Live Like No One Else (March 25, 2018)
Live Like No One Else
I always love Palm Sunday, don’t you? After 5 weeks of muted services during Lent, and meditating upon Jesus humility and upcoming passion, we finally get to let ‘er rip! “All glory, laud, and honor To you, Redeemer, King, To whom the lips of children Made sweet hosannas ring” (CW 131). We get to sing that as the children march around the sanctuary waving palm branches of victory! And this isn’t just something we do to celebrate the day in the 21st century. We are imitating the praises sung by those long ago who celebrated their king, the long awaited Messiah riding into Jerusalem. “Hosanna!” they cried! “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted (Mk 11:9)! I think a big part of our excitement is that Jesus is finally getting what he deserves! After taking on flesh, after living a humble life, after being rejected in his own hometown, rejected by the religious leaders, finally he was getting the praise and recognition he deserved! Although we could never match the full glory he deserves, it’s a great start!
We like it when someone gets what they deserve right? Actually, it’s funny because this goes two ways. On the one hand, we are relieved when someone finally gets caught and punished for their wrongdoings. “He got what he deserved” we say, right? And yet, on the other hand, we like it when we finally get some recognition for all the good things that we’ve done! It could be for something as simple as doing the dishes or taking out the garbage every night, to something bigger like all the time and dedication we’ve put into our work.
But today I want to challenge you to put all that aside. Don’t worry about what each person deserves. Don’t worry about receiving recognition. I want you to simply live your life like Jesus lived his – loving God and loving each other. I want to challenge you to live like no one else. In fact, it’s not just me who wants you to do this, but the apostle Paul and God himself, for his word says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Php 2:5).
Let’s take a look first at what Jesus had going for him, and how he used that in his life. Jesus is, by his very nature, God (Php 2:6). Through him all things were made (Jn 1:3). He had authority over all things in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:18). He had all glory (Mt 25:31), and honor, and power. Things were great for Jesus in heaven! But when he saw that the crown of his creation, humankind, had gotten themselves into a lot of trouble – had sinned against him and made themselves his enemy – he didn’t give them what they deserved. Instead, he became one of them – he became one of us. And yet, even becoming fully human didn’t mean that he became less God. It didn’t diminish in any way his power, or glory, or honor. It was all still there. We get a glimpse of it when he was transfigured and allowed his disciples to see the glory and power which was still right there. The humility comes from the fact that although all of that was still his and still fully accessible to him, he chose not to make full use of it for your sake.
As a modern-day example, I have a friend who lives in the U.S. but has family in Cuba. And he explained that whenever he goes to visit Cuba, he is very careful what he wears and how he presents himself. He doesn’t wear his best clothes. He doesn’t wear name brands. Instead, he leaves those at home and wears simple, plain clothes so that he blends in and doesn’t look like a “rich” American. All his clothes are still his. All his money is still his. He just choses to set them aside for a time.
Every time Jesus performed a miracle and used some of his divine power, he did so to serve others. He fed others, and yet didn’t turn stones to bread for his own sake. He healed others, and yet allowed himself to be beaten, and whipped. He even saved some from physical death, and yet did not save himself from death.
Even here, on Palm Sunday, while the whole crowd is upholding him and rejoicing he is still humble. This is nothing compared to what he truly deserved. He enters into Jerusalem on a young colt, not a mighty stallion of a victorious general. He is accompanied by common people – men, women, and children – not 12 legions of angels, or even a battalion of soldiers for that matter. In all respects, he looked like just any other common man. The only thing that really set him apart was the praises that the crowd was shouting. And yet, even with that he knew…. He knew that in only a matter of days, many in this very same crowd would be shouting, “Crucify him, Crucify him!” He knew, as we just sang, that he was riding on to die. You would think that in this moment he would give in, at least just a little bit. You’d think that he would want to give them a little show, or raise his hands and hear the crowd shout even louder. You’d think he would want some recognition, some sliver of what he really deserved before he laid down his life for these people. But, “Being in very nature God, [he] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, [something to be exploited,] but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Php 2:6-8).
You can almost feel Paul taking you down the steps of his humiliation. He took on human nature. He humbled himself in life. He even humbled himself by dying. And if that wasn’t far enough, he goes one step lower – “even death on a cross.” Do you know what God himself says about death on a cross? In Deuteronomy he says, “If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse” (Deut 21:22-23). He had everything going for him – all power, all glory, all honor – and yet he chose not to exploit that power to save you. He went so far to save you that he even died in your place in a manner that was cursed by God! He lived like no one else ever could. And he did it to save you.
In this light, first understanding the lengths God went to save you, unfathomable love and service, God then urges you to do the same. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Php 2:5).
Now, to really understand what God is asking, to understand the difficulty of Paul’s words in this letter to the Philippians, you have to understand a little about Philippian culture. Philippi was the site of the battle in which Brutus and Cassius, who had led the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar, were defeated by Mark Antony and Octavian, who later became Caesar Augustus. Soon after that battle, Philippi was made a Roman colony, and Mark Antony settled some of his veterans there. Augustus continued this policy of settling retired veterans in Philippi, granting them plots of land for their service. In Paul’s day, Philippi was the leading city of one of the four political regions of the old Macedonian empire. In this city, honor had more value than money. It was a status driven culture, and although there could be some movement up between the classes, the strata were pretty much locked. So, by urging them to have an attitude like that of Christ Jesus, who humbled himself to serve others and did not exploit the honor that was rightfully his, Paul was preaching a very counter-cultural message. Especially if you look back a few verses where he says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Php 2:3).
How does that message sound to our ears today? Is it as counter-cultural in our day as it was in Paul’s day? My gut reaction was, “Of course not! Especially in our circles, we are pretty humble people.” But then I began to think otherwise as I evaluated some of my relationships. How often have I done the dishes just so that I could be off the hook the next time around? Actually, the better question would be, how often have I not done the dishes because I think I’m so busy all day and deserve some time to rest. In how many of my relationships do I keep this mental scorecard making sure things stay fairly even? Why should I do this for her if she never does anything for me? Why should I forgive him if I’ve spent years being devoted to him?
What if our Savior thought that way? How much time has he spent devoting himself to his relationship with you? Far longer than you have even been alive, I’ll tell you that much! How much has he done for you, what lengths was he willing to go to just to have you safe with him? “Even death on a cross!” And yet we still fall into this mindset with God of what we deserve from him and from others. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (Php 2:5-6).
Jesus is a huge example to live up to. Who could ever do it? He lived like no one else could, that’s exactly the point! How can we? Thankfully, you don’t have to. Not to earn salvation at least. Because Christ did all of this to save you from every time you fell into the worldly trap. Christ died for every time you sought to serve only yourself. And that sinful, self-satisfying part of you died with him, and dies with him every day again and again because you have been baptized into his death. Now your fate is vastly different. “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Php 2:9), so that no one could dispute your salvation. Not Satan, not your own guilty feelings, not anyone! Therefore, we gladly exalt him as our Savior and serve him out of thanksgiving for all that he has done! “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” (Php 2:10-11).