BIBLE READINGS: Phil. 2:5-11 Mark 11:1-11
Today is Palm Sunday. We have sung the great Palm Sunday hymn, “All hail the power of Jesus Name, let angels prostrate fall, bring forth the royal diadem and crown him, Lord of all.” From that hymn, we focus on the phrase, “all hail the power of Jesus name, let angels prostrate fall.” At the hearing of the name of Jesus, all the angels in heaven fall on their knees in adoration. The name of Jesus is above every name, is greater than every name, and is grander than every name. Christ is King over the universe, and Palm Sunday celebrates his royalty.
On Palm Sunday, in churches around the world, people will hear Philippians 2 read during their service:
Think the same way Jesus Christ thought.
He was in every way like God. Yet he did not think that being equal to God was something he must hold on to.
He gave this up and became a servant. He was born a baby.
And when he was a man, he was humble. He was even willing to die, yes, to die on a cross.
That is why God has made him very great. God has given him a name above every name.
Everyone in heaven, everyone on earth, and everyone under the earth will kneel before the name of Jesus.
Everyone will admit that Jesus Christ is Lord. They will praise God the Father for this.
Phillipians 2: 5-11 (Worldwide English Bible)
Why? Why did God make Jesus Christ king? Why is it that at the name of Jesus, we, the angels, and all creation will fall on our knees? At the name of Jesus, we are to lift up our hands and say, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Why? What did Jesus do that was so utterly important? What did Jesus do that he is worthy of our honour and praise?
Was it because of the quality of his miracles? Was it because he was so magical? He walked on water. He turned the water into wine. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Because Jesus was the best miracle worker who ever lived, God has exalted Jesus and made his name greater than all other names. Is that the reason why God exalted Jesus? Or…
Is it because Jesus was raised from the dead? Never in the history of the world have we ever seen a person raised from the dead by the victorious powers of God, who came back from the dead, who came back to life in a resurrected form. Because God used his power and raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, therefore God has exalted him above all others. Is that it? Or…
Is it because Jesus had some divine connection? Maybe it was because he is God's son. God is his father. God had this special Son, and because the Son was so special, being of the same nature and substance of the Father, therefore God exalted him above all others. Is that why God has so exalted Jesus?
Why did God exalt Jesus?
The Biblical passage for today is very clear. The Bible says, “Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but Christ humbled himself, taking the form of a servant and was perfectly obedient unto death. THEREFORE, God has exalted him above all others and has bestowed on him a name higher than any other name. That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
NOT because Jesus was some miracle worker. NOT because he was raised from the dead by the powers of God and appeared in a resurrection body. NOT because of some divine connection that Jesus was the Son of God. Why was and is Jesus exalted above all people? Because Jesus was the most humble person who ever lived. For he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but he took the form of a servant, walking a path of humility and obedience. THEREFORE, God has exalted him above all names on earth.
It seems to me that there is a saying of Jesus that occurs more than any other saying. Repeatedly, Jesus said, “He who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This teaching about humility is used some five or six times in the Bible. If Jesus’ teaching about humility is mentioned in the Bible some five or six times, don’t you think that the teaching is very important? I do. Another teaching of Jesus is this: “If anyone would be my disciple, let him pick up his cross and follow me”. That teaching occurs some six or seven times, and therefore it too is very important. But there is still another teaching of Jesus that is repeated even more often: “The person who would be first will be last; and the last will be first.” That saying is found all over the New Testament. The person who is at the foot of the table will be moved up to the head of the table. The one who humbles themself will be exalted; the person who exalts themself in this life will be humbled in the next. … This is Jesus’ most important teaching -the path of humility is mentioned repeatedly throughout the whole New Testament.
It was on Holy Thursday and Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. As he washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus said that the greatest person in the Kingdom of God is the humble servant. Jesus took the towel of a servant and washed the disciples’ feet. The big disciple, Peter, said, “No, no, no. It is not right for you, our master, to wash my feet.” Jesus said to Peter, “If I cannot wash your feet, you cannot be my disciple.” Peter said, “Wash all of me. My feet, my legs, my heart. Wash all of me that I may be your humble disciple and do what you are doing.” And what was Jesus doing? Doing the job of a servant. On his knees, washing and wiping his disciples’ feet. Who had ever heard of such a thing from a master? Who had ever heard of such a thing from a king? Washing his disciples feet. What an absurd idea.
