Sermon for Passion Sunday
April 14, 2019
Emptied that We Might Be Filled
One reason that we confess our faith using one of the three Ecumenical Creeds each week in the Divine Service is that in using those words, we train ourselves, as Christians, to speak with one voice. When we say that God is Father and maker of all things, we use that language that the catholic (universal) Church has agreed that correctly expresses the Faith that is taught and put forth in the Holy Scriptures.
Thereby, when we confess that Jesus is of the same essence of the Father, we are clearly articulating that He is not a lesser being or a lesser god that the God that is from eternity. Likewise, we say that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and made man, we are clear in declaring that He is man just like us and not some other kind of creature, whether newly created or part of the existing creation. We confess as the one holy Christian and apostolic Church has always confessed that, Jesus is both God and man, divine and human, eternal in His divine essence and yet having beginning according to His flesh.
St. Paul highlights an aspect of this thing we call the Two Natures of Christ in today’s Epistle reading as he describes Jesus as being in the form of God and yet not counting equality with God something to be grasped. He is saying that Jesus has the same essential form as the eternal God, or to put it succinctly, Jesus is God. There is no distinguishing the nature of Jesus as the Son of God from the nature of God the Father. They are of the same essence or share in the same divine nature or substance.
And, even though, Jesus is God, Paul goes on to explain that Jesus did not count equality with God something to be grasped. He did not presume to see Himself or consider Himself to be equal with the Father. Instead, He made Himself nothing, that is He emptied Himself, not relying upon His divine nature for privilege or exception. Instead, Paul goes on to say that Jesus actually took the essential form of a servant, that is, a bondservant or slave. It is not just that Jesus emptied Himself of divine status but He took to Himself the humble or lowly status of a slave being bound in service to God and man. In this way He bears the same likeness as the rest of us or another way of saying it is that He became just like us. He is, in every way, just like us but without sin.
In this human nature, He humbled Himself to the point of suffering just like us, in every way like us. He has known every sorrow, every disease, every affliction. He has endured every hatred, every persecution, every punishment. He has done so, by assuming our nature and taking the lowest place among us, such that His sufferings encompass all our sufferings and His punishment all our chastisements. He didn’t just make Himself subject to death, but pursued death upon a cross, a death meant for humanity but subsumed in Himself. He didn’t just suffer at the hands of His fellow men, but in the abandonment of His fellow God. In this way, He has glorified His Father and taken away our disgrace, and for that reason, God has exalted Him and in Him exalts us.
It is not just the name of God at which every knee shall bow but the name of the man who is God in human form. It is of no surprise that God would be praised in every language and that He would be hailed as Lord in every tongue but it is our God who emptied Himself for us and took the form of a servant and retains forevermore the flesh of mankind as His nature that is hailed and glorified and is enthroned in heaven even as He was humbly enthroned upon earth on a cross and even yet here upon this altar.
Along with this fallen creation, we wish to look for a god that is far above and apart from the troubles of this life. The thinking is that a god must be aloof from our turmoil in order to be grand and glorious. And so we also think that such a god’s purpose is to pull us from such troubles and turmoil and to lift us up above the mire. The truth is quite something different, We heard this truth in our reading from John before the procession as the Father spoke of glorifying His name as Jesus spoke of His crucifixion. It is there that the name of God is glorified. There, in the midst of agony and suffering, even abandonment, is the name of Jesus glorified for it is there that He accomplished the will of the Father doing what none other in humanity could do. He pleased God.
Maybe the centurion that oversaw the crucifixion of our Lord, as the rulers scoffed and the soldiers mocked and the criminal railed against Jesus, didn’t understand it all but he did get it right as he praised God, “Certainly this man was innocent!”