Bible Passage: Philippians 2:5-11
Pastor: Pastor Berg
Sermon Date: April 9, 2017
We’re almost there now, aren’t we! We’ve spent the last nearly 40 days preparing for Easter. And now we’re here, at the beginning of the week we call Holy. Holy week is an emotional roller coaster. We’re up, we’re down. We twist, we turn. Our stomachs get queasy. But at the end there’s that feeling of exhilaration and at the same time relief. Are we ready? Perhaps there’s still a little bit of uneasiness as we’re about to go down this Holy Week way with our Savior. Our journey to the cross has brought us to the brink. Perhaps, one last dose of encouragement will calm our nerves and give us confidence in what we will face. The apostle Paul is here to help. In chapter two of his letter to the Philippians we find Paul’s Preview of Holy Week. It’s the story of Jesus fulfilling God’s plan—it’s mankind’s story of rescue—in short, it’s the Gospel story.
This Gospel story reminds me of another story. Back in the 1890’s Mark Twain wrote a story, The Prince and the Pauper. In the story, a young pauper, Tom, met a young prince, Edward. When the two boys met, they were astonished at how much they looked alike. As a ruse, they decided to change clothes and switch places for the day so Tom could enjoy the wealth of the castle and Edward could leave the castle for once. Tom put on the royal robes of Edward and Edward donned Tom’s pauper rags. However, the guards don’t recognize the Prince in the pauper’s rags and throw him from the castle. And in the city, no one believes Edward when he says that he’s the son of the king. Meanwhile, Tom can’t convince anyone in the castle that he’s really a poor pauper. The whole saga isn’t solved until Tom is about to be crowned as king and finally Edward and Tom are able to explain the ruse and Edward is rightfully crowned king.
We can see the similarities with Jesus, can’t we? “Though he was by nature God, he did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed, but he emptied himself by taking the nature of a servant. When he was born in human likeness, and his appearance was like that of any other man.” Jesus leaves the heavenly castle, the Son of the King, and he comes into the dark and dingy world. But he doesn’t come dressed in royal robes, riding on a noble steed. No, he comes dressed in the rags of human flesh and blood. He wears the rags of a pauper’s son. All throughout his ministry, even though he repeatedly proved by word and deed that he was the Son of God, the world failed to recognize him. But that’s where the similarities stop. In The Prince and the Pauper, one of the reasons Edward wanted to leave the castle was to punish a guard who had mistreated Tom. Jesus didn’t come into this world to punish the world. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save…”
And that’s what we see on this Palm Sunday. We see Jesus coming to save. For his triumphal entry into Paris after one of his future, anticipated victories, Napoleon conceived the Arc de Triomphe. Look at it: towering 162 feet above the Champs-Elysées, the grand boulevard, one of the most famous landmarks in a famous city. The arch was designed after the model of triumphal arches in ancient Rome. The conqueror, with his army, riding on a mighty steed, would ride through the arch to celebrate his latest victory. The Arc has seen wild demonstrations of French military glory and defeat. In World War II, at the fall of Paris, Hitler marched his army through it. And every summer, the Tour de France bike race concludes with a triumphal ride through the arch. The Arc de Triomphe is all about victory.
At the base of the arch is a huge relief sculpture with a warrior representing the French Republic. The figure holds out a sword, but during World War I, on the day the crucial Battle of Verdun was joined, the sword broke. Immediately the sculpture was covered, lest Parisians should interpret the accident as a disastrous omen. How could the armies of the Republic hope for victory when their champion had been disarmed? Today, Christ Jesus enters into Jerusalem in triumph. But the prophet Zechariah says this: “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem. The battle bow will be taken away.” Jesus comes not on a mighty steed, but on a donkey. And where is his sword? How can he hope for a victory when his weapons are cut off? Jesus’ triumph is different. He wins not by fighting, but by dying. His death is his victory—and ours. “Though he was by nature God, he did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed, but he emptied himself by taking the nature of a servant. When he was born in human likeness, and his appearance was like that of any other man, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
And Jesus went there willingly. It was in obedience to his Father’s will and his Father’s plan that Jesus went to the cross. In Old Testament times, the Israelites would sometimes hang a dead body on a tree to make a point of letting everyone know that this person had been cut off from God. They were under a curse for their unbelief, rebellion, and sin against the Lord. The Scriptures declare that anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. But it wasn’t for his unbelief, it wasn’t for his rebellion, it wasn’t for his sin that Jesus was nailed to a tree, enduring God’s curse. It was for ours. Jesus was hung on a tree for our sins, our selfishness, our pride and arrogance. Jesus became obedient to death to save us.
