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Pentecost 19, “He Humbled Himself”

Pastor Larry L. Wiederich October 11, 2020

Philippians 2:5-8

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)

The text we just read tells us about what we refer to as Christ’s humiliation. Almost every week in church we confess in the Apostle’s Creed that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontus Pilate and was crucified, died and was buried.” We really don’t know how the Apostle’s Creed developed. About all we can say is that the creed seems to have been developed very early in the Christian Church and it takes much of its inspiration and wording from these words of St. Paul in Philippians.

St. Paul refers to the selfless humiliation of Christ in our text. He makes two points. First, he says that Christ is God. He says: Who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. The second point is that this eternal God became a human being. Again he says: But made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

Sometimes we picture Christ’s humiliation as a ladder with six steps leading downward. Maybe you remember this from our confirmation instructions. The ladder reaches all the way from heaven to death and the tomb. So this morning let’s review what we learned in confirmation class as Christ goes down these six steps of humiliation as is presented to us in the Apostle’s Creed.

Step one is this: “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.” Ordinarily it takes two human beings, one male and one female, to bring about the beginning of a new life. We call this conception. However, the conception of Christ was a miracle. The angel that appeared to Mary told her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. It was a miracle and yet the conception of Christ in Mary’s womb was his first step down the ladder of humiliation. He who is the Creator becomes a human being. He who fills all in all becomes a man with human flesh and blood. That’s humiliation.

Step two is this: “He was born of the Virgin Mary.” This is what Christmas is all about. Caesar Augustus issued a decree that all the world should be taxed. Mary and Joseph as obedient citizens go to Bethlehem for the registration. Before they arrived in Bethlehem all the houses and inns are filled. Mary gives birth to her first Baby, lays him in a manger and calls him Jesus. The angel appears to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem and says to them: Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. The Son of God became a man. God took on human flesh and blood. He who lived in heaven came down to earth. He who lived in the eternal mansions was born in a stinking stable. That’s humiliation.

Step three is this: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That’s a short sentence, but it was a long step down the ladder of humiliation. Christ, of course, suffered long before he was brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. On the eighth day he shed his first blood when he was circumcised. When Herod threatened to kill the Baby Jesus, Joseph had to take him on a trip to Egypt. No doubt as a boy in Nazareth other children ridiculed and teased him. For forty days and forty nights he went without food in the wilderness. Christ summarized this when he explained: Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.

All this, of course, was only a prelude to the agony and suffering he endured under Pontius Pilate. Late Thursday night, after he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was brought before the chief priests and the church court. False witnesses were brought in who called him a liar and a blasphemer. He was then delivered to the Roman soldiers for safekeeping until morning. These soldiers treated him terribly. They crowned his head with thorns, beat him over the head, bowed their knees in mockery and hailed him as the King of the Jews. They blindfolded him, smote him in the face and jeered at him. Yet there was worse to come. Before the Roman governor they stripped him of his clothing, tied his hands to a post, and beat him until his flesh was torn to shreds. Jesus, who is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, could have destroyed them all in an instant. Yet he patiently endured all this brutality and abuse. That’s humiliation.

Step four is this: “They crucified Him.” Crucifixion under Roman law was reserved for the worst of criminals because of the shame and cruelty connected with it. Yet to appease the mob outside his palace, Pilate handed him over to be crucified. They compelled him to carry his heavy cross down the narrow streets to the place of execution. They stretched out his hands and legs and nailed him to the cross. Then they ridiculed and mocked him even more. That’s humiliation.

Step five is: “He died.” After six hours of agony on the cross, he cried out: Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. He bowed his head and died. To make sure he was really dead they pierced his side. He who had created all life was now dead. That’s humiliation.

Step six is: “He was buried.” Even in the midst of all the hatred and confusion there still were a few who loved him. Joseph of Arimathea went to the governor and asked if he could have the body of Christ and give it a decent burial. He was joined by Nicodemus, who three years earlier had made a night visit to Jesus. As we might recall, Jesus had told him: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish but have everlasting life. These two men wrapped the body of Christ and hastily laid him in Joseph’s tomb. Then they put a stone in front of it and left. This was the final step down the ladder of Christ’s humiliation.

Our catechisms ask the question: “For what purpose did Christ so humble himself?” That’s a good question for us to consider here this morning. The answer to that question gives Christ’s humiliation meaning for our lives. First, through his humiliation Christ redeemed the world. Christ’s humiliation was part of God’s plan to redeem fallen sinners. Jesus himself had said: The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life as a ransom for all. When Christ appeared on the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized and to begin his public ministry, John the Baptist declared: Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. After Christ’s death and resurrection, John wrote by inspiration: He is the payment of our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

That’s why we train pastors, teachers and missionaries. That’s why we bring our offerings to church. That’s why we build churches, teach our children and tell others what Jesus has done for them. Every person has been redeemed by the innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We want everyone to say along with Martin Luther: “I believe that Jesus has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from sin, death and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death; that I should be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him.”

Then through his humiliation Christ redeemed me. That is the ultimate significance of Christ’s suffering and humiliation. So let’s say it deep down within our hearts: “Christ has redeemed me.” When you say this, then you have grasped the true meaning of his humiliation. Christ has redeemed me! Let’s say along with the hymn writer: “Thy groaning and Thy sighing, Thy bitter tears and dying, With which Thou wast oppressed. Then shall when life is ending, Be guiding and attending, My way to Thine eternal rest.”

Also through Christ’s humiliation Christ has redeemed me from sin, from death and from the power of the devil. Our catechisms ask: “From what has Christ redeemed you?” The answer is: “From sin, from death and from the power of the devil.”

We all know what sin is. We also know well the consequences of sin. Alienation from God, a guilty conscience, fear, doubt and uneasiness! Christ’s humiliation, however, has changed all that. We have been redeemed from sin and all its consequences. The Bible tells us: There is now therefore no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus. It says: The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, has cleansed us from all sin. It says: God hath made him to be sin who knew no sin that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. It says: He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities. We can now enjoy God’s presence. We are his own dear children. We can walk with him and talk to him because he has redeemed us from all our sins.

More than two million people die in our country each year. That’s about five thousand every day or about five every minute. We all realize that we deserve temporal death and eternal damnation because of our sins. The Apostle Paul writes: The wages of sin is death. Then, however, he quickly adds: The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. That’s why the apostle writes that when a loved one dies we don’t have to sorrow like the heathen who have no hope. That’s why we can also face death without fear. That’s why we can sing: O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why we can say along with the Apostle Peter: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.

Christ also has redeemed us from the power of the devil. The devil is still around. Christ, our Lord, however, humbled himself so that he could defeat him. The Scripture tells us that through death Christ destroyed him who has the power of death, which is the devil. When Christ died on Calvary, he crushed Satan’s power once and for all. It was just like God had said when Adam and Eve fell into sin: I will put enmity between thee and the woman and between her seed and your seed; He shall bruise thy head.

Luther once said: When the devil says to me, “Luther, you are a great sinner,” I have to answer him, “You are right.” But when the devil adds, “Luther, because of your sins you are going to go straight to hell,” I just laugh at him and say, “You just go back to hell where you belong. Christ has redeemed me.”

Christ humbled himself and redeemed me. All we can do is thank him and say along with the writer of the hymn: Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, Dearest Jesus unto Thee.” Amen.

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