Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not regard being equal with God something to be held onto, 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. (Php. 2:5-11)
The root of all sin is pride. The devil, the world, and our flesh say that self-promotion is how to gain the greatest good that can be gained. The devil even tempted Jesus in this way – bow down, worship me, I’ll give you the kingdoms of the world. Disobey the Word of God, exalt yourself. That’s a lie Jesus said a firm no to, but Judas, and our first parents, and their children’s children have found out the hard way to be oh so very empty and deadly. Self-promotion leads to abasement by God himself. Jesus said it this way:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)
But on this Palm Sunday, consider our God in action as He comes to rescue us from the lying devil, the wicked world, and the sinful flesh, all of which disturb and entangle us in the thorns of our pride and self-exaltation. Look at Jesus. He rides a donkey. No white stallion. No chariot, no swords, no spears, no show of strength at all. He hides his power under humility. He comes in peace, to the praises of children, to make peace. He joins our flesh and blood and humbles himself, obedient to the Father’s will, all the way to the death of a cross.
St. Paul sets Jesus before us as our example. He humbled himself in the face of arrogance, cruelty, and scorn. What pricks our pride and 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. 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 lies of liars without complaint. As a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not his mouth. Think like Jesus thought. He is God in the flesh and he assumes the posture, the bearing, the appearance, the form of a dutiful and obedient servant.
His obedience sends him to the cross. Now that was unfair. Jesus 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.
So when your pride is hurt, and you hold in your anger and hard feelings for just the right time to score your points and exalt yourself at the expense of your neighbor, think like Jesus thought. When it was unfair he kept silent and did what his Father required. He obeyed. He suffered. He submitted. He died.
And we see what great 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 devil, the world, and our 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.”
Christ’s state of humiliation, our catechumens learn, was when he, in his human nature, did not take full advantage of his divine powers, but instead obeyed and suffered in humility, to His death and burial.
His humiliation led to his exaltation. He who humbles himself will be exalted. 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 this happen? They will so bow in reverence and humility 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, submitted to his will. 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. Christ, our substitute, offered his humble obedience to his Father. On the cross, his humility conquered our pride. 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, sets us free from lust for what the world offers up, defeats our own sinful flesh which we inherit and would otherwise condemn us. Christ’s humility exalts us before the Father, an exaltation that we do not deserve but which is accounted ours for Christ’s sake.
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 all who believe on His name with him.
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. It was the humble exaltation of our Lord on the cross that draws all men to Himself, it is the apparent foolishness and weakness of our Lord on the cross that actually is wisdom and power. All people of all times and places will confess the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ to be Lord. We who have known him by humble and repentant 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.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This same Lord, so exalted on high, still comes to us from heaven in blessed humility. “Hosanna!” We cry to him for salvation every week. He saves us. He forgives us. 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.”
Today is the first day of holy week. Now we follow our Lord’s path to the cross and hear once again the marvelous story of our salvation, the beating heart of our faith, the power of God unto salvation. On Maundy Thursday we hear Jesus teach us of true greatness. It is not bragging about being great, or one’s importance, or achievements, or popularity, or wealth, or power. It is humble service. It is washing the feet of others, loving the loveless that they might lovely be.
On Good Friday we watch Jesus suffer and die, sitting with him through his blessed hours upon the cross, lamenting the reproach and humiliation of the cross which we made him to endure.
On Holy Saturday, we come to the vigil, where we move from the evening light of the Sabbath rest in the tomb to the beginning of the third day, and come to celebrate the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, freedom from the control of evil, confidence in the face of death, and the hope of eternal life where we will see God in glory with our own eyes.
The fruit of Christ’s humility and perfect obedience 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. Later in the letter to the Philippians, we read these words of St. Paul, and God grant them to be our confession as well:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith — that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Php. 3:7–12; ESV)
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +