Lent Mid-Week 3
February 27, 2008
Text: Phil. 2:5-11:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though
he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, 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
Jesus, our Lamb of God, pure and holy, who on the cross didst suffer, is ever patient and lowly (LSB 434). Tonight we meditate on His lowliness, His humility for us and for our salvation.
Humility is hard to find these days. It is not considered a virtue in a society where self-esteem is all-important. In fact, humility is often mistakenly thought of as low self-esteem, considered to be the ultimate handicap of our modern-times. But our Lord Jesus was humble. He was lowly. And He was humble in a way that we, in our pride, cannot even begin to imagine: though Himself God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, He did not count His status as God a thing to be grasped, but humbled Himself. He made Himself nothing. He took on our flesh, became a servant, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He who is eternal God, was made man, for us men, and for our salvation.
That God would humble Himself to take on human flesh was considered by the Jews to be demeaning, by the Greeks to be foolishness. And even in our modern day we consider it beneath God Almighty to become one of us. But God Almighty is not above demeaning Himself for us. It is a mystery above all mysteries, but the Father sends His Son into our flesh, that we might be reconciled to Him, become His own children once again, and worship Him in Spirit and in truth. The events of Jesus’ life, from His incarnation through His suffering and death, is known as our Savior’s state of humiliation. He lowers Himself. The state of humiliation, if you remember your catechism, is defined as that time in which our Lord, having taken upon Himself our flesh, did not always or fully use His divine powers. Being fully God, He only allowed those around Him glimpses of His divinity in the miracles He performed, miracles that were never for His benefit alone, but for the benefit of those around Him, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dumb, the leper, and those suffering from various diseases, those demon possessed, and even those in need of raising from the dead. But by and large, He appeared to those around Him as just any other man. And that is why the Jews were not afraid to arrest Him. That is why the Romans were not afraid to crucify Him. That is why those who stood by, and even those crucified with Him, were not afraid to mock Him and hurl insults at Him as He hung upon the cross for their sin. The ultimate act of humility is when the Son of God hangs upon the cross, suffers, and submits Himself to death as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is a paradox beyond our human understanding, but in the humility, in the lowliness of suffering and death, the Son of Man is glorified. His glory is to do the work of the Father, obediently, humbly. And that work is saving sinners, saving you, saving me.
Therefore God has highly exalted Him. His state of exaltation begins with His resurrection from the dead. After His resurrection He descends into hell to proclaim His victory over sin, death, and the devil. Then He shows Himself alive, mortal wounds and all, to His brothers and sisters, that they might believe in Him and have life in His Name. And after He has given final instructions to His Church and accumulated sufficient witnesses of His resurrection, He ascends into Heaven where the Father seats Him at His right hand. There He ever intercedes for us before the Father and rules all things at the Father’s side. His enemies have become His footstool. Now, in His state of exaltation, not only as God, but also as man, the God-Man, He fully and always uses His divine powers. Therefore He is with us always, even to the end of the age, in both His divine and human natures. He is with us in a specific way, and this, too, is a paradox. God in the flesh is with us under the lowly forms of water, words, bread, and wine. He is with us in Word and Sacrament. And He will come again to judge. In that day, not only those who believe in Him will confess Him, but every tongue in heaven and on earth and under the earth will confess that Jesus is Lord and bend the knee in humility at His Name. Jesus humbly submitted to the will of the Father, therefore the Father has exalted Him to the highest place, and given Him the Name that is above every Name, the Name of God, YHWH, for Jesus is the very revelation of God in human flesh.
Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus is the perfect model of humility. He denies Himself, always putting the interests of others above His own, submitting Himself to death for their sakes, even death on a cross. But you have not been humble. You have been proud. We even tell ourselves to be proud of who we are, to feel good about ourselves, to love ourselves, to believe in ourselves, to believe we’re worth it and that we should have everything our way. The commercial world is built on such notions, and we buy it hook, line, and sinker. Have you not told your stories in such a way that you always look good? Have you not hidden your sins and weaknesses in the recesses of your heart? Is it not true that pride has kept you from private confession and absolution? You wouldn’t want the pastor to know you’re really a sinner! Have you always put your neighbor above yourself? Have you not always been concerned with your own best interests? Have you been concerned with God’s glory, or with your own? You are full of sinful pride. Repent. This is not the way Jesus would have us think of ourselves. He would have us be humble, as He is humble.
But thanks be to God, Jesus is so much more than an example of humility for us. He is humble in our place. In Baptism, the humility of Jesus is credited to us. We are given His perfect humility as a gift, along with the forgiveness of all our sins, including the sin of pride, by virtue of His death on the cross. But not only is this so, in Baptism, Jesus also imparts His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit sanctifies us, unites us with the resurrection of Christ, so that we, too, may walk in newness of life, root out the sinful pride of our old Adam, and in humility, submit to the will of God. First God gives us the humility of Jesus. Then He actually makes a beginning of humility within us. This humility will not be complete in us until we are in heaven or our Lord returns, and every tongue confesses His Lordship. But it is a holy work that God has begun in us, and He will bring it to completion. Until then, we crucify our sinful pride, our sinful flesh, daily drowning it in the waters of Baptism, daily repenting, daily returning in faith and humility to God who gave His Son into the humility of death for us, only to exalt Him to the highest degree, and exalt us with Him, bestowing on us the Name that Jesus bears, the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 This year’s midweek services at Epiphany are based on Lamb of God, Pure and Holy (St. Louis: Concordia, 2008). The sermons are mine, but they are based on the sermons from the book.