Sunday, April 5, 2020

Sermon for Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passon - Phil 2:5-11

                                                                     Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion
                                                                     Phil 2:5-11

            One of the things I find endearing about Marion is the annual Homecoming parade.  I had never experienced anything like it before moving here.  Growing up, my hometown of Bloomington, IN had two high schools that were both larger than Marion High. The city had divided loyalties to begin with, and then on top of that it was also home to Indiana University.  The university sports scene dominated everything, and so the idea of a homecoming parade for one of the high schools was just never going to happen.
            After that I lived in Ann Arbor, MI, St. Louis, the Washington, D.C. area, Dallas and Chicago.  Once again, in these large settings there was never a community homecoming parade for a high school. That was just not how life worked.
            And so when we moved to Marion, the first homecoming parade was a bit of a shock.  I had never seen anything like it, except in movies that were portraying a scene of small town Americana.  Yet here it was passing by the church – shutting down Carbon St. for a time, in a mood of celebration shared by young and old alike.
            A mood of celebration and excitement certainly was shared by all on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered into Jerusalem.  In the reading from John chapter twelve that we heard at the very beginning of the service we learn that a large crowed that had come to the feast of the Passover, heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  Jesus was already a celebrity.  But he had just done something nearby that had people even more interested than normal – he had raised his friend Lazarus from the dead.
            We learn that the large crowed took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” With excitement and joy they greeted Jesus as he rode in on donkey.  It was quite a celebration, and even the Pharisees could see this.  In disgust they said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
            For Jesus’ disciples it must have been thrilling to see their Lord acclaimed in this way.  Perhaps it was enough to make them forget – or at least help them to ignore – the fact that Jesus had on multiple occasions predicted his coming passion in Jerusalem.  At that moment, as the crowed greeted Jesus with joy and excitement, surely they could not fathom that on Friday morning at nine a.m. Jesus would hang, nailed to cross.
            Of course Jesus knew it was going to happen.  That was why he had come to Jerusalem.  He had told the disciples in very direct and plain words. Matthew tells us, “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death 
and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.’”
            Jesus knew it would happen because this was the goal of everything he had done.  He, the eternal Son of God, had entered into our world as he was conceived in the virgin Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit.  He had been baptized by John the Baptist and anointed by the Holy Spirit.  He had resisted the devil’s temptations.  He had engaged in a ministry of teaching and healing.  Jesus Christ had done all of it in order to arrive at this week.  He had done all of it in order to hang on a Roman cross in Jerusalem on Friday morning.
            That is what St. Paul is telling us in the epistle lesson this morning.  He writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, 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.”  The Son of God is one substance with the Father.  He is true God in every way. At yet in the incarnation he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. The incarnation was about serving.
            It was about serving in an unimaginable way. Paul tells us, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Jesus Christ humbled himself in order to carry out the Father’s will. As the eternal and almighty Son of God, the Son could not be killed.  But by taking on a human nature in the incarnation – by becoming the God-man, Jesus Christ could be killed.  He could suffer death. And that was the point.
            Adam’s disobedience brought sin and death into the world. God warned Adam before the Fall, and it has been true ever since: The wages of sin is death.  Now, Jesus Christ had come as the second Adam to act in obedience – obedience to the point of death.  As Paul told the Romans, “For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.”
            God sent Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God to atone for sin.  He sent him to be the sacrifice, for sin required punishment by the just God.  Paul says, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” God did this “to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
            We have heard this many times.  Theologically it all “makes sense.”  Yet in our text, Paul adds one phrase that is meant to shatter any sense that we are comfortable with Jesus’ sacrifice.  He says, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 
            Many people have died heroic deaths defending or protecting others. But Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, was obedient to the point of death on a cross.  The cross was the most humiliating and painful form of execution that existed in the Roman world. And for that reason, the Romans government embraced its use. The cross was about shame and helplessness.  Only those whom the Romans considered to be far less than themselves could be subjected to it.  It was such terrible thing, that polite Roman company didn’t even talk about it.
            Yet this was the way God carried out his saving work for us. And in doing so he throws out any notion that the death of Jesus makes sense to human reason.  Paul came out and said this when He told the Corinthians, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  He added, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 
            In obedience to the Father, Jesus suffered and died on a cross.  As the God-man, he died. And then they did to him what was done for all who died – the buried him in a tomb.  This is the Sunday of the Passion as we begin Holy Week.  Holy Week itself ends with the dead body of Jesus in a sealed tomb.
            But I’ll give you a preview of what happened after that.  He didn’t stay dead.  Instead, on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead.  He defeated death through the resurrection, just as he defeated sin by Jesus’ death on the cross.
            And God didn’t just raise Jesus.  He exalted him as the ascended Lord who has all authority.  Paul goes on to say in our text: “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.”
            Our text has received massive attention from biblical scholarship – and for good reason.  The things we have just talked about get at the heart of the person of Jesus Christ and his saving work. But we also need to pay attention to why Paul tells us these things.
            He begins by saying: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  The reason he says this is because he has just been talking about how Christians are to live.  He began by urging the Philippians to live in unity with one another as he said: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
            And then Paul gives a description of what behavior guided by this looks like. He says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
            Now Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, because we don’t always act this way.  Yet, you have been baptized into Christ.  You have been buried with him through baptism.  His saving death has become yours and so your sins are forgiven.  It was the Spirit who worked regeneration in that baptism. And this is why Paul says in Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” 
            The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead has made you a new creation in Christ.  The power of Christ’s resurrection is already at work in you. And that is why Paul can say in our text, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  Jesus Christ’s act of sacrificial humility becomes the pattern of life for those who are in Christ. 
            So, Paul is saying, because of what Jesus has done for you; because of what Jesus’ Spirit is doing in you, act in humility like Jesus.  Put other people first and look out for them.  Don’t only think about yourself, but take care of others.  You’ve been forgiven so that you can act in this way.
            The place this begins is the place many of you are seeing a lot of these days – at home.  Live this out by seeking to help your spouse or siblings.  Put their needs ahead of your own.  Seek to help them in ways that make their life better, easier and more joyful. For when you do this, you are living as Jesus in their midst. You are living with the mind of Christ that Jesus made possible by being obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

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