WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

4.9.17 Palm Sunday

final battle year A holy Week

Philippians 2

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 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.

 

It’s Palm Sunday. Welcome to Holy Week, the final battle.  This is the day that starts the end, and these are pretty familiar events. We see Jesus asking for the donkey to fulfill that prophecy from Zechariah 9.  The people welcome him as the Son of David, as their king, with palm branches paving his way.  And so we get the name, and why we had kids waving palm branches at the beginning of the service, because that’s how people greeted Jesus on this day almost 2000 years ago.  In fact, 1600 years ago believers in the Jerusalem area would retrace the steps of that day with palm branches in their hands.  It’s been a special church festival day ever since.

These things that happened are pretty well known.  But it’s not just the things that happened that are important, we also need to remember why they happened.  This is the part that is a little tougher to admit.  Jesus rode into Jerusalem because of me.  He wasn’t enjoying a nice Sunday stroll with his followers.  He wasn’t begging for attention.  He wasn’t going to Jerusalem to take over the throne he deserved as the King of the Jews.  He rode into Jerusalem because there was a final battle, my battle that he had to fight.

That’s because I’m the one who has sin on my record, not Jesus.  I’m the one who has found myself trapped on the devil’s side of the battle lines far too often.  I’m the one who has broken every kind of commandment there is.  If you think of God’s law as a mirror, then what does just one brick do to a mirror?  It smashes it into a bunch of pieces.  Just one sin is a brick to God’s law, smashing it to a bunch of pieces.  I can’t put those pieces perfectly back together again.  And even if I could, there’s another problem.  I don’t have just one sin on my account.  There are tons, every day.  It’s been this way sin before I was born because I have two sinful parents who made a…? sinful child.  That’s me and that’s you.  Sinful people like us caused this Palm Sunday event to take place.

Yes, it’s exciting to see Jesus enter Jerusalem with a grand welcome.  Yes, it’s nice to see Jesus fulfilling more prophecy as my Lord.  But he’s going to Jerusalem for a battle. It’s should never have happened.  The Son of God should not have to fight my battles.  The King of kings, the ruler of all things should not come to serve anyone.  He should be served by every man, woman and child under the sun.  This is the one who can make anything happen with a split second thought, a snap of his almighty fingers.  Blizzard in North Dakota in April, no problem.  120 degrees in North Dakota on the very next day, he yawns with the kind of ease it takes to do something like that.   Keeping the sun, planets, stars, and that outer space stuff in its place doesn’t cost him any energy.

On top of that, the Son of God had already dealt with the devil in a quick and easy way.  Casting the devil out of heaven after he rebelled against God’s perfect authority, wasn’t a fight like trying to quiet a temper-tantrum throwing toddler.  He just said, “Be gone!”  God already won the battle against Satan.  But the devil left heaven and made this place his playground.  If he couldn’t beat God up there, he would go after God’s creatures down here.   Now, because humanity foolishly left God’s side of this battle, and made an unholy agreement with the devil when we gave in to his temptations, we have this battle raging every day.  It’s mine and yours.  Jesus  shouldn’t have to fight our battle, especially not with all of the things that will unfold this week.

But he did!  Because of me and because of you.  We are the ones who could never do enough to find ourselves on the other side of this battle, the good side, Jesus’ side.  We could never trick the devil and we could never trick God about who we are or what we’ve done so that we end up on the safe side.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday because of me and because of you.   He saw it from his home in heaven.   He saw it with two human eyes as he walked this earth.  He knew he was going to have to go to Jerusalem to fight my battle against sin because we couldn’t do it. He knew it was going to be agonizing and excruciating. He knew it all along, that this road pave in palms and cloaks led to his death.

So what was Jesus thinking? If someone asked, really told, you to do something like fight the kind of battle that really wouldn’t benefit you so much, but would help others out a whole lot, would you do it?  We really aren’t wired that way.  We think, “What’s good for me?  What do I like?  What do I want?”  We don’t spend our time or energy fighting a life threatening battle for someone who doesn’t deserve it.  We don’t volunteer for that.  That’s not the way we think.

So, what was Jesus thinking?  We don’t really get that information from the Gospel for the day, but I think these verses from this old hymn or poem that Paul quotes in Philippians two give us some helpful insight.  We know that Jesus followed through with it.  He came to Jerusalem.  He got on the donkey to fulfill the prophecy.  He entered the city to shouts of Hosanna only to hear so many of those voices cry out “crucify, crucify him,” less than a week later.

