Pastor Gary Wong, March 28, 2021
5 Indeed, let this attitude be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. 6 Though he was by nature God, he did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed, 7 but he emptied himself by taking the nature[d] of a servant. When he was born in human likeness, and his appearance was like that of any other man, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It was the game for third place at the MLC Lutheran grade school basketball tournament. You didn’t have to look at the scoreboard to know which team had won; you could see it in the players’ attitudes and actions. One team was smiling from ear to ear while the other team sat or stood by their bench in silence. The Raiders of St. Paul’s in New Ulm were jumping for joy because they had just won a thrilling, come from behind overtime victory. At the same time, the Raiders of Crown of Life from West St. Paul were crushed because they had fallen short. Despite their loss, the Crown of Life players weren’t sore losers. To their credit, the team from New Ulm wasn’t arrogant in their victory. In sports and in life, our attitude, even more than the results, go a long way in determining whether we are winners or losers.
On this Palm Sunday, St. Paul describes what a winning attitude is in God’s eyes. The Apostle encourages us to have the same attitude as our Savior, Jesus Christ. As we take a closer look at our text, we can see why Paul points to Jesus as our example. In just a few divinely inspired verses, Paul describes who Jesus is, what he has done and why Jesus’ attitude is so remarkable. First, Paul tells us that Jesus is “in very nature God” (v.6). Even before the beginning of the world, Jesus was, is, and always will be God. Jesus has the exact same characteristics as God the Father. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere, and eternal. Jesus is holy and righteous; he is merciful and compassionate. Jesus is God in every way.
Jesus is truly God; the Bible teaches that Jesus is also true man. Paul tells us Jesus was “made in human likeness” (v.7c). Folks, this is the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation—how Jesus, who is fully God, is also a living, breathing human being. How did that happen? In the Apostles’ Creed, we believe and confess that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that he was born of the virgin Mary. In the same way, the Nicene Creed teaches that Jesus became fully human. The child who came out of Mary’s womb had all of the parts— eyes, ears, fingers and toes—that every other human being has. Jesus was also born with the full range of human emotions. Jesus knew what it was to be tired, hungry and cold. Jesus felt joy and sadness. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was like us in every way—except that Jesus was without sin.
In Jesus’ day and today, most people readily acknowledge that Jesus was a real person. Yet, most people do not believe that Jesus is God. Even Christians sometimes struggle with the truth that Jesus is both God and man in one person because that fact goes against human reason. In fact, the only reason you and I believe it is because we have been given the gift of faith. By faith, we believe what the Bible tells us about Jesus—that he is “the Word [who] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John. 1:14) and that “all the fullness of the deity dwells in [his] bodily form” (Col. 2:9). By faith, we believe that Jesus is both God and man, even if we do not fully understand it. There’s more. Paul not only tells us that Jesus is “in very nature God”; he also tells us that Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (v.6). Rather, Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (v.7).
If we struggle to understand how Jesus is both God and man, how do we wrap our minds around the fact that Jesus humbled himself and willingly became a servant? How would you explain Jesus’ incarnation and humiliation to an unbeliever? His response to our attempt to explain the unexplainable might sound something like this: “Let me get this straight. You claim that this Jesus, whom the history books say was a Jewish carpenter crucified by the Romans, is God. I don’t believe it; but let’s just say that you’re right. So, since Jesus is God, he can do anything he wants. He rules the world. He is above everything and everyone. Yet, you’re saying that Jesus gave that up. Jesus was on top but he didn’t stay on top. Jesus lowered himself. He didn’t just become a human being; he became a servant. Why would he do such a crazy thing? If I were in his position, I would never give up that power. If I were God, I would make my life as comfortable as possible. I would be rich. I’d live in a mansion—no, make that a lot of mansions all over the world; I would have servants waiting on me hand and foot, day and night. I wouldn’t give up my power and my glory to live like an ordinary human being and spend my whole life serving other people. That’s crazy!”
