Sixth Sunday in Lent, 2010
Readings: Zech. 9:9:12; Phil 2:5-11; Psalm 24; Matt. 27:1-54
28 March a.d. 2010
Let the words of my mouth, & the meditation of my heart, be always acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength & my redeemer. AMEN.
Today is Palm Sunday. We stand on the threshold of Holy Week, that week of all weeks in year that we contemplate with unbroken attention the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This meditation is liable to become sentimental. We are liable to cheapen Christ’s passion, or at least far undervalue its true worth, unless we labour to understand what it cost him. I don’t mean what it cost him in sense of blow by blow recounting of the pains of death by crucifixion. We need to know this, and there is value in knowing each and every pain our Lord suffered, but we risk sentimentalizing his suffering and missing the whole cost of our salvation.
For the passion was not the sole, but merely the last, step in Christ’s work. The culmination, indeed, of his suffering on earth, but only one part of what is theologians call his “humiliation.” That includes all of those acts of our Lord Jesus that dragged him from the highest seat in the cosmos to the depths of shame on earth.
The Shorter Catechism asks, “Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist?” And answers,
Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born
And that in a low condition
Made under the law
Undergoing the miseries of this life
The wrath of God
And the cursed death of the cross;
In being buried, and
continuing under the power of death for a time.
Notice that Christ’s Passion contributes only a few elements of his humiliation.
What is humiliation? Coming down from a high rank to a low. Christ descended from his throne in heaven, and for us became a man, lowest of the low, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, executed as a criminal.
Here is his humiliation:
He was born as a man. He emptied himself of the glory he had enjoyed with God the Father from all eternity, and assumed the body of a man, his own creation.
He was born poor. Christ came not into a palace as the favoured son of a king, but into a stable, so poor that his parents could only afford to stay in a barn. As he grew up, he had to work for a living, like every other man.
He was born subject to the law. Yes, under the very law that he himself had given to Israel, the law of Moses that only pointed to Christ himself.
He suffered the sorrows of life. We are numb to the sorrows of this sinful world. When some animal or some one dies, when someone is crippled, when people do violent, cruel acts, we shrug and say, “Well, that’s the way life is.” Yes, it is the way life is, full of sorrow and regret and pain and mourning and injustice, and Jesus voluntarily took this on for our sakes.
He suffered the wrath of God. God the Father, with whom he had from all eternity enjoyed intimate fellowship, turned his back on Christ the Son. For us he suffered all the anger the Father had stored up for our sins.
He suffered the cross. It is the most painful, humiliating death imaginable, specifically cursed by God. After a day of torture, he is nailed to a cross with spikes through his wrists and feet, hung there, slowly suffocating as his lungs fill with fluid, pushing against his nailed feet to try to grab a bit of breath, bleeding and smothering to death. If you want the palest idea of what this meant, think of the treatment Aslan received on the altar in the movie, The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. But remember that this movie depiction can in no way plumb the infinite depth of Christ’s suffering.
He was buried. Finally he underwent the shame of death. Is there any condition more unprotected, more powerless, more shameful that a corpse? Here in death, our final enemy, we see all the terrible cost of sin, the price it must pay.
Finally, he stayed dead for three days. He submitted himself to the power of death for three days. Our Lord Jesus Christ submitted himself to death for that time. because only through death could he destroy him that had the power of death and destroy death itself. (Heb 2:14) The innocent had to die so the guilty could live.
For over 1,500 years the church has ordered that Philippians 2 and St. Matthew’s passion be read on Palm Sunday. No wonder. They are the heart of the Gospel, teaching us that Jesus Christ the Son of God died for our sins.
The most important question any man must answer in this life is, whether or not this is true. Depending on that answer, we will either spend this life in misery and eternity in hell, or we will be reconciled to God and spend eternity with him.
This passage answers that question. The goal of all history is that day when every knee — every knee in heaven, and earth, and under the earth, every believing knee and every unbelieving knee will bow to Jesus. And it doesn’t matter a bit whether you submit to Christ or not, whether you believe in hell or deny it, that day will come, and either in the utmost pain and sorrow or in unspeakable joy, you and I and all creation will bow to Jesus and confess him Lord.
