Inconceivable Exaltation: What’s in a Name?
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
I have indoctrinated my children. I have given them no choice in the matter. It’s been my out-and-out pleasure to force upon them a love for The Princes Bride. They have been made—by me and my wife—to watch it and, then, watch it again, and because of this, they can (along with us) recite countless lines from the movie with joy and pleasure.
So, if I say: No more rhymes now, I mean it! One of them will respond: Anybody want a peanut?
However, we do have a favorite line from one of the villains, named Vizzini, who constantly utters the single word: Inconceivable! Consequently, our family often repeats this line (just as Vizzini would) when anything unexpected happens. It’s our favorite line to quote.
Well, allow me to suggest—in complete seriousness—that this is precisely what should come to our lips when we take in this little Christ hymn in Philippians. When we consider the glorious Son of God in all his exaltation from eternity past then consider his voluntary humiliation—to become a man, to suffer persecutions, to die a cursed death at the hands of those he would save, to bear the wrath of God for us—then finally ponder his victoriously supreme exoneration and exaltation, we must breathlessly admit that it is inconceivable.
These verses speak of the most amazing events ever in the course of history! How can this be? How mysteriously wonderful is this activity of our Triune God? No merely human made, human constructed, religion would ever invent this story. It’s inconceivable! It makes me think of Paul’s words:
…the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:18, 20-24).
Truly, this activity of the Son is beyond our abilities to fully comprehend. Nonetheless, we want to stretch our minds and hearts through a deep meditation upon it today. Let me read the full hymn then we’ll pray.
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.
If we’re going to grasp a little something of this humanly inconceivable song then we need to ask ourselves: What’s in a name? Or more precisely we must ask: What’s in “the name” of verse nine?
In order to do this, we’ll consider three specific questions about this name: (1) What does it mean? (2) What does it entail? And (3) what does it accomplish? If we can answer these questions, it’s my prayer that we’ll more fully understand what the Apostles’ Creed means about Christ being “raised, ascended, and seated” or, more specifically, about Jesus Christ’s exaltation.
1. What does “the name” mean (v. 9)?
Well, let’s begin by establishing with great certainty what it cannot mean. The name mentioned in verse nine cannot simply be referring to the name Jesus. Now when we move through this profound song without giving it much thought, we might conclude that it means that, but it cannot because the verse says it cannot. How does it say that?
Well, look at it with me:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (v. 9).
Whenever you see the word therefore it’s usually good and helpful to ask: What’s that there for? I know that’s clichéd; I know that’s cheesy; but, I don’t care because it works. So do it!
And here the “therefore” tells us that because of the sum total of Jesus’ life, especially his sacrificial death on the cross, God gave him “the name” in this verse. Jesus received this name because of his humiliation. So it can’t be the name Jesus since he had that name from the start of his humiliation, even from his conception through the Holy Spirit.
Rather than a proper name, the Father bestows a positional name upon Jesus. The Father gives Jesus a name in the sense of a trait or office that is rightfully his. Most likely this exalted name is Lord God or Jesus the Lord which makes sense considering this was the very question, about Jesus, which had been hotly debated throughout his earthly ministry.
Now, you might object, Jesus always had this office or position, therefore God didn’t give it to him following his humiliation; and, you’d be right…sort of. However, there is a sense in which Jesus—in keeping with his divine humility—must receive the name. One scholar put it this way:
He who stooped so low is now lifted up to the glorious rank of equality with God, i.e. the enjoyment of that dignity which was ever his by right but which he never clutched at as his personal possession, as his prize…. The elevation is, then, not in regard to his nature or inherent place within the Godhead. It is rather an ascription to him of what could only be his after the submission and sacrifice of his earthly life.1
In this way, the name can only be given as such because Jesus didn’t seek it. Rather, the name is more glorious when given because of the humility of the Son, who perfectly submitted to the will of his Father.
I imagine it’s something like the parable Jesus tells about a wedding feast. He teaches that if you take a seat of honor that’s not yours its very embarrassing when you have to give it up. Instead, he says it’s better to be humble in your choice so that when you’re given a better seat you’ll be honored before all (Luke 14:7-11).
Brothers and sisters, the name Jesus humbly received from the Father was far better and far different than if Jesus had seized that name out of divine right. Because, when given and not grasped, it magnifies the gloriously humble character of our Triune God—it magnifies the meek beauty of Jesus the Lord.
