Christ Humbled Himself to the Point of Death
On my heart imprint Thine image,
Blessed Jesus, King of Grace,
That life's riches, cares, and pleasures
Have no pow'r Thee to efface.
This the superscription be:
Jesus, crucified for me,
Is my life, my hope's Foundation,
And my Glory and Salvation.
Sermon Text: Philippians 2:8
“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
In Christ Jesus, to whom we owe the greatest debt of thanks, dear fellow redeemed:
Do you remember your mother would have you sit down as a child after Christmas or after your birthday and write out thank-you notes to all of the people who gave you gifts? I do! It was rather like a ritual in our home, for my parents wanted me not only to be polite, but to be truly grateful. My wife and I have done the same for our children, because it is very important to instill within children a sense of gratitude for those gifts and other blessings they receive. Grateful children, especially when that gratitude is also directed to God—the Giver of every good gift(cf. James 1:17), will generally be happy children. Grateful and happy children will generally be pious children, and pious children quite generally grow up to be pious adults, which is a goal of God for each of us!
This year during our mid-week Lenten meditations, we are considering how the apostle Paul makes reference to Jesus’ sufferings and death in his epistles. This evening we consider in our final meditation his Epistle to the Philippians. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians is a thank-you letter. As Paul opens his epistle, he expresses his thanks to the Christians in Philippi for their ongoing support of his work in Christ’s kingdom. They were the only congregation regularly to provide material support for Paul. But his expression of thanksgiving was only the beginning of his apostolic instruction. Paul goes on to explain why every Christian has reason to thank God regularly for the blessings He pours into our lives, and chief among those blessings is God’s gift of salvation won through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Let us consider this evening the fact that CHRIST HUMBLED HIMSELF TO THE POINT OF DEATH!
Our text this evening is a single verse in a section dealing with the overall topic of humility. The section begins in Philippians 1 when Paul explains that for him “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (1:21). You see Paul was in prison. He had been so for four years—two years in Caesarea and then for an additional two years of house-arrest in Rome. You might think that this would be the worst possible situation for a Christian missionary, but quite the opposite was the case. Paul explained that he was so thankful because his imprisonment led to the propagation of the gospel. In fact, “the whole palace guard,” that is, the Praetorian Guard—the emperor’s personal body of 6,000 troops had heard the gospel preached by Paul. God was, unbeknown to Paul at the time, laying the basis for the spread of the gospel throughout all of Europe, for the Roman armies became one of the primary bodies through which and by which the gospel was spread.
Even though Paul’s two years in Rome were spent under house arrest, he had been able to witness the effects of human pride in the callousness exhibited by the citizenry of Rome. He, therefore, begins chapter two by urging us believers to “let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (2:3). He then further urges us: “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (2:4). What a stark contrast Paul’s encouragements provide us with the common attitudes found within both the world of his day and our day, where selfishness and self-interest seem to dominate. One needs only think of the current budgetary discussions going on in St. Paul or Washington DC, where massive deficits must be addressed, but where everyone seems to want the other guy to take the hit!
Now, to do those things encouraged by Paul requires a change in our natural hearts, for by nature we sinners all tend to be quite selfish. Paul understood that. He also understood that such selfish hearts can only be changed by the power of God working through His Word. We need what only God the Holy Spirit can give us, as David’s penitential prayer suggests: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). We need the power that can only be found in God’s Word. Consider the thoughts of the Psalmist: “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You. Blessed are You, O LORD! Teach me Your statutes” (Psalm 119:9-12). Consequently, Paul turns to the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf in order to provide us with both the power and the example of what he encourages: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus!” (2:5).
In our text Paul speaks of Jesus’ incarnation—His becoming true man. The Son of God indeed became a man, but not just any man. No, astonishingly, upon becoming a man Jesus took on the form of a “bondservant” (2:7). Instead of being served as our rightful Lord and Master, Jesus chose to serve instead. Now that is not the normal pattern for man, is it? That is why Peter objected to the possibility of Jesus washing his feet on Maundy Thursday evening. Most people spend their lives attempting to gain power and to get to the point where others will serve them. But not Jesus! Jesus left heaven’s throne. Jesus left heaven, where the adulation of angels filled His ears, and He entered this world, where the first sounds he heard were the lowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep in Bethlehem’s stable. You would think that the Son of God would have been born in a palace, but He was born with all humility in a barn. You would think that God the Father would have chosen a princess to be His Son’s mother, but instead He chose a pauper—the young peasant girl Mary from Nazareth. Yes, Jesus, who is true God, chose not to make a show of His divinity—amusing and amazing the crowds with spectacular displays of power, but rather assumed the role of a bondservant or slave. Oh, yes, Jesus had the power and used it frequently but always to serve the needs of those around Him.
But how did He serve us most of all? He served us in two very important ways. First, He did so by keeping the laws of God perfectly in our place and on our behalf. We sin, but He did not. He always loved His heavenly Father above all things. He never misused His Father’s name. He always reverenced the Word. He honored His father and mother. He did not hate—even those who revealed themselves to be His enemies. He was perfectly pure in thought, word, and action--always. He did not steal anything from anyone, even though everything belonged to Him! He always spoke the truth, and did not covet the material possessions or the relationship established by any man or woman. Why did He do this? He did not do it for Himself. As true God He was already perfect, but as a true Man, He acted as our substitute. He was perfect, because we are not. He then bestowed upon us by faith His own righteousness, so that we might stand before God without fear and without shame.
But then He did something else—a second thing as our text reveals, “He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death!” Jesus, the Son of God (true God from all eternity) chose to lay down His life and die in order to save us from the consequences of our own sin and rebellion—eternal death. We deserve death—not just temporal death, but eternal death as well. The Bible clearly states: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). “But,” Paul goes on, and thank God for that “but!” “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). You see, God wants us to be confident that we will one day go to heaven, but our confidence should not be in ourselves, but rather in our Savior, Jesus Christ!
Jesus humbled Himself and chose to die for us—not a peaceful and painless death either. No, Jesus died in a most gruesome fashion—dying as a common criminal on a Roman cross. There are some forms of execution that are intended to be quick and relatively painless, but the Romans were not of that mind-set whatsoever, and crucifixion was intended to be neither peaceful or painless. It was devised to last a long time and to inflict both physical and psychological torment on those who experienced it as well as on those who were at times forced to watch the experience. Death by crucifixion was a matter of excruciating pain, extreme exhaustion, and ultimately suffocation. But this is not all. In Jesus’ case it was not simply the physical torment of crucifixion that was endured but also the spiritual torment of hell on our behalf. This Jesus endured as your substitute and mine, so that we, who ought rightly be condemned for our sins, might go free.
As the hymn-writer exclaims, “What wondrous love is this!” Paul’s purpose in citing the example of Jesus is to make an impression on us. He wants us to see the depth of the love of our heavenly Father for us—a gracious love we do not deserve but which is so richly and freely bestowed upon us. He wants us to see the dedication of our Savior, who sacrificed everything for those who deserved nothing, in order that we might be gifted with something very, very special—the forgiveness of sins leading to everlasting life. May we ponder what Jesus has done for us, so that we might in true devotion adopt His attitude as our own! Yes, “let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5). Let us seek to serve others, instead of serving ourselves. By so doing we honor our Savior! By doing so, we thank our Heavenly Father and show true gratitude. By doing so, we uplift our fellow men, bringing joy to our own hearts as well as those of others. Amen.
Pastor Paul D. Nolting
Soli Gloria Deo!