Luke 23:33-43

Humble Savior, Exalted Lord

By Dr. Philip W. McLarty

If you’re liturgically minded, you know that today is Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the Christian year. The New Year for us begins on the first Sunday of Advent – which is next Sunday – not January 1.

In a word, Christ the King Sunday completes the cycle of Jesus’ life with an exclamation point: The same Jesus who came to earth as a child born in Bethlehem and wrapped in swaddling cloths now reigns on high as King of kings and Lord of lords.

What I’d like to explore in the sermon this morning is this remarkable progression from the most humble beginnings to the most exalted state imaginable. And what I hope you’ll see as we go along is the common thread of humility. It’s not only the dominant trait of Jesus’ life, it’s the model by which we’re to live if we’re to experience life in abundance. To sum it up in a word:

“He sat down, and called the twelve; and he said to them,
“If any man wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”
He took a little child, and set him in the middle of them.
Taking him in his arms, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one such little child in my name, receives me,
and whoever receives me, doesn’t receive me, but him who sent me.”
(Mark 9:35-37)

Let’s begin with the obvious: Where was Jesus born? He was born in Bethlehem, a little village about five miles south of Jerusalem. Hardly the center of influence, wealth and power. Micah describes it this way:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
being small among the clans of Judah,
out of you one will come out to me that is to be ruler in Israel.”
(Micah 5:2)

Jesus was not only born in Bethlehem, the particular place where he was born was the lowliest of places – a grotto – among the animals. Mary wrapped him in strips of cloth – a process called, “swaddling” – and laid him in a manger on top of the hay. Jesus’ birth is a portrait of humility.

Joseph and Mary took the baby to be circumcised on the eighth day and had him dedicated at the temple, then they returned to Nazareth, where he grew up.

So, what do we know about Nazareth? In Jesus’ day it was a small hamlet in backwater little village in Galilee. You won’t find it on the “Ten Most Desirable Cities” in which to live. When Philip told Nathanael that he’d found the Messiah and that he was from Nazareth, Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) That pretty well sums it up.

Historic figures often come from humble places like Nazareth. I should know: The 43rd President of the United States was born in Hope, Arkansas, my home town. Regardless of your political leanings, you’ll have to admit that’s pretty remarkable. His birthplace home still stands – a modest frame house next to the railroad tracks. To be fair, former Governor and Presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, is also from Hope.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, the son of a carpenter. Joseph is often pictured in a wood shop with a wooden mallet in his hand working on a piece of furniture. But, in Jesus’ day, a carpenter was more than a craftsman who worked with wood. A carpenter was a builder, who worked with stone and metal, as well as wood. It was a respectable, humble trade for working class men.

It just so happens that the biggest construction project at the time was in the city of Sepphoris, just three miles from Nazareth, where Herod Antipas was building his new capital. It was a typical Roman city with wide streets and formidable buildings made of limestone and covered with marble. It had a large amphitheater. You can still see it today.

Many believe Joseph would have worked as a stonemason on this project.If so, by the time Jesus was twelve or thirteen years old, he would have begun his apprenticeship, working alongside his father, walking with him to and from the work site, getting to work before sunrise and coming home in the dark.

It’s an educated guess that Jesus worked as a stonemason. What we know for sure is whatever he did for a living he did it for about fifteen years. Then he left his trade and devoted his life to heralding the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

He sought out his cousin, John, and was baptized in the Jordan River, then he went out into the desert to fast and pray, then he returned to Nazareth where, on the Sabbath, he went to the synagogue and read from the prophet Isaiah and, in effect, preached his first sermon.

Given the fact that he was the Son of God, you’d think this would’ve been the greatest sermon ever heard. But no, it almost cost him his life. The elders were so incensed by what he said that they took him out to the edge of the city to stone him to death. You could say that Jesus’ ministry had a humble beginning, at best.

He left Nazareth and moved to Capernaum. From this point on he lived from hand to mouth, as we say, by the good graces of those who invited him to stay at their homes and sup at their tables. As he later told a would-be follower,

“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

(Luke 9:58)

Jesus called his disciples and taught them how to live as part of God’s kingdom on earth. They traveled around the Galilee together teaching others and sharing the Good News of God’s grace and love. But it was Jesus the people wanted to hear. They followed him everywhere he went.