If you’re employed and a higher position comes available in your company, how much better to have your employer offer it to you because of your track record than for you to arrogantly argue for it because of your track record?
If you’re a student in a primary, middle, or high school, or even a university, how much better is it to have someone nominate you for an award or scholarship than for you to presumptuously pursue such an honor for yourself?
And, why would both Christians and non-Christians largely agree this is so? Why would they agree that it’s better to humbly be elevated to leadership or honor, than to aggressively and arrogantly assert a right to be a leader or to be honored? Well, I believe, it’s because we were created to bear the image and beauty of God, and this is at the heart of the very character of our God!
Let’s move on to our second question:
2. What does “the name” entail (vv. 10-11a)?
Look with me again at the text. God the Father will give Jesus this name:
…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (vv. 10-11a).
The name entails a lot! It guarantees worship of and submission to Jesus!
The language of this song is extremely telling: in heaven all knees will bow, on earth all knees will bow, and under earth all knees will bow. In short, everyone! Whether you are a friend or an enemy of God, you will bow before the Lord Jesus. Whether you are a demon in hell or an angel in heaven, you will bow before him. Whether you believe he exists or not, you will ultimately bow.
This name, Jesus is given, guarantees everything: Total reign! Total control! Total acknowledgement of Jesus’ Lordship—whether you’re happy or sad about it!
If you’re not a follower of Jesus then you might, at first, think this is unfair. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. This is not a harsh, unfair reign! Remember that Jesus’ absolute rule comes after Jesus’ absolute surrender for you. Jesus has first offered himself for you—died to save you, if you will receive him. So, will you trust and receive him?
Finally, we come to our third question about this name:
3. What does “the name” accomplish (v. 11b)?
When Jesus receives this ultimate name—that is above every other name— something really profound, something of the greatest importance, is accomplished, and it is a precise and appropriate climax to this song.
Let me read the hymn in total to bring it appropriately to a crescendo:
…though [Jesus] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:6-11).
Do you see where it ends? Do you see what Jesus’ exaltation accomplishes? When Jesus is given the name above all names, when all knees bow before him, when he is worshiped, it brings glory to God the Father.
This is exactly what Christ Jesus’ humble service was to finally accomplish. If we are believers, if we are followers of Jesus, it’s also precisely what our lives should aim to accomplish. When the name of Jesus is praised through our service, it is to the glory of God the Father.
Friends notice that Jesus humbles himself to bring glory to God the Father. The eternal Son puts on humanity and lives, suffers, and dies to honor his Father. His ultimate focus is not his own glory but the glory of his Father!
But then notice that the Father is most glorified when Christ Jesus is praised. The Father raises, ascends, and seats Jesus at his right hand in all power and honor because it pleases and glorifies God the Father to see the name of Jesus worshiped. He loves to glorify the Son!
In fact, each Person of the Trinity loves to bring the other Persons glory. How this truth should change us as followers of Jesus! How it should transform us! The church would be so extraordinarily beautiful if we reflected even a little of this in our fellowship, in our marriages, in our families, and in our careers.
If you are a Christian, how are you working to see others succeed for Christ? How are you reflecting the love of our Triune God each day?
As we close our time, let me simply say that this hymn doesn’t merely teach about the humiliation and exaltation of Christ Jesus. It teaches about Divine love. This hymn teaches us something deep about the love of the Persons of the Trinity. It tells us our God is personal and our God doesn’t need us.
You might say: I’m not sure how the Triune love says this, and (if it does) I’m not sure I like that it says that. To this, I’d simply say: Trinity does teach this, and (if you’re a Christian) you should love that God doesn’t need you!
Consider all the other monotheistic religions of the world: Islam, Judaism, Deism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Mormonism or any other monotheism you can imagine. All of them will agree god is one, but, at this point, they have a terrible problem. They’ve either a sovereign but impersonal god (a divine robot—no personality!!!) or a personal god dependent upon his creation—at least, his personal creatures—for companionship and relationship.
- In the 1st instance, it’s not that you have a god who couldn’t care less about you, but rather a god who cannot care about you, at all!
- In the 2nd instance, you get a weak, personal god who needs relationship; therefore, he created us because he was lonely. Now you have a god who’s something like a clingy middle school sweetheart.
Not so with the Triune God of Christianity! Our God is beautifully personal. He doesn’t need us like a clingy sweetheart! Rather he graciously and intentionally created us so that we might share and reflect his perfect love and glory forever!