Philippians 2:5-11 – Palm Sunday/Lent 6-c

He Humbled Himself

Philippians 2:5-11

Can you imagine what a remarkable sight it must have been for the people who were there as witnesses to our Lord Christ’s triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday? The highest of the high holy days for the Jews was approaching, and the city was filled with the religious Pilgrims who had come to celebrate the Passover at the Temple – the only place where the Passover lambs could rightly be sacrificed. Thousands upon thousands of the faithful had crowded into the streets in anticipation of the festivities which soon would be taking place.

But even though most were there that day in anticipation of the upcoming Passover celebration, there was undoubtedly a lot of curiosity afoot concerning Jesus of Nazareth – who’d been rumored to be in the vicinity. I suspect almost every one of these religious Pilgrims was hoping to catch a glimpse of this Miracle Worker of whom it had been said that He’d even raised the dead back to life again. Indeed, there had even been some talk among them that this Jesus might possibly be the long-awaited Messiah who’d come to deliver the nation of Israel from its political bondage to Rome! Could it be that the rumors were true?

With this kind of electricity in the air, is it any wonder that when word began to circulate among the crowd that Jesus was making His way into the city that people soon lined His entrance route in the hope of catching a glimpse of Him. And when it was found that this rumor was no rumor, but that Jesus was, in fact, making His way into the city – the shouts of jubilation began to rise like a great cloud. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” the people shouted. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” As Jesus rode by, people craned their necks to see Him, but all they saw was an ordinary Jewish man, dressed in simple, peasant clothing, riding atop – of all things – a small donkey colt. To some, the sight was probably laughable. “This Man, the great Messiah?” they must have thought. “This ordinary Peasant, the celebrated Miracle Worker we’ve heard so much about?” “This run-of-the-mill carpenter from Nazareth, the long-promised Prophet of God everyone’s been waiting for all these many centuries?” To be sure, many of the people must have shaken their heads in disbelief – and then perhaps they began to ridicule all those who had been taken in by this “obvious” scam.

Nothing much has changed, has it? For such is often the reaction which still greets our Lord Christ even today. There are many who consider the whole matter of Christianity laughable – literally millions who openly wonder why anyone would “throw away” their life – not to mention the glories of this world – for the cause of this “Nowhere Man” who once was crucified on a cross and buried as a Pauper in a rich man’s grave. They brazenly wonder aloud why this Man who was “allegedly” so wise would choose to devote His life to humility and self-denial – or allow Himself to be trampled underfoot and taken advantage of by His fellow man. The fact of the matter is that according to every outward appearance, the Source of the Christian faith – our faith – does appear to be rather pitiful and lame on the surface. Nevertheless, God had His reasons for approaching mankind in such a humble way – by means of Christ’s birth in a stable, His death on a cross, and, yes, His entrance into Jerusalem riding on the back of a simple donkey’s colt.

God’s intent in all these matters was simply to demonstrate why Jesus had come – namely, that He had come to do His Father’s bidding and be obedient to His will. Look carefully at the words of today’s Epistle reading where Paul tells us that Jesus, though He was God, didn’t consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, took the form of a bondservant, came in the likeness of man, humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even the death of the cross. In other words, although Jesus was and is true God – and that from all eternity – though He alone is the One who deserves – by virtue of who He is – to sit at the right hand of the Father, He was willing to set all that aside and make Himself of no reputation – because that was the only way He could achieve our salvation. The eternal Son of God had to become like one of His own creation – like one of us – in order to live His life in our place under – and in perfect obedience to – the Law.

Jesus willingly chose to subject His own Life to the very Law which He Himself had imposed upon all mankind – the very same Law that you and I are guilty of breaking day in and day out. But unlike us – in subjecting Himself to this Law – Jesus was perfectly obedient to the Father in every way. And by His obedience He was able to gain the approval of His Father – and then, by grace through faith, transfer that approval to us who are so undeserving of it. Now, because of Jesus, God looks upon us as if we were actually the ones who had rendered Him that perfect obedience. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He next took that obedience to another level by placing Himself – again, for us – under God’s verdict of justice – for the verdict of God is that no sin will ever go unpunished. Once again, Jesus took our place by going to the cross where He died and suffered the pangs of hell in our stead. Our Savior’s love for us is so great that He couldn’t allow anything to stand in the way of our receiving God’s eternal blessing through His sacrifice!

