This Mind Among Yourselves

Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.”[1] With these words St. Paul encouraged the Philippian congregation in their life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. The young congregation was buckling under pressure. They faced pressure from outside, from the surrounding Roman culture that constantly challenged and belittled their faith. And they faced conflict within the congregation. The outside pressure from the surrounding culture started to tear away at the bond of love that existed between the beloved of Christ. They were thinking more highly of themselves than each other and less of those who lived and worked around them. Under pressure, the allure of false teaching became harder to resist, and some were resorting to legalism to get them out of their mess.

St. Paul’s pastoral eye cut right to the chase; under pressure from the world and each other, the congregation lost sight of its Master, Jesus. He did not pride Himself on being God. He truly could demand the loyalty and servitude of all Creation, yet He didn’t. He humbled Himself by voluntarily refraining from His power and majesty and taking upon Himself our human flesh. He became subject to the Law and was obedient even unto death on a cross. In the Torah it says that those who are hung on a tree are cursed by God. Christ took that curse upon Himself. Jesus Christ humbled Himself so that He might redeem us from our sins and so that we might live in love toward one another.

I.

The Philippian congregation was, perhaps like us, a smaller congregation. It was founded when St. Paul, Silas, and Timothy visited the Roman colony during the Second Missionary Journey, about 49-51 A.D. Philippi was not the biggest city in the district, but it was prestigious. The citizens of Philippi were afforded all the same rights and privileges as if they were living in Rome herself. This was reflected in the culture. It was very cosmopolitan. As a society, infidelity in marriage was to be expected and pagan worship was the norm. As result, the congregation faced challenges in its call to be faithful to God’s Word. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were unjustly imprisoned after they had cast a fortune-telling demon out of a slave girl. The demon was making the her owners money, you see. Even with this conflict, the Philippians were known to be a generous congregation. They, largely, funded the mission work among the Corinthians by giving over and above what could’ve been expected of them.

Their generosity flowed out of the love they had received from Christ, but it didn’t divert the pressure they were under. As we said, Philippi was a Roman colony. Things there were as you would expect – not friendly to the Christian faith. So, when the members of the congregation didn’t go to the pagan temples and were faithful to their spouses, the surrounding culture did not appreciate that and, in fact, was hostile to them. Within the congregation, that external pressure was certainly felt. We experience the same. We know what it’s like to have our society largely disagree with our confession of faith. We know that pressure, so we should recognize what happened with the Philippians. They started arguing. Rivalry and jealousy were very present. Things were done not in service of the Gospel, but of oneself. In general, everyone was exalting their position by putting down their brother in Christ. Some in the congregation also turned to false doctrine, hoping that a teaching that was more in line with the culture would save them. It wouldn’t.

II.

St. Paul knew what would, though. The Philippians were near and dear to Paul’s heart, and so it was with all affection that he directed them to who would save them: Jesus. St. Paul wrote,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by 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.[2]

St. Paul turned them to Christ. In Philippians 1, Paul told the congregation that they shouldn’t be surprised at the conflict they faced from outside the church. It had been granted them to suffer with Christ, as it has been to all Christians, and we should rejoice at that. For, as Christ promised the Apostles, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. But that doesn’t mean that internal struggles and fights won’t tear a congregation apart. So, he turned them to Christ. Jesus Christ, from the very beginning was in every way fully God of fully God. By Him and through Him all things were made. He alone is truly Lord of all creation and by right could demand that all things bend to His will. (That day will come.)

But, rather than rest on His laurels and pride Himself on the fact that all things must obey Him, He humbled Himself. St. Paul says that He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. This means that Jesus Christ willingly, for a time, refrained from using His eternal power, glory, and authority, and He took on our human flesh. He who deserves above all things to be served, came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He became obedient to the Law, perfectly submitting Himself to God and neighbor. He committed no sin and spoke no deceit. Yet, He was numbered with the transgressors. He poured out His soul unto death, even death on a cross. Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.”[3] Christ willingly took that curse upon Himself, which we also confess this Palm Sunday.

III.

