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From Exaltation to Humiliation

From Exaltation to Humiliation

Preached by Pastor Benjamin Vrbicek

A few weeks ago, when you walked outside in the morning, likely you felt the abruptness of the change in temperature—whoa, that’s cold. This is the second week of three that we are focusing on the statements in the Apostles’ Creed that explicitly deal with Jesus. You can see them on the screen. There’s an abruptness as you walk from one statement to the next.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead. 1

There’s an abruptness in the Creed as we see the journey from an exalted Jesus, to a humiliated Jesus, and from humiliation back to exaltation.

There is a great place in the Bible where we read a letter written by a man that had his life changed by Jesus, and we see this same abruptness—from exaltation to humiliation, and humiliation back to exaltation. That passage is Philippians 2:1-11. I’m going to read all of it, but we’ll only focus on the first eight verses. Next week Jason will be working with this same passage and focus on the parts I don’t cover this week.

Philippians 2:1-11

Follow along with me as I read from Philippians 2:1-11 and see I you can see the abruptness as well.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Introduction

As we were talking about the sermon this week, Jason shared with me about a new report he heard on the NPR program All Things Considered2. It was an interview with a professor that recently did a study of over 500 children. The interview is titled, “Do Parents Nurture Narcissists By Pouring On The Praise?” The definition they were using for a narcissistic child who felt “superior to others and deserves special treatment.”

Basically, this researcher named Brad was trying to figure out how entitled are our children. That’s the word I might use—entitled. He was trying to figure out what causes people to think that they are better than others, and he looked specifically into parenting.

And so the researcher developed a scale to measure this using things like, “I’m a very special person,” or “I’m a great example, or “kids like me deserve something better,” or “without me our class would be less fun.”

There was this great moment in the interview, though it was subtle, when Brad said that was part of his scale for evaluating the children and the woman conducting the interview said, “Oh, that’s not normal, healthy self-esteem.”

To which Brad responded, “No, self-esteem means you think you are as good as other people but narcissism [or entitlement] means thinking you are better than other people.”

Entitlement says, “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know who you are talking to?”

Entitlement is everywhere. We can see entitlement in majority culture and white privilege, and in the it’s extreme form in the racism that recently came surfaced from the University of Oklahoma. And we can see entitlement in the implosion of Tiger Wood’s life a few years ago. There was not mere infidelity, there was extraordinary entitlement. Or consider the scandals of around Nixon.

But it’s easy to scoff at these extreme examples. They are obvious. But tell me if when you walk into Wal-Mart or drive certain streets you don’t feel better than 90% of the people there.

We see entitlement in children, we see it in celebrities, and we can see it in the mirror. And I can see it in myself. I’ve told this story before, but once when I was an intern at a church, there was a leak in a bathroom that needed to be fixed. I can remember the moment I was mopping up the floor and I thought to myself, “Really, is this what I went to grad school for?” In other words, I was better than that. I was entitled.

It’s natural for us to feel “I deserve this,” or “I have to get the last word,” or “I won’t play if I can’t be the best,” or “It’s all about me—my need, my schedule, my time, my money, my, my, my… is always more important than you.”

Here, Paul challenges to Philippian church—and he challenges us—to let go of all this, and pursue something else. Paul wants you and I to relinquish entitlement and pursue selfless humility.

I want to look at this passage closer, but I want to look at it out of order. I want to start in vv. 5-8. The first question I want to talk about is, What did Jesus do and not do? Then go back to vv. 1-4 looking at, What should we do and not do?

1. What did Jesus do and not do?

Let’s reread vv. 5-8,

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Verse 5 is something of an introduction to vv. 6-11. We didn’t read 9-11, because Jason will focus on those next week, but vv. 6-11 are a unit. They go together. They have a poetic nature to them, which is why some translations set the typography over a little bit as the Psalms and other poetry in the Bible is marked off. Scholars are not sure if Paul was the original author of the hymn (vv. 6-11), which is sometimes called the Christ Hymn, or if Paul only knew of it and adapted it for his letter. It’s not clear, but the point is that Jesus is spoken of as being off the charts.

