Palm Sunday| April 17, 2011| Rev. Rolf Preus| Philippians 2:5-11
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of 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
The mind of Christ is a humble attitude.
Jesus is God. He is not just a man. He has never been just a man. From the time he was conceived in his mother’s womb he was the eternal, almighty, omniscient God. When God became a man he did not cease to be God. His divine nature did not change to become less than divine. Jesus is really and truly God.
This is why he has the form of God. He has the form of God because he is God. The form of God is the bearing or attitude of God. God acts as he is. Since he is God he thinks like God thinks. He does what God does. God is to be adored and worshipped. Jesus accepts adoration and worship from the time he is a little baby and the Wise Men from the East come and give him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
But what did he do? He before whom the whole world will one day bow and confess him to be Lord – what did he do? He who knew it would not be robbery for him to claim equality with God because he was equal to God – what did he do?
He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and [came] in the likeness of men.” He has the form of God. He takes the form of a servant. He lowers himself. He abases himself. He humbles himself. He not only becomes a man he looks like no more than a man.
This is Christ’s humiliation. It began when he was born and ended when he died. Christ’s exaltation began when he died and continues forever. During his state of humiliation, Jesus did not always fully use his divine powers. He had divine powers because he was God. He never stopped being God. God cannot change and become less than what he is. God didn’t change when he was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man.
Furthermore, there was nothing inherent in God becoming one of us that required him to humble himself and hide his glory. As God Jesus had the form of God and as such was exalted far above all other human beings. As God he was nobody’s servant. He was to be served. After all, does not the First Commandment say, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only you shall serve”?
But when the eternal Son of the eternal Father became a human being he not only became one of us; he chose to humble himself. From his birth until his death he set aside the full use of his divine power in order to live the life of a humble and obedient servant.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Then God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name. After he humbled himself in obedience all the way to the death of the cross he was exalted. Now he fully uses all of his divine power. He assumes the form and bearing of God. He is no longer in a state of humiliation. He is in a state of exaltation.
If we fail to distinguish between Christ’s humiliation and exaltation we will be led into confusion and error. The Bible will appear to contradict itself. We will be left wondering who Jesus is. Our faith will be put into doubt.
When Jesus appeared to be no more than an ordinary man he was true God. When he became obedient and submitted himself to God and man alike he was true God. He had almighty power. But he didn’t use it. He had divine glory. But he hid it. He deserved worship, honor, and reverence from all people. It was his. It belonged to him. But he willingly traded it for contempt, shame, humiliation, and the cross.
Christ is true God and true man at the same time. His human nature receives and shares in the divine powers that he, as the Son of God, has had from eternity. But during his humiliation, he did not always fully use the divine powers that his human nature shared. He humbled himself. He chose not to know what he already knew. He chose to hide his almighty power. He could have done miracles to help himself through life, but he didn’t. His miracles were always for the benefit of others. He deliberately refused to take advantage of the power that belonged to him.
Because of this, some heretics have argued that Jesus was not really and truly God. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, will point to the fact that Jesus did not know when the end of the world would come as evidence that he wasn’t really God. But this was during his humiliation when he chose not to know what he already knew. After Jesus rose from the dead and asked Peter if he loved him, Peter said to him, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”
The mind of Christ is a humble attitude. It appears to be so simple, doesn’t it? Perhaps it is. But this does not make it easy. It goes against the grain. The flesh – that is, our sinful desires – rebels at the very idea. We want to exalt ourselves above others. We want others to serve us. We want a greater status than we deserve. We want our own way. And we think that if we don’t take it we won’t have it so we grab hold of it any way we can.
And this is what we are taught. The self-serving, self-promoting, self-centered ethic of self-exaltation is proclaimed in the name of religion. Empowerment is what it’s all about. Empowering people is considered to be the christian thing to do! But the christian thing to do is exactly the opposite. It is letting go of whatever status we think we have for the sake of serving those in need of our help – whatever it might be.
What is the source of all heresies and divisions in the Church? It is the mind that won’t humble itself before God or man. This is where all false doctrine comes from. Pride sets itself against the clear teaching of God’s word and the faithful confession of the Church. This is where all quarreling and bickering begin. Pride insists on being honored and will not stoop to honor others.
St. Paul sets Jesus before us as our example. He humbled himself in the face of arrogance, cruelty, and scorn. What makes us angry and makes us want to put the other person in his place was met by Jesus with humility and gentleness. He practiced what he preached. He taught us to turn the other cheek and that’s just what he did. Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted; whoever exalts himself will be abased.” Think like Jesus thought. He is God in the flesh and he assumes the posture, the bearing, the appearance, the form of a dutiful servant.
His obedience sends him to the cross. Now that was unfair. You don’t need to be some kind of a theologian to see that! He did nothing wrong. He threatened no one. Yes, he claimed to be a king – but look at his kingdom! He rides on a beast of burden. He is lowly and humble. He wants no power to force anybody to do anything. He is the epitome of gentleness and meekness. And he must die. He must suffer. He must bear abuse and ridicule. It was supremely unfair.
Think like Jesus thought. When it was unfair he kept silent and did what his Father required. He obeyed. And we see what good it did. By his obedience he made us righteous. As St. Paul says, “By one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” He put the lie to the claim of the flesh that looking out for number one is the only way to get ahead. For in his humble obedience, delivering us from our sin and rendering us righteous before God, he has won
. . . the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
How did he achieve that? By his humble and obedient suffering, that’s how he achieved that. In setting aside his prerogatives and tolerating unfairness, that’s how he achieved that. By embracing an inferior status for our sakes, that’s how he won the name that is above every name. It was in his humility that love confronted and defeated hatred.
Satan’s arrows flew into him with the full fierceness of malicious judgment – the intolerable cruelty of deliberate lies designed to hurt and debase. But he knew who he was. He knew that he could, without robbery, claim equality with God. He knew that tolerating abuse all the way to a painful death would not debase him, but would exalt him and not only him but also us.
That’s where we fix our faith. We worship him who died. His obedience is ours. God, by a most beautiful exchange, placed all of our sin on his obedient and suffering Servant, reckoning his righteousness to us. There is no sin upon us because he, in his humility, bore it. There is nothing lacking in our righteousness – our robes are spotless and pure – because his humility was more powerful than all the arrogance of sin.
And now in him we know in what true greatness consists. It is not when we assert our own rights. It is when we claim the merits and mediation of Jesus. It is as we are united with him through faith that we see what is truly noble and high-minded. It is not the manufactured appearance of greatness that the world adores. It is not the self-promotion that captures the affections of our sinful flesh. It is not Satan’s lie as he promises, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” It is the mind of Christ. See his attitude displayed as he rides into Jerusalem to begin his reign as King. See him claim his kingdom as he is led to the cross to suffer and die.
The whole world will bow before him. All people of all times and places will confess him to be Lord. We who have known him by faith will confess with joy and the anticipation of eternal life. Those who have rejected his grace and sought to exalt themselves up to heaven will confess with terror and shame. But all will confess.
Meanwhile, we find in the mind of Christ our own identity as Christians. We don’t seek to grasp for what God so freely gives us. We have Christ. We don’t need to vindicate ourselves when we have him who by his suffering and death renders us righteous before God and fit to enter into eternal life. We have Christ. To him we pray:
And when thy glory I shall see
And taste thy kingdom’s pleasure,
Thy blood my royal robe shall be,
My joy beyond all measure;
When I appear before thy throne,
Thy righteousness shall be my crown
With these I need not hide me.
And there in garments richly wrought
As thine own bride I shall be brought
To stand in joy beside thee. Amen
Rolf D. Preus