April 17, 2019

Palm Sunday - Philippians 2:5-11

The Unobserved Kingdom of Christ
1. He suffered for victory
2. He has total control
3. His subjects become like Him

These are the ways that the kingdom of Jesus came up during His trial.

·       It was what they questioned Him about.
·       It was what caused senseless fear in the first Herod, and it was the second Herod mocked him for.
·       It was the title He rightfully claimed.
·       It was what puzzled Pilate.
·       It was the cry the soldiers mocked Him with, as they adorned Him in purple robe, and a crown of thorns.
·       It was what the Jewish leaders threatened Pilate with – “Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.”
·       It was what Pilate proclaimed to the crowd, “Behold Your King!” and on the cross “The King of the Jews.”

There was no more perplexing element to Jesus’ trial than the idea of how He was a king. So many people questioned Him, so many shouted the title, mostly in disdain, yet only Jesus understood the truth. The divergent opinions about Christ during His trial were largely shaped by what kind of King was perceived. The same divide continues to this day. Many people reject Jesus because they fail to understand the nature of His kingship. His is the unobserved Kingdom – at least, according to human sight and reason. Jesus’ kingdom is unlike any other and comes in only one way – by faith.

The Holy Spirit explains this reign of Christ as King in our text, from Philippians 2:5-11:

Philippians 2:5-11 Indeed, let this attitude be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. 6 Though he was by nature God, he did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed, 7 but he emptied himself by taking the nature of a servant. When he was born in human likeness, and his appearance was like that of any other man, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (EHV)

Part 1: He suffered for victory

The hardest thing for Pilate to understand at Jesus’ trial was why Jesus was treated this way if He really was a king. Not only was Jesus a king, He was the King of the Jews. But it was the Jews who were shouting “Crucify Him!” Another thing that Pilate didn’t understand was why Jesus didn’t put up a fight. Is there another example in all of history of a king who didn’t fight to keep His kingdom? To Pilate, Jesus seemed to not care.

Pilate tried to understand a little bit, but clearly he tired of it quickly. In the end, Pilate was more concerned with a different ruler – Caesar – than he was with this man from Galilee. Yet, how much Pilate missed. To think that Jesus didn’t care about His kingdom missed the point entirely. What Jesus was doing actually showed how much He did care. Jesus cared so much that He willingly suffered and died.

This was the only way the Kingdom of God could be established. It had to be gained in an immaterial way, without soldiers, battles, and wars. Even a diplomatic process wouldn’t be enough. Consider how Paul described the battle for the kingdom of God: Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

This passage was given in the context of the armor of God that Paul described – an armor that is meant for spiritual warfare. And those who fight in such a manner are subjects of a King unlike any other. Jesus’ kingdom was won by His suffering and death because that’s what it took to defeat the powers of darkness in the heavenly realms. The great accuser, Satan, is absolutely right to demand that God punish us with condemnation. God’s own Law stands as the record of truth against us and Satan can point to it without any rebuttal. Sin’s curse demands the payment of human life. And so, human life is what Jesus gave.

Paul writes in our text that throughout the process of His suffering, Jesus didn’t cease being God either – He simply set His divine power aside. Paul describes it in terms of parading around a symbol of victory – a prize. Jesus didn’t use His divinity as a way out of suffering. Rather, Jesus emptied Himself. Jesus took the form of a servant – like us. Jesus humbled Himself. Jesus was born as a human, and lived and died as a human. Jesus became obedient. We call these things the steps of humiliation – how Jesus lowered Himself to take our place, to suffer our punishment, and to die our death – because He had to meet us where we are at – in the pit of sin and condemnation.

This is a most fascinating and wonderful act of God’s love. Yet, it’s also unobservable to human sight and reason. The only reason we understand it for what it is is because the Holy Spirit has enlightened us by faith to see and appreciate the depths of our Savior’s love. But Pilate didn’t understand. The culmination of Jesus’ humiliation was death by crucifixion. In this very act of complete submission, both to His Father’s will and to the enemies who hated Him, Jesus gained the victory.

