A Palm Sunday Reflection
It was too perfect. It was going to be a parenting win. It was one of those things, one of those times, once of those occasions, where you just know that you’re hitting a parental home run. Now, Jack had been very specific that he wanted action figures from the movie Big Hero 6. He had been saying it for weeks. When we made our Christmas lists together, Jack was adamant that the Big Hero 6 action figures be placed near the top of his list. And here I am now, in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, staring at the exact toys that he wants for Christmas. I mean I’m like Indiana Jones at the beginning of Raiders. I’m like, “This is it! This is what he wants!” Not only was it a win because I found the actual toys that he wanted, but it was even better because I can tell him that I found them at the most magical place on earth! Now when he opened and played with the toys, he could enjoy the action figures, and once I tell him we got them on vacation, every time he played with the toys he could remember the fun times that we had as a family. I’m telling you, the plan was foolproof.
Well, Bethany and I have started this tradition with our kids of celebrating Advent every year as a family. We do so as a church, as you know. So after church, every week of Advent, what we do is we go home, we light a candle, we read Scripture, and we teach our kids to anticipate the coming of Christmas over those four weeks. As part of our family Advent tradition we also give the kids one particular present every single week to build the joy and anticipation of the joy of the coming of the greatest the world has ever know, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So here we are in this week of Advent, and the Big Hero 6 action figures are on deck. He is going to get these toys on this day of Advent. I am excited, as his father, to watch him open the toys. As he tore the wrapping paper of the present, his face lit up and I took great pride in telling him where we got the toys, how I had covertly kept it from him for weeks, and now he gets to enjoy them, what he wanted for Christmas. I’m not kidding when I tell you guys this; within 90 seconds they were broken. They were broken!
They had made it all the way from Orlando, FL., and they couldn’t last 2 minutes in the hand of my child. These heroes are not very “super” if you ask me. In spite of the toy’s deformity, my boys still like to play with the Big Hero 6 action figures, and it’s not just kids that like superheroes. People love superheroes, don’t they? Batman and marvel movies abound, don’t they? I think people love superheroes; I think they are drawn to stories of superheroes, because these superheroes that we watch and read about, they’re almost like divine men. Aren’t they? Consider the legacy of Superman for a moment: the hero (superman) has been a cultural phenomenon since he was 1st unveiled in 1933. Superman, in the story, is the son of a “god” who comes to earth – looking just like everyone else – and saves humanity through his supernatural power. Batman, Iron Man, Captain America, these guys are basically divine men. Aren’t they? They look like us, yet they have the power of a god.
I think that we’re drawn to superheroes because there’s a part of us that wants to be God. This has been true for all of human history - For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. History of humanity is filled with rulers, leaders, kings who made claims of divinity: Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, and Caesar Augustus, just to name a few.
The apostle Paul writes this letter to the Philippian church in a Roman culture that deified its rulers. As Paul writes the epistle to the Philippians, Caesar Augustus –the adopted son of Julius Caesar – is ruling the Roman world and claiming god-hood for himself. He said that he was a god and that his father Julius Caesar was a god. But the apostle Paul is writing to this little church condemning that idolatry. Christians cannot look to political rulers to bring joy and unity to the church. We will never have a savior on Capitol Hill. If we can’t count on human rulers to bring joy and unity to the church, where does it come from? The answer is not in a man who claims to be god, but in the man who was God, is God. The only truly divine man. In this confused Roman culture, St. Paul uses this early Christological hymn to encourage gospel-centered joy and unity in the church. In fact, that is what he says in Philippians 2, in the first four verses. The imperative that follows the first four verses is where we started: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. We can only have gospel-centered joy and unity in the church if we acknowledge that if Jesus is Lord, and if Jesus is Lord then Caesar is not. When the church sees and loves the real Jesus, they will adopt the mind of Christ themselves. That indeed is the imperative in verse 5: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. Paul calls the church to thoughtfully dwell on the person of Christ, and then to thoughtfully plan to follow the example of Christ.
