Sermon – Palm Sunday – "He Made Himself Nothing" – Philippians 2:5-7 – 4/17/11

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'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 made himself nothing.'

When St. Paul writes, 'have this MIND among yourselves,' he's referring to that inner compass that sets the course and direction for our life. Paul says that our 'inner compass' is to be set so that it points in the same way as the 'mind of Christ.' Because, after all, the mind of Christ is pointed to true north. The course of His life is in perfect alignment with the will of God. Every other course in life than this one is off course. To be off course from the course that Christ is on, is to be 'lost.'

Paul details the course that the mind of Christ follows so that we may set our minds to the same coordinates. 'He made Himself NOTHING.' Now that's a strange course in life to take. But what makes this course toward NOTHINGNESS really strange is His this life begins. 'He was in the form of God and did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.' He who is everything and has everything, 'emptied Himself' of everything and became NOTHING.

Let's be sure we understand what Paul is saying here. He is NOT saying that Jesus had it all and lost everything due to unfortunate circumstance beyond His control. Or that the stock market took a totally unexpected crash and He lost everything that He had. Or that someone robbed Him of everything He had including His reputation.

No, Paul is saying, this was the MIND OF CHRIST. He who had everything and who is everything, set His MIND on a course to become NOTHING. 'He MADE HIMSELF nothing.' That's purposeful, deliberate, intentional. And perfectly obedient to the will of His Father.

What parent's will for their child is that they would become NOTHING? Yet, this was the Father's will for His only, dearly beloved Son. And the Son testifies, 'I and the Father are one.' The Son has the 'SAME MIND' as the Father.

So, where is your mind? What is your 'mindset.' To what do the coordinates of your 'inner compass' pointing you?

St. Paul says, 'Have this mind among yourselves…' and then he points us to the mind of Christ, who made Himself NOTHING. Is that the direction and the goal you've set for your life? Do you have the mind of Christ?

The attitude that characterizes the mindset of this generation is not the mind of Christ. Our minds are set on 'self-improvement,' 'self-gratification,' 'self-advancement,' 'self-esteem,' 'self-preservation.'

Our minds are set on making SOMETHING of ourselves, not on making ourselves NOTHING. We make the decisions and choices that we do based on how we will benefit. How will it benefit me? How will I grow from this? How will this make me a better person?

Instant gratification is preferred. We like to be rewarded in a timely fashion. I'll wait if I have to. But it better be 'worth the wait.' We'll sacrifice and suffer, but not for nothing. There better payoff eventually. Isn't that what the Scriptures say, 'suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.' (Rom.5:3-4). See, it's not for NOTHING.

Even our 'self-denial' is for 'self-improvement.' Lent is all about 'self-denial.' For 40 days and 40 nights, we deny ourselves things like chocolate, ice cr??me, caffeine, alcohol. Why? Because it's good for us. We need to loose the weight and cut back a bit.

We don't even serve others for NOTHING. We serve because it's good for us. We gain the experience. It looks good on the resume. It helps our children appreciate what they have. There's always a personal benefit. It's never for NOTHING.

We carry this same mind that we have towards ourselves and towards one another right over into our attitude towards God. We pray for a raise and a better job. Then you'll be able to support the church. If you believe and know how to do it you too can be healed, you too can be set free from your addictions, you too will prosper. Joel Olsteen preaches that if you really believe, you can life your best life now.

All this is great psychology and sociology, but it is not Christianity because it does not have the mind of Christ, 'who made Himself NOTHING.'

Christ did not 'consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.' But Adam and Eve did. They 'grasped' at the chance for equality with God. And so do we. Christ our Lord had equality with God firmly in His grasp, but He let it go and became NOTHING.

And 'NOTHING' does not mean a little SOMETHING, or less of the SOMETHING that I am, or than I have the right to become.

'NOTHING' means nothing followed by nothing, not something. It's not Lent that is followed by Easter, but Lent that is followed by Lent. NOTHING means, one cross after another, after another, after another, after another… with no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, no reward or payoff in the end. 'NOTHING' is all giving and no receiving. All self-sacrifice for no personal benefit.

'Have this mind among yourselves that was in Christ Jesus, who made Himself NOTHING.' Standing before the cross of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, we see the One who did not benefit from His humiliation. He did not empty Himself for Himself.

He who is the righteousness and holiness of God, chose to become the sin and the condemnation of God. He who IS LIFE and the GIVER OF LIFE chose DEATH. He who is ALL IN ALL made Himself NOTHING.

Christianity is no more a religion of self-improvement than it is of self-righteousness. Before the cross, we all fall short of the selfless humility of God. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. The cross leaves us all naked and terribly ashamed. In the face of this divine self-denial, all of our denial of self evaporates into thin air.

In seeing Christ crucified, we see ourselves as we really are. We do not MAKE OURSEVLES NOTHING. We are NOTHING. Standing before the One who emptied Himself, we see how full of ourselves we really are. We still want to be like God and make SOMETHNG out of NOTHING. Something that only God can do.

Crucifixes remind us of what we would all rather forget. We don't want a crucifix on the altar ' it's too graphic. We want a cross without a crucified Christ on it. An 'Easter Cross' is okay but not a 'Good Friday Cross.' That makes us uncomfortable. It does nothing for our self-esteem. 'Where you there when they crucified my Lord'? 'No, but if we were, we'd have joined with all the others who were and shouted, 'let Him come down from the cross and we will believe in Him." (Matthew 27:42). What a waste. He had so much potential.

But He remains on the cross. Even in heaven, He is the Lamb who was slain. Even in heaven there will be no escape from this crucified Christ.

The cross is the winnowing fork that separates the wheat from the chaff. Here's where the good fish and the bad are sorted out, one from the other. The cross of Christ makes either believer or unbeliever. It is either the 'cornerstone' or the 'stumbling stone.' The Pharisee fixes his eyes on others and thinks he's doing just fine before God. The tax collector fixes his eyes on the cross and can't stand himself and pleads for God to be merciful.

I know that we think that personal success or personal tragedy will bring a person to faith in Jesus Christ. It never does. The surge in church attendance after 911 lasted about one month. Unbelievers who inherit great fortunes don't run to church to give a tithe in thanks to God. Miracles have never created faith in the heart and they never will, no matter how hard we pray.

The rich man in hell cried out to Abraham to warn his brothers to repent and believe. But Abraham answered, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.' (Luke 16:25). The Roman soldiers and Jewish authorities all knew that the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive, but they still would not believe. An Easter Christian is no Christian at all.

Christ crucified makes Christians, not Christ raised from the dead. The cross is where we see the love of God poured out upon our pathetic lives for nothing ' for we do not benefit Him. The cross is where we see the Son of God empty Himself for nothing ' for you and I do not add anything to who He is.

The reading of the Passion of our Lord that we just heard, stopped with the crucifixion and burial of Christ. That's enough. Three days before the His resurrection, Christ declared, 'it is finished.'

Lent is not the time it takes to get ready for Easter. Lent is the end in itself. It brings us to the cross. And we dare not rush on past it because it makes us uncomfortable or strips us of all of our 'dignity,' and 'self-worth' and makes us feel ashamed.

For here, hanging from nails and mocked by all who pass by Him, we see Jesus, our precious Lord and beautiful Savior, who made Himself nothing and entered into the nothingness of our lives so that in Him we may find meaning as nothing else has meaning. Here, hanging from the accursed tree, we see our beloved King, who has entered into our self-made hell to bring us into the heaven that He has made for us to live with Him forever. Here, the Son of God makes Himself nothing, and in His nothingness, we have everything.

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