[Sorry, missed the readings and special music today]
Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-22
April 2, 2023
- Finding Comfort in Emptiness
There are all kinds of things these days making waves across the news. You have no doubt heard about former president Trump being indicted. You also have probably heard about the people who died in the recent tornadoes. Russia keeps inserting itself into the news, most lately with its arrest of the American reporter. Even if you don’t know what TikTok is, you have heard of how it is making the US nervous and many want to ban it. You have also heard about the unease in the banking world with at least a couple of banks falling prey to bank runs. There are things that we all hear about, especially in this day of print, television, internet, and radio news.
What about in a day long before newspapers, electricity, computers, radio towers, and satellites? 1400 years before the printing press, Jesus was making waves that are still shaking the world. There is something that you need to understand about this day in Jewish history. For generations and generations, the Jewish people had been living under the boot of others. They wanted nothing more than freedom to worship God and to be God’s people. The Messiah would come to lead them to this freedom as a king. Guess what day the Messiah was to appear? This day. Guess what gate the Messiah would come through? This gate. Guess what kind of image a new David might use to enter the town? When Solomon became the king, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Zechariah 9 describes this very image for the coming king. The new David was coming on this day, at this gate, in this way, and everyone then knew that this was the sign.
The place was packed. So many people gathered in Jerusalem for Passover. This was something you would absolutely do, if possible. Passover was their Independence Day, when they were freed from slavery to the Egyptians, when God turned the Egyptian hearts to send the Hebrew people out. So you can understand why the crowd was revved up. You can understand why the Romans in control there might get nervous. You can understand why the Jewish religious leadership saw the waves rocking their boat. After all, Jesus meant trouble and change for them. Other messiah wannabes (yes, they popped up every few years) had not gotten this much attention. Jesus was the last thing they wanted, but the people wanted Jesus more than anything. His very name means “God is Salvation.” The air was electric with enthusiasm for everyone in the parade but one.
My image of Jesus here on this day, at this gate, in this manner of riding in, has always been very somber to me. He knew what was coming. He knew those crowds cheering him on would call for his death in a few days. He knew how agonizing his death would be. He knew how his friends would desert him, even betray him. There was nothing fun or joyful about this parade. Jesus is angry about the people selling things in the Temple. He is angry at the fig tree. By the way, the fig tree was a symbol for the Temple which in Jesus’ eye was never going to bear fruit, again. Matthew’s Gospel is always very critical of his people.
This is where it gets tough to follow, though. From any purely human perspective, it would seem like Jesus is depressed or just incredibly low. And that might be the fact. If Jesus is entirely human, which he was, must be handling these situations through human emotion. This is the same man who sweated in the garden like he was bleeding. There is no describing the physical toll this whole week was going to take on him, and he knew it was coming. He could not have known just how excruciating it would be to carry that cross and be nailed to it. I don’t imagine he had that kind of knowledge. He knew it was coming, but he still had to live it to know the pain in his body.
This is where Philippians 2 is helpful. Have you ever been empty? I have felt empty before. Thankfully, not often but yes. If you have ever carried a great weight in life, then you might have too. Maybe you’re carrying emptiness right now and are with us today, anyway. May God bless you. It is easy to think of a loss as a time of being emptied – when you have nothing left to give. I know ever greater times of emptiness are ahead for me. I feel very full sometimes, and I feel empty at other times. That is part of being human. What Jesus did, however, makes me nervous.
The very notion of God being empty is scary, but Jesus emptying himself is a little different from us. The expression really means that he set aside being God – gave it up as far as his human life went. It was meaningless to him that Jesus was also God. His life as a man was entirely as a man. It did not gain him to be God; it did not make him a super-man. He did not cheat nor have anything easier because he was the Son of God. That is the point. Not only did he ride into this week of torment and trial, but he also rode into this week without any extra help. He bore the week as any of us might. He just did it with a great deal more faith.
There are lots of stories of in our culture of people who were powerful in some way laying aside that power to be with someone else who seemed to be smaller, less significant, more humble. The relationship is worth more than the title or position or authority. In these stories, if one has to choose between power and love, love wins every time. That is Jesus.
I cannot get my mind around how a divine being would go to so much trouble to have a relationship with us. Don’t get me wrong – I think we are pretty interesting, amazing, and special people. Mr. Rodgers is right. But think about it: if Paul is correct here in Philippians 2, then Jesus laid aside his godness so that it had no value in his life, and he became a man and lived this life and suffered this death ALL for the sake of our love. There is no other answer. He was not happy to have to do this. It gave him no joy to march to the cross. He did not welcome the throngs of praise and calls for salvation. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is weeping here. He did not love the parade, but he did love us. He made it his personal mission to love us even if it cost him the worst treatment and the worst death. He made it his mission to love us into life, even if it meant he had to be completely and entirely one of us.
He was empty, too.
Who means the most in Jesus’ heart? Who makes it worth it to him to take the pain and torture and execution? Who makes all the trouble of being born and dealing with the human craziness worthwhile? You and me. This is a tough week. We are walking into dark places and sharing in tough moments. I genuinely hope we truly appreciate what Jesus went through just to give us a future. That is love. He emptied himself to give us this love. And I am truly thankful he did. To God be the glory. Amen.