Humanly speaking, it doesn’t make any sense that Jesus, who is God, would lower himself in such a way. We would never willingly do that, would we? Who of us wouldn’t jump at the chance of being God or at least having and using his power? I can think of two people who did: Adam and Eve. Now, understand that before the fall, Adam and Eve lived in perfect harmony with their Creator. They knew that God loved them and they were perfectly content to worship and serve him. They had no desire to be God. Tragically, they fell for the devil’s lies and ate the forbidden fruit. The result of their disobedience is that all of us were born with a sinful nature. Consequently, we came out of our mother’s wombs with a bad attitude. By nature, we are selfish and arrogant. By nature, we put ourselves and our own interests ahead of everyone else, including God. We boast about and take all the credit for the things we’ve done and the things we have. Yet, when things go wrong, we don’t take any responsibility. We blame others; we blame God. Our sinful natures listen to society that says we should do whatever it takes to get what we want, even if we hurt others. At the same time, our culture doesn’t value humble service because that is a sign of weakness.
Our selfish pride and our arrogant attitudes are just two of the countless sins that separate us from God. God has every right to be angry at us. Because we are sinners, we deserve to die and suffer in hell for all eternity. God doesn’t want that to happen. He wants us to live. Yet, the only way that we can live with our heavenly Father is to keep his law perfectly. Since we don’t, we needed a perfect Substitute; we need Jesus. Because of his love, Jesus left his home in heaven, became one of us and “made himself nothing.” According to the Greek, Jesus emptied himself. Now, that doesn’t mean that Jesus stopped being God, because he can’t do that. It means that Jesus gave up the full and continual use of his divine power. The devil threw all kinds of temptations at Jesus to use his power in a selfish way. In the desert, Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. Yet, Jesus resisted that and every other temptation. Jesus only used his power to serve others. On the cross, Jesus emptied himself of his power as he bore the full force of God’s wrath. Throughout his life, Jesus was perfectly obedient to his Father’s will. On the cross, he became obedient to death.
After his suffering, Jesus triumphantly rose from the grave. Jesus lives! Because he lives, we too shall live. Because of his love, we have been given the gift of eternal life. Even though we didn’t deserve it, God washed away all of our sins and made us his dearly loved children. The undeserved love that God showers on us is called grace. God blesses us and fills us with his grace in his Word and in his sacraments. The gospel assures us that God forgives all of our sins and that we will live with him forever.
What is our response to God’s grace? We praise and thank him. We worship and serve him. We live as children of God who strive to do his will. The gospel moves us to get rid of our selfish, arrogant attitudes and take on Jesus’ attitude of humility and service to others. Obviously, Jesus had plenty to brag about; but he didn’t. We, on the other hand, have a lot to be humble about. We have to admit that we have fallen short of God’s glory countless times. So rather than having an attitude like the self-righteous Pharisee at the temple who looked down on everyone, we should have the attitude of the tax collector who wouldn’t even look up to heaven but instead pleaded, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lk. 18:13).
The gospel motivates and empowers us to humbly serve God and our fellow human beings. We follow Jesus’ example who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mt. 20:28). Practically speaking, how can we do that? We can do that by not showing favoritism, which is selfishly helping only those whom we like and think will help us. Rather, we lend a helping hand even to those who are mean, unlovable, and ungrateful. We do the work that God has given us to do without complaining, without seeking or expecting praise, and without tearing down others just so we can feel better about ourselves. We humbly serve by not insisting on having the last word. We show kindness and don’t retaliate against someone who has hurt us. We follow Jesus as we take up our crosses, bear with one another, and forgive each other, just as God forgives us. As we serve the Lord and others with a humble attitude, God gives us opportunities to share our faith—why we speak and act the way we do—with those who don’t know Jesus.
Friends, we may not experience many thrilling victories while we’re here on this earth. God’s Word says that we must go through many hardships before we enter the kingdom of heaven. Yet, despite our problems, we don’t have to have a bad attitude. Rather, we can have the attitude of Jesus, who, after living a life of humble service, was exalted to the highest heavens. The promise of heaven is for all who believe in Jesus as their Savior. Through faith in Christ, God has made us winners So, what’s your attitude? Let it be the attitude of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
“Oh, Love, How Deep” (CW 371)
Text: attr. Thomas a Kempis, 13801471, abr.; tr. Benjamin Webb, 1819-85, alt.
Oh, love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!
He sent no angel to our race,
Of higher or of lower place,
But wore the robe of human frame,
And to this world himself he came.
For us, by wickedness betrayed,
For us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us he gave his dying breath.
All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad,
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.