It’s common for us to speak of children, especially infants in terms of percentiles. So for example, we might talk of a baby as being in the 90% percentile for height. And that means that for all of the babies born, this certain baby—at this point—is taller than most of the other children.
Here, I think we could speak of the humiliation of Jesus as “off the charts”—when compared with everyone else, there is no comparison. And I’m using the word “humiliation” rather than humbled intentionally. Jesus did not just humble himself, he allowed himself to be humiliated. That’s the meaning of what “being born in the likeness of men” (v. 7). Jesus, though he was God, added humanity to himself so that he was both fully human and fully God at the same time. But as a human, what happened to him? In v. 8 we read that he became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” It was not just humbling to die on a cross, it was a humiliation.

And what makes this humiliation so “off the charts” is what was rightfully Jesus’. Let’s put v. 6 back on the screen.

6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

Paul wrote that Jesus was “in the form of God” (v. 6). This doesn’t mean that he was less than God, but that he was also God because he had equality with him. That’s the meaning of “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

Notice in v. 6 the key word “count.” If ever there was one that could have felt entitled, it was Jesus. But he humbled himself. He didn’t “count” the rights that were his, but set them aside. That word “count” shows up again in v. 3. What did Jesus do and not do? Jesus didn’t hold on to his rights, but instead he relinquished entitlement and pursued selfless humility. And it was off the charts.

2. What should we do and not do?

Let’s take up the question, “What should we do and not do?” I’m going to reread vv. 1-4,

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

If I were to sum up these words, I might just say, that Paul is calling us to do the same thing Jesus did. We are to relinquish entitlement and pursue selfless humility.

Notice that word “count” in v. 3: “in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Whether we are better than someone else or not at a particular thing is irrelevant. So what if we are better than someone else, the point is that we don’t carry it around with us in smugness, but rather we consider, or count others as better.

What would this look like in your home?

What would it look like if in your homes you relinquished entitlement and pursed selfless humility?

I mentioned an interview at the start of the sermon about some research that sought to understand how parents tend to cultivate entitlement in their children. Brad, the guy who did all the research, said was that as they interviewed parents they would ask them questions about their children, specifically if they thought their children knew certain facts about history. And they would ask the parents saying, Your child would know about this or that fact from history. And what was interesting was that in the process, they would make up facts, things that didn’t really happen. But they would have parents say, O yeah, my kids would know all about that. His conclusion: by over valuing our children, we burden society with a culture of entitlement.

How else could it look like if in our homes we relinquished entitlement and pursed selfless humility? Consider the way many of us are addicted to our smart phones.

Dads, it’s hard to treat your family as more important than yourself, when you are constantly checking your email on your phone.

Mom’s, it’s hard “look not to our interests but the interest of others” while constantly checking Facebook.

Children, how do other children in your house (or in youth group) feel when you come to youth group and as soon as you get there you sit down and pull a screen out of your pocket and stare at it rather than talking to others.

I’m not good at this. And I’ve gotten worse. But I don’t want to just preach sermons about the things I’m good at. I want the Bible to tell me how I’m supposed to live and then listen to it—even if it means I have to repent.

That’s a few ways in the home; what about in the church?

What would relinquishing entitlement look like in our church?

When I was being hired, they asked me what was the biggest issues facing the church? I’m not sure if this is the biggest, but I said a very real problem is religious consumerism, where people just come to get. In this model, pastors are dispensers of religious goods and services for people to consume. That’s not Christian community.

Would children’s ministry be easier to fill if we didn’t feel above that?

I want this worship music. I want to be in a small group that fits perfectly with my schedule, my family, my maturity, my, my, my.

What would this look like at your work or school?

Do you know the names of people that clean your office? Do know the names of your secretary’s children? Are you above replacing the paper towels?

Do you have to speak the most in every meeting? Would you be equally happy if your company came up with a good, profitable business strategy if you were not the one to have the idea, or the lead role?

Or if you are in school, could you help the C-student, even if it slowed you down?

This passage is talking about an attitude that manifests itself in actions—for good or bad.