So why is it that Jesus is exalted above all others? Why? At the mention of his name, every knee on earth and in heaven shall bow. Why? Because of his miracles? No. Because he was the Son of God? No. Because of his divine connections? No. But because he humbled himself and walked a life of humility and obedience.
God wants us to have that same quality as well, to have this same inner attitude that he does. It is not only Jesus, but we ourselves are invited to possess this same quality. Humility is the highest virtue in the mind of God.
Today’s passage from Philippians comes from a larger section in the Bible. Listen to the Bible verses immediately prior to the appointed reading for this morning: “...if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had...”
… For Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but walked the path of humility and obedience. Therefore God has highly exalted him. You can see from this Bible passage that a virtue that pleases God immensely is humility and humble obedience. According to God, the most important quality in Jesus was humility. According to Jesus, the most important virtue to be found in us is humility. Do nothing from conceit. Count others better than yourselves. Look not to your own self-fulfilment but the interest of others. Live a life of humility.
Humility doesn’t have many supporters today. Humility doesn’t have many takers at all. We live in our Western culture that says, “We’re number one. I’m number one. We have the number one football team; the number one cricket team; the number one musician; the number one choir; the number one artist.” Our culture infests and infects our hearts, saying that we have to be number one. The best actor. The best athlete. The best whatever. “Get the gold in the Olympics. Who remembers who came in second?”
It is not only living in such a culture that puts pressure on us to be number one. It is also part of our human nature. You and I struggle with trying to elevate ourselves above the next person. We take our brains, our intelligence, our gifts that God has given to us and we often use these gifts to be better than other people around us. There is a human tendency to elevate ourselves above others, and we use God’s given gifts to do this.
And so within our culture and within our hearts, humility does not have a lot of buyers today.
Who is a person that you know who is really humble? Who is that person who comes to your mind? A person who does not elevate himself or herself above others? Who is such a person in your mind?
One person who “stands tall but not above others” is José Mujica of Uruguay. Here is a President of a country that gives 90% of his wage away to the poor, who lives in a modest 1 bedroom home and drives an old VW. Many have suggested him for the next Nobel Peace prize. He seeks to better the life of his country by daring to do what seem unpopular policies such as recycling and strong cigarette advertising restrictions. The people of Uruguay admire and support him. He started out as a Marxist rebel and spent several years in Gaol. Here he came to realise that violence does not produce effective change, and so once he was released from prison, he started to campaign for a more representative democratic process. He has sought to help all his citizens – the very poor and the wealthy. He is a humble leader, whose people love him.
I thought of many people in our congregation. I hesitate to mention any names because these people would be embarrassed. There are so many in our congregation who possess this inner quality, the highest virtue of God.
None of us are attached to people who are conceited and full of themselves. In your imagination, would you think of a person who is conceited, who puff themselves up and think they are better than other human beings? It is often more difficult to come up with such faces in our minds, but we do. When we think of a person who is conceited and puffed up and putting themselves above others, they are not usually likeable people. In fact, they are often insecure people, with deeper feelings of inferiority that they are over compensating for by projecting an image of superiority. I doubt that any of us are attracted to conceited people.
None of us are attached to people who are essentially selfish, who think about themselves first on almost all occasions, who worry about what they are going to get out of it, who want you and everyone else to spend time and energy on their lives. Our scripture passage says that we are to do nothing from selfishness or conceit. Selfish people are not enormously attractive to us. They may have more charm, more intelligence, more personality, but if the emotional glue that holds their personality together is an essential selfishness, we don’t want to be like that person. On the other hand, a Mother Teresa is recognised the world over because of her selflessness. Her name is exalted above all other names on earth because she embodies the opposite of selfishness. She was totally selfless in her giving to others, and in some small measure, we want to be like her.
And so on this glorious Palm Sunday morning, we sing the hymn with gusto and feel the words to the song: All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate fall, bring forth the royal diadems and crown him, Lord of all.” Jesus said, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled; whoever is humble, will be exalted.” It is one of those strange paradoxes about life that a person gradually learns is true. Amen.