If you have ever had the privilege of telling a children’s story, you know what it is like to see the children with their faces turned up waiting with anticipation for the story.
I imagine a similar picture in Luke 10:39. Mary, the sister of Lazarus was sitting at the feet of Jesus listening attentively. The verse says that “Mary…sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”
There was another time when some women were paying close attention to Jesus, watching what was happening to Him, watching Him. Matthew 27:55 says, “Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs.” The context was that Jesus was hanging on the cross. What were they thinking of? What were they learning as they looked at Jesus?
What happens when we watch Jesus? What do we see when we sit and wait expectantly for Him to speak? What happens when we contemplate His life, His ministry, His death? What do we learn in the presence of Jesus? What impact does it have to sit quietly, in anticipation gazing upon our Lord?
This morning we want to gaze at Jesus. Please open your Bibles to Philippians 2:6-11 and join me in looking at Jesus.
I. He Humbled Himself
The words of this passage speak about Jesus. They have been debated a lot and there is more written on these 6 verses than much other Scripture. It is a passage filled with theological truth and with divine mystery and is a wonderful passage which leads us to contemplation on Jesus.
A. As God – He Was Selfless Philippians 2:6,7
1. Being In Very Nature God
First of all it says that Jesus was “in very nature God” and that he had “equality with God.” KJV says “who being in the form of God.” A lot of theological debate has arisen around this word, “form.” Some have taught that this says that Jesus was not really God, but only in the outward form of God. The NIV, which I quoted first, gives us the true meaning of the Greek, which is that it expresses the true inner reality of who Jesus was. It is a strong expression of Christ’s divinity. It is hard, logically to understand how God could be God in heaven and at the same time that He could come down to earth. Yet, this is one verse which very clearly shows that Jesus was in fact God - that He was not only a human being, but also a divine being.
The story of Jesus begins in heaven. He existed in the heavenly glories and held a position as God.
2. Did Not Grasp
But as we read on we find that Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” This is a further powerful theological statement. What does it mean that Jesus did not grasp at being God? The word here means robbery and some have suggested that unlike Adam who wanted to be like God, Jesus was a man who did not want to be like God. That does not explain at all what happened, however. What this phrase means is that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to be taken advantage of. He did not hold to His position in heaven. He did not hold to the power of being God.
Right now in Manitoba we are watching our premier announce some welcome spending on road repair and so on. However, it is obvious to all political observers why this is happening. He is trying to set himself up for the next election, hoping that he can hold on to power. Jesus did not do that. He was willing to let go of position and power in order to demonstrate His love for us.
3. Made Himself Nothing
Instead of grasping onto his position as God, the text says that “he made himself nothing” and became a human being and as a man, a servant of men. The Greek word here is often translated “emptied” and has raised all kinds of debates about what this means. Did he stop being God? What aspects of being God did he let go of?
Some of you may have read the book, “The Prince and the Pauper” by Mark Twain. It is the story of a poor young fellow who changes places with the prince of England. They are the same age and look similar. The story relates the adventure of how the prince has to live like a pauper while trying to get back into the palace and how the pauper lives like a prince. Although the prince wears the clothes of a pauper, he nevertheless is still the king. Perhaps the coming of Jesus to earth is similar. He never ceased being God, but he took on himself the limitations of being human.
I think that the real idea is that Jesus left the glories of heaven in order to pour himself out for us. The idea of emptying is a metaphor for sacrifice. Wright says, “The real humiliation of the incarnation and the cross is that one who was himself God, and who never during the whole process stopped being God, could embrace such a vocation.”
What a sacrifice He made! R.T. Kendall writes that Christ “was dependent, deprived, discredited, degraded and demeaned.” The Lord of the universe became dependent. While on earth he said in John 5:30, “I can do nothing on my own” and so indicated His dependence on the Father and the Spirit. He was deprived which is revealed when he indicated in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He was discredited when they lied about Him in Matthew 26:60, which says, “many false witnesses came…” He was degraded when they spit upon him, as recorded in Matthew 26:67 and demeaned as they treated him with rudeness and contempt while the soldiers mocked and beat him in Matthew 27:27-31. This is what happened to Jesus because he did not grasp on to heaven, but was willing to become a man and a servant of humanity.
We see the real heart of God in what Jesus was willing to do. We see the compassionate heart of God sacrificing himself in order to redeem us. He gave up His rights. He gave up his authority. He acted in complete selflessness for our sakes.