But what he thought about all this is even more amazing.  Paul describes his attitude like this: “being in very nature God, [Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  The Son of God decided to be called the Son of Man.  He didn’t come to earth kicking and screaming. He didn’t need the power and glory.  He wanted to be here to fight our battle, even when he knew it would take humility, the greatest display of humility ever witnessed in this world.  He wanted to fight for us, even when he knew it would be painful, messy, miserable, and lonely, because he never wanted us to suffer that way.

From his very first moments in this world, it was all about the servant-like service rather than that godly glory.   He took up residence in the womb of a rather simple virgin, whose husband was a lowly carpenter and not a king.  He was born in backwater Bethlehem and placed in a feed box for his first night.  Shepherds were his first worshipers.  The Son of God, who was there to create the human body, had to grow up in the human body.  People spoke to him as they would anyone else, most treated him even worse than that.  Even on a day like Palm Sunday, we see God living as a humble man riding on a beast of burden. Jesus certainly knew humility and what it was like to be a servant.

But that wasn’t all.  “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!”  In humility, Jesus willingly put himself under the curse of sin.  He let the opponents plot.  He let jealous, angry Jewish leaders and a Roman governor brutalize him.  The Son of God let men decide his fate.

This was our battle, not his.  It was painful and messy.  We would never be perfect enough to do it.  We would never be humble enough to do it.  But Jesus was.  He was all of those things and more.  And so on Palm Sunday he willingly went to this final battle, not just because of us and our sin, but for us.  Jesus knew that this battle would be exactly like the time the devil rebelled.  There was no hope for him.  The devil is evil and all he wants his evil.  Jesus would fight evil with his humble love.  He would take the punishment sin deserves.  He would ride on to die as payment for our victory.  It took his lowly death, but Jesus loves you that much.

The Son of Man didn’t act like a son of man after that, however.  On the cross, yes.  He was forsaken by his holy Father as he suffered the torment of hell for the sins of the world.  But his humble death was not the end.  The Son of Man is also the Son of God.  His death led to the most glorious event in all of history.  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 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.

When we are talking about this final battle against sin, death, and the devil, they lose.  And everyone who is on that side of this battle, everyone who doesn’t see Jesus as the humble servant who has saved us from sin and won a glorious victory, every one of them loses, too.  They will have to acknowledge that fact.  There is no option.  Every knee will bow whether it’s in faith or in utter shock or angry disbelief.

I’d rather join the faithful procession of those who hail him as the king.  I’d rather you do that, too.  Because that procession is the one who has a Savior from sin.  The people in that procession enjoy total victory over death forever with Jesus in heaven.

And do you know what else I like about being on his side?  On this side, on the side that worships Jesus for his humble service, we don’t clamor for the glory.  We don’t push and shove to get to the front of the line.  We don’t treat each other like garbage.  We don’t look down on others, because there is no better or worse.  There’s Jesus exalted on the throne over all for the battle he willingly fought and won for us, and then there’s all of us.  There are no levels.  There is no favoritism.   There’s just Jesus and then believers.  There’s Jesus and then all of us who follow his humble, loving, and willing example.  He has made us his people, how else should we act?

Today, we join the procession for Jesus, who willingly came because of us and for us.  We praise the Son of God and Son of Man for his humble love and sacrifice.  We look forward to the events of this week because we know his final battle means we win the eternal victory.  We are amazed that he was thinking it was all worth it…for you!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.  Amen.

HUMILITY IS EXALTED

warning

LUKE 14:1, 7-14

1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. 
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

It’s a pretty big deal.  As a pastor, I have to handle the Word of God, preaching and teaching faithfully and truthfully.  I have to look after God’s sheep and feed the flock with his Word and his Sacrament.  I have to care for people of all ages, types and backgrounds. I have to do so much. A pastor has a huge job.

Whenever I say that I am a pastor to people out in the community it always creates a reaction.  I can see it in their faces.  Whether I’m out golfing, at the store, at the hospital, at a park with my kids, or at a party it doesn’t matter, because being a pastor is just that big of a deal.  It may not always be positive. Some people don’t like pastors because of past experiences or because of the headlines that sometimes surface in the news.  But a pastor always has some pretty lofty expectations. I mean, people should look up to a pastor, because pastors have a big job to do and we work for the Lord.