Part 2: He has total control

The text divides sharply between verses 8 and 9. The death of Jesus is the lowest point. From that point forward, the thoughts are lifted up. There’s a word for that which Paul uses – exalt. Christ was exalted in glory from His resurrection forward. He is no longer a suffering King, or a King who dies. He lives forevermore and has resumed His full authority as God.

Part of Christ’s exaltation is having total power as King. This power extends over even those who oppose and deny Him. So, Paul records, …at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There’s an element of warning in these words about resisting Jesus in unbelief. We do well in our lives to pay attention. It’s important to follow Jesus and to trust in Him by faith because there is a final day of judgment when no person can escape the truth. Paul says that every knee with bow and every tongue will confess. For the believer, these things are already happening by faith – as a product of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus. For the unbeliever, they will happen, but not by faith – rather by God’s almighty power. These words are not some grand, utopian vision that all people will be saved and go to heaven regardless of what they believe. Jesus warned with His own words on earth against that false notion many times saying,
·       “He who does not believe will be condemned.”
·       “Whoever does not confess Me, I will not confess before My Father in Heaven.”
·       Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:18)

The moment described here by Paul is a matter of God’s glory at the end. All people will recognize Jesus as King and submit to His authority – some willingly, some unwillingly. This is certainly a warning for us to take Jesus seriously and to take our faith seriously. This is not a game.

But it also reveals that another unobservable aspect of Jesus as King is that He has total control. Total and complete power has always been an illusion for kingdoms of the world. We could debate what earthly authority throughout history has been the most powerful, but one indisputable fact is that total power is unattainable by men. Many have craved it, some have even claimed to have it, but it never sticks. The kingdoms of the world come and go and always will until the end of time.

Many people mock Christ’s kingdom. It seems weak and unstable. The church of today is a fleeting thought in our culture – to many a subject of scorn. Observation says it’s anything but powerful. Yet, Christ is in total control and the day is quickly approaching when all people will observe that.

Part 3: His subjects become like Him

The warning is real and true – but we do not go around preaching only messages of disaster, obedience, and pending judgment. God has given us a better message, and it’s part of His Son’s kingdom – the ability to become like Him. A person cannot become like Jesus by effort or by being forced into it. It’s something only God Himself can grant and He does so through the message of sins forgiven.   

Kingdoms of the world grow their numbers and spread their boundaries by many different means. The Romans of Jesus’ time conquered much of the known world through warfare, but they didn’t exterminate indigenous civilizations. They helped them assimilate into the Roman empire which was really an ingenious method of expansion. Today, the most powerful nations expand their influence by diplomatic means or by extending financial pressure such as trade embargos and tariffs.

An unobservable aspect of Christ’s kingdom is that it is expanded by grace and love – not any threat of military or political force. No one would consider that power could be gained by being self-sacrificial and caring; or by denying oneself for the sake of others. Yet, that’s precisely how Jesus brought the kingdom of God to each believer. The verification of that gift is that God tells that we become like Jesus, as if we are reigning with Him.

2 Timothy 2:12 If we endure, We shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

The way God describes the blessed fact of citizenship in His kingdom is not something that can be imitated or duplicated. Only Christ can offer the ability to reign with Him. What that means is that we are privileged to follow in His footsteps. As one who has been redeemed and cleansed by Christ’s self-sacrificial love, we share that same blessing with others. That’s how the kingdom of God is spread.   

Luther once described it this way:

“As our heavenly Father has in Christ freely come to our aid, we also ought freely to help our neighbor through our body and its works, and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians....
“But alas in our day this life is unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached about nor sought after; we are altogether ignorant of our own name and do not know why we are Christians or bear the name of Christians. Surely we are named after Christ, not because he is absent from us, but because he dwells in us, that is, because we believe in him and are Christs one to another and do to our neighbors as Christ does to us. But in our day we are taught by the doctrine of men to seek nothing but merits, rewards, and the things that are ours; of Christ we have made only a taskmaster far harsher than Moses.”

Palm Sunday is really a fitting day to think of the king of King Jesus is. He rode into Jerusalem on a baby donkey. He had no accompanying warriors or magistrates. He was praised and adorned with shouts from commoners and children. Lowliness was the theme of the day. Yet, the procession was the most important in history. God Himself was going forth to suffer and die – to gain a kingdom like no other. For your blessing and to His honor – Amen.

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