Glory to God in the Lowest…and Highest

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It’s possible that more doctoral theses, exegetical studies, and heartfelt sermons have been centered on Philippians 2:5-11 than any other text in Scripture.

That’s because the apostle Paul’s inspiring summary of the life of Jesus alludes, in the span of just seven verses, to the four most important days in human history:  Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and the Ascension.  No other Bible text can make such a claim.   

Paul begins with the Incarnation – God’s mind-bending decision to rescue humanity by actually becoming a member of the human race. 

He writes concerning Jesus in verses six and seven, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.  Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

Christmas is our annual opportunity to explore the myriad deep meanings of that decision.  Sometimes we overlook an important one:  The Incarnation (“taking on flesh”) is God’s enthusiastic thumbs-up regarding human bodies.  Many of us are filled with angst concerning what we look like (or what we don’t look like).  But Christmas is the proof that, in God’s mind, human bodies are a gift and not a curse. 

Gloryto God in the lowest:  Jesus was willing to become just like us.

But let’s face it: His birth wouldn’t have merited as much as a second thought except for what we learn in verse eight: “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” 

Jesus came into the world as a baby, but not in order to remain a baby.  The culmination of his life and ministry was to surrender his life in order to eradicate our sins.

More than a hundred years ago, King Menelich of Ethiopia learned that America had invented a remarkable new instrument for capital punishment.  It was called the electric chair.  Wanting very much to keep pace with the times, Menelich ordered two of them.  There was just one problem.  Ethiopia had no electrical power grid.  Ever the practical monarch, Menelich decided to utilize one of the chairs as his throne. 

The king literally ruled from an instrument of death.

So it is with Jesus.  All authority on heaven and earth belongs to the King of the Cosmos because he gave his life for us. 

That brings us to verse nine: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place” – this One who had descended to the lowest place is now elevated to the place of greatest honor by means of his resurrection and ascension – “and gave him the name that is above every name.”  Four great past events – Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and the Ascension – are spotlighted back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

So what about verses ten and eleven? 

Those speak of a future event – one that will represent either the greatest moment or the worst moment in your spiritual history.  Paul says, “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.”

Every knee will bow before Jesus.  Every human voice will shout, “You are the king!”  For some of us, that will be our most eagerly anticipated get-to.  For others, it will be our most painfully difficult have-to

This remarkable text first alludes to Christmas.  We look at a child born to an unwed Jewish peasant girl and ask, “Isn’t he adorable?”  But the story of Jesus was always meant to take us to the place where we might say, “I choose to adore him.”

British theologian C.S. Lewis suggested that the more we ponder what Jesus has done, the more likely we are to enroll as one of his lifelong learners.  Concerning the “Great Descent” of Philippians 2 he wrote:

Or one may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanished, rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to color and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing that he went down to recover. He and it are both colored now that they have come up into the light: Down below, where it lay colorless, in the dark, He lost His color too.

Glory to God in thelowest:  God’s own Son entered “the death-like region of ooze and slime and old decay.”  That’s where we live. 

Why did he do it?  His intention was to recover a certain “dripping, precious thing.”  That’s you.  And me

Which is why the soaring finale of our text is glory to God in thehighest

That’s the story of Jesus.

The story of God doing whatever it takes to bring us to himself.