Now, while it’s true, having that kind of attitude is a bunch of nonsense!  No pastor who is worth anything to a congregation should ever be that full of himself.  He should never think that he’s above people.  But that’s an example of how guys like this prominent Pharisee operated.  They loved to throw their titles around and list off their accomplishments and responsibilities.  They loved to be noticed for who there were and what they did.  They loved to take note of what was wrong with other people, too.  And it’s no different at this Sabbath meal.  The Pharisees had a close eye on Jesus.  They thought they could catch Jesus doing something wrong.  Talk about pride!  These Pharisees thought they could correct God.  But at this meal, they still had time to act like little kids at a birthday party trying to claim a great spot.

Jesus couldn’t help but notice the pride that was filling up the room like a blanket of thick fog. So he turns to them with a pretty sensible parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.

It’s sensible because everybody wants to avoid that kind of humiliation in front of a group and everybody would enjoy that kind of honor in front of a group.  But pride is not always so sensible. Pride kind of wants the nice spot right away.  Pride plays games trying to pit me against someone else in a contest of who’s better.  And pride will always well up inside downplaying my faults and failures in order to make me the winner.  If I’m comparing myself to a popular celebrity, I might not have the gawking public following my every move and giving me the royal treatment wherever I go, but I’m better because my life is more moral and less greedy.  I’m better because I don’t crave the spotlight and my feuds are not out there for everyone to see.  If I’m up against a politician, I might not have the popular vote, but I’m better because I’m not a liar and scoundrel.  I’m better because I am a Christian that stands for God’s honest truth.  If I’m looking at a coworker or neighbor, I’m better because I have a better attitude and my family life is all under control.  If I’m up against a stubborn child, I’m better because I have knowledge and experience.  I’m better because God has given me authority and responsibilities.  If I compare myself to a poor person, well I have a steady income because I went to school and work hard.  I can fill my house with nice things and wear nice clothes.  If I compare myself to a prisoner, I am better because I would never ever get caught doing something that could get me arrested.  I’m above that.

Do you notice how pride works?  This pride that exists in each one of us makes it so hard to be humble.  Humility is acknowledging that everything is not alright in my life.  Humility is admitting that I need help.  Humility is making yourself lower than other people.  Humility is serving others without thinking “now you owe me one.” Here’s a great definition from C. S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” The thing is humility is so unnatural and foreign to us.  We are born with pride. We are born with the desire to be served as the most important.  Honestly, no baby thinks, “How can I help mommy?  I know, I won’t make a dirty diaper today.  I won’t scream when I’m hungry.  I will care about mom and dad more than I care about myself.”  No! Babies always destroy their diapers.  Babies always scream for their food.  Because babies naturally only care about themselves.  We are born with pride.  And if you can’t bring yourself to think that there is anything wrong with a precious newborn because they are just doing what natural and acceptable for a baby, then that is exactly my point.  We are born with this natural focus on me. And this inborn pride makes it so hard to be humble.

But here’s where Jesus warning helps us out so much. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Just like a 25 speed limit doesn’t want you speeding into an accident, just like a warning label doesn’t want you to eat something toxic, so Jesus doesn’t want pride to ruin things for you eternally. Jesus says we’re not just talking about a wedding dinner, but we’re talking about life.  If you want a great life where you are always the best, where everything is always about you, and where you can do whatever you want, then enjoy it now because the eternal accident is coming.  If you don’t want to care about others, if you don’t want to give to others as God as so freely given to you, then keep eating the poison of pride and self-centeredness until it destroys you forever in hell.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  You could carry on like you aren’t the most important.  You could live each day for someone else, not always putting your own desires first.  You could be thankful for all the blessings God has given by giving some time, energy and money to serve others.  You could do those things simply because God has already done those things for you.  Then, you don’t have to worry about the fatal crash or the poison.

That sounds amazing, but it’s hard.  Pride doesn’t give up easily.  And our culture bombards us with messages about serving only ourselves.  But, we also have Jesus.  We can listen to our Savior.  We also want to live like his children, who are filled with gratitude and humility.  And so maybe you’re looking for the middle ground in there.  There has to be somewhere between pride and humility.  There has to be some spot between doing everything for yourself and doing everything for other people.  Maybe there is some table in the banquet that’s not right up front and not totally in the back that would be perfect for you.  You don’t want people taking advantage of you, but you want to be kind and caring.  You want to be nice and giving, but you don’t want to get swallowed up in this dog-eat-dog world.  You want to have most of the week to yourself, but you’ll give Sunday to the Lord.

