Celebrating the Cross (Philippians 2:1–11)

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Tommie van der Walt - 30 March 2018

Celebrating the Cross (Philippians 2:1–11)

Christians speak of Good Friday not because they can sleep in on a public holiday, or take the day off work, or enjoy a long weekend. We call it Good Friday because we celebrate the death—the suffering and crucifixion—of Jesus. But this day marks the dramatic and perfect completion of God’s plan to save his people from their sins, and to restore his relationship with them.

Scripture References: Philippians 2:1-11

From Series: "Miscellaneous"

Sermons in this series are once-off sermons preached by various church members.

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Good Friday. Why is it good? A lot of people will answer saying, because they can sleep in and have a holiday, a day off at work, long weekend. Those are all true, but why is it good for us? Why do we gather on this unique Friday? After all, we are celebrating the death—the suffering and crucifixion—of Jesus. That sounds terrible. And yet the day marks the dramatic and perfect completion of God’s plan to save his people from their sins, and to restore his relationship with them. In order for us to find the meaning of the good news and Good Friday, we first have to understand who we are in Christ, who we are without him, and why we desperately need his work on the cross.

Let’s look at three characteristics of the cross from these verses.

The Harmony of the Cross

First, we see the harmony of the cross.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 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.

(Philippians 2:1–5)

Paul gives four reasons to be united, to have harmony. It’s very closely related to 1:27. He talks about encouragement in Christ, comfort in love, participation, affection and sympathy. Live according to the example of Jesus. He is saying, “If you have experience the benefit of God’s compassion, your desires will be to have compassion one to another, to be tender to one another.” The union they find in Christ will drive them to have union with one another. It is special to see that he writes about the participation in the Spirit. We can’t enjoy harmony and unity when we are outside of our triune God. “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:3–4). Our joy, unity and love for one another can only be completed when there is unity in the Holy Spirit and in the truth of Jesus.

In v. 2, he talks about same mind, same love. This only happens because of the cross. Our identity in Christ and the work he did on the cross helps us to fight our prideful and selfish ways. Pride and selfishness fight unity. His appeal expresses one major idea, namely the unity of the church. The togetherness of souls through the Spirit is expected of all Christians. Paul is strongly emphasising the unity because the unity that should exist between believers will flow into a single mind, striving to advance the gospel of Jesus. Our thoughts and attitudes are the basis of our speech and actions. This truth directs the footsteps of a person’s life. In Romans 12:2 Paul speaks of “the renewing of your mind.” This is how we can be joyful. Renewing the way we think of ourselves in light of what had to happen on the cross, to enable us to be united as believers through Christ and with the Father.

He follows the theme of unity with humility (v. 3). We cannot have unity if there’s no humility. Pride is competitive by nature and tries to lift you above others, so it divides and breeds conflicts rather than harmony. Humility, is to serve, putting others needs before yours. Love is essential for humility—love for Christ and for others (cf. 1 Corinthians. 13:4–5; Galatians 5:22). When humility happens, glorification of Christ flows naturally.

All godly action begins with the renewing of the mind (v. 4). Right thinking produces right actions. Our actions are the fruit of our deepest thoughts. These thoughts and actions aren’t only for an individual but also for the believers’ community. Together we need to think and act like Jesus.

Paul summarises his thoughts on unity in humility in v. 5: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” This addresses the pride that causes disharmony. Paul points to Christ as the supreme example of humility. A choir can sing in harmony because they sing the same song. We are united because we are in Jesus. Let your unity and humility to one another, flow from your life in Jesus.

Thankfulness for the cross will play out in the way we live our lives. We must be firm and quick to spot the telephone pole in our eye, and quick to make favourable allowances for others, which means focusing more on the strengths and gifts of others than on our own strengths. Or focus more on our own weaknesses, failures and limitations—rather than focusing on others’ weaknesses, failures. When we truly believe and know who we are—self-righteous, prideful people—and realise that we need the work that Christ did on the cross, we will understand that we can’t humble, united lives without Christ dying on the cross. Let us focus on the cross and why it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross for us. Let those thoughts drill in deep, so that we will focus upwards and outwards, ministering to others and their needs. To be humble is like dying on a cross. Through selfless acts and speech, we breed unity and joy in the church.

We rejoice because without the work on the cross, we can’t be united with Jesus or one another.

The Humility of the Cross

Second, Paul speaks to the humility of the cross:

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.

(Philippians 2:6–8)

Here is the example of Christ. We see Jesus’ two natures—divine and human. These verses present one of the most significant statements in all of Scripture: the fact that God became man.

