In 1849, financier Joshua A. Norton came to San Francisco with $40,000 and big ambitions. For five years he invested his money wisely until he was filthy rich. Then he took a gamble. He invested all his money in the rice market. The market fell through and he lost every penny. No one saw him again for five years. Then in 1859, Joshua Norton walked into the office of the San Francisco Bulletin and told them to print a proclamation that he was Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States. As a joke, the editor printed his proclamation. The people of San Francisco decided to humor Emperor Norton I. They treated him with great respect. Local ships and railroad lines gave him free passes. He was allowed to speak at sessions of the state legislature. He made suggestions about improving the city, many of which were acted upon. Emperor Norton I died in 1880. His funeral was lavish, and many thousands showed up to mourn him. He was a most successful fraud.
Contrast his burial with that given to Jesus of Nazareth. There was nothing fraudulent about Jesus. Never was a man more authentic. Nobody walked the talk better than He did. What He preached, He practiced. Yet there were few admirers at Jesus’ funeral. He did not die a celebrity as did Emperor Norton I of San Francisco.
That’s where most of us live. We have our successes. We are loved by our family and friends. And yet, when our time comes to go, the world will hardly notice. Like our Master, we will die somewhat in obscurity. There are two lessons we need to learn in light of these facts, and in light of our passage of Scripture for the day.
I. THAT WHICH IS POPULAR MAY NOT NECESSARILY BE TRUE.
a. In today’s world, moral relativity has the glory and Christian values have the pain.
b. We need to make firm stands even when such stands are unpopular.
c. That which smells sweet may not necessarily be healthy.
II. YOU CAN’T BURY TRUTH FOREVER.
a. Usually truth lags behind.
b. Truth can be painfully difficult to confront.
c. The Jesus who died in obscurity now reigns in glory.
d. There is a just God who reigns over this world, and one day truth will be vindicated.
John 17:17 John 18:37-38a