As we look at this pericope together this morning, I want to challenge us as a church to take on the mind of Christ together. We are, in some ways, hitting a reset button of sorts together as have changed our name, and it is imperative during this season of the life of our church that we are unified. This season in the life of our church is an opportunity to reflect on the gospel together and to realign ourselves with its joy-giving, unity-producing power. Here is what this means: the mind of Christ means that we humbly (1) serve others, and (2) obey God.
Humbly Serving Others
Paul tells us, in this text, of the humble service of Jesus, who was in the form of God. Jesus was in the form of God. The apostle’s declaration of divinity is in concert with the entire message of the NT and the witness of the history of the church. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1.15), in the beginning, he was with God and he was God (John 1.1-3), Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God (Heb 1.3). The witness of church history is that Jesus is Homoousios with the Father. He is of the same substance as the Father. Even though all that is true, the Holy Spirit tells us that Jesus did not take advantage of his heavenly rights, but he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. In fact, Jesus emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant. This is the fulfillment of the garden promise – Jesus, the eternal Word of God, became flesh and dwelt among us. Now in church history some people have read this passage and they’ve misread this passage and they have confused St. Paul’s words. Jesus did not empty himself of being God during the incarnation. That would be to misread Philippians 2. Jesus always has been and always will be God. Jesus did not cease to be divine while he was a man. Christian orthodoxy has always taught the hypostatic union of the two natures of Jesus Christ, man and God. He is both divine and human. He is both creator and creature. He is both YHWH and Israel. He is both the Son of God and the son of man. The incarnation is the glorious doctrine that the infinite God humbled himself and became a finite creature in his own creation. In the incarnation, Homer joined the Odyssey, Shakespeare graced Hamlet’s court, CS Lewis entered the wardrobe, and Tolkien wandered the Shire. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14).
But Jesus didn’t just dwell among his people, he also served them. Jesus emptied himself by serving others. This indeed is the meaning of κενόω. That is what the kenosis refers to. Jesus did not empty himself of being divine, but Jesus emptied himself by serving his creatures. Jesus Christ emptied himself of his heavenly prerogatives and privileges by taking on the form of a servant. The creator served the creatures. The King of kings, worthy of all honor, glory, and praise, came to wash feet, heal the sick, and feed the hungry. He was the great physician who has come to nurse the wounded, the great shepherd who came to tend the lost sheep. Jesus had every prerogative to be served, but he served his Father and he served his people out of love.
I was talking about Jack a little earlier and his toys. On the way to church this morning, we got them all buckled up and I’m buckling Haddon in. Jack and Alex are already buckled, and Jack starts passing out Spiderman stickers. I’m like, “Wait, where are you getting Spiderman stickers from?” He had multiple, and he is handing them out. And I’m like, “what are you doing?” And apparently this past week Jack had gone to the doctor, and the doctor had offered Jack a sticker. As parents you know, glory to God, if there is a sticker or a sucker to save the wailing and gnashing of teeth that happens after the shots. So Jack got a Spiderman sticker and Jack was adamant that he needed to get a sticker for Alex too, and a sticker for Haddon as well. He has a tender heart, which is how he is made up. He loves to serve his brothers and sisters. I’ll tell you when I was a kid, I wasn’t concerned with getting Andrew a sticker. That is not, in my sin, I’m not given to that tenderness. I want a sticker, but he is on his own. But not Jack, every time not matter what we are doing or where we are going, he wants to serve his brothers and sister. When Sophia is upset he wants to go fetch toys. And that’s just Jack, he is a Sour Patch. You know that commercial? Where they are super sweet and super sour. Man, that is Jack. He lives on the edges of that spectrum. But he doesn’t do it for our approval, I don’t think he can put it together yet that if “I get this for Alex, mom and dad will think that I’m being a good brother.” He just wants to do it; he just wants to serve them because he loves them. He is just a tenderhearted 4-year-old kid. If that’s true for his little tender heart, brothers and sisters, how much more true is it for Jesus Christ? Jesus served God and others out of love. That is what the bible tells us, John 13:1 tells us that He loved his own to the end. John also tells us – in quite possibly the most famous Scripture passage of all time – that the motivation for the Christ event was God’s love (John 3.16).
