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Jesus and the “V” / Sunday of the Passion

Philippians 2:5-11

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.

So often, the church today seems to be many things, but not very humble. Apparently, this is an age-old problem, made evident in this letter written by the apostle Paul to the church in Philippi. The solution to selfish ambition and conceit is found in the humility of Jesus. But how do we adopt this type of humility? Perhaps it is in examining the extremes that Jesus is willing to take as He empties Himself for our sake.

A man asked a rabbi why God was revealed to many people in days of old, but now nobody sees God. “Why is this?” he asked. The rabbi answered, “Because nowadays, no one bows low enough.”

As we shall see that answer connects well with today’s scripture reading, which was probably an ancient Christian hymn, used here by Paul to describe who Jesus truly is, and why He came to earth in the manner He did. It begins by establishing Christ’s pre-existence, His earthly career and after His death, His glorification. The hymn lays out the journey Jesus makes, and it is shaped like the letter “V.”

That V is a model of Jesus’ mission on earth because, rather than starting low and rising up, He started at the top, and slid down into the darkest valley. Only later did the Father elevate Him.

Paul explains this by using the starting point of this V shape: Christ Jesus, was in the form of God … did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. It doesn’t get much higher than that, Jesus began by being equal with God. Paul gives us a complete picture of Christ’s divinity, Christ’s humanity and His glorification in a snapshot (using this hymn).

Jesus willingly let go of the privileges of divine glory to take on the form of a servant. The text says Jesus “emptied Himself” and was born in “human likeness.” But that wasn’t enough. Jesus “humbled Himself” and was obedient to the point of death, in particular death on a cross. This was the ultimate humiliation, done out of love for us. Today we hail King Jesus, but this image of Him riding a donkey is one of a servant king.

It’s obvious that Paul is making a point about Christ’s humility. If we look back at verse 3 Paul says, do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. There it is. Paul wants us to be concerned about the community’s attitude toward others. But that’s not enough. He wants them to also look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Jesus is the example of one who had every right to assume a position of power but chose to set it aside because of the love He had for all of humanity.

In other words, Jesus’ very nature was that of one who gives. He did not consider being equal to God as grounds for acquiring anything, especially privilege. He could have held onto His rights, His blessings and all the benefits of His kingly glory. Instead, He lived open-handedly, showing us what love and a life of service truly looks like.

How do we categorize ourselves when considering how we set things aside for the sake of others? Do we have a hard time letting go of “our rights”? What about righteous indignation? Is it hard to relinquish our right to be mad at someone, for the sake of preserving a relationship? If we approached our marriages and other relationships with the mind of Christ, imagine what our lives would be like.

This coming week we will observe exactly how Christ emptied Himself. He refused to hold on to His divine rights. It was as if there was a veil lowered over His divinity, and it simply kept it from view. He added humility, uniting His divine nature to His human nature.

Our passage speaks of Jesus, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness, and being found in appearance as a human. This speaks to the importance of Christ becoming one of us. When people saw Him, they saw a man.

Verse 8 tells us that Jesus “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

And then there’s a dramatic shift upward in the text in verse 9, completing the final side of the “V.” Until this point, it’s clearly Christ who decides and who acts, emptying Himself, becoming human, serving, obeying and dying. Now, it’s God who exalts Christ. Paul was a brilliant theologian. He did not reserve theology for seminaries and clergy gatherings; no, this was the church’s theology, the church’s faith.

As we lift up shouts of praise on this Palm Sunday, shouldn’t we also lay down ways of living that don’t honor God or show love of neighbor or respect for all of God’s creation around us? As we lift voices that cry out for an end to injustice and suffering, might we also lay down our pride, allowing Christ to fill them with newfound humility and glimpses of hope.

Soon, the excitement of the parade and Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem will fade, and we will find ourselves slipping into a place of sorrow, beginning with the rejection of Jesus and ending with deep sorrow as we remember His death. These past few weeks have prepared our hearts to walk from the procession to the table, from the cross to the tomb. Today, as we celebrate Love Incarnate, who came to live and work and commune among us, we would do well to examine the ways we need to have a new mindset, a new way of living and loving. Let us find and replace those things that prevent us from fully embracing all that Christ has shown us. Let us continue with His story, following Jesus with a hope that is stronger than despair, a light that is stronger than darkness and a love that is stronger than death.