Vol. IX — No. 16 April 21, 1968


His Humiliation and Exaltation: Its Meaning and Purpose

Philippians 2:5-11

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery (did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped) to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself for our salvation and was exalted in confirmation of our salvation, Fellow Redeemed:

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” John 1:11. Those sad and mournful words were written by St. John in the maturity of old age and with inspired hindsight. John had witnessed the enthusiastic welcome that the people gave Jesus when He entered Jerusalem as King. He had been there. Because he was there, he was also aware of the bitter and hardened opposition of the religious leaders of the people. John had heard the final parables with their strong accent on judgment for to come. He had heard the severe denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees. He had heard the Olivet discourse in which the Lord had clearly foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the nation. And John lived long enough to see these things come to pass. In retrospect he had written, “He came unto His own, and his own received him not.”

The cry, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee—meek and lowly, having and bringing salvation,” still sounds in thousands of churches this day. But what is the response? It hasn’t changed much from the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem. There still is a superficial joy and rejoicing, but that exterior all too frequently covers a deepnseated opposition to the Lord. That opposition has manifested itself in a disappearance of doctrinal preaching in the churches. Most preaching now-a-days is moralizing with its endless variations on the same theme: “Do good, be good and you are good!” The preaching of the great truths of God, of man, of God’s plan for man’s salvation, of how that plan was worked out, of how that salvation is distributed to man, of death and judgment and life after death—such preaching has for the most part disappeared from the churches that still claim His name. The result is that men, who bear the name “Christian,” have not the slightest idea of what they should be believing as Christians and why. In an age of more and better education we find more and greater religious illiteracy in the pulpits and pews of Christian churches. We have churches and Sunday School classes filled with religiously deprived children and adults. Those who claim to be “His own” actually reject and despise Him, for they will not tolerate the preaching of His doctrines. How can a man love Christ and reject His teaching?

How is it with us? Do we honor and respect, worship and love the Lord Jesus in His word? Our text this morning is a test, for it is a doctrinal passage of St. Paul. Yea, it is the classical sedes doctrinae, literally seat of doctrine or proof passage for the scriptural teaching of the exinanition or humiliation and exaltation of the Lord Jesus. Here we are told what our Lord had to do to save us and what His Father did to confirm salvation to us. He cones to us this morning to instruct us through His Word in matters concerning our salvation. Let us listen and learn as He speaks to us through St. Paul of—


I. Jesus Christ humbled Himself, i.e., did not always and fully use His divine attributes, for our salvation.

As this chapter begins St. Paul is instructing the Philippians concerning proper attitudes that they should cultivate as children of God. He urges them to be “likeminded, having the sane love, being of one accord, of one mind.” He urges upon them “lowliness of mind.” Each one is to esteem the other better than himself and is to be genuinely concerned about the welfare of his brother. Then Paul holds up the Lord Jesus as an example, but in so doing he teaches basic, important truths that are necessary for us to understand how the Lord Jesus worked out our salvation.

He wrote, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” They should study the case of Jesus, His entire attitude and manner of behavior in working out our salvation, and then apply what they had learned to their own manner of life. What is the nature of the case of Jesus? “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Let us proceed slowly so that we understand. Paul speaks of Jesus as being “in the form of God.” When our Lord Jesus was conceived and born of the virgin Mary, He did not cease being God, neither did He in any way become less God than He was from all eternity. Both of these possibilities are impossible, for God cannot cease being God and God cannot in any way be less God than He is. What happened is beyond human comprehension. We know what happened, but it still defies understanding. “The Word became flesh.” God became man. The divine nature took unto itself the human nature. In Jesus Christ the fulness of the Godhead dwells, also the fulness of the human nature. In dogmatic language we speak of the personal union of the divine and human natures in Christ, so that the person of Christ is distinctive. He is the only Person who is both true God and true man.

Paul is emphasizing the fact that Jesus Christ is true God when he writes that He was “in the form of God.” But now note: Our Lord did not consider His divinity, His being God, “a thing of snatching.” He did not come to earth to take His divinity and make a display of it, use it and abuse it for personal interests. Upon reflection you will realize that Satan, in his temptations, tried to get Jesus to do this very thing—to use His divine power to convert stones into bread to quiet His hunger, to use His divine power to leap unharmed from the pinnacle of the temple and so overwhelm the Jews. It was contrary to His mission to use His divinity in this way. Jesus resisted all such temptations—the last of which was the mocking and jeering beneath the cross: “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

