1st Sunday in Lent March 1, 2020
159, 143:1-5, 349, 341
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
In Christ Jesus the Lamb of God,
We sometimes start a conversation by asking, “What’s new?” We like to hear about what’s going on with family and friends. But often there isn’t really much new in their lives—or ours. Mostly life consists of doing the same things, day after day; even year after year. No, there isn’t all that much new in our life, not even in our world. The news of the day is mostly just variations on old themes.
Because of this somewhat monotonous character of life, we can easily look at the seasons of the church year as also just another round of the same thing. It’s easy to just go through the motions of observing a season such as Lent because that is what we do during the six weeks leading up to Good Friday and Easter. It would be easy to approach the passion history and a Lenten sermon series with the thought that there is nothing new for us to learn here.
Is there anything new for us to learn from the passion history that we have heard read in church many times over the years? Of course there is. We never exhaust the treasures of God’s Word. There is always some fresh insight that the Holy Spirit will give, no matter how many times we read a familiar portion of the Bible. Nor should we tire of hearing the familiar again, especially when it comes to the passion history, which is the story of our redemption.
Our general theme for this year’s Lenten sermons invites us to take yet another look at the sufferings and death of our Savior Jesus Christ. It is drawn from an Old Testament verse: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me, which the LORD has inflicted in the day of His fierce anger.” (Lamentations 1:12) This is the lament of Jerusalem after she has been laid waste by her enemies and knows that her sorrows have come upon her because of the righteous wrath of God against her. Yet these words also express the sufferings of Christ when He bore our sins and suffered the wrath of God for them in our place, when He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). His sorrow was truly unlike any other. This Lenten season, then, we intend to do what the Lord in this verse invites us to do: to behold and see the passion in six different views or scenes.
Today’s scene is “THE HUMILIATION OF THE SON OF GOD.” Our text is Philippians chapter two, verses five through eight.
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 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.”
It has been said that Christian theology is not just about God in general; it is about God in the flesh and God on the cross. The Scriptures reveal a God who was willing to humble Himself for the sake of His own creatures. To lift them up from the depths to which they had fallen by reason of sin, He was willing to assume their human nature. To rescue them from the wrath that they had brought on themselves by their rebellion against God, He was willing to suffer and die the death of the cross. It is by these voluntary acts that we understand that the God in whom we believe and trust is a God of love.
Therefore, it is essential that when we look at Jesus suspended on the cross on Good Friday, we see that the figure hanging there, suffering and dying, is not just a man (though He certainly is that) but that this is the eternal God. This is what Paul is saying in our text. As He tells about Jesus and His great humility. He begins by making sure that all who read his words understand that this man Jesus is the eternal God in human flesh.
This magnificent text is one that is not so easily translated into English. For a thorough understanding of it we need to delve into some of the Greek words that Paul uses. When we do that, we get an even sharper and more vivid picture of Jesus Christ as the eternal God. Paul speaks of Jesus as “being in the form of God.” That word “being” here means “originally.” It looks back to the time before His incarnation, before He was born of the Virgin Mary. Paul is here saying the same thing that John says at the beginning of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) This is also what Jesus was asserting about Himself when He said, “Before Abraham was I AM.” (John 8:58) And this is what His hearers on that occasion understood Him to be saying, which is why they responded by trying to stone Him.
We should also pay close attention to the word “form” in the phrase “being in the form of God.” The Greek word that Paul uses here means that which makes a thing to be what it is, its essence. To say that Jesus Christ was in the “form” of God is to say that He possesses all of the divine attributes or characteristics. The word also indicates something permanent and constant, not something fleeting or changing.
When we see Jesus in the gospels suffering under Pontius Pilate, being subjected to crucifixion and dying, we are to remember that this is the Son of God. He wasn’t there because He had no choice. He wasn’t forced to endure those things in the way that the two thieves crucified next to Him were forced to endure them. Jesus made that point forcefully in Gethsemane when He knocked to the ground the entire company of those who came out to arrest Him. Only then did He surrender to them.
Paul puts it this way: Jesus “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” The word “robbery” is another one that requires some explanation. It means a prize, something to be held onto tightly and displayed proudly. The phrase means that Jesus didn’t consider His equality with God something to be put on constant display. During His years on earth He didn’t display His divine glory in the way He once did to three of His disciples at the Transfiguration. He worked many miracles that did indeed manifest His divine glory, but even those weren’t done to dazzle or impress the multitudes. Instead we find Jesus telling people He had healed not to spread it around. Instead He “made Himself of no reputation” and took the “form of a bondservant.” There’s that word “form” again. Just as He possessed all the divine attributes, so He also possessed all the essential human attributes. He differed from us only in that He had no sin. He was perfect God; He became perfect Man.
And as a true Man Jesus humbled Himself. He did so throughout His life and ministry. He didn’t please Himself. He didn’t seek out the high places of the world. He didn’t choose a life of ease, comfort, and pleasure. He lived for others. He went about doing good. He cared for the temporal needs of the sick and the poor. He cared for the souls of all.
The most profound act of humbling was of course His submission to death, even the death of the cross. He submitted to it, “became obedient” to it, because this was the will of the Father. He laid down His life voluntarily; no one took it from Him (John 10:18). What a contrast Paul sets before us here! Life has many strange contrasts—great wealth and abject poverty, great joy and utter misery. But never were there contrasts like those we see in the passion of Jesus Christ—omnipotence and seeming helplessness, the throne of glory on high and the death of the cross.
Why did the Son of God submit to death, even the death of the cross? The Scriptures answer: He loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25). He died as one accursed of God to free us from the curse of our sins. He suffered death so that we could have life forever.
And let’s not forget the context of these words about the humiliation of the Son of God. The opening words of our text refer to it: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Let Christ’s humility and self-sacrifice be the primary influence in our life. When we are tempted to be proud, to be haughty, to be self-righteous, let us think of the Lord Jesus who made Himself of no reputation. When we are tempted to hold a grudge, to withhold forgiveness for wrongs done against us, let us think of the Son of God who suffered the cross to win forgiveness for our sins. Behold and see the Son of God humbling Himself for us. That sight humbles us before God in repentance. That sight teaches us to be humble toward one another. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.