The question is: Was he acclaimed because of his greatness, or did the crowds pursue him because of what they hoped he could do for them? After all, he’d healed the sick, raised the dead and fed the multitudes. Were they hoping to be disciples, or were they just looking to be healed, or hoping to witness a miracle? Here’s what Jesus said:

“Most certainly I tell you, you seek me,
not because you saw signs,
but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled.”

(John 6:26)

You’d think that, after all Jesus did for them, the people of Galilee would’ve worshiped him and glorified him and honored him with all sorts of praise and adoration, but no – they were only hoping for a quick fix and a free ticket to heaven.

Another slice of humble pie. But the worst was yet to come.

After three years in Galilee, Jesus headed for Jerusalem. It was the beginning of the end, and he knew it. He told his disciples,

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem.
The Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes.
They will condemn him to death, and will deliver him to the Gentiles.
They will mock him, spit on him, scourge him, and kill him.
On the third day he will rise again.”

(Mark 10:33-34)

His “triumphal entry” into the holy city took a page from Zechariah, who prophesied,

“Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion!
Shout, daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King comes to you!
He is righteous, and having salvation;
lowly, and riding on a donkey,
even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
(Zechariah 9:9)

The temple leaders met him at the base of the Mount of Olives and chastised him for creating a scene. It was the first of several confrontations. By the end of the week they would have him arrested and brought before the Council.

The elders first heard the testimony of false witnesses, who contradicted each other. So, the high priest asked Jesus outright, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus replied,

“I am.
You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power,
and coming with the clouds of the sky.”

(Mark 14:62)

That’s all it took. They charged him with blasphemy and condemned him to die. Then they spat in his face and beat him with their fists. They would not be the only ones to accost him.

They took him to Pilate and charged him with treason, saying that he claimed to be king of the Jews. Pilate didn’t want to have anything to do with it, so he turned to the crowd and offered them a choice – shall I free Jesus or a convicted killer named Barabbas?

The crowd – many of whom may have welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem just days before – called for Barabbas. As for Jesus, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Mark 15:13) Pilate turned him over to the soldiers, who scourged him to within an inch of his life. Then …

“They clothed him with purple, and weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on him.
They began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
They struck his head with a reed, and spat on him,
and bowing their knees, did homage to him.
(Mark 15:17-19)

In spite of the humiliation and shame, he endured it all. In the words of a beloved old spiritual, “he never said a-mumblin’ word.”

After all this, Jesus was forced to carry his cross to the hill of Golgatha, where he was nailed to the beams and hanged between two thieves to die. From the cradle to the tomb, his life was a portrait of humility. It fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, who said,

“He was despised, and rejected by men;
a man of suffering, and acquainted with disease …
Surely he has borne our sickness, and carried our suffering …
he was pierced for our transgressions.
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought our peace was on him;
and by his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone has turned to his own way;
and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
(Isaiah 53:3-6)

The Good News is that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story. On the third day he rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples, then to a number of people in various places. After forty days, he ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

From birth to death, from death to eternal glory, the humble Savior became our exalted Lord.

That’s how I would tell the story of Jesus. But it’s more than a story, it’s a way of life, and humility is the key. We see this over and over:

• The sinful woman who knelt before Jesus and washed his feet with her tears (Luke 7:38);

• The Syro-Phoenecian woman who was willing to grovel like a dog if Jesus would only heal her daughter (Matthew 15:27);

• The thief on the cross, who humbly asked, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

God pours out his mercies on those who are humble, while those who are proud must walk away empty handed. The psalmist said it best: “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Individually, all that’s necessary to experience new life in Christ is to confess your need of him and call on his name. Collectively, as a church … as a nation … the promise is the same:

“… if my people, who are called by my name,
will humble themselves, pray, seek my face,
and turn from their wicked ways;
then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin,
and will heal their land.”
(2 Chronicles 7:14)

Jesus made it simple: Let go of your arrogance, pride and pretense and lay down your life for others, to the glory of God; for in dying to self, you will be born again into a life that can never be taken away. Paul’s great hymn says it best:

“Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him,
and gave to him the name which is above every name;
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”
(Philippians 2:5-11)

To God be the glory, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2013 Philip McLarty. Used by permission.