jump to navigation

What a Real Victory Looks Like March 24, 2013

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
add a comment

Philippians 2:5-11

 Palm Sunday

March 23-24, 2013

Focus: God humbled Himself on the Road to victory.

Function: That the hearers humble themselves to take care of each other.

Structure: Controlling Metaphor.

 

What a Real Victory Looks Like

 

There aren’t many people out there who would claim 1861 was a good year for our country.  As blood boiled over, we found ourselves trapped in the midst of a Civil War that would last for four years, four long years of battle, death, burning each other’s food supplies, and more.  We were definitely a young nation facing a perilous time.  And both the Union and the Confederates believed that victory was worth dying for.

In the midst of it all, Congress asked President Lincoln to call for a national day of prayer and fasting.  His words in that speech might surprise you.

Abraham Lincoln said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.  It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

 

Lincoln got one detail wrong.  One other nation has grown in numbers and wealth more than America: God’s chosen nation of Israel.  God, in His promise to Abraham, gave him offspring more numerous than the stars of the sky or the sand of the seashore.  When He freed Israel from Egypt, the people plundered the Egyptians of all their wealth.  The examples abound of God’s compassion and care for His people.

Like America, Israel too, knew the feeling of war.  But, just like the rest of their history, it seems to be a downward spiral.  Israel’s wars started out righteous.  Abraham rescuing Lot.  Israel claiming the Promised Land from the Canaanites and other tribes.  But as time went on, they turned on God and put themselves first.  Pride and greed got in the way.  They had their own civil wars, fighting amongst themselves.  One king, Ahab, directly rejected God’s warning to him not to fight against Ramoth-gilead.  He went anyway and died in the battle.  In the mind of Israel and her kings, the spoils of victory were worth dying for.

But where does it all lead?  What do you really accomplish in these “victories”?  What’s left in the end?  Most Americans think the Civil War was fought over slavery, but in reality, it was a battle over states’ rights.  Have we really achieved that unity?  Whispers of a new secession from the union still pop up from time to time.  And 38 states have seen resolutions demanding the federal government to stop interfering and respect their state sovereignty.

And what of Israel, only to be led off into captivity by Assyria?  And the Assyrians were demolished by Babylon.  And Babylon fell to Persia, Persia fell to Greece, Greece to Rome, and Rome to the Germans, and so forth and so forth.  Is victory really worth dying for?

Israel continued to hope in God’s Word to them.  They looked to the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament.  They truly believed that He would spell an end to their suffering.  They thought He would come as a conquering King, laying waste to opposing nations, leaving His enemies bowing at His feet.  Even some Jews to this very day cling to the hope of a messiah who will reunite Israel as a nation once again.

And then this Man appears, a Man named Jesus, capable of healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead.  Surely, this must be Him, this must be the Messiah!  This is the One who has come to set us free.  Imagine Palm Sunday.  Imagine the crowds and the disciples gathered in Jerusalem as Christ came riding the colt of a donkey, a sign of peace.  This is the King we’ve been waiting for.  Surely this will be the victory worth dying for!  Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!

Yet, within the week, this Christ was dead…

The world of His disciples, of Israel, was turned upside-down.  The One they thought would be their Messiah had been killed.  The crowds disappeared, the followers scattered, and the disciples went into hiding.  How could this be?

God’s ways are not our ways.  The King that He prepared for them did not match their idea.  But that didn’t mean He wasn’t their King.  Paul tells us about this Jesus in our epistle today.  He tells us how Jesus is God.  But, even though He’s God, He gives it up.  He gives up the power and the prestige and takes on the flesh of man.  He emptied Himself, He humbled Himself, and became a servant.  He obeyed the will of His Father and He rode that colt into Jerusalem knowing full well what was coming.  He knowingly went to the cross.  In God’s plan, Jesus knew that this was the victory worth dying for.

But why?  Why did He die?  And how was this Man’s death a victory?  Even Peter didn’t know how it all fit together.  Acting in his own defense, his own self-interest, fighting his own battle, he denied Christ three times.  As do we.

Like America and Israel, we have our battles that we are willing to die for.  As a church, we’ve fought so bitterly amongst ourselves that many people today claim that they want nothing to do with “organized religion.”  They’re moving toward being spiritual without church.  In LCMS circles, we’ve seen church after church destroyed by their own infighting, whether it’s music wars, politics, money, or whatever.

As Christians, as a community of believers, we constantly find ourselves battling against pride.  We are so self-centered that we cringe at the sight of the underprivileged.  Like Israel, we fail to care for the widows, the orphans and the homeless.  We are so self-centered, that we lock ourselves inside of our homes each and every day, seeking our own little haven of entertainment and privacy, so much so that we no longer know who our neighbors are; we no longer engage them in their lives, in their battles, in their grief, or even in their joys.  We are so caught in a battle with busyness that we walk past hundreds, if not thousands of people on any given day who don’t know their King.

We pick our battles.  And we really must think they’re worth dying for.  Because it’s called sin.  Sin is our turning away from God, seeing ourselves as more important than Him.  The punishment for sin is death.  The Bible is quite clear on this: the result of our sin is death.  Is this battle of pride really worth dying for?

This is actually Paul’s point.  The gist of our reading today is that Christ humbled himself to the point of death.  But again, our pericope reading system has let us down.  The text began: 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”  What mind?  What is Paul actually trying to tell us?  We pick up a little earlier:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phi 2:1-4 ESV)

 

In humility: Paul is telling us to humble ourselves like Christ.  How do you look at the world, at others, at yourself?  How do you live your life?  Think of your schedule and the things you do on any given day…are you putting others before yourself?  Are the people around you more significant than you?

Did you hear that?  Life isn’t about you!  We are to look after each other and care for everyone around us.  We are to put the interests of others before ourselves.  Paul is calling on us to live together as a real community, to help those who are in need, to comfort the grieving, and to support and encourage the broken.

Before His death, Christ told His disciples, that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  Brothers and sisters, Christ is that grain of wheat, falling down out of heaven, dying to restore God and His creation, bringing us back together again as a family.  His death takes our place.  And His resurrection gives us life again.

Paul is calling on us to be a family, to be brothers and sisters in Christ.  Because after Christ’s death on the cross, He rose again.  And God has lifted Him up and given Him the name that is above all names, that every tongue will confess and every knee will bow before their King.

On a wall near the main entrance to the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, is a portrait of a man with this inscription underneath: “James Butler Bonham–no picture of him exists. This portrait is of his nephew, Major James Bonham, deceased, who greatly resembled his uncle. It is placed here by the family that people may know the appearance of the man who died for freedom.”

 

James Bonham, along with the others at Alamo, gave their lives for each other and for their people.  They gave their lives for a victory they thought was worth dying for.  That victory came a couple of months later for Texas.  But like any other battle, the victory is temporary.

But there is a battle that isn’t temporary.  There is a war going on with everlasting consequences.  And on one side, there is a King.  A king who humbled Himself, who laid down His life for His people.  Through His death and His resurrection, you are part of God’s family.  And that is the victory worth dying for.