Brothers and sisters, listen to the words of the Holy Spirit this morning, this is our gospel-centered motivation to lovingly serve each other. Jesus lovingly served God and neighbor. Go and do like-wise. Joy and unity will flood our church only when we take on the mind of Christ by humbly serving other people. Only when we count others more significant than ourselves. Only when we look to the interest of others the interest of our own. Oh how unified we will be, when we place people in this body before ourselves. Isn’t that true in your home? I know it’s true in ours. When I’m being selfish, when it’s all about me, when I am counting myself more significant than others, my interest more significant than others, then serving Bethany or the children is an annoyance. I am more prone to being aggravated towards them when I’m focused on serving myself, isn’t that true? You know why? Because are just getting in the way of serving me, of my self-centered telos. But if my focus is on serving them, then I’m usually happier and so are they. Funny how that works! Joy and unity have room to flourish when we’re all focused on everyone else.
That’s true for the family of God as well. If our primary concern is that others are served before ourselves, then we’re usually willing to put up with a lot more than if we want our way before others. Sure, it’s easy to slip in to a bible class right on time. It is a lot easier to do that than it is do the work of committing to teaching a kid’s class, to study for the lesson, to show up on time, and to serve the children of Christ Community Church. It’s way easier to show up and passively listen to a bible class, but the gospel tells us that the hard thing is the more rewarding thing. If we believe that the gospel is true, then it will benefit your soul, and this body more if you sacrifice your time and energy to the eternal benefit of these children.
It’s definitely easier to always be the guest and never the host at a flock small group. It’s not that hard to show up twice a month and bring a dish. It’s a lot harder to have to have your house clean before, and to clean up afterward. It’s a lot harder to have to be hospitable from the moment the first guest shows up until the moment that the last guest leaves. Nobody ever said that Christian hospitality was easy, but if the gospel is true then that means that that sacrifice is worth it. It means that overturning the idols of laziness and privacy will make you more into the image of Christ, because Jesus put others before himself.
It’s easy to tell someone that you’ll be praying for them. It’s harder to actually intercede on behalf of our brothers and sisters. It’s easy to enjoy a church meal. It’s harder to stay after and clean up. It’s easy to say that a church should have an active student ministry. It’s harder to give of time and money to serve students to allow them to go on mission trips or other things. It’s easy to say, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.” It’s harder to faithfully give to your local church every week from your gross income. Brothers, and sisters, the gospel is calling us together to take on the mind of Christ here at Christ Community Church. Jesus humbly served other people, and if we want a joy-filled, unified church, then there is no other alternative.
Humbly Obeying God
Not only do we take on the mind of Christ by humbly serving others, but we also take on the mind of Christ by humbly obeying God. Paul says Jesus that humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. In our Western culture, the cross has become a beloved religious symbol – and rightfully so. It’s most pronounced during, as Pastor Kevin announced at the beginning of the service, holy week, this week. Bookstores are featuring religious books, there are TV specials and movies coming out about the life of Christ, and you can see the cross everywhere as a symbol of Christianity. This wouldn’t have been the sentiment of the cross when Paul 1st penned this epistle. The cross was the most gruesome instrument of death in the Roman Empire. Origen said good citizens don’t even speak of crucifixion in polite company. Jesus obeyed his Father by going to the cross. Jesus humbly obeyed God when it was hard, when it cost him everything – not my will, but yours be done.
If our study of Hebrews 11 so far has taught us anything, it’s that faith produces humble obedience. Noah believed that God’s judgment was coming; he had faith in that so he built the ark. Abraham believed that YHWH could raise Isaac from the dead if he had to in order to keep his promise, so he led him up the mountain. Joseph believed that God would be faithful to raise him up in the last day, so he had his bones brought back to Canaan. All these saints humbly obeyed God at times when it was hard and when it would cost them everything. These men were all types pointing us to the one, true, faithful servant Jesus Christ who would humble himself and obey God to the point of death, even death on a cross.
