by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Sermons from Seattle
Scripture: Phil. 2:5-11
Today is Palm Sunday. I know that you know today is Palm Sunday. The children have processed into our sanctuary, waving their palm branches and pine branches. The congregation has processed and received your palm crosses that you use as book marks and stick conspicuously behind a picture frame on the wall. The palm cross is a silent reminder that you are a follower of the cross. Today, as part of our Palm Sunday celebration, Jesus has ridden in on a Presbyterian donkey with the children shouting “praise God.” Why do I know he is a Presbyterian donkey? Because the donkey belongs to a Presbyterian family.
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 triumphant 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 every liturgical church in the world, the Scriptures for Palm Sunday are read. The classic Scripture from Philippians 2 is read during the service: “For Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, being perfectly obedient until death. Therefore, God has exalted him above all others and bestowed upon him the name that is above every name. That at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and earth. At the name of Jesus, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Why? Why did God exalt Jesus Christ to be king? Why is it that at the name of Jesus, we and all heavenly angels are to fall on our knees? At the name of Jesus, we are to lift up our hands and say, “Jesus Christ is king.” Why? What did Jesus do that was so utterly important? What did Jesus do that placed him in such high esteem before all angels and all people?
Was it because of the quality of his miracles? Was it because he was so magical? Because he was the Happy Houdini of the Holy Land? 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. Isn’t that right? Or…
Is it because Jesus had some divine connection? Maybe it was because he had a divine nepotism. God is his father. Jesus is the divine kid. 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, a happy Houdini from the Holy Land. 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 an Omnipotent God. Why was and is Jesus exalted above all people? Why? Why? 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 the 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. He who humbles himself will be exalted; the person who exalts himself in this life will be humbled in the next. … What I am suggesting to you is that Jesus’ important teaching about humility is repeatedly laced 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 girl 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 girl. 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 absurdity.
So I ask you the question again: 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: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit. But in humility, count others better than yourselves. Look not to your own interests but look to the interest of others. Have this attitude among yourselves that we find in Christ Jesus. … For Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but Christ walked the path of humility and obedience therefore God has highly exalted him.” So 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-fulfillment but the interest of others. Live a life of humility.
Humility doesn’t have many buyers today. Humility doesn’t have many takers at all. We live in our American culture that says, “We’re number one. I’m number one. We have the number one basketball team; the number one baseball team; the number one musician; the number one choir; the number one artist.” Our American 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 being American that puts pressure 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 American culture and within our human disposition, humility does not have a lot of buyers today.
I ask you to use your imaginations again. 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?
Abraham Lincoln is often selected as being the greatest giant of our presidential past. When people make a list of the greatest American presidents who ever lived, Abraham Lincoln is most often on the top of the list. Why is that? Because of his legislative accomplishments? No. Because he had the longest term of office? No. Because he was assassinated? No. Because he was opposed to slavery? No. I believe that Americans are attracted to a special quality of personality in Abraham Lincoln; there was an unusual quality of humility to him. Humble Abe. Modest Abe. One historian said about him: He stood tall, but he didn’t stand above other people. You need to hear that line again: he stood tall but not above people. That is what we are called to do. There is something very attractive to this quality of humility in Abraham Lincoln, and it is this quality of humility that has raised his name above all other names of American presidents.
Another person who “stands tall but not above others” is Nelson Mandela of South Africa. We admire that Mandela stood up against apartheid. We admire his twenty-seven years in prison. We admire the quality of forgiveness he has demonstrated for his torturers. But it is when you hear him speak, with that softness and gentleness of voice, that you become captivated by him. The gentleness of Mandela’s personality is one of the most attractive in the whole world. You see, there is this quality of humility that is very attractive to the human spirit, and his name is mentioned above all others presidents in the world today because of this humble gentleness of spirit. He stands very tall, but he is very common and humble.
Cliff Lunde was my bishop. I really appreciated Bishop Cliff Lunde and so did many other pastors. All of us loved his gentle spirit. He could have used his office as bishop to pretend that he was bigger and more powerful and more important than the rest of us, but he never did. He was one of the most unassuming, humble spirits I ever met. He never lorded it over another person. I remember him coming into our sanctuary one midweek afternoon, and several of us were working on a play. He was driving past our church and just felt like stopping in, to see what was happening. No advice. No power plays. No pomposity. No big shot feelings. Just another human being, a fine Christian, a fine as Christian as you would ever find. The word most universally used to describe him was humility. He died much too young, of a massive heart attack, while bishop. I always feel that if you have one fine bishop in your lifetime, you are lucky; and my life was most fortunate to know and appreciate the life of Cliff Lunde. You see, on the deepest level, humility is enormously attractive. Like the historian said, he stood tall but not above others.
I thought of many people in our congregation. In fact, I went through our pictorial directory, and so many faces and names jumped out at me. I hesitate to mention any names because these people would be embarrassed. There are so many in our parish who possess this inner quality, the highest virtue of God.
None of us are attacked to people who are conceited and full of themselves. In your imagination, would you think of a person or persons who are 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 attracted 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. The Bible lesson for today says that we are to do nothing from selfishness or conceit. I am suggesting to you that 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 recognized 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 is 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.
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Sermons and Commentaries for the Palm Sunday
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