B. As A Man – He Humbled Himself Philippians 2:8
As God, he was selfless and became a man. As a man, He also manifested a tremendous humility. Verse 8 tells us, “He humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
Adam disobeyed God unto death. When he sinned, the consequence was death. Jesus, on the other hand, obeyed God unto death. This is an amazing contrast. Jesus could not die because He was without sin. Jesus’ obedience disqualified him from death and it was only an act of obedience, an act of willingly humbling himself that could result in His death on the cross. Gordon Fee says, “in the cross God’s true character, his outlandish, lavish expression of love, was fully manifested.”
The emphasis is magnified when it says, “even death on a cross.” We have become used to the cross as a symbol of Jesus, a symbol of Christianity, or for many just a decoration or a piece of jewellery. We need to see it for what it really is. The cross was and is the most cruel form of death. It was nothing less than a gallows. It was scandalous because only the worst criminals and most hated peoples were crucified. Jesus humbled Himself to that lowest of all places and did so for our sake.
This passage shows powerfully that “God is love and that his love expresses itself in self-sacrifice.”
What we see here is the strategy of God which in His infinite wisdom, His all knowing love, He enacted in order to forgive our sins. God did not choose to redeem a people by giving them lots of gifts and hoping they would be nice. He did not redeem a people by forcing them into the church. God’s plan, made from the beginning of the world, made in the infinite wisdom of God was to sacrifice Himself, to offer His own life for those he wished to save and inviting them to respond to that amazing love. God had no other plan. His plan was to win by losing.
II. God Exalted Him Philippians 2:9-11
And it worked!
The strategy of God became the victory of God. Christ’s self sacrifice and humbling resulted in His exaltation.
The next section of the text, 2:9-11, records how God exalted Jesus. The first thing it says is that he “gave him the name that is above every name.” Which name is that? The two possibilities from the text are “Jesus” and “Lord.” If it means that he exalted the name “Jesus,” it means that he lifted up the ordinary human name of Jesus as the most highly regarded name of all. Certainly for those who know and believe in Jesus this is true. We reverence the name of Jesus and hold above any other name. If “Lord” is the name that was given, it means that Jesus would be known as Lord. He left the glories of heaven and, following His obedience, He once again became Lord of all. In the one case, it is the exaltation of the name by which we know Him. In the other case, it is the exaltation of Jesus to the highest position possible. In either case, through His resurrection and ascension, which are not mentioned, but implied, Jesus has become the Lord of all the universe. The strategy of God to win by losing has resulted in winning – not only for Jesus, but for all who believe in Him.
The final phrase exposes what will be the eternal reality in the universe. Every being in heaven, on earth and under the earth will acknowledge the exalted position of Jesus. The low, voluntary humiliation of Jesus will result in the highest acknowledgement of His great position and power. Everyone will bend the knee before Him. Although it is already true now that He is in that exalted position, it is not complete. The day is still coming when every living being in the universe will do homage to Jesus by bowing before Him and every living being in the universe will acknowledge that He is Lord. This is not to say that all will be saved. Rather, it means that all will know the truth about who Jesus is and what He has done. If you do not now acknowledge that, you will some day. Why not accept Jesus today?
The exaltation vindicates the selfless and humble strategy of Jesus as the way to the greatest and the ultimate victory. The exaltation is God’s “yes” to Jesus’ selflessness and humility. The exaltation of Jesus also assures us of the certain future that exists for all who put their hope in Him.
III. The Selfless Life
These verses tell us the story of Jesus from His pre-existence to His final Lordship. As we look at Jesus in this passage – His sacrifice for us, His willingness to humble Himself, His victory and His exalted position, we stand in awe of Jesus. We are called to a celebration and a cry of “glory” for what God has done and for who Jesus is. These verses invite worship that comes out of the depths of our heart.
These verses also reveal the amazing plan of God – a plan which is completely unusual in terms of the way things work in this world. In this world victory is gained by power, not by sacrifice. In contrast, God chose to gain a victory by sacrifice and it worked. The exaltation of Christ is a declaration of that victory.
However, the wonderful revelation of who Jesus is and what he has done is set in the context of Philippians 2:5 which says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” That tells us that Jesus’ way of coming and living and dying is not only unique to Him, but also a model for us.
When I have been involved in building projects, I have sometimes heard the saying, “don’t force it, just use a bigger hammer.” That is the way we like to do things. In the 1970’s there was an advertising campaign by McDonalds with the slogan, “You deserve a break today.” We live by the philosophy of pampering ourselves whenever we can.
