself. Oh, nobody else could walk it for Him. He had to walk it by Himself. There was no other way that the eternal God could experience the meaning of what it is to be human without taking upon Himself the flesh of humanity.
What an astounding journey Christ made from His palace of heaven, as it were, to the shame and degradation of Calvary’s cross. Or as Paul put it in another place: God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (II Corinthians 5:21). Can you get your mind around that? The blameless Son of God didn’t just take our sins upon Himself. He became sin, He became utter shame, utter hopelessness, utter despair, that we might be made right with God.
That means He takes into account the hills and the valleys we have come over and through because He has walked them too. That’s the most preposterous and at the same time the most profound and the most potent statement that can be made about the Godhead. Christ walked where we walk! Christ humbled Himself to become as we are so that we might become as He is. Think of the journey He took to identify with even the humblest of people.
It began with His birth. A young girl not yet betrothed is “with child.” We know that it was by the Holy Spirit, but the neighbors did not. Later, we see Mary and Joseph—strangers in Bethlehem—herded there like cattle to pay homage and duty to the throne of Rome. There lies the Infant Jesus—born in a stable, laid in a manger. No earthly king was this humble man.
For most of his adult years he worked with his hands as a carpenter. He was thirty years old before he began his public ministry. And immediately he was rejected by his own townspeople. He was ridiculed by the religious establishment. He was persecuted by both civil and synagogue authorities. And then to put an exclamation point on his rejection, at the end of his life he was scourged by soldiers and finally hung on a cross between two thieves where he died.
Even one of the thieves heaped scorn upon him. “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” he cried (Luke 23:39). Christ experienced all the scorn and the abuse that goes with being a member of the lower rung of society . . . and here is the glory of it all . . . it was all for you and for me.
In Christ we see a love that is always reaching out to the least and the lowest. Jesus’ actions on the cross were consistent with His entire life and ministry. He had taught, “Love those who persecute you . . .” and on the cross He prays for those who put Him there, Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.
When one of the thieves says to him, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answers him, Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise. His whole life was testimony to a love that reaches to the least and the lowest. How the world needs that kind of love today! Jesus entire life was one of demonstrating unending love to the least and the lowest. His was a love forever reaching out. But one more thing. His was a light that has for all time overcome the darkness.
Darkness and light are favorite images in the Scriptures, as you know. When Jesus was crucified, there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. The imagery is clear. Jesus is the light of the world and that light was being snuffed out. Not forever, of course. Or our lives would be forever hopeless.
There is an old story of a young man dying on the battlefield and he asks for a chaplain. Give me a light, chaplain, he says. The chaplain finds a cigarette and starts to put it between the boy’s lips and the young man whispers, No, no chaplain. The other kind of light. The chaplain reaches into his pocket and brings out a New Testament and begins to read, I am the light of the world: he who follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12). That’s it. That’s it, whispers the young soldier as he lapses into death.
It appears for a while that darkness will prevail on Golgotha that day, but of course it doesn’t. The darkness can never prevail over the light. Sin and death which darkness represents have been defeated. Later, Paul will write, Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. But it’s more than the sting of death that Jesus has overcome. It’s the sting of shame, the sting of humiliation, the sting of rejection.
So, your life is filled with hurt and bitterness and disappointment? He understands. He cares. He offers a new beginning. He offers a light that overcomes the darkness.
As we celebrate this Palm Sunday, as we celebrate the joyful procession and the cheering crowds, let’s acknowledge that Jesus’ life was not always that way, just as our life is not always that way. His was a life begun and ended in shame. His was a love reaching to the least and the lowest. But more importantly He is the light that can lead us from the darkness of shame and rejection into the bright day of hope and wholeness once again.
Therefore, God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.