The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 2, 2023 – Palm/Passion Sunday
Because He loves us, the Son of God descended from heaven to dwell in our midst and to die in our place. Jesus came down an infinite distance to lift us up.
In a blog last year Philip Yancey reflected on the mind-boggling expanse of space. According to scientists, if you had super-human vision, you could hold a sewing needle at arm’s length toward the night sky and see 10,000 galaxies in the tiny eye of the needle. Move it a fraction of an inch to the left and you’d see 10,000 different galaxies. Same to the right, or anywhere else you moved it. There are about a trillion galaxies out there, and each encompasses an average of 100 to 200 billion stars. This earth that seems huge to us is puny compared to the universe.
And so is human existence compared to God’s!
Yet, the God who made a trillion galaxies noticed the mess we little inhabitants of this little planet had made of our lives, and was so bothered by our self-inflicted ruination, that He chose to “con-descend” – that is, to descend to be with us and to save us from ourselves. The Son of God became a humiliated and murdered man. Conceiving how far He lowered Himself thereby is harder than conceiving our becoming microscopic amoebas.
Our scripture today begins by saying that Jesus “was in the form of God”. As we normally use the English word “form”, we might think that suggests Jesus had just the outward appearance of being God. But the original Greek word there is morphe, a philosophical term that conveys Jesus had the essential nature of God. The One who came down was one and the same with God, the text is saying. Yet, this scripture goes on to say, He “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited” or, in another translation, “something to be used to his own advantage”. Though Jesus had all the rights and privileges of God Himself, He let go of enjoying them so as to serve us as we needed. He, this scripture says “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”
Now, in that emptying, Jesus did not empty Himself of His Godness and become less than fully divine. Rather He poured Himself out for the sake of loving us and meeting our desperate needs; He gave everything He had until He had nothing left. That meant that, though He remained omnipotent, He put aside much of His power and knew weakness; that, though He remained all-knowing, He kept Himself in the dark about certain matters; and that, though He remained completely self-sufficient in His divinity, He did not avail of all His immortal independence and underwent dire want such as hunger, exhaustion and loneliness.
So, while Jesus retained access to all His divine attributes, He kept some at arm’s length. He in fact refused, to His disadvantage, to avail of some, and only availed of those whose use worked to our advantage.
In other words, Jesus let go of much of His glory to better serve us. He gave up His standing and entitlements as God’s Son, so as to lower Himself enough to be where we needed Him to be to lift us up with His loving grace.
Thus, in order to rescue us, Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Jesus came down in situation both by what He forsook and by what He suffered: most especially, in the horror of the cross, which represented the just judgment against, and the righteous penalty for, all the evil that’s ever been done.
Oxford professor Richard Dawkins is an evangelist for atheism. He finds what this scripture says absurd. He mocks thinking that the Supreme Being, who devised the laws of physics and mathematics, could not come up with a better way to rid the world of sin than to come to this little speck of cosmic dust and have himself tortured and executed. Dawkins says it does an injustice to the grandeur of the universe to think its creator would bother like that with our small, insignificant planet.
But the Bible says that nothing else could do the job that needed to be done and that God loved us so much that He had to do it.
In his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller notes how it’s impossible to love someone with a serious problem or need without in some sense sharing in their situation, or even changing places with them. All real life-changing love involves some form of a substitutional exchange wherein one person sacrifices something big to do something big for someone else.
Keller illustrates this two ways. First, suppose an innocent man, whom evil assassins are trying to kill, comes to you for help with nowhere else to turn. You realize that if you don’t help him, they will get him; but if you do help him, you – who before were perfectly safe and secure – will be putting your own life at risk. You can increase his safety and security, but only by increasing your danger and vulnerability.
Second, suppose a little child has been entrusted to your care. That child cannot develop into a healthy, self-sufficient, independent adult unless you are willing to give up much of your independence and freedom for years. If you refuse to let the child’s needs interfere with your doing what you feel like, if you attend to the child’s well-being only at your convenience, that child will grow into an immature and unhappy person.
Keller observes that all life-changing love of folks with significant needs involves substitutional sacrifice. We lose something to enable them to gain something. K
Keller then asks, “How can God be a God of love if He doesn’t become personally involved in suffering the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness and pain that we experience? The answer to that question is twofold: First, God can’t. Second, only one major religion ever claims that God does.”
The story of Christianity is that God came down an infinite distance to lift us up. Will you believe it, and help others to? Let us pray!