But does that ever work?  Can you drive 50 in a 25 and still be safe all the time?  Do you really want to try eating just a little bit a poison to see if it will kill you or not?  I don’t think so.  So, why would you do that with your life as a follower of Jesus?  Why would you compromise when it comes to humility?

Today, Jesus warns against all pride.  He says it’s not worth it.  He says humility works for his followers.  Even if it seems hard, humility still works in this age of entitlement. Even if it is thinking of yourself less, humility can be exalted in this self-centered, egotistical world.

And here’s why – because someone else was humble for you first.  Someone came here to live for you.  Someone was lowly, like a servant, for you.  Someone came to serve your greatest need.  Someone took all the embarrassment for you.  Someone helped you with all your worst troubles and struggles.  Someone gave everything he had so that you would never be taken advantage of.  Someone made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross. 

Jesus is the only one who could walk into any banquet, any classroom, any meeting anywhere and demand the blest place and the royal treatment.  He could walk into the White House and say, “I’m president now,” without any objection. He deserves our dedicated and best service.  But he gave it all up.  He chose humility to serve you and me.  The great and glorious became least and lowest. He was the servant for swindlers and scoundrels, for creeps and criminals, for liars and lusters, for the pompous and proud.  He served those who don’t deserve it.  He served you and me to bring us forgiveness and life in heaven.  He got down into the dirt and filth to get us out and purify us before God.

Jesus knew exactly what he was saying –  “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” – because it happened to him.  He gave up everything.  He was humble in Bethlehem and Nazareth.  He was humbled in Jerusalem.  He was humiliated on Calvary.  But he was exalted on Easter when he came back from the dead.  He was exalted as he rose over this earth to go back to his throne in heaven.  He is exalted now as the King of kings.  Every knee will bow down before him.  Every tongue will confess him.  Some will do it with joyous faith, some with terrified fear, but it will happen at the Last Day.

Until that day arrives, faith fosters humility in us.  And what does that look like?  Jesus has an answer for us that isn’t just about how you think or picking where you sit.  He goes on to say, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…”

Jesus reminds us that humility is not just a hidden quality that no one ever notices.  Humility shows up in the life of a Christian.  Humility asks the question: “Jesus, how can I reflect a little bit of your humility in my life?”  Maybe that means you will actively find ways to think of yourself – your wants, your schedule, your family, your hobbies – less and others more.  Maybe you’ll reevaluate the way you look at coworkers and neighbors not thinking of what they should do for you, but what you can do for them.  Humility will lower you and raise others up so that you can say “I’m sorry” to a friend or relative.  This humility that saved you and the humility that God is growing in you will make it easier for you to give your offerings in church, knowing that the gifts are providing for others here and, through our synod, around the world.  Humility means husbands and wives don’t have to try to win arguments.  Thinking that arguments can be won for the good of a marriage is so counterproductive and proud.  Instead, because Christ looked to serve your needs, you can serve your spouse’s needs without looking for the payback.

Jesus has one final thing that really elevates humility for us: “you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Now, please don’t confuse what Jesus has just promised.  Your humility cannot save you.  If that was the case that would mean heaven must be earned.  Heaven cannot be earned.  Only Jesus saves you.  Only Jesus can open the narrow door, as we learned last week.  Only Jesus’ humility can exalt you to eternal life in heaven.

Instead, this crazy promise assures you that a humble life will be exalted.  Jesus says go find ways to practice humility with people who cannot pay you back and he will repay you.   Be caring and supportive and helpful and generous even if you never see the pay off in this life, Jesus will find a way to make it all work out.  And let’s just say that your humility does make an impact on your family and neighbors.  Let’s say because faith moved you to be humble 15 people heard about Jesus and have faith in him.  Isn’t that a repayment in and of itself?  And yet, Jesus says he himself will repay you.  The Savior who humbled himself for you, who rose from the dead, who was exalted to his throne in heaven, he will repay you for your humility.

There’s really no reason for me to proud about me.  I can’t earn heaven.  I haven’t impressed God with my life.  Too often I try to exalt myself and humble others.  I end up acting like those Pharisees.  Jesus did the opposite.  He lowered himself for me.  His humility paid for my eternity in heaven.  If you want to be proud about something, be proud of him.  If you want someone to be first in your life, it’s him.  And you will be blessed with an eternity that is certainly not low but exalted in glory with him. Amen.