“He Humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:5-11)
Have you ever been humbled? Yes, humbled, brought low. Maybe you were humbled when you got beat really badly in a game of Scrabble. Maybe you won that game of Scrabble, and you got the big head, so God had to humble you in some other way. Or think about the March Madness that’s going on right now. Sometimes there is an occasional upset, but usually, when a #16 seed has to face a #1 seed in the opening round, it can be pretty humbling. To be humbled is not a pleasant experience.
Often when we are humbled, it’s because we have something to be humble about. Our weaknesses are exposed. Our limitations become evident. Our shortcomings are in view, and we don’t like it. So what is really surprising is when someone is humbled who doesn’t have any weaknesses or shortcomings to be brought low by. And even more amazing is when such a person voluntarily humbles himself. That’s what we see on this Palm Sunday, this Sunday of the Passion as it is called, in the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it is said, “He Humbled Himself.”
He humbled himself. We see it in the Palm Sunday account, in the way Jesus entered Jerusalem. We see it in the Passion account, in the way Jesus suffered and died. And that voluntary self-humbling is expressed then in today’s Epistle, from Philippians 2, where it says: “Christ Jesus . . . though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
This is truly one of the most amazing passages in the Bible, putting in most vivid terms the great depths to which Christ went to win our salvation. It takes us from his most glorious starting point in heaven to his incarnation on earth to his most humbling death, even death on a cross. And Jesus willingly did all this for us–we who did not deserve it–that is what is so amazing. As our choir sang, “What wondrous love is this!”
You see, we don’t deserve it. We are those who are rightly humbled when we have to look into the mirror of God’s holy law, and we see in there a poor miserable sinner who has broken God’s commandments, earned God’s displeasure, and would be subject to God’s eternal judgment, had not God himself intervened. We could not free ourselves from our distress. There was no way out on our own. Death and condemnation would be our end.
But thank God, God did intervene. The only solution possible to save us. Man had to die, for the wages of sin is death. Sin cannot just be swept away or ignored or condoned, as though it did not happen or does not exist. No, the price must be paid. The death sentence must be served. By man. Who will pay it? Will you?
But then, how will you be saved? To stand righteous in the judgment and thus to merit eternal life, one must keep God’s commandments, righteously, perfectly. 100%. No grading on a curve. What’s your score? Good enough to make it? I don’t think so. Mine neither.
So here’s what God did. He did what we cannot do. The Son of God came down from heaven and became man for us. To do the law, to keep the commandments, as a man, in our place. And he did it perfectly, Jesus did. 100% plus, and all the extra credit goes into your account. And then, even though sinless himself, Christ went the extra mile for you, the way of the cross, the way of sorrows. He humbled himself so far as to suffer death and God’s judgment in your place, on your behalf.
So this is the marvelous, mind-blowing reality Paul puts into words here in our text. In fact, many biblical scholars think that in this particular passage of Philippians, St. Paul is quoting one of the very earliest Christian hymns. It certainly reads like it could be a hymn or a poem. This portion of Philippians 2 is often called the “Carmen Christi,” the “Song of Christ.” And how beautiful and how powerful a passage it is!
Let’s take it from the top–the very top, that is. It says, “Christ Jesus . . . though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” This is saying about Christ pretty much what we find also in John chapter 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s talking about Christ as the eternal Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. “He was in the form of God,” Philippians says, speaking of his “equality with God.” Christ is true God, as we confess in the Creed: “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,” and so on. You can’t get any higher than that.
But what did this Son of God do? He “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” He came down from heaven “for us men and for our salvation.” “Incarnate,” “made man,” our brother. Or, as John puts it, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Philippians says that Christ “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
And so Jesus humbled himself, as our text says: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself.” Think of how Jesus did that when he rode into Jerusalem. Not as a conquering military hero, on a war horse. No, but on a lowly donkey, a beast of burden. “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” For Jesus himself will bear the burden of our sins, on the cross.
“He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” To the point of death and all the things leading up to it. The agony in the garden. Betrayed by one of his own disciples. Arrested and taken off for a bogus trial in the middle of the night. The scourging, the beating, the mocking. Three times declared innocent, yet the crowd keeps crying “Crucify!” And off they take him, to be crucified like a common criminal. The most shameful, brutal, agonizing, and humiliating death imaginable. And worse than that, to be shut out by God. Forsaken. Bearing the wrath and judgment of God against sinners. Truly, Jesus humbled himself. Again, all for you. So that now there is no more judgment or condemnation left for you. Jesus took it all. You are forgiven, because Jesus was forsaken.
And what is the result, what is the outcome, of Jesus humbling himself so? Philippians tells us: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
“Therefore God has highly exalted him.” Because Jesus did the will of his Father and humbled himself and so completed his saving mission, God the Father highly exalted him, first by raising him from the dead. The resurrection is the Father affirming what Jesus did on the cross. God has glorified his Son.
And God has given him the name that is above every name. This name of Jesus–there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. The name of Allah won’t save you. The name of Buddha–forget about it. No other name. Only Jesus. There is salvation in no one else. Let this name be known and believed in throughout the world! Christ Jesus is the only Savior of sinners, and that includes all people everywhere. We humans all share one problem–sin and the death that goes with it–and God has provided the one answer to our common problem, in the one name, Jesus Christ.
“So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess. For us who trust in Christ, it will be gladly and willingly. For those who have rejected Christ, it will be with deep anguish and regret. But when Christ comes again, all will acknowledge him to be the Lord.
And so now we’re getting ready for that day. We’re practicing our praises even now. Waving our palm branches, singing our hosannas, we welcome our coming king! “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus comes to us today–he’s here, present in our midst. Jesus comes to us in his Holy Supper, giving us his very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. And Jesus will come to us once again, at the Last Day, when he will bring us home, body and soul raised and reunited and renewed, whole and holy, to live forever in his kingdom. Then our hosannas will have no end.
But now I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. Easter is not until next Sunday. Then we’ll get to sing the “A” word once again. Today we’ll settle for “Hosanna,” which ain’t half-bad. Either way, our tongues are confessing that the one who humbled himself for our sake–that this same Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.