March 16, 2008
5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If you looked at the sermon title in the bulletin today, you may have been startled to see only this little “a” with a circle around it which is commonly called an “at” sign. Late last year a Chinese couple attempted to name their baby the “at” sign. The couple cited deep meaning in the name. When combined, the pronunciation of the Chinese characters for “a” and “t” sounds like a phrase that would pay homage to the baby’s father. The baby’s dad says of the unusual name, @: “The whole world uses it to write e-mails and, translated into Chinese, it means ‘love him’” [On Baby @: foxnews.com/ story/0,2933,293508,00.html.]
We hope that this is not the beginning of a trend. No one wants to see a crop of babies named after punctuation marks. If the pregnancy is a surprise, we don’t want the child named “?” or “!” or even “!!!”. Or maybe someone will go for a combination of punctuation marks for a name. Imagine this: Teacher asks, “What’s your name, little girl?” Little girl says, “My name is Hypen Percent PoundSign. Well, I guess that is no worse than some actual kid’s names I have heard these days.
Since you realize the huge costs of raising and educating kids, call your first born dollar sign and your second child double dollar sign. If they are twins, you could name the second child the “and sign.” Technically it is called an ampersand. Parents who are very proud of their child might name him the trademark sign or the copyright sign. There is no end to the possibilities.
Now, I don’t want to put down a person’s name. Names are important. The name of Jesus is very important to a believer. His name has life-altering implications. Paul invokes that name in Philippians chapter 2.
Most scholars today believe that Philippians 2:5-11 was a hymn that was sung in early Christian congregations. Paul incorporated that hymn into his letter to the Philippians as an expression of who Christ was. That is not unusual. Preachers today still quote hymns in sermons. But this hymn has generated more controversy, more theological heat, than most.
For example, in the KJV, we read in v7 that Christ “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” The ASV translates the verse as: Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.” Christ emptied himself of what? He was God. Did he empty himself of his godhood to become a human being? If so, how completely did he empty himself of his godness? When Christ was walking the earth as a flesh and blood person, how much was he God and how much was he man?
If I have a cup of coffee, as I did earlier today, and I drink it all, I entirely empty that cup of coffee. If Christ entirely emptied himself of his godhood and was only a man, then he could make human mistakes and commit sin just like any other person, but the church has always said that Christ did not become only a human being when he became Jesus of Nazareth. He remained God so that he did not make any mistakes and did not commit any sins. He was the perfect God-man.
But, if that is true, what does Paul mean when he says Christ emptied himself to become human. What did he empty himself of? Not his godhood. He remained God. The KJV has hit the right note when it says, Christ “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant.” He emptied himself of his status as God.
We fail to appreciate who God is. Some folks today seem to have the idea that God is a bearded old codger, sitting up there on the edge of a cloud and we can talk to him anyway we want and there is not much difference between God and us. God is like superman. He has all these powers but he is just another guy. That is an idea about God that we get from the Sunday morning comics. In fact, God is not like us. God is infinitely above us, beyond us, superior to us. God is the god of the universe, of which this planet earth is one minute particle. Christ gave that up, gave up the status of being God, to become one of us. That shows us how much he loved us.
Paul goes on to expound upon this. In v8, he says, when Christ was “in fashion as a man,” that is when he appeared to be an ordinary human being, “he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Here is infinite God who consents to appear in human flesh, and then goes even farther than that. He dies a horrible death on the cross to save us from our sins. That is the humility of the god of the universe. That is the love of the god of the universe. God laid aside his rights, his status, and his glory for people like you and me. Put it this way, Jesus moved down so that we can move up.
So what then is our reaction? We were talking about names earlier, what is our reaction to the name of Jesus? We have the answer to that in vs10 and 11: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” “And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus is the name above “every name” (v. 9). And his is the name at which everyone will bend a knee and confess by tongue.