What did Jesus do? Paul writes, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” He emptied Himself of His divine power and glory and majesty in this way that He didn’t use them, except in the interest of His mission. Think of the many times when Jesus did use His divine power to effect some cure, but then urged the person healed or cured not to broadcast his cure. Jesus always refused to seek popularity. He did not want to be known as a wonder worker. Unfailingly He refused the request, yea the demand of the unbelieving Jews to show a sign in the heavens. He refused to perform miracles for the entertainment of Herod’s court. He emptied Himself by not using and so abusing all the divine attributes that He always had. He took upon Himself the form of a servant. He came not to be ministered unto, to be waited on, to be served as the lords of this world, but He came to minister, to serve. His whole life was a continual serving—by healing the sick, preaching the gospel to sin-sick souls. He was made in the likeness of man. He was conceived in the womb of His mother. He was born just as other babies are born. He grew and developed as do other children. He experienced pain, weariness, hunger, thirst, grief, sorrow, suffering, death. He was truly made in the likeness of man.

Paul continues, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Death by crucifixion was reserved for slaves and non Romans. Roman law prohibited a Roman citizen from experiencing this indignity. The Jews considered one hanging on a tree cursed of God and man. This the Lord bore, for it was necessary for our salvation. He had the power to avert it. At His word His enemies fell backward to the ground at the garden gate. He had at His disposal the angels of God. He told arrogant Pilate that he had no power at all over Him except it were given him from above. When He was taunted about His helplessness on the cross, He could easily have come down and with the twitch of a finger impaled His mockers on the spikes of the cross. But He didn’t.

Why not? Because He had come to save mankind. To do this He had to bear the punishment of mankind’s sins. So it was that He used none of His divine power to resist arrest or mistreatment or crucifixion or death. Of His own free will He emptied Himself of His divinity by not using it. That was His humiliation. He commemorate this voluntary state that our Lord passed through for our salvation in these words of our creed: “Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.

At this point the direction of Paul’s thought takes a dramatic turn. From Christ’s humbling Himself to death on the cross, Paul turns to what His Father did thereafter: “wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given Him a name which is above every name.” Paul here states and describes that which we refer to as the exaltation of Jesus—

II. Jesus Christ was exalted, i.e., fully uses His divine attributes, as a confirmation of our salvation.

Notice that Jesus humbled Himself, but was exalted. Jesus had humbled Himself. His human nature had experienced that in this way that He did not use the divine attributes that had been communicated to His human nature. Now His human nature was exalted in this way that He fully and continually uses the divine attributes communicated to His human nature. Our Lord spoke of His exaltation shortly before His ascension when He said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and on earth.”

That power had been given unto Him when He was quickened in the grave. His descent into hell was a demonstration of His total victory over the forces of hell. His resurrection was a demonstration of His power as the Son of God. His ascension was a visible assuming of all power in heaven and on earth. At this moment He sits at the right hand of God, that is, He is exercising all power in heaven and on earth. One day His glory shall be revealed when He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

Paul expresses this glorious exaltation of our Lord, which confirms and so makes sure and certain our salvation, in these words: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” There is no angel in heaven, there is no person on earth and there is no demon in hell that is greater in power and majesty and glory than our Lord Jesus Christ. This we believe though we know that we cannot demonstrate it to unbelievers now. But one day all men shall see and experience that which we know to be a fact already now.

But Paul is not interested in proclaiming the power and glory of Christ for the sake of that power and glory. He is interested in the power and glory of our Lord as it relates to our salvation and the salvation of all men. What He hopes is “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

What does it mean for you and me to confess Jesus Christ as our Lord? It simply means to acknowledge Him as our Savior, our Guide, our Master, our Hope, our Life, our All. What are the alternatives for men? Many would be their own lord, the master and captain of their own Fate. They deceive themselves, for they are but slaves—slaves of their own passions, slaves of their own lusts, slaves of the effects of sin upon their bodies—sickness, weakness, the infirmities of old age, slaves of death. Think of the power hungry whose wrecked careers and lives are scattered over the pages of history. Think of the millions of nameless masses who are slaves of some political ideology which drags them down to unmarked graves and unnamed victims of eternal torment. Think of the little and big people who make themselves slaves of alcohol, of narcotics, of this or that lust. Their lives waste away. Death ends their wasted existence and begins an eternity of torment. These are the people who imagine they are free, who reject the lordship of Jesus in their lives. What pitiable slaves they are! Let us confess Christ as the Lord over sin, who has taken away our guilt. Let us confess Christ as the Lord of our lives, who gives direction and purpose to our existence. Let us confess Christ as the Lord over death who shall give us life in the moment of death. Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - April 7, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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