Why did Christ do this? Why did He humble Himself – stepping down from His throne, veiling His glory, becoming flesh and blood, and dying on the cross? He did it as the prime demonstration of God’s love for us, and to redeem us from our sins. Apart from Christ’s death, we were lost in sin and death. We had nothing to look forward to, save the eternal separation from God that starts at death. Christ suffered and died to save us from that. St. Paul says that in Baptism we were united with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Through Baptism, our sinful nature drowned and died with Christ, and we were raised again to new life with Him. This new life is what Paul means when he says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus Christ humbled Himself, obeyed the Law, and still died in our place to save us from our sins and has enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in love. Though we, by nature, are prone to fighting and insults, to lies and arrogance, to distrust and disunity, that has all been put away through the death of Christ and our Baptism into it. As we’ll hear next week, through Christ’s resurrection the old leaven of malice and evil is put away and we celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. These things St. Paul called to the minds of the Philippian congregation. Their fearful infighting was not right. Christ died to forgive them those sins – and they are forgiven – and they are enabled through Him to live in love. They are to look to Jesus Christ for both the example and the strength to live in love.

Were the Philippians, after Paul’s letter, perfect at this? Probably not. Still, Polycarp, who was a disciple of St. John wrote this to them some fifty years later, “I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love…and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now.” St. Paul’s confidence in the congregation and his encouragement for all Christians is found in the opening of this letter, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.[4] May Christ our Lord grant us the same grace as the Philippians, that we may give thanks for all His benefits and live in love – especially in the coming Easter season.


[1] Philippians 2:4-7, English Standard Version.

[2] Phil. 2:5-8.

[3] Gal. 3:13.

[4] Phil. 1:6.

Hosanna to the Lord, for He Fulfills God’s Word!

Text: John 12:12-19

As we’ve been getting closer and closer to Easter this year, I’ve had this weird urge to watch the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments. I suppose it’s not actually that odd. It probably springs from the years of my childhood when it was broadcast on national television somewhere around Holy Week, which it still is, on ABC. What interests me is that it’s not an Easter movie. It’s about the Passover, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. The name Jesus isn’t mentioned in it at all. And yet, through the eyes of Scripture, it definitely is an appropriate film for this time of the Church year.

It feels like we just heard the Triumphal Entry, and that’s because we have. The lectionary also places the Triumphal Entry on the First Sunday in Advent, where we hear it to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. Today we hear the text again as we remember and confess our Lord’s Passion. The Triumphal Entry marks the final week of Jesus’ life. Today we’ll see that Jesus, our humble king, rides on to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures and for our salvation.

But, like I’ve said, I’ve had this weird urge to watch The Ten Commandments. I’ve also been listening to a heavy metal concept album about the Exodus. Maybe it’s because the daily lectionary, which provides Scripture readings for every day of the year (you can find it beginning on pg. 299 in our hymnal), has been walking us through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and now Moses. This week we’ll hear about the plagues, the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Now, what I’m getting at with Charleton Heston, with concept albums and the lectionary, is that there’s a connection the Scriptures make that we sometimes forget. In chapter 12, St. John is inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us that we’ve now entered the week leading up to the Passover. The Passover and Jesus’ Passion are connected; it’s not a coincidence.

The Holy Spirit mentions the Jewish festival three times in John’s Gospel, each time taking something connected to the Passover and doing something new. The first time was at the wedding in Cana. The six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water that Jesus turned into wine – those were for washing in preparation for the Passover. The Passover is mentioned again at the feeding of the 5,000. In the wilderness Jesus fed the multitudes, with 5 loaves and 2 fish. The manna and quail were an Old Testament preview. The third time the Passover is mentioned in John’s Gospel is as we enter the week of our Lord’s passion. It’s not a coincidence.

The Passover was given by the Lord in Exodus 12 as meal to be eaten in preparation for the Exodus. The people were to take an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it at twilight. Then they were to take some of its blood and put it on their doorposts. The blood would be sign for them. When the Lord came through to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood on the crossbars of their doors and pass over them. Through the blood, death passed over. That’s not a coincidence.

The Passover pointed ahead to and is now fulfilled in the Passion, the suffering, of our Savior. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we stood in the bonds of slavery. Only our slavery was to sin, to death and the powers of hell. From of old, God has heard the cries of His people. Every tear of distress, every cry of anguish and grief, every prayer of sorrow prayed by loved ones left behind, has entered God’s ears. In the Garden of Eden He promised that He would put an end to death and the devil, and it happens this week. We remember and confess this week the most holy and sacred week in the history of the universe, where the Son of God dies for us. His arms were outstretched on the cross so that His blood now marks our doors. Through His suffering and passion, we are rescued from slavery to sin as death passes over us.