Conclusion: Two Encouragements

The things I’m talking about here are not difficult, but impossible apart from the grace of God. Therefore, I want to close with two encouragements. The first is short, and the second is a little longer.

1. You don’t have to have perfect circumstances for to serve Jesus!

Paul was in jail as he writes this! A half dozen references to this in the letter (1:7, 13-4, 17; 19-20f, 23-24; 2:17; 3:11). Just so you know, this was not the perfect situation to serve God—humanly speaking.

But it’s not just Paul. Let me go back to the Creed. Look at the statements we are considering this week.

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

As Christians we look at this list and say, Yeah! But these were difficult realities for Jesus, at least as he experienced them. And thus, you and I don’t need the perfect situation to serve God either (spouse, church, family, job, income, health, location, city, teachers, education, etc.)

2. Jesus was more than an example!

If you ever study this passage, you’ll know that there are a few major points of discussion. We didn’t get into all of them, but I want to close by talking about one of them. There is a question about this passage that we should bring up. It’s actually a question people ask of other passages as well, but especially this one. The question is this: In Philippians 2:5-8, is Jesus our example?

To me, it’s not a controversial point. To me, it seems clear—very clear—that Jesus is our example. Paul challenges the Philippian church to love and unity and to consider others better than themselves. To relinquish entitlement. To pursue selfless humility. Then Paul says, let me show you an example, consider Jesus. Have the same mind among yourselves as he had. And we didn’t have time to show this, but the chapter goes on to give three other examples of this type of humble, non-entitled living—examples from Paul’s own life (vv. 17-18), and the lives of men named Timothy (vv. 19-24) and Epaphroditus (vv. 25-29). It’s clear that these men are held out as examples to the Philippian church at how to live. And it’s clear to me that Jesus is the chief example of this—that’s in part why Paul breaks into poetry about the life of Jesus, to set him apart as the best example.

In other words, Paul is pleading with this church to be humble and he’s saying, You want to know what I’m talking? You want to know what this look like? Consider my life, and Timothy’s and Epaphroditus’s, but especially consider the life of Jesus—what an example for you to follow in Jesus!

None of that is controversial to me. He is why it’s controversial. Some people think that Jesus was ONLY an example. In other words, what Jesus did was merely provide a good demonstration of what Paul is talking about. You know the saying, “If you aim for the stars, at least you’ll hit the moon”? Some people say, For Paul, Jesus is only an example for us to shoot at.

This. Is. Dead. Wrong.

Jesus was never a mere example for Paul—and he should not be for us either. The humiliation of Jesus is way more than mere example.

Before Paul believed in Jesus, consider what Paul’s view of Jesus would have been as both a Roman citizen and a Jewish man.

First, consider this from the two sides of Paul’s background. Paul was a Roman citizen and he was also ethnically Jewish. In the Roman culture, crucifixion was abhorrent—that’s why they did it to their enemies—to make an example of them.

I have a quote here from the Roman philosopher Cicero. Cicero died a few decades before Jesus was born, but this quote from him is still relevant. He said,

Far be the very name of a cross, not only from the body, but even from the thought, the eyes, the ears of Romans citizens.3

In other words, to a Roman citizen (like Paul), the crucifixion equals humiliation.

And what about to a Jewish person? It would have been the same, except probably worse because person hung on a tree was not simply publicly humiliated, but humiliated by God.

In Deuteronomy 21:22-23a we read,

22 And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God…

Before Paul was a Christian, Jesus would have been an example to Paul—a meaningless example of how not to live.

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He, as the Creed says, “On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Which Jason will talk about in more detail next week.

I mention it now to say this: Before Jesus can be an example of humility to Paul, he must have been Paul’s Savior. And before we follow Jesus’ example, we have to be stunned by the “off the charts” humility of Jesus—for us.

1Book of Common Prayer.
2“Do Parents Nurture Narcissists By Pouring On The Praise?” by Poncie Rutsch (Accessed 3/12/2015).
3Cicero cited by Ralph P. Martin in Philippians on page 107.

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