Palm Sunday Sermon| March 16, 2008| Rev. Rolf Preus| Philippians 2
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 prophet Zechariah foretold it. He told Jerusalem that her king would come to her lowly, riding on a donkey. St. Matthew recorded it for us. We sing of his coming whenever we receive the Lord’s Supper. “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” He came humbly, riding on a donkey. He comes humbly, in the form of bread and wine.
There’s nothing about the bread that is very impressive. Just little pieces of unleavened bread, the kind of bread Jesus gave to his disciples when he said, “Take eat this is my body which is given for you.” There’s nothing impressive about the wine, either. It is ordinary wine. Yet God’s word teaches us that the bread we eat and the wine we drink are the body and blood of Jesus, given and shed to forgive us our sins. And where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation.
The king did not ride into Jerusalem on a donkey because he wanted to display his glory. Just the opposite is the case. He came into the holy city riding on a donkey because he wanted to hide his glory. He wanted us to see him in such a way that we could receive him.
What would happen if God came to us with his glory uncovered? What if he came to us without hiding the form of his majesty under the cover of humility? We’d die of fright. Consider how, in the biblical accounts, people recoil in fear at the appearance of angels. But angels only reflect God’s glory dimly. They are like the moon to the sun. Still, their glory is frightening to those who witness it. Had God revealed himself to us in the fullness of his glory we could not have received him. Seeing him in this way would make us run and hide.
But the crowd didn’t run and hide when Jesus rode into town on a donkey. They ran out and welcomed him. They paved a road for him with their own garments and with palm branches. They certainly weren’t afraid of him. He didn’t ride on a war horse that would scare the children away. He rode on a beast of burden. He refused any display of pomp. He deliberately chose to come into the holy city in humility. He came in such a way that we could receive him.
He was in the form of God. That’s because he was God. God’s form is pure glory and majesty and power. He is God so he has God’s form. It was not robbery for him to claim equality with God. He was equal to the Father. He was of the same substance as the Father. He shared the same glory as the Father. He was in the form of God. And while he could not set aside his divinity, he could and he did set aside the form of God to take upon himself the form of a servant instead.
What a thing to do! It is amazing because it’s exactly the opposite of how people naturally behave. We assume a glory that is not ours. We set ourselves above others. We want to be in charge. We want to be recognized. We want status and we want others to know we have it. We drop the name to let others know how important we really are. Always grasping for what doesn’t really belong to us.
Jesus sets aside what is his by right. Who should be honored and glorified and praised more than Jesus? No one! He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God! But he chooses to become a man. More than that, he chooses poverty, humility, obedience, and death. It was not enough to join us as a human being. Jesus became the most humble and dutiful man who ever lived. He submitted in humility to shame and disgrace. He set aside the full use of his powers. He did not demand what was rightfully his. He embraced the humble life of obedience all the way to the cross.
Isn’t it amazing how Jesus could be so highly praised on Palm Sunday and so savagely denounced on Good Friday? Where was the adoring crowd? Where did it go? Who stood up to defend him? His closest disciples ran away and hid. They denied him. And what did Jesus do to grasp onto the recognition given him on Palm Sunday? Not a thing. He let it go.
Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus. It is a matter of attitude. It is how you think. Jesus did not need to grasp for what belonged to him. His honor was impeccable. They could not destroy it regardless of how many lies they told. His word was infallible. They couldn’t falsify it no matter how hard they tried. His life was pure and holy. They could find no fault in him.
They could not take anything away from him. Even as he dutifully and obediently bore the death and shame and disgrace of the cross, he did so of his own free will. He emptied himself of what was rightfully his so that we might gain it as our own.
But should we try to grasp it as our due we will never get it. Should we try to establish it on our own we will fail. We gain what belongs to Christ in only one way: through faith. It is pure gift. Gifts are not earned. Gifts are given freely or they are not gifts at all. Faith receives what is freely given.
We work so hard to elevate ourselves and it is all for naught. Just look at the braggart and what do you see? You see a fool who fools only himself. And even if you can, as Abraham Lincoln observed, fool most of the people most of the time, what good is it? If it is not true, what good is it? What kind of glory, recognition, or status is it that is built on lies? Only that which is built on Christ can endure for he and he alone has won the form of God.
It was his. It was his eternally. He was God. God is eternal. So in his true and eternal deity he possessed the form of the glorious and almighty God. Then he set it aside. He hid his divine glory over the cover of his humble humanity. He never ceased to be God. He never ceased to have all divine power, glory, honor, and majesty. But he hid his glory under humility. In his holy humanity he humbled himself completely. He bore taunts, insults, injustice, unbearable cruelty, and shameful death. In his deep humiliation, he won the favor of his Father. In his humanity he won the right to be glorified. He won the right for us to be glorified with him.
He did what no one had ever done before. And now, after dying and rising from the dead, he is exalted above everyone with a higher status than any man had ever achieved before. He earned this status by his humble obedience and now he is exalted as Lord of lords. Everyone will acknowledge him as Lord, even those who did not trust in him in this life. On the last day they will be forced to admit that Jesus – the humble, obedient, suffering Jesus – is the Lord God.
When Jesus was exalted up on high those who belong to him were exalted with him. We belong to him through faith. We embrace him by trusting in his gospel. It is for us sinners. It is for us who admit our sin. We know that we’ve grasped onto what we had no right to claim. We’ve put others down to raise ourselves up. We know it. We are sorry for it. For the sake of Christ’s humble obedience all the way to the cross, God forgives us all our sins committed in pride. He gives us in Christ a glory that we couldn’t have found in ourselves or for ourselves. For when God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name he exalted us with him.
We claim the name of Jesus and we claim the glory that he won for us. In this faith we find our identity. We are heirs of the glory that Jesus won for us by his humility. We don’t need to grasp what is ours. God holds it for us. He is able to keep what we commit to him. He is able to secure our status for us. He is able to right every wrong done against us.
In claiming the name of Jesus we claim his attitude. Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus. It is a habit of thinking. We consider how Jesus deserved praise. But he chose to leave it behind. He did not bask in the adulation of the Palm Sunday crowd. He chose the suffering and rejection of the cross. This was what was in his mind. Just as the glory he won for humanity is ours by faith right now, so is the attitude by which he won it. Faith is born in humility. Faith leads to obedience. We follow Jesus in his way of thinking. We learn humility, not just as imitators of his actions, but as those who know the fruit of his suffering.
You don’t lose anything by setting aside your pride. You don’t lose your status as a child of God and an heir of glory by putting up with insults. When we want for others the same reputation and status we want for ourselves we have the mind of Christ. We think like Jesus thinks. And then life begins to make much more sense. For God exalts the humble and abases the proud. To be humbled as we are conformed to Christ’s image is to find our true identity and purpose. And it is to find true joy in living. Amen.