  1.   

The Evangelist writes,

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written.

As I’ve already said, it’s not a coincidence that the Passover and the Passion fall during the same time. We also just heard that Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it had been written in the Scriptures. This another connection that we might not always notice. Everything Jesus did was to fulfill the Scriptures, and there’s nothing in them that isn’t connected to Jesus.

Since we’re in the year 2016, the events of Holy Week and Easter have happened already. We aren’t reliving or re-enacting them. Rather, we’re looking backwards through the resurrection to learn and confess all the things Christ did for us. That’s what Jesus taught the Disciples to do as well. Remember after the Resurrection, how Jesus appeared to them and taught them to understand the Scriptures? He opened their minds to see that throughout the Law and the Prophets He is talked about, particularly how it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. St. John writes in our text, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him.”

What was written in the Old Testament about Jesus at the Triumphal Entry? Look at verse 15, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” The Holy Spirit applies the words of the prophet Zechariah to this event, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.” The Holy Spirit is preaching that Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem is the king of glory entering His holy temple. But rather than a building, Jesus’ temple is the cross. The cross is where He offered up His own body and blood as the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. This is where all the Scriptures find their meaning: the bruised and broken body of God dying on the cross for the sins His creation committed against Him.

So, let us return to these comforting words this Palm Sunday, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” Fear not, daughter of Zion. That’s the Church. The Lord is speaking to you, now, “Fear not.” You who wait anxiously for the redemption of your souls and the resurrection of the body; You who patiently bear the reproach of the world for the sake of Christ’s holy name; You who suffer illness, trial, temptation, sorrow, and grief: Fear not. Why? Because your King is coming. And, not like the kings of the world does Jesus come, but as the humble Son of God riding on a donkey. He rides on in majesty, in lowly pomp, in fulfillment of the Passover and the completion of God’s promises, to die for your salvation.

I invite you turn to the Lenten hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” (438) Stanza 2 speaks about our true Passover lamb. “This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend, the Lamb of God, our Savior, whom God the Father chose to send to gain for us His favor. ‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘And free My children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of Your salvation.’” Here we sing of Christ fulfilling the Scriptures for our salvation. He is the true Lamb of God, whose blood takes away the sin of the world. He was sent by God the Father, in keeping with His promises through the prophets, to gain for us salvation. Though the wrath and stripes of God’s punishment are hard to bear, Christ bore them willingly. For, by His passion, we are made to share the fruits of His salvation: the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

This week we remember and confess the events of Christ’s holy passion. We call it His passion because He allowed all the things that happen this week, to happen out of His great love for us. On Thursday we’ll celebrate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, where at His last supper Christ gave us the feast of His body and blood, through which He gives us the forgiveness that He won on the cross. On Friday we’ll gather in observance of His suffering and death for us. Then, on Sunday we will celebrate with all the faithful His triumphant resurrection, where death’s reign is ended as it is swallowed up in victory.

Your King is Coming

Text: John 12:12-19

“Hosanna!” They cried. “Save us, now.” Tens, dozens, maybe hundreds of people, all gathering in Jerusalem. The time for the Passover had come, and many had come into town for the annual festival. Some had come from Galilee, others from farther. Wherever they came from, they gathered at the gate with palm branches in hand to see this coming king, Jesus. “Save us,” They cried. Save us like you did the wedding at Cana when they ran out of wine. Save us like you did for the five thousand, whom you fed in the wilderness with only five loaves and two fish. Save us, and get these Romans off our back. Save us like you did Lazarus, who was dead for 4 days but now is alive. Save us, they cried, but little did they know what that meant.

Hosanna to the one coming in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel. Surely Jesus heard these cries, and here on Palm Sunday wasn’t the only time that the people pleaded with Him to become King, or threaten to make Him one by force. History has shown us many who would delight in the situation, those who would capitalize on it. They would ride in on a great big horse, rouse all of the people and take back the land for the people – or for themselves. But Jesus, He rides in on a young donkey. Just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”[1] Not with the bearing of a king does Jesus come, but with humility. As a servant. Humbly, Jesus our King, rides to cross to bear our sin and win our salvation.

