Based on: Philippians 2:5-11
We know the story well. We heard it again earlier, that story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Perhaps it is not the most magnificent or spectacular entry that Jesus could have made. Just think how Jesus could have miraculously rolled out a plush red carpet right through the gates of Jerusalem, or how he could have arrived in his own limousine or Rolls Royce or even his own private jet. But no, he rides a donkey through the gates of Jerusalem. A donkey, cheaper and less expensive to maintain that a horse, it was the Chevrolet or the Ford of Middle Eastern travel in that day.
We call Palm Sunday Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and it certainly is. But we realize that in less than a week the shouts of "Hosanna" will turn to shouts of "Crucify". Even though Jesus is coming into Jerusalem as a king, he is coming not so that we can serve him but so that he can humbly serve us. The apostle Paul as he writes to the Philippians points to this humility of Christ the King and says, “Look, there is your example” and more importantly, “There is your salvation”.
Paul says, "your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." However Paul does not tell us directly what Christ’s attitude is. Instead we see Christ’s humility and his selfless love in the things that he did. Even though Jesus Christ is God, and as God he deserves our praise and he deserves that we bend our knees before him; even though Jesus Christ is God and as God has all power and authority. Even though these things are true, Jesus Christ became one of us to serve us.
We and every human being should be serving him, and yet he served us. "Be like that!" Paul says, "Have such an attitude of humility that it produces actions like that." It is easy to look at what Christ did and say yes that is humility, but Christ is unique. We are not God and so what does that humility look like in our own lives. Paul describes it a little bit more in the verses right before our lesson for today. He says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vein conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
So consider others better than yourself and look to the interests of others. What does that mean? It means that when questions come up regarding what we do or how we do things here at church, the first thought that comes to our mind is not, "What do I want?" but "What is going to help others? What is going to strengthen their faith?" It also means, to paraphrase the words of President Kennedy, we do not say, "What is the church doing for me?" (After all, the church has already proclaimed to you the good news of the eternal life. There is nothing greater that the church can do for you than what it already does through the preaching and teaching of God’s word and through the sacraments.) Instead, we ask, "What can I do for my church?"
There is an illustration that I would like to share with you regarding humility and serving others. Heaven and hell have been described as banquets where there’s plenty of wonderful food. Many people are sitting around the tables with their forks, but the forks are 3 ft. long. In hell every one is hungry and suffering in spite of all the food in front of them. Because the forks are so long they cannot feed themselves, but because of their pride and their self-centeredness they are unwilling to help others, and so they starve. In heaven everyone is willing to help others, and so as they feed each other, they are all well fed and enjoy the banquet. This illustration is not a biblical picture of heaven and hell. It more accurately describes what happens here on earth. When we, in humility, work for the good of others, considering others better than ourselves, then we will enjoy the blessings that God gives us here on this earth.
God tells us to follow Christ’s example of humility and to serve others. That example is a perfect example and when we compare ourselves to that example we see that we have all failed. Our actions perhaps are motivated by what’s good for us rather than the good of others. Perhaps we think of ourselves as better or more important than others. For these things we deserve God’s punishment. That is why it is even more important to look at Christ’s humility as our salvation.
Jesus didn’t make full use of the power and authority he had as God. Oh, it was still there and you could still see it occasionally, as on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the miracles he performed, but he did not use his power or authority for his own advantage. Instead he revealed his power in order to serve us, in order to strengthen our faith in him. He concealed that power and authority when it was necessary for our good, especially when it came to dying on the cross.
So, on Palm Sunday he accepts the praise and admiration of the crowds who recognize him as their king, but on Good Friday he does not use his power and authority but instead allows himself to be sentenced to death by those he came to serve. He submits to the painful and shameful punishment of death by crucifixion and bends his knee to pick up his cross. As he picks up his cross he picks up our arrogance, our self-centered thoughts, the times we selfishly held on to the things we could have easily used to help others. He takes all of our sin and humbly submits to God’s punishment for our sin.
Therefore God exalted him to a position of power and authority – a position he had before the world began – but a position he did not make full use of. Now Jesus does use all of his power and authority. His name is the name above every name. Every one will bow their knee to Jesus and confess that he is Lord. Every one will humble themselves before Jesus – whether now in faith or on the last day in forced submission to God’s will. It will happen.
As followers of Christ and believers in the eternal life he won for us, we look upon this as wonderful news. This same Jesus who has all power and authority has promised us “be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” As believers we will share in Christ’s glory. This glory will be far greater than any humility we go through on earth.
This salvation and promise of glory are our motivation for following our Savior’s example. The more we look at Christ’s humility and see our own salvation the more strength and desire God gives us to humbly follow Christ as our example. The service to others that comes as a result are God-pleasing fruits of faith.
Here at St. John’s we have seen wonderful examples of those fruits of faith. We have seen believers help other believers financially and with food. We have seen believers comfort others in difficult times. As we follow our Savior’s example and serve others out of love and thankfulness for what he has done for us, then we are serving him. At every funeral those who volunteer are thinking of the needs of others and are laying a palm branch in our Savior’s path. When the kids packaged food for others who are starving they were bending their knee and confessing Jesus as Lord. The list can certainly go on. The list will also grow longer as we continue to do these things and even more!
“See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” And as he traveled 2000 years ago over coats and palm branches and through the gates of Jerusalem your King came to serve you. He served as your example in humility and, even greater, he served as your savior for all eternity.