You see, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday all those years ago, the people in the crowd spoke far better than they knew. They shouted, “Hosanna,” which means “save us.” They proclaimed, “Blessed is the coming of God’s kingdom, peace in heaven, and glory to God.” This morning in our bible class with our students, we were talking about Palm Sunday, what it means and why we celebrate it, and why we think about it. We talked about how the Jews that were living under Roman oppression, when they saw Jesus do all these miraculous things, they thought that the Messiah had come, from the line of David, the son of David. Blessed is the son of David! And he was going to be the king, Jesus was going to lead the insurrection charge against the Roman Empire and that Israel was going to be politically free again. Brett made a great point to me, in light of this text this morning, that they shouted “Hosanna”, the shouted “save us”, they shouted “glory to the king” and they thought that meant overthrowing the government, but really Jesus’s insurrection, Jesus’ kingdom was one where he emptied himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. All of those things did come with Jesus, but what they didn’t know is that they could only come through his death on the cross. Jesus saves his people through his substitutionary death – he died in our place. The kingdom of God comes not by Jesus overthrowing the Roman government, but by Jesus disarming Satan at Calvary. There is peace between Heaven and earth because the creator himself died to redeem the cosmos. Jesus’ humble obedience to God, church, that is the gospel that saves us.
And now this is our gospel motivation for humbly obeying God in our church. We must take on the mind of Christ, who humbly obeyed God even when it was hard and even when it cost him everything. Church, holding to a gospel-centered understanding of marriage, in our culture, will be considered “hate speech.” You’re going to be told that you’re “on the wrong side of history.” But we’ve got to love the Bible even when it’s hard, when the culture, and when even some in this room, don’t like what is says. We’ve got to obey God even when it costs us. Whether it’s our reputation, relationships, or even our rights as citizens. Are will willing to obey God when it’s unpopular or difficult? It’s hard to go to a brother or sister and have a conversation when there’s a disagreement. It’s easier to run and hide, but that’s not biblical. We are commanded not let the sun set on our anger. We are called to be unified. Sometimes obedience is hard. Scripture commands us to only have sex with the person to whom we’re married. Scripture commands us to cheerfully give. We’re called to love the brothers, and to bring the gospel to our own communities. No body said it would be easy. We have bought into the lie. We have bought into the lie that everyone agrees with it, that this how life should be, and that this is good and easy, and that Jesus wants you to have your best life now. Jesus humbly obeyed God to the point of death, even death on the cross. Nobody said it would be easy. Following Christ has never been easy. Jesus is not tame, but he’s good. Brothers and sisters, Jesus humbly obeyed God when it was hard and it cost him, and we must do the same if we want joy and unity in this people.
Every superhero has a weakness. If you like superhero stories you know that. Superman’s is Kryptonite. Superman may be virtually indestructible – the Man of Steel, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive – but if you get your hands on some Kryptonite, he is like an action figure in Jack’s hands - he’s done. I’m fairly certain that 2,000 years ago on this coming Saturday – the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – Satan probably thought that he had found Jesus’ kryptonite – the death on the cross. But Paul tells us in verse 11, “therefore” (διὸ), for this reason, because Jesus died on the cross, God the Father exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that every knee would bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The result of Jesus’ humble service and obedience was his exultation.
Church: this is our gospel motivation. On this Palm Sunday, as we begin holy week: if we want joy and unity at Christ Community Church, we must adopt the mind of Christ.
The mind of Christ means we humbly (1) serve others, and (2) that we humbly obey God.
Let’s do that church. Let’s join the orchestra of the great cloud of witnesses that have come before us singing this hymn of glory to Jesus in our church. Let’s consider others before ourselves. Let’s obey God even when it’s hard and it costs us. If we do so, if we do that church then our body, our lives, our homes, this community, will sing that song together in the glory of Christ. We will – to quote Andrew Peterson – we will “sing out with joy for the brave little boy who was God, but he made himself nothing. He gave up his pride and he came here to die like a man.”