Epistle: Philippians 2:5–11
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Palm Sunday| Philippians 2:5-11| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| April 2, 2023
What does it mean that Christ Jesus was in the form of God and did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped? It means that before Christ Jesus emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, He was already equal with God and possessed the majesty of God. Before He was conceived of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and made a man, Jesus was God. Jesus did not become God after He was crucified and risen. He did not receive His divinity at His Baptism or at His transfiguration. Christ Jesus is God from eternity. On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus prayed to His Father, “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” (John 17:5)
This Jesus, who was in the form of God from eternity, who is God from eternity, who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, because He had been and always will be equal to God, this Jesus emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave, becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross. This is called the Humiliation of Christ. In the Humiliation of Christ, Jesus hides His divine glory. He does not cease to be God. Even as he grows in His mother’s womb and when He is born a weak infant and laid in a manger, He remains God. He is God as He hungers and thirsts, as He is scourged and spit upon, as He wears the crown of thorns, as He is nailed to the cross and dies. While Christ’s humiliation corresponds in time with His incarnation, Jesus did not need to humiliate Himself to become a man. Jesus today is still a man in His exalted state, sitting at the right hand of the Father with His enemies under His feet. Jesus can be a human being without being humiliated. But He chose not only to be a human being, but to become a servant for our sake.
Jesus Christ did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for all people (Matthew 20:28). Although He had the right to demand the praise of all men and angels and to order them to serve Him, He put aside His kingly rights, so that He could reign from the cross. Words cannot express this humiliation. Christ was infinitely exalted, equal with God the Father and Holy Spirit in glory and majesty from before the foundation of the world, and He lowered Himself down to a slave. Although He Himself is the author of the Law, who gave the Law to Moses, He was born of a woman, under the Law (Galatians 4:4-5). He did this to redeem us who were under the Law. Jesus in human flesh was obedient to God. He loved Him wholly and perfectly. He not only understood the Law better than the Scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests, but He lived it perfectly. Jesus was the only man ever to live to earn His way to heaven. Yet, He did not take His prize. Instead, He took upon Himself the guilt of all people and died worse than a slave’s death. He was obedient to God’s wrath against our sins, even to death on the cross, being crucified between two criminals.
This is the Humiliation of Christ. He was infinitely high, and He brought Himself infinitely low for our sake, to pay for our offense. He is literally God in the flesh, yet He did not boast or exalt Himself above others. Why then is it so difficult for us to humble ourselves before others?
St. Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is God, yet He humbled Himself to the point beyond human semblance (Isaiah 52:14). That is the mind of Christ we should imitate. St. Paul wrote immediately before this epistle lesson, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit (that is from selfishness or vainglory), but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) It’s a healthy thing to remind yourself that you are not God. If God could humble Himself for the sake of mankind, you certainly can humble yourself.
But this disease of sin makes us foolish and prideful. We want to think we’re the smartest in the room, or the most sensible, or the best looking, or the most righteous, or the hardest worker. We laugh at the disciples for arguing which one of them was the greatest, yet we don’t argue because we think it is a forgone conclusion! By exhorting us to be humble, St. Paul simply continues the work our Lord Jesus did. This Thursday we’ll hear Jesus tell His disciples, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14) Another time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:27-28)
Brother puts down sister, sister puts down brother. We think our way is best. Yet, our pride is a delusion. Like Yertle the Turtle, it will only make us king of the mud. Everything we have has been given to us from above, so don’t act as if you have made yourself great! (1 Corinthians 4:7) And if God has made you great, then you should use your greatness to serve others.
A common theme throughout Scripture, which Jesus repeats several times is, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12) This is a lesson we must continue to learn our entire lives. When we stop learning this lesson, we lose our salvation.
It is important for us to humble ourselves, because being humble is honest. We are sinners. We should not claim to be better than others. Also, being humble guards us from wicked sins caused by pride. How often have Christians refused correction by a faithful pastor or other fellow Christians because of their pride? Yet, none of us is above correction.
By being humble we also follow the path of Christ, which is the only path to salvation. Jesus humbled Himself by submitting to the Law, we were under and by bearing the guilt for our sins. So, we should repent of our sins for which Jesus died and follow Him to receive His grace. By being humble, we receive our salvation by grace, as a gift.
The Humiliation of Christ is when Jesus hides His divine glory and power. This took place when He became a servant, suffered, and died for our sins. As Jesus was humiliated, so also was He exalted. The Exaltation of Christ is when He exercises His full divine glory and power. This happened when He finished His suffering on the cross, proclaimed His victory in hell, rose from the dead, and is now ascended to the right hand of God the Father.
When we follow Jesus in His humiliation, we then also follow Him in His exaltation. St. Paul quotes Psalm 68 in his letter to the Ephesians, “When He ascended on high He led a host of captives.” We were those captives. Jesus does not ascend alone. He ascended leading us in His train, who humbled ourselves with Him.
God has highly exalted Christ and given Him the name which is above every name. That means that Jesus is God. We know no God but Jesus. Therefore, at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Every knee shall bow. Every knee. Those in heaven, those on earth, and those in hell. Every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess. Every tongue in heaven, on earth, and in hell. Yet, not all will confess willingly. They will not all confess with joy. Many will confess with gnashing teeth, cursing under their breath that they rejected Christ and tried to exalt themselves above God in this life.
Yet, those who have humbled themselves in this life, who have confessed their sins to God and have repented of them, and who have accepted God’s grace as a free gift, they will bow willingly. They will confess joyfully. And they will be lifted up to live with Christ in His heavenly Kingdom.
On Palm Sunday, we sing hymns of praises to our King Jesus, remembering how He road into Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey, with the praise of the people and children with palm branches waving. Yet, He is a strange champion. He carries no weapon. He conquers no physical enemy. He refuses to protect Himself. He lays down His life and dies. Yet, He is our champion. He is our God, who paid for our sins by His suffering and death, putting to shame Satan and hell and opening the gates of Heaven for us.
And so, we learn to humble ourselves before God. Because, as God the Father exalted Christ when He humbled Himself, so God will also exalt us for Christ’s sake when we humble ourselves before Him. And we learn to follow Jesus’ example and humble ourselves before men. What do you have to prove? What do you have to lose by being humble before others? Nothing. If you lose anything by it, God will restore you a hundredfold in the life to come. Yet, by exalting yourself, you lose everything.
This Holy Week, we will watch our Lord Jesus descend into the mire of sin, shame, guilt, death, and condemnation. Yet, He descends into this muck to retrieve us out of it and bring us to heaven. If we try to meet Christ in heaven, we will be cast down. But if we humble ourselves before Him, He will bend down to bring us up.
Just as Jesus did not cease to be God when He humbled Himself for our sake, so also He did not stopped being a man when He was exalted. He continues to intercede for us before the Father’s Throne as the representative of the human race (Romans 8:34). Our human nature has been exalted to the Father’s right hand in heaven in the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we have no fear of being left behind if we trust in Jesus. We cannot ascend to Him. But He most certainly will take us to where He is, if we humble ourselves in faith. Amen.