But like a roller coaster, the story of Holy Week, our Savior’s story, doesn’t stop in the depths of death. It vaults up to the heights of heaven. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” How dramatically things turned around on Easter. “He is no longer dead. He is risen!” was the message of the Easter angel. And in response we sing, “He lives! He lives, who once was dead!” Jesus defeated death, hell, and Satan by his death and to demonstrate it, so that even we would understand, he returned to life. Once again, God gave him all the glory, honor, power, wisdom, strength and authority that was his all along. He’d simply laid it aside so he could be our Savior. God did it for our eternal salvation, Jesus death means our sin is paid for—we need not die eternally. Jesus resurrection means our resurrection—we will live forever.
Jesus’ story is our story too! If we go back through Paul’s words about Jesus, we can see that our reaction would have been very much the opposite. “Though he was by nature God, he did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed…” Wasn’t it considering equality with God that got us into this mess in the first place? Isn’t that how the Devil tempted Adam and Eve? “You will be like God, knowing good and evil?” Isn’t that what many false religions teach today, that you can become like god or even become a god? Paul continues, “But he emptied himself by taking the nature of a servant. When he was born in human likeness, and his appearance was like that of any other man.” That would be quite the motivational speech, wouldn’t it? “Go out there and empty yourselves! If you work hard and put your mind to it, you can be a servant!” Who’s going to sign up for that? If we had a choice between the penthouse or the outhouse, which one are we going to choose? If we could be God or a nothing servant, which would we pick?
One of the greatest writers of all time, a novelist, had developed beyond his talented peers. When J.B. Priestly was asked how he had advanced so far beyond other skilled writers, he replied: “All of us had great ability, I just cared so much to write.” While we demonstrate time and again that we care so much about ourselves, Jesus cared so much for us. Jesus cared so much that it consumed him. He loved us enough to endure the worst kind of punishment for us. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus exchanged his royal robes for our pauper rags. He took our sin and gave us his righteousness. He endure our death while we enjoy life eternal.
Paul’s Preview of Holy Week is the story of Jesus fulfilling God’s plan—it’s mankind’s story of rescue—in short, it’s the Gospel story. And Paul has something else to add to the story here. But notice how the Gospel motivates what Paul adds: “Indeed, let this attitude be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
How do we do it? How do we follow Jesus’ example and put others first? We do it by the power of the Gospel. The crown of victory that all of us wear by faith allows us to put others before ourselves. We rejoice in the opportunity to thank Jesus for what he did for us. We look for opportunities to serve as he has so willingly served us! But it’s not for self-glory. We don’t serve so we can be noticed or have others see how great we are. Church work is not a competition. We don’t serve one another so we can see who is the best or worst. We serve to show love for God and to give him the glory that he deserves. Palm Sunday gives us a glimpse of that service, The people in Jerusalem, the disciples showed their love for Jesus and honored him by laying their cloaks on the ground for the donkey to walk on. The sang “hosanna” to the King who had come in the name of the Lord! There wasn’t any thought of recognition or earning a higher place in heaven; they were simply thanking God for sending his Son, our Savior.
Do we have a reason to serve? Let’s go back to Paul’s list at the beginning of Philippians 2? Are we united with Christ? Through faith, through the waters of baptism, through the bread and wine of Holy Communion we are! We find our power to serve in these means of grace! Do we find comfort in his love? His love is the only place that we can find true comfort. When trouble, temptation, and trial face us, his Love is the only comfort that is true and lasting. Do we have fellowship in the Spirit? We are here as a group of believers. We share the same faith, hope, and love of Christ! There is no higher fellowship on this side of heaven! Do we feel Christ’s tenderness and compassion? How can we not! We see it so plainly and clearly in his passion! We see how he was willing to suffer and die for us before we loved him. Just look at how Jesus tenderly and patiently dealt with his disciples. Marvel at his compassion that he showed to Mary and Martha! Know that he shows the same tenderness and compassion to us!
If the answers to these questions are true, which we know they are, then let us emulate Christ’s humble service! “Each one of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised again.
We’re almost there! This Holy Week will be an emotional roller coaster. We’ll be up and we’ll be down. We’ll twist and we’ll turn. Our stomachs will get queasy because of our sins and what Jesus suffered for us. But at the end, there will be that feeling of exhilaration. Jesus Lives, the victory is won. There will be relief because our sins are forgiven. We’re at peace with God. Are we ready? Enjoy the ride! Amen