Jesus being “in the form of God” (v. 6) means that he is divine. But he takes on “the form of a servant.” He humbly embraced identity as man. Can you remember what happened in the Genesis 3:6? Adam was tempted to become like God and he grabbed it with both hands. Christ, who is God, does the opposite for his people. It’s wonderful to see that Jesus was truly God before he became a human. He existed before the incarnation. Because Christ is God, he didn’t look on God’s deity “a thing to be seized” or “something to be retained,” as though he might lose it. Because he is God, he willingly became a man, knowing that he would not lose his nature as God. Unlike Adam in the garden, Jesus wasn’t trying to become God, neither did he take advantage that was always his. He didn’t exercise his deity at the expense of his people; rather, he exercised his divine privileges for the benefit of his bride.

Christ not only took upon him the likeness of a man, but of the lowest forms of man: a servant (v. 7). We should remind ourselves that Christ wasn’t removing either his deity or his identity as God. Instead, the Son of God added to his person a human nature without surrendering any of his divine nature. The phrase means that he humbled himself, not surrendering his divine being but embracing humiliation by becoming human, but without sin. Jesus became man so that he could identify with human beings (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). The likeness points to Jesus’ willingness to become man to identify with us. It is truly amazing, that the God who created the universe (Colossians 1:16) and who rules over all creation (Colossians 1:17) would choose to add to his person the nature of a servant.

Verse 8 is the key verse. Jesus came as a perfect, humble man. He held all the important characteristics of humanity, but perfect. His humility lad to his obedience—obedience to the Father (Hebrews 5:8). Remember, the wages of sin is death. Jesus was sinless, yet he died for sin—not his own, but our sin. He took it a step further, not just dying, but doing so humiliated, gruesomely cruel and with great suffering on the cross. He didn’t just die. He died a shameful death for offences he never committed. Became a curse in the eyes of everyone because of what the law said in Deuteronomy 21:23.

We celebrate the humiliating suffering and death on the cross of Jesus on Good Friday. It was a death that he never deserved, because it is our sins that he died for. We celebrate because we rejoice in the fact that he was perfect, and he took the blame for us. Because of this act of humility, we should humble ourselves.

We rejoice because, without humility, there wouldn’t have been a work on the cross.

The Honour of the Cross

Finally, we learn something of the honour of the cross:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:9–11)

We see the Father honouring Jesus because of his humbling act, giving Jesus the name above all names. He is worthy to be called Lord. Because he successfully accomplished his mission to bring salvation, his humanity shared in his glory and honour.

The revelation of Jesus as Lord is the sign that “every knee should bow” to offer him worship and that every tongue should praise him as Lord. Paul refers to Isaiah 45:14–25 and Romans 14:11, where the bowing of every knee and the confession of every tongue (v. 23) are directed toward Israel’s covenant with the Lord Yahweh, who alone is God and alone can save (v. 22). Everyone will one day worship Christ, but only those who put their faith in Jesus will have an everlasting relationship with him after death. Everyone—even those who have died—will bring glory to Jesus.

Not only will the knees bow, but all the tongues can’t help but shout out the wondrous praises deserving of a King. It is to the glory of God the Father to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (cf. John 5:23) that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. The father here speaks of the founder of a family or tribe. Jesus Christ is the Son of the Father. So united by the cross with Jesus, we’re part of the tribe of the God the Father. Christ is now honoured to be what he has always been, the true Son of God (1 John 5:20) and is worshiped as the King. We celebrate and praise both Jesus’ humanity Jesus and deity. We do this because, if he wasn’t man, he couldn’t have identified with us. If he wasn’t complete God, he wouldn’t have been perfect and couldn’t die a perfect death on the cross for our sins.

We rejoice because, by Jesus’ death on the cross, we are one with him. This means we will also be honoured with him one day.

So, we need to realise the way the Father’s perfect plan came into the world was to give, not get, sacrifice and humiliation, not taking advantage a position. This is why Jesus came into the world, leading a perfect life, dying on the cross to bear God’s wrath for sinners like you and me. This is the way we are called to follow, dying to self and finding our true identity not in ourselves, but in Jesus. We can only do this because of Good Friday. Because Jesus humbled himself so that we can be in him and do the same. Let us remember that without the death of Jesus on the cross, we would not be able to live. Anyone can die on a cross, but not with a perfect sinless life. Jesus did. To quote C. J. Mahaney: “If there’s anything in our lives as Christians we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel.” The cross is a vital part of the gospel. Let us rejoice in our Good Saviour’s work on Good Friday.