I.

Palm Sunday 3We read in John 12, “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”[2] Here we are, at the last Passover of Jesus’ ministry. Shortly before this, He had raised Lazarus from dead. After lay in the tomb, dead for 4 days, Jesus called out to him, “Lazarus, come out,” and he did. This only served to upset the Jewish authorities, particularly the Pharisees, even more. They realized now that there was nothing they could do to prevent the people from following Jesus. They must put Jesus to death. Fittingly, the high priest had prophesied that year that Jesus would die to gather the children of God together. (Jn. 11:51-52)

Enraged at the raising of Lazarus, the Pharisees put out word that anyone who saw Jesus should let them know – so they could arrest Him. This made many wonder whether Jesus would actually come to the Passover, but here He is. And it’s not just Him, but by the Pharisees’ own admission, the whole world has gone out after Him. We see here that not all of the Jews are out to kill Jesus. There were many, many, faithful who recognized that Jesus is the promised Messiah long-hoped for.

The group at the triumphal entry was a mixture. Some were there mainly for the Passover. The festival itself wouldn’t be for a bit yet, but lots came early to purify themselves beforehand. Others were there to see Jesus. They had heard of all the signs that He had done and they, like the Greeks who would come to Philip in the following verses, wanted to see for themselves this King of Israel. This was, probably in no small part, thanks to the crowd that had witnessed Lazarus rising from the dead. The text says that, despite what the Pharisees were planning against Jesus and His followers, that crowd continued to bear witness to all that they had seen. This King of Israel was no ordinary king; He had the power to save, even from the grave.

And so they cried, “Hosanna!” Save us now, blessed King coming in the name of the Lord. Save us, O King. Save us from trial and tribulation. Save us from these oppressive Romans. Save us from hunger and thirst. Save us, and act like the King of Israel that you are!

II.

Amidst their cries for glory and salvation, the true King of glory comes forth. The text says, “Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.”[3] This was to fulfill the prophecy from Zechariah 9, our Old Testament reading, which the Evangelist cites, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”[4] Humbly, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to accomplish our salvation. He did not come in pomp or fanciness. He knew what He must do so that the daughter of Zion, a term for God’s chosen people, may live without fear.

Humbly, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a beast of burden, even as He Himself is a beast of burden on our behalf. He was born without sin, conceived by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. There was no deceit in His mouth nor did He bear iniquity in His actions. His life was a perfect and complete fulfillment of God’s Law. And now, in perfect submission to the Father’s will, Jesus rides to His own death on our behalf.

While the crowds cry out, laugh, and cheer, Jesus knows the real purpose of it all – their salvation. He knew that in just a short time crowds would be crying out for His blood. In true kingly fashion He would receive a crown, only His was made of thorns, pushed on His head to bring out that much more blood. In just a short time He would die. Why – for sins that He committed? No – for sins that we committed, and ones that we still do. Our sins put Him there. Our demands for glory, our demands for a life full of pleasure and happiness, our demands for freedom and independence caused He who came to give life to all to give up His own.

III.

“Hosanna,” They cried. The words that we hear from Scripture are the same for them, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”[5] Rejoice, it says. Rejoice and shout aloud, for the King, your King, is coming. Not like kings of the world does He come, but as the humble Son of God. Into Jerusalem He rides for our salvation. As the Disciples did not understand these things at the time, so does this fly in the face of our sinful nature. We’re so used to pictures of Jesus with a halo, the glorified Jesus, that we sometimes miss the humble Jesus.

This humble King rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, amidst glorious shouts, knowing full well that He rides on to His death. He went to fulfill all Scripture, to prove the His Word is true, to die for you. He went to comfort those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and to bring them out of fear. “Hosanna,” we cry. Save us, we pray to Jesus that He would rescue us from the perils and pitfalls of this world. And save us, He does.

And so ride on, O King of Glory:

Ride on, ride on in majesty. In lowly pomp ride on to die. O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin. Ride on, ride on in majesty. In lowly pomp ride on to die. Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God Thy pow’r and reign.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), John 12:15.

[2] Jn. 12:12-13.

[3] Jn. 12:14.

[4] Jn. 12:15.

[5] Zec. 9:9.