Palm Sunday| March 20, 2016| 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
This presidential election campaign is great entertainment – for some of us, anyway. I grew up in a home where theology and politics were discussed openly, frequently, and with great conviction. Theology is the more important topic since it deals with what matters the most: our eternal salvation. Political events pale in importance. As much as we love our country, we all know that there will come a time when the United States of America will be no more. Christ’s kingdom, on the other hand, will have no end. Theology as a topic of conversation is far more important than politics. Theology deals with the spiritual and the eternal. Politics deals only with the here and now.
Still, we are here now. And we will be here for a little while. Political matters aren’t unimportant. Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread. Luther’s Small Catechism includes as our daily bread pious and faithful rulers, and good government. These are blessings from God. It is good to take an interest in politics. In Romans 13, St. Paul teaches us that the civil authorities are God’s servants. The Bible teaches us about such faithful civil servants as Joseph through whom God blessed ancient Egypt and Daniel through whom God blessed the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. God has blessed our country with a stable civil government. Thank God for the blessings he has showered upon our country!
While both theology and politics are important topics dealing with important matters, it is very dangerous to mix the two together. It is especially dangerous to faith when leaders in the church substitute legal authority for the church’s spiritual authority. When the church replaces the gospel with the law she kills her children.
The gospel is powerful. St. Paul calls it the power of God unto salvation. It’s a hidden power. It doesn’t rely on force. Look at Jesus. He rides a donkey. He hides his power under humility. He comes in peace to make peace. The Bible says, “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29) Jesus is our God. But Jesus, who as true God possesses the form of God that would destroy us, comes to us in a way that doesn’t destroy us. Instead of grasping onto his divine glory he humbles himself. He who had the form of God took upon himself the form of the servant.
Think of it! He is God in the flesh. Becoming a man didn’t make him any less God. God is God. He is immutable. Moses writes in Psalm 90, “From everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” Psalm 90:1 God cannot lose his power. He cannot become weak. He cannot lose his divinity. God is almighty. He possesses eternal glory. But watch God in action as he comes to rescue us from our enemies. He joins our flesh and blood and humbles himself all the way to the death of a cross. He whose word is law submits himself to the law in humble obedience.
They mocked him and he didn’t respond in kind. They insulted him and he kept quiet. They tormented him. He took it. He endured it. He, whose holiness shined forth in every deed he did and in every word he spoke, suffered the lies of liars without complaint. He obeyed. He suffered. He died.
His humility led to his glory. It is important to distinguish between Christ’s humiliation and Christ’s exaltation. His humiliation was when he, in his human nature, did not take full advantage of his divine powers, but instead obeyed and suffered in humility. He humbled himself all the way to the cross where he died. His humiliation led to his exaltation. Christ’s exaltation is when he, in his human nature, fully uses all of his divine powers. To him is given the name that is above every name. At the name of Jesus everyone everywhere will bow. Everyone everywhere will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Why will everyone everywhere bow before Jesus and acknowledge him to be Lord? They will do so because he humbled himself, suffered, and died, not to benefit himself, but to benefit us poor, lost sinners. He did it out of love. It was love for his Father. He obeyed him. It was love for us. He took our place and did what the law required of us. He bore our sin. He suffered the punishment we deserved. The blood he shed on Calvary washes away our sins. The root of all sin is pride. Christ, our substitute, offered his humble obedience to his Father. On the cross, his humility conquered our pride.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is how the Lord comes to us. “Hosanna!” We cry to him for salvation. He saves us. He came to save us, hiding his glory under his deep humility. He comes to save us, hiding his glory under the forms of bread and wine. It was God in the flesh who rode that donkey and it is God in the flesh who feeds us with his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
What is the greatest good? Of everything that is good, what is the greatest? Is it comfort: A life free from pain and suffering? Is it wealth: always having every material good your heart desires? Is it friends: having people you can count on to be on your side when the world is against you? What do you think is the greatest good?
If we are to know God, love God, serve God, and enjoy fellowship with God, surely, the greatest good is God himself. But how to have God – that’s the question that has perplexed the brightest philosophers and the most devout theologians. Our text for today speaks of having the mind of Christ. Paul writes, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” How do we get the mind of Christ? The Bible says that Christ is the image of God. To have Christ is to have God, as Jesus said to Thomas, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” How do we gain the mind of Christ?
A late medieval priest by the name of Thomas Kempis wrote a book called, “The Imitation of Christ.” It is beautifully written. It guides the Christian in a life of imitation with Christ as our guide to true happiness. Do as he did. In this way you will enjoy what he has to give. Imitate Christ. That’s the path to true blessedness. As I was reading this book a while ago, I was reminded of the fad among young Christians several years ago to wear bracelets with the letters WWJD on them: “What would Jesus do?” He was humble. Be humble. There. That’s the path to true communion with God.
No, it is not. It sounds so pious, so devout, so very humble, and so Christian. But it’s wrong. It is wrong, not because we should not imitate Christ’s humility. We should. It is wrong because it assumes that by imitating Christ we will gain what Christ can give. Jesus never said this. Jesus said,
If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)
Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death. (John 8:51)
The fruit of Christ’s humility is his victory over our enemies. He exercises almighty power – power to crush the lying head of the serpent – as he suffers and died for us on the cross. It is his bearing of our sin and washing it away by his blood that has taken away from the devil his power over us. The power of Christ’s kingdom is the forgiveness of our sins. This is ours through faith alone in Christ. We gain the benefits of Christ’s humility through trusting in it. In the chapter of Philippians following our text for today, we read these words:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)
The knowledge of Christ is not gained through humble imitation. It is received through faith. Through faith in his gospel, through holding onto his words, we gain Christ and are covered by his righteousness, a righteousness he obtained for us by taking on the form of a bondservant and submitting in humble obedience to the Father, all the way to the death of the cross.
True faith doesn’t come by imitating Jesus. It comes by listening to Jesus. By hearing his word and taking it to heart we learn what true humility is. True humility doesn’t come about by what we do. Note what the Apostle says: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” True humility comes from having a change of mind. It comes from repentance. It doesn’t come from doing. It comes from receiving.
Christ’s humility breaks down the sinful pride that keeps us in captivity to our own sin. Christ’s humility is what sets us free from Satan’s lies and gives us the mind of Christ. The devil, the world, and our flesh say that self-promotion is how to gain the greatest good that can be gained. That’s a lie. Self-promotion leads to abasement by God himself. Jesus said so. He said:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)
Today is the first day of holy week. We follow our Lord’s path to the cross. On Maundy Thursday we hear Jesus teach us of true greatness. It is not crowing about being great. It is not bragging about one’s importance, or achievements, or popularity, or wealth, or power. It is humble service. It is washing the feet of others. On Good Friday we watch Jesus suffer and die. What is good about Good Friday? The forgiveness of sins, peace with God, freedom from the control of evil, confidence in the face of death, hope of eternal life where we will see God in glory without having to turn away – all this is the good of Good Friday.
This gospel gives us the mind of Christ. What good is it to grasp onto status at the expense of our neighbor? What good is it in keeping a score of wrongs? Let this dying world grasp onto all the fleeting glory it can hold in its feeble hands. We have something better. When we refuse to fight for our pride but rather bear the insult; when we endure the injustice patiently; when we honor the law of love as greater than our own pride; we imitate him whose humble obedience has won for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. We have the mind of Christ.
Every knee will bow before him. Every tongue will confess him as Lord. As Christ glorifies his Christians, all creation will acknowledge and confess him. This is how God the Father will be glorified forever. Amen.