HAVE THIS MIND IN YOU
We cannot possibly understand Christ’s suffering and humiliation, either in life or on the cross, unless we first understand the depth of this simple passage from Philippians. What does it tell us?
That Christ is God
That Christ emptied himself & became man
That Christ became obedient unto death
That humiliation comes before exaltation
CHRIST IS GOD
Christ from all eternity existed in the “form of God”. What does this mean? What is the form of a king? His royal robe, his crown, his sceptre, his throne, his retinue of followers, all these are the form of his glory.
From before the beginning of the world Christ the Son enjoyed his glory with the Father, a form of magnificence unimaginable.
And having that glory, he would not be robbing anyone, not even God the Father himself, to make himself equal with God. This was lawful and right, because this glory belonged to him.
You would have to be utterly, wilfully blind not to see that here this passage clearly lays out Christ’s eternal divinity. How could there be equality with God without robbery unless Christ also possessed the essence of God? What possible form of God that was not robbery could Christ have that did not also share the essence of God? Just as all his works of Creation prove God’s existence, so Christ’s divine majesty proves his divinity. The glory of God cannot be separated from the essence of God.
CHRIST EMPTIED HIMSELF & BECAME MAN
St. Paul shows us that Christ’s humiliation was voluntary and not forced upon him. Who could force anything on God? “He made himself of no reputation.”
Then of his own free will Christ emptied himself of all his glory. Clearly, he could not empty himself of his Godhead; he couldn’t stop being God. He could not change what he is, but he did consent to conceal it for a time under the cover of weak human flesh. He hid his glory from men, but surrendered none of it.
Having emptied himself of his glory, Christ made himself of no reputation and exchanged the form of God for the form of a servant in the likeness of men. He became truly man, with the nature of a man. Nothing in Christ’s appearance distinguished him from other men. He lived on the same level as all mankind.
CHRIST BECAME OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH
Having humbled himself in form, Christ next humbled himself in deed. He humbled himself to obey his Father even unto death, and most horrible of all, death on the cross. The Lord of life and death made himself obedient even to enduring death. But the abasement did not stop there: the death he died merited the active curse of God. How can we express in words the humiliation, or the love that led him to it?
BEFORE EXALTATION COMES HUMILIATION
It is the rule of this fallen world that before exaltation comes humiliation. After his humiliation, Christ’s name is raised up higher than every other name. From the lowest depths he rises to the greatest glory, because he first willing humiliated himself. He earned the supreme dignity, power, and honour, so that on the last day every creature in heaven and earth and under the earth will bow to him, and every tongue will confess that he is Lord.
Because by Christ’s humiliation, he has manifested the glory of God to all men. The Father is glorified, and we, Christ’s people, are saved.
How should we apply this? Christ who was everything was made nothing. In our case, we don’t bother too much with humbling ourselves. No, it’s more likely that we who are nothing will lift ourselves proudly up to heaven as something. Christ gave up his own glory; we assume a glory not ours.
It is impossible that we could imitate a voluntary descent from so great a height, yet St. Paul tells us that we must. “Have in you this same mind that was in Christ Jesus.” He means that we must cultivate humility above all else and pursue it every day of our lives.
Yet, perhaps it is not so hard to imitate Christ.
The longer we ponder his glory, the deeper becomes his humiliation.
The clearer we see our sin, the dearer becomes his mercy.
The more we ponder his unspeakable humiliation, the deeper we grasp his immeasurable love.
How is it that the Son would die for the slaves? How is it that the Son of God, whom angels serve, would take on the form of a servant of men? How is it that God could love us so much?
Imitate Christ? Have his mind in us? When our gratitude considers his sacrifice, imitating Christ becomes not only easy, but the joy of our lives. ?
Glory be to the Father,
& to the Son,
& to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning,
Is now & ever shall be,
World without end, Amen.
Collect for Palm Sunday
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God,
who, of thy tender love towards mankind,
hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ,
to take upon him our flesh,
and to suffer death upon the cross,
that all mankind
should follow the example
of his great humility;
that we may both
follow the example of his patience,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.