Dearly beloved, this is the kind of humility and obedience you’re now being called upon to imitate in your own life. Our heavenly Father wants you to follow in Jesus’ footsteps by dedicating yourself completely and perfectly to His desire that we all we saved. Every day, through contrition and repentance – as Luther intones in the Small Catechism – you and I are put to death every sin and evil desire. Daily we must endeavor to live a humble, sacrificial life – being “little Christs” to one another in imitation of Him who came into our world to purchase us for Himself by the shedding of His own lifeblood on the cross for sinners.

According to God’s Word, there’s no other option for those whose lives have been aligned with Jesus Christ. Every day you’re going to be confronted with any number of decisions which have to made – to deal with all sorts of temptations that have to be faced head-on. And in that process your sinful nature is going to be urged to go along with the ways of the world and to simply give in and do whatever pleases your fleshly nature. For as that devil sitting on your shoulder whispering into your ear often tells you: “Only a fool would pass up all the opportunities and the glories this world is daily offering to you!”

But you also know – even though you often act contrariwise – that to give in to such temptation is tantamount to transgressing against God’s good and gracious will for us all in Christ. Listen to the words of the Old Testament patriarch, Joseph – who was also tempted to give in to the desires of his old sinful nature. When the wife of the Pharaoh came to him with the temptation that he join her in unfaithfulness to her husband, he said: “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” What about you? After all God’s done on your behalf, can you just toss His will aside and feed your own selfish wants and desires – as if His love doesn’t matter to you at all? It’s easy to forget, isn’t it, that God’s still directly involved in your life and is well-aware of everything you do. It’s kind of scary to think that even though you belong to God through His Son you’re still accountable to Him for all your actions. He still has a stake in your life inasmuch as He’s already paid a Great Price – His own Son’s life – in order to make you His own. And when you ignore that fact, you’re placing your salvation in jeopardy.

Our Lord Christ led a life of humility and obedience in our place because the call to righteous living isn’t just a goal God places before those He thinks can handle it – or for those who are dedicated or inclined to live such a life – but, in fact, because this is to be the way of life for all who claim God as Father. To think otherwise is to do irreparable harm to one’s faith. Remember what St. Paul wrote here in this text? “Your attitude,” he said, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Like Jesus, obedience and humility ought to be an unmistakable quality that characterizes your life as well as His.

But when you fail – and please understand that weakness, though unavoidable, must never be used as an excuse for your failure to do all that God requires of you – when you fail by choosing to follow the way of the world rather than the way of Christ, the humility of Jesus ought to also bring you comfort. In His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people saw that day Someone who was not only like them in appearance and manner, but who – even more importantly – was approachable, meek, and mild – more so, perhaps, than even a trusted friend. Our King Jesus isn’t an imposing Presence whose majesty and demeanor ought to cause you to tremble or shy away. Instead – as the writer of the Book of Hebrews describes Him – Jesus isn’t Someone, “who’s unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but rather Someone who’s been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” And then this same writer goes on to say: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with great confidence, so that in our approaching we might receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Dear friends, our God is an approachable God – a God who has willingly humbled Himself for our benefit. And this is how you and I are called upon to see Him. It’s true that He bears no resemblance to anything which the world would consider great and glorious. Indeed, throughout His life what He stressed most often was the importance of His being a Servant to all. And even His death – the most degrading death anyone might imagine – death upon a cross – He endured for our benefit and well-being. This is how God, in Christ, won eternal life for us all. Now His call to you as His child is that you live your life with the same attitude of humility and servitude as He exhibited throughout His time here on Earth – and that you willingly submit yourself to God’s perfect Law in the knowledge that obedience is always the perfect choice. And should you stumble – and it’s inevitable that you will stumble – take comfort in the fact that you are still able to approach God to confess your sins – that God, hearing your confession, will always grant you full, complete forgiveness for the sake of His Son – and that in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, you will always have an eternal, immovable place of honor by the Father’s side in heaven. Amen.

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