Midweek Lent 3 – March 7, 2018
A Sermon on Philippians 2:5-11 by Samuel Zumwalt
Philippians 2:5-11 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The Second Article: Redemption
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
What does this mean?
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord. Who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
HIS ONLY SON, OUR LORD
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
No one in her or his right mind likes to suffer. We don’t yet have an app for our electronic devices that will stop suffering, but we have a lot of apps to distract us when we have to suffer. We have pills, creams, treatments, therapies, and even exercises to try to reduce or dull suffering. Some of us even have to go through surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, and other targeted protocols in order to treat the causes of suffering. But, as many have said, sometimes the procedures and treatment plans themselves actually cause more suffering before one gets better.
There are entire churches and theologies bearing the label Christian (on the left, in the center, and on the right!) that are built around ignoring or avoiding suffering. Many of these revealingly don’t give the cross a prominent place in their architecture, because they believe the cross is no longer necessary. It’s one and done. Jesus suffered, so no one else has to. But, then, you have to ignore an awful lot of Scripture to arrive at this theology, which Martin Luther called “a theology of glory.” This past weekend we heard what St. Paul said about the cross in 1 Corinthians 1: “…23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”
Christians don’t wear empty tombs around our necks or place a wooden or metal empty tomb over the altar. Even the empty cross does not mean that Christ is risen from the dead, as some wrongly contend, because the cross was certainly empty when Jesus’ dead body lay in the tomb from Good Friday afternoon to early on Easter Sunday, the first day of the week.
When St. Paul was stricken blind on the road to Damascus as he was traveling to arrest and persecute the Christian Jews there, he began to suffer with Christ for the sake of the gospel. His message thereafter was Christ crucified, in Greek, a “skandalon” (an obstacle or stumbling block) to Jews and “morian” (the word from which we get “moron,” foolishness) to the Gentiles who so loved their Greek philosophy. It’s not just Jews and Gentiles today who stumble over or can’t wrap their heads around the cross of Christ. Even people calling themselves Christians are among those who look at the cross as nonsense. No one in her or his right mind likes to suffer!
But everyone is born in bondage to sin and cannot free him- or herself. We suffer, because of sin. Sometimes we can see the direct cause and effect relationship between our own sin and our own suffering. But many times we cannot see the particular causes of suffering, and so we rage about the unfairness of it all especially suffering that comes to the most vulnerable. Yet we can see the wages of sin are still death (which may bring suffering before death and even the suffering which certainly follows for those who grieve the dead). Suffering and death both come from sin.
No one in her or his right mind likes to suffer. The mystery of God’s great love for us is that God in Christ Jesus chose to empty Himself of His divine glory in order to be born like us, to suffer like us and for us, because He was without sin, and to die like us, but He Himself innocently so, and for our sins while we were yet sinners! Christ Jesus took on the form of a slave even unto death on a cross that we might be His own. Martin Luther loved to call this the happy exchange (“der froehliche Wechsel”): God’s Son Jesus, truly God and truly Human, takes my sin and my death to His cross and gives me in Holy Baptism His life and righteousness…though I do not deserve it and cannot, in any way, earn or pay for it! The grace and mercy of God are sheer gift.
Luther writes of this 2nd article in the Large Catechism: “Let this, then, be the sum of this article: the little word Lord means simply the same as redeemer. It means the One who has brought us from Satan to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and who preserves us in the same…He did all this in order to become my Lord. He did none of these things for Himself, nor did He have any need for redemption. After that He rose again from the dead, swallowed up and devoured death [1 Corinthians 15:54], and finally ascended into heaven and assumed the government at the Father’s right hand [1 Peter 3:22]…Yes, the entire Gospel that we preach is based on this point, that we properly understand this article as that upon which our salvation and all our happiness rests. It is so rich and complete that we can never learn it fully” (Concordia, the Lutheran Confessions: A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, 402:31-33).
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina