Christ Humbled and Emptied Himself
Topic: Biblical Verse: Philippians 2:5–11
Midweek Lenten Worship
March 4, 2020
“Christ Emptied and Humbled Himself”
The midweek Lenten message each week flows out of and leads up to Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, on April 5, a little over one month from now. The Epistle lesson appointed to be read on Palm or Passion Sunday is the same each year. It comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter two, verses 5-11. This particular passage of Scripture is sometimes called by its Latin name, Carmen Christi, “Hymn to Christ.” There are many who believe that this was actually a hymn within the New Testament church, and it may well be. Regrettably, we do not know what the music to this hymn may have sounded like, but we do have the words of that hymn. As we look ahead to Palm or Passion Sunday, there is a two-fold emphasis that seems to be tension with itself: first, there is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday amidst shouts of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palm branches. But this leads into Passion Sunday which centers on shouts of “Crucify!” and the lengthy reading of Jesus’ Passion narrative: his betrayal, suffering, and death upon the cross. Both of these themes are bound up in this day that ushers in the great and Holy Week. And so the goal of these midweek Lenten services is to help us all enter into Holy Week with deeper gratitude for all that Jesus has done for us. This evening, the first of our midweek Lenten services, begins with these verses: “…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…” (Philippians 2:6-8a). We lift up two words in particular: emptied and humbled. Christ emptied and humbled himself. That becomes the theme for this message. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
It is one thing to humble yourself, but it is another thing entirely to empty yourself. We can and should humble ourselves as needs dictate: admit when we are wrong, apologize for whatever we may have said or done, seek reconciliation. This is true on both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of life. We are called to humble ourselves before God our Maker and Redeemer on the vertical dimension, confessing our sin and seeking his forgiveness. We are also called to humble ourselves on the horizontal dimension before one another, confessing our sins, looking not to our own needs, but to the needs of others (Philippians 2:4), and “so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). We might struggle with that, but it is more than possible for us to live in this manner, with God’s help. But to empty yourself? What does this even mean? The word Paul uses here (εκένωσεν) means to make empty, to make of no effect. When we are told that Jesus emptied himself, it “does not mean that Jesus emptied himself of His deity, but rather He emptied Himself of the display of His deity for personal gain. The word is a graphic expression of the completeness of His self-renunciation and His refusal to use what He had to His own advantage” (Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, Riencker/Rogers. Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, 1980; p. 550). Wow – that is mind-blowing. This means, then, that Jesus had the power all along to show that he was the Son of God. And at times, he did allow this to be revealed in the stilling the storm (Matthew 8:23-27), the feeding the 5000 (Matthew 24:13-21), healing the sick (Matthew 14:34-36), raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17). But Jesus steadfastly refused to use this power for self-serving purposes as he tells us: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
What would the world look like if we started to live as Jesus did – really live as Jesus did? What would our lives look like, what would the lives of others look like, if we humbled and emptied ourselves for others as Jesus did for us? The third of those three traditional Lenten disciplines calls us to do this very thing: prayer, fasting, and works of love. Works of love means more than just throwing money at people. To be sure, we see people walking the median strips at intersections all over the area, holding up signs and asking for money. Do we give them money? How do know this isn’t a scam? What if they use it to buy cigarettes or booze? Emptying ourselves means that it’s not about us; it’s about the other person, regardless of what he or she looks like. But maybe it’s more than money. What if we had no money to give? Does that mean we could not then do works of love? Perhaps something even more valuable than money is at work here. Seeing if there is a way to minister to the other person that involves myself as a person and the gift of hurried time to devote to the other person.
There are always three parts to any sermon: the preaching, the hearing, and the living. How will this sermon, this message on Christ humbling and emptying himself for us and for our salvation, get lived out in our lives? That is the great work that is before us in this first week of Lent. May the Lord open our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds, to the living of his Word that we may humble and empty ourselves for the sake others, as Christ has done for us. Amen.