Humility: Christ Humbled
Today is Palm
Sunday. I know that you
know today is Palm Sunday. The children have processed into our
sanctuary, waving their palm branches and pine branches. The
congregation has processed and received your palm crosses that you
use as book marks and stick conspicuously behind a picture frame on
the wall. The palm cross is a silent reminder that you are a
follower of the cross. Today, as part of our Palm Sunday
celebration, Jesus has ridden in on a Presbyterian donkey with the
children shouting “praise God.”
Why do I know he is a Presbyterian donkey? Because the donkey
belongs to a Presbyterian family.
We have sung the
great Palm Sunday hymn, “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name, let
angels prostrate fall, bring forth the royal diadem and crown him,
Lord of all.” From
that triumphant hymn, we focus on the phrase, “all hail the power
of Jesus name, let angels prostrate fall.”
At the hearing of the name of Jesus, all the angels in heaven
fall on their knees in adoration. The name of Jesus is above every
name, is greater than every name, and is grander than every name.
Christ is King over the universe, and Palm Sunday celebrates his
On Palm Sunday, in
every liturgical church in the world, the Scriptures for Palm Sunday
are read. The classic
Scripture from Philippians 2 is read during the service:
“For Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be
grasped, but he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant, being
perfectly obedient until death.
Therefore, God has exalted him above all others and bestowed
upon him the name that is above every name.
That at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven and
earth. At the name of Jesus, every tongue will confess that Jesus
Christ is Lord.”
Why did God exalt Jesus Christ to be king? Why is it that at
the name of Jesus, we and all heavenly angels are to fall on our
knees? At the name of Jesus, we are to lift up our hands and say,
“Jesus Christ is king.” Why? What did Jesus do that was so utterly important?
What did Jesus do that placed him in such high esteem before
all angels and all people?
Was it because of
the quality of his miracles? Was it because he was so magical?
Because he was the Happy Houdini of the Holy Land? He walked on
water. He turned the water into wine. He raised Lazarus from the
dead. Because Jesus was
the best miracle worker who ever lived, God has exalted Jesus and
made his name greater than all other names. Is that the reason why
God exalted Jesus? Or…
Is it because Jesus
was raised from the dead? Never in the history of the world have we
ever seen a person raised from the dead by the victorious powers of
God, who came back from the dead, who came back to life in a
resurrected form. Because
God used his power and raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead,
therefore God has exalted him above all others.
Isn’t that right? Or…
Is it because Jesus
had some divine connection? Maybe
it was because he had a divine nepotism.
God is his father. Jesus is the divine kid. God had this
special Son, and because the Son was so special, being of the same
nature and substance of the Father, therefore God exalted him above
all others. Is that why God has so exalted Jesus?
Why did God exalt
passage for today is very clear.
The Bible says, “Christ did not count equality with God a
thing to be grasped, but Christ humbled himself, taking the form of
a servant and was perfectly obedient unto death. THEREFORE, God has
exalted him above all others and has bestowed on him a name higher
than any other name. That
at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
NOT because Jesus
was some miracle worker, a happy Houdini from the Holy Land.
NOT because he was raised from the dead by the powers of God
and appeared in a resurrection body.
NOT because of some divine connection that Jesus was the Son
of an Omnipotent God. Why was and is Jesus exalted above all people?
Why? Why? Because Jesus
was the most humble person who ever lived. For he did not count
equality with God a thing to be grasped but he took the form of a
servant, walking the path of humility and obedience. THEREFORE, God
has exalted him above all names on earth.
It seems to me that
there is a saying of Jesus that occurs more than any other saying.
Repeatedly, Jesus said, “He who exalts himself will be humbled,
but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This teaching about
humility is used some five or six times in the Bible. If Jesus’
teaching about humility is mentioned in the Bible some five or six
times, don’t you think that the teaching is very important? I do.
Another teaching of Jesus is
this: “If anyone would be my disciple, let him pick up his cross
and follow me” That
teaching occurs some six or seven times, and therefore it too is
very important. But there is still another teaching of Jesus that is
repeated even more often: “The person who would be first will be
last; and the last will be first.” That saying is found all over
the New Testament. The person who is at the foot of the table will
be moved up to the head of the table.
He who humbles himself will be exalted; the person who exalts
himself in this life will be humbled in the next. … What I am
suggesting to you is that Jesus’ important teaching about humility
is repeatedly laced throughout the whole New Testament.
It was on Holy
Thursday and Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.
As he washed the disciples’ feet, Jesus said that the
greatest person in the Kingdom of God is the humble servant. Jesus
took the towel of a servant girl and washed the disciples’ feet.
The big disciple, Peter, said, “No, no, no.
It is not right for you, our master, to wash my feet.”
Jesus said to Peter, “If I cannot wash your feet, you cannot be my
disciple.” Peter said, “Wash all of me. My feet, my legs, my
heart. Wash all of me
that I may be your humble disciple and do what you are doing.” And what was Jesus doing?
Doing the job of a servant girl.
On his knees, washing and wiping his disciples’ feet.
Who had ever heard of such a thing from a master? Who had
ever heard of such a thing from a king? Washing his disciples feet.
What an absurdity.
So I ask you the
question again: Why is it that Jesus is exalted above all others? Why? At the
mention of his name, every knee on earth and in heaven shall bow.
Why? Because of his miracles? No. Because he was the Son of God? No.
Because of his divine connections? No. But because he humbled
himself and walked a life of humility and obedience.
God wants us to
have that same quality as well, to have this same inner attitude
that he does. It is not only Jesus, but we ourselves are invited to
possess this same quality. Humility is the highest virtue in the
mind of God.
from Philippians comes from a larger section in the Bible. Listen to
the Bible verses immediately prior to the appointed reading for this
morning: “Do nothing
from selfishness or conceit. But
in humility, count others better than yourselves.
