Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, May 25, 2018
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Having the Attitude of Christ

Matthew 27:27-54 and Philippians 2:5-11

Maybe it’s because we have heard the story so many times over the years, but I’m afraid that we just don’t stop to think about what’s really happening in the story of the crucifixion. Maybe we’re missing out on how remarkable it really is. If Jesus is God, then when we read this story, we are reading about God being mocked, beaten, spat on, and ultimately nailed to a cross to suffer and die. That’s so astounding to say, that it’s almost impossible to conceive of, and yet that’s the story. Maybe if we stop to think about it for a while, we’ll begin to marvel at it again.

But in the end, what we should do with the story of Christ’s humility on the cross is not simply to marvel at it, but to imitate it. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5 that we should imitate the attitude of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most profound statements in the New Testament about who Jesus is and about the theological mysteries surrounding him. But like all good theology, it is presented as something essentially practical, something with practical implications for what and we should do because of who God is. Paul starts this chapter with a call for the Philippian church to practice unity and humility and love and genuine concern for each other. And the foundation for those things is the attitude revealed by Jesus Christ in his Incarnation, his taking on human flesh.

He was God. He has always been God. Of course Paul is speaking here of the pre-existence of the Son. The Son has always been. Before there was a man named Jesus, there was a Son. He is not a creation of God, for he has always been God. Being God is his essential and eternal nature. It’s not something that could ever be changed.

But he did not cling to his nature. We talked last month about the contrast of Adam and Christ. Adam was created as human, and his sin was that he grasped after equality with God, he grasped after the divine. On the other hand, Christ is divine, but he laid aside his divinity, in some mysterious way, and became human.

And this is a mystery. It’s a mystery how God becomes human. Verse 7 says that he “emptied himself.” The Greek word here is KENOSIS, and it means to empty. Take a pitcher of water, pour it all out, and that is KENOSIS. But how does God empty himself? After all, God can’t stop being God.

The best explanation I’ve heard, and the best I can offer to you, is that he emptied himself of a manner of existence equal to God. He laid aside the independent use of divine power, and he became dependent on the Father and the Spirit. So in the flesh, in the Incarnation, Jesus was not all-powerful or all-knowing in and of himself. He became dependent on the Father and the Spirit. He could only cast out evil spirits or raise the dead as the power to do so was given to him by the Father and the Spirit. He only knew what people were thinking as it was revealed to him by the Spirit.

And in the Incarnation, he took on, at least for a time, the form of humanity. He couldn’t stop being God, but he started also to be human. He added humanity to his own nature so that he was fully God and fully man. And his humanity was complete with all the limitations of human flesh. Jesus became tired. He became hungry and thirsty. He was able to experience pain and death.

And in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient even to death, even death on a cross, which was the worst imaginable form of death in that age. Crucifixion was long. It often took many hours or even days for a person finally to succumb to death from crucifixion. It was painful. The entire weight of one’s body would rest on only three or four nails driven through the wrists and feet. And crucifixion was humiliating. Typically, victims of crucifixion were stripped naked before being nailed to the cross. And while we often picture Jesus on a cross way up against the sky, the truth is that most victims of crucifixion were hung only a foot or so off the ground so that they would be almost at eye level with passersby.

Crucifixion was so bad, that by Roman law a citizen could not be crucified. Only slaves, foreigners, and non-citizens, like Jesus, could be crucified. It was utterly humiliating to the Roman mind. And to the Jewish mind, it was even worse: It was a curse, because the Old Testament said that anyone hung on a tree was cursed by God.

But Jesus, the one who was humiliated to the lowest place, has now been raised by God to the highest place. He has been given a name, the name Lord, that is above every other name. And one day, all of creation will bow to him and confess that he is Lord.

Paul relates this profound theological wonder to us with a very practical purpose in mind: So that we can imitate him. Now, of course, we can’t exactly imitate his actions. None of us is God in human flesh. But we can imitate his attitude.

We can imitate his humility, thinking more of others than we do of ourselves. That certainly seems to go against our natural inclinations. Our natural inclination seems to be to think a whole lot of ourselves and very little of others. But we CAN do it, by his help!

We can also imitate his example of emptying ourselves and laying aside our rights so that we can genuinely serve one another. That’s not the way of the world. The way of the world is to cling to our rights, to hold onto everything that’s ours. But we can empty ourselves. We can lay aside our rights. We can serve each other humbly.

We can be humble and obedient as Jesus was. Indeed, if we want to be like Jesus, that’s precisely what we should do. And if we confess Jesus as our Lord, that’s most certainly what we should do!

We should not go around grasping status and power. Like Jesus, we have a rather profound status: We are children of God. That’s quite an honor. But like Jesus, we should not hold our status over others. We should lay it aside and humble ourselves. Because what we learn from the example of Jesus is that God honors those who humble themselves completely. If we want God to honor us, then we must humble ourselves as Jesus did.

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