We do not do much bowing in our society. We don’t have royalty. We don’t even have much respect for those in positions of authority. We are proud of that. That is sort of an American ideal, to treat everybody with the same lack of respect. But we can easily overdo that and our lack of respect sometimes seems just illmannered and uncultured.
On Palm Sabbath, when Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem, people showed respect by laying their cloaks down before him, by waving the palm branches. They called out his name with respect, and so should we. Let’s think about what that means.
Let’s start with those who have not yet bent the knee to Christ. This Christ hymn is for them. In many cultures, names are bestowed on children because of their meaning. Journalist Michael Wines elaborates: “In southern Africa, a child’s name is chosen to convey a specific meaning, and not, as is common in the west, the latest fashion.” While in Africa, Michael Wines met families with children named Godknows, Enough, Justice, Honor, Trust, Gift, Energy, and Knowledge. He found a Lovemore, a Tellmore, a Trymore, and a Learnmore [Wines, Michael. “In a land of homemade names, Tiffany doesn’t cut it.” New York Times, October 1, 2007. nytimes.com/2007/10/01/world/africa/01names.html?ref=world.]
“Jesus” is a name with a specific meaning. In Matthew 1:21, the angel said of Mary’s son” “ thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins. “Jesus” is the Greek parallel to the Old Testament name “Joshua” and literally means “the Lord saves.”
God has a Plan A: Lives are transformed and souls are saved through the saving work of Jesus Christ, who was God, but was willing not to be God alone, and became a human being, and died on a cross. Understand this: God has no Plan B: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
When Paul talks about the name of Jesus, he suggests that the name embodies all that he describes in these verses: deity, humanity, humility, servanthood, suffering, death, the cross. But that is not what the world hears when they hear the name Jesus. Say the name Jesus, and many people respond that Jesus is a great moral teacher. He’s a great spiritual guru, just like Buddha, Mohammed, Vishnu or Moses. That is what some people think. To others, the name Jesus is not much more than a swear word.
None of these understandings of “Jesus” are going to cause us to bow a knee or confess him as lord. We live on a mission field. In past generations, we could assume that Americans, whether they believed or not, at least knew what Christianity was. That assumption is no longer valid.
When we, as believers, use the name of Jesus, we need to make sure people know who we are talking about. He is Lord of lords king of kings, God incarnate, who came to save people of every race and culture and language.
Sometimes we use Jesus to promote a certain set of cultural values. We picture Jesus as a short-haired clean-shaven White Guy. We say Jesus saves, but we mean that Jesus saves only law-abiding, middle-class, drug-free, model citizens.
That might be some people’s version of Jesus. It’s not the New Testament Jesus who saved cheats, hookers, thieves and even persecuters of the church.
Jesus did not die for people who had already saved themselves. He died for people who had made a mess out of their lives, which is to say, he died for us.
So the question on this Palm Sunday, as we watch Jesus the Savior ride on the little donkey into a Jerusalem is What do we think of his name?
Here is what I think. The name Jesus still means “the Lord saves.” The Lord saves his people. He died on the cross to save them. He died on the cross to save me.
Unfortunately, most of the people in the world do not get it. Most people seem to be able to call just about anyone and just about anything Lord, except Jesus Christ.
They can call money, wealth, and ambition Lord, but not Jesus.
They can call sports, recreation, and leisure time Lord, but not Jesus.
They can call drugs, alcohol, and sex Lord, but not Jesus.
Because if I say Jesus is lord that changes some things. Confessing Jesus as Lord acknowledges that Jesus is the person who embodies all that I am and should be. If I say Jesus is lord of my life that means I am going to give Jesus charge of my live and live like he wants me to live.
Most people don’t want that. Most people want to set themselves up as Lord and God. they don’t worship God. They do not bend the knee to Jesus. They worship themselves. Consequently they have nothing from God and nothing from Jesus.
Christians are not like that. We are people who love the name of Jesus. The name says it all. The Lord saves. The Lord saves you and me. Confess that name. Worship that name.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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