Look not to your own interests but look to the interest of
others. Have this attitude among yourselves that we find in Christ
Jesus. … For Christ
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but Christ
walked the path of humility and obedience therefore God has highly
exalted him.” So you
can see from this Bible passage that a virtue that pleases God
immensely is humility and humble obedience. According to God, the
most important quality in Jesus was humility.
According to Jesus, the most important virtue to be found in
us is humility. Do
nothing from conceit. Count others better than yourselves. Look not
to your own self-fulfillment but the interest of others.
Live a life of humility.
have many buyers today. Humility
doesn’t have many takers at all. We live in our American culture
that says, “We’re number one. I’m number one. We have the
number one basketball team; the number one baseball team; the number
one musician; the number one choir; the number one artist.” Our
American culture infests and infects our hearts, saying that we have
to be number one. The best actor. The best athlete. The best
whatever. “Get the gold in the Olympics. Who remembers who came in
It is not only
being American that puts pressure to be number one. It is also part
of our human nature. You and I struggle with trying to elevate
ourselves above the next person. We take our brains, our
intelligence, our gifts that God has given to us and we often use
these gifts to be better than other people around us.
There is a human tendency to elevate ourselves above others,
and we use God’s given gifts to do this.
And so within our
American culture and within our human disposition, humility does not
have a lot of buyers today.
I ask you to use
your imaginations again. Who
is a person that you know who is really humble? Who is that person
who comes to your mind? A person who does not elevate himself or
herself above others? Who
is such a person in your mind?
Abraham Lincoln is
often selected as being the greatest giant of our presidential past.
When people make a list of the greatest American presidents who ever
lived, Abraham Lincoln is most often on the top of the list.
Why is that? Because of his legislative accomplishments? No.
Because he had the longest term of office? No. Because he was
assassinated? No. Because he was opposed to slavery? No. I believe
that Americans are attracted to a special quality of personality in
Abraham Lincoln; there was an unusual quality of humility to him.
Humble Abe. Modest Abe. One historian said about him:
He stood tall, but he didn’t stand above other people.
You need to hear that line again: he stood tall but not above
people. That is what we
are called to do. There
is something very attractive to this quality of humility in Abraham
Lincoln, and it is this quality of humility that has raised his name
above all other names of American presidents.
Another person who
“stands tall but not above others” is Nelson Mandela of South
Africa. We admire that
Mandela stood up against apartheid. We admire his twenty-seven years
in prison. We admire
the quality of forgiveness he has demonstrated for his torturers. But it is when you hear him speak, with that softness and
gentleness of voice, that you become captivated by him. The
gentleness of Mandela’s personality is one of the most attractive
in the whole world. You
see, there is this quality of humility that is very attractive to
the human spirit, and his name is mentioned above all others
presidents in the world today because of this humble gentleness of
spirit. He stands very tall, but he is very common and humble.
Cliff Lunde was my
bishop. I really
appreciated Bishop Cliff Lunde and so did many other pastors.
All of us loved his gentle spirit.
He could have used his office as bishop to pretend that he
was bigger and more powerful and more important than the rest of us,
but he never did. He was one of the most unassuming, humble spirits
I ever met. He never
lorded it over another person.
I remember him coming into our sanctuary one midweek
afternoon, and several of us were working on a play.
He was driving past our church and just felt like stopping
in, to see what was happening.
No advice. No power plays. No pomposity. No big shot
feelings. Just another human being, a fine Christian, a fine as
Christian as you would ever find.
The word most universally used to describe him was humility.
He died much too young, of a massive heart attack, while bishop. I always feel that if you have one fine bishop in your
lifetime, you are lucky; and my life was most fortunate to know and
appreciate the life of Cliff Lunde. You see, on the deepest level,
humility is enormously attractive. Like the historian said, he stood
tall but not above others.
I thought of many
people in our congregation. In fact, I went through our pictorial
directory, and so many faces and names jumped out at me. I hesitate
to mention any names because these people would be embarrassed.
There are so many in our parish who possess this inner quality, the
highest virtue of God.
None of us are
attacked to people who are conceited and full of themselves.
In your imagination, would you think of a person or persons
who are conceited, who puff themselves up and think they are better
than other human beings? It is often more difficult to come up with
such faces in our minds, but we do.
When we think of a person who is conceited and puffed up and
putting themselves above others, they are not usually likeable
people. In fact, they are often insecure people, with deeper
feelings of inferiority that they are over compensating for by
projecting an image of superiority. I doubt that any of us are
attracted to conceited people.
None of us are
attacked to people who are essentially selfish, who think about
themselves first on almost all occasions, who worry about what they
are going to get out of it, who want you and everyone else to spend
time and energy on their lives. The Bible lesson for today says that
we are to do nothing from selfishness or conceit. I am suggesting to
you that selfish people are not enormously attractive to us. They may have more charm, more intelligence, more
personality, but if the emotional glue that holds their personality
together is an essential selfishness, we don’t want to be like
that person. On the other hand, a Mother Teresa is recognized the world
over because of her selflessness. Her name is exalted above all
other names on earth because she embodies the opposite of
selfishness. She is totally selfless in her giving to others, and in some
small measure, we want to be like her.
And so on this
glorious Palm Sunday morning, we sing the hymn with gusto and feel
the words to the song: All hail the power of Jesus’ name, let angels prostrate
fall, bring forth the royal diadems and crown him, Lord of all.”
Jesus said, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
whoever is humble, will be exalted.”
It is one of those strange paradoxes about life that a person
gradually learns is true. Amen.