The group Bachman, Turner, Overdrive had a song, “Looking Out For Number One.” Some of the words of the song are, “…And you'll find out every trick in the book, That there's only one way to get things done, You'll find out the only way to the top, Is looking out for number one…” It is our mindset to believe that the worthwhile life is the life of putting ourselves first.
Jesus did not do things that way. Jesus showed us gentleness, humility, sacrifice and dependence on God. In this verse, we are not called upon simply to “imitate God” by what we do, but to have this very mind, the mind of Christ - willing to sacrifice and to humble ourselves. We are called to a life of giving up instead of powering up. This is not a suggestion or a good idea. It is the way in which we are commanded to live in community and in the world. How do we do so?
As I began to think about this, I was convicted by the way in which selfishness is so pervasive in my life and way of thinking. I realized quickly that I am fully steeped in self-centred thinking. The pampering we expect from spas and get-aways, the right of privacy and personal time we try to protect, the pressure to have all the tools and gadgets are all a manifestation of self-centred living.
A Travis Tritt and Troy Seals song reveals the frustration of living with a self centred person, but concludes that the only recourse is to act in a self centred way. The words are:
”No matter what I do I can't make you happy
Though I go to great lengths to do your will
If you say hurry, girl I make it snappy
Trying hard to keep your wishes filled
But I'm getting tired and feeling real discouraged
From being pressure underneath your thumb
So here's a message you can give your mama
Starting now I'm looking out for number one
Lord everyone around me
I've tried so hard to please
Till the only one unhappy
Feeling broken down is me
But things are gonna change
With each new setting sun
Starting now I'm looking out for number one.”
Dennis Bratcher in commenting on Philippians 2:5-11 says, We live in a society dominated by rights-activism, permeated with the philosophy of "me first," and moulded by the corporate ideals of efficiency and success. The Church must be called to remember that demanding one's rights and privileges may be popular, even necessary in some cases, but if it does so at the expense of Christian unity and love, it is not Christian!"
How can we live what Jesus modeled?
For example, what will it mean to be selfless and humble in our marriages? I have a friend who is a pastor. He completed his assignment in his church and I asked him if he was going to move back to his farm. He replied that his wife had moved numerous times for him and that, since she now had a good position in the city, they were going to stay there. He has understood what Paul says in Ephesians 5 about husbands being the head of the wife. He has understood that headship means that we love our wives as Christ loved the church, by giving “Himself up for her.”
I knew a woman who deceived a guy she was dating into attending a Christian function. Even though they got married and he became a Christian, she admitted that this was not the way to do evangelism. We do not do the work of making Jesus known by deception or by forcing people. We rather follow I Peter 3:15, which says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
Power politics have no place in the church. I have seen factions try to manipulate a vote, I have seen people use the gimmicks of the world to get their way in a church program or policy. I have likely been guilty of the same thing myself. Paul grew to realize that God does not want us to work through power, but to allow Him to work through our weakness. In II Corinthians 12:10 he says, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Dennis Bratcher says, “Perhaps the Church needs to see itself in a new light. Maybe it needs to see itself less as the proclaimer and defender of divine truth, and more as the servant of humanity, the foot-washer who expresses his love by humble service
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who poured out his own life at the hands of the Nazis because he refused to allow the church to be the tool of oppression, wrote: “The church is the church only when it exists for others. . . . The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. . . . It must not underestimate the importance of human example which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus.”
Although I don’t partake and don’t think it is a wise thing to do, I believe that there is nothing wrong with having an occasional alcoholic beverage. However, for the sake of our witness and for the sake of not causing alcoholics to stumble, why would we not give up our right to partake? That too is an act of selflessness. The Bible calls us to this kind of self sacrifice when it says in Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”
It is hard for me to preach this. One sometimes assumes that the preacher better have the lessons mastered before he tells others to do them. I do not have this mastered. It is a good thing that it does not say in Philippians 2:5, “have this mind in you which was also in George Toews.” I am not the example of humility and selflessness, Jesus Christ is. We are called to imitate Him and I want to imitate him.
I invite us all to keep on contemplating the face of Jesus, the life of Jesus and the deeds of Jesus. As we contemplate them, there is no doubt that we will be moved to worship. But I also hope that we will be moved to imitation of Jesus – in his self sacrifice and in his humility.
C. C. Meigs expressed this attitude in the song "Others":
Others, Lord, yes others!
Let this my motto be!
Help me live for others,
That I may live for Thee!