We have been
served well by six brands of car. Last year when we were looking for
a new car I asked our mechanic at Forrest Beach his opinion of cars
these days. He mentioned his preference and then said,
“Really, there’s not a lot to pick between them!”
I think that’s
how many folk sum up all the available religious gurus. People may
have their favourites, but “really, there’s not a lot to
pick between them!”
So some may take
offence at the claims we have been talking about over the past two
weeks. Jesus claimed that there is only one way to come to the
Father and he is that Way. Peter asserted that the name of Jesus is
the only name by which salvation is possible for anyone. Because of
this we insist that the distinctive of true prayer is that it is “in
the name of Jesus”, whether that phrase is used or not. That’s
not just a personal preference – some quirky Christian
“thing”. If there is no other way to access God, no
other approach is true prayer at all.
In Philippians 2
Paul notes a number of commendable things he observes among the
Philippian believers. He wasn’t confronting the threat of
false teaching as he had in Galatians and Colossians, nor the
excesses and divisions that existed among the Corinthians. This
letter is marked by warmth and encouragement. Our Christian life
centres on Christ, and it is important that we humble ourselves,
that we consciously allow Jesus Christ to be the Lord of our lives –
Jesus who has given us the supreme example of humility.
Verses 6 to 11
may have been an early Christian confession or hymn. It begins with
Jesus’ glory and ends with his glory and in-between gives the
picture of his self-humiliation.
“being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped” (v. 6). “Being in the form of
God” as the King James put it – these words point
clearly to the eternal pre-existent nature of Christ Jesus. He was
always part of the Godhead.
not robbery to be equal with God” in King James – the
Greek word refers to an act of seizure or grasping, which is why the
King James has “robbery”. He didn’t hang on to all
the prerogatives that were part of his essential being. Instead, he
“made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness” (v. 7).
How would you
tell which is Jesus in a crowd? Look for a glow of light around his
head? No, the halo was added by Christian artists somewhere in the
fourth century. However, there was no external “thing”
that distinguished Jesus from other men.
nature” of God... the “very nature” of a
servant... – the same Greek word is used. “In human
likeness” doesn’t mean that Jesus only looked like a
man. He was in every way a man. And so, as we read in Hebrews 4.15,
he was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was
Not only did he
empty himself and become a man, but, “being found in
appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to
death – even death on a cross!” (v. 8). The word used
doesn’t mean that he obeyed death, but that he was obedient
“right up to the point of” death.
Think of Jesus’
prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, “My Father, if it is
possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as
you will” (Matthew 5.39). Or Peter, speaking to the crowd on
the day of Pentecost, “This man was handed over to you by
God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the
help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross”
(Acts 2.23). The prophetic words about the suffering Servant in
Isaiah 53.10, “Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him
and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an
offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand”.
of Jesus was the most dastardly human act, the biggest miscarriage
of human justice, the most deliberate rejection of God, the most
unforgivable human sin... It was all of that, but that wasn’t
all of what was happening. Remarkably, we hear Jesus on the cross
saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they
are doing” (Luke 23.34). Peter, speaking to the crowd that
gathered after the healing of the cripple, “Now, fellow
Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders”
(Acts 3.17). It didn’t look like ignorance. It looked like
full-blooded, calculated rejection. Yet God was fulfilling his will
for the salvation of all humankind – sinners all!
God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is
above every name...” (v. 9).
Christ Jesus had
“emptied himself” – “made himself nothing”.
He had laid aside his heavenly glory and prerogatives. He had
“humbled himself” – obedient right up to his death
on the cross. Now we have his exaltation. Paul doesn’t give a
time-frame, but possibly at his ascension – forty days after
the resurrection – risen, ascended and glorified.
exalted him to the highest place” – super-exalted him!
He couldn’t be more exalted. Only God has the right to exalt
him to the highest place. And that “highest place”
includes all that he forewent in his self-emptying and
self-humiliation. The Son of God had cried in desolation on the
cross, “ My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matthew 27.46, from Psalm 22.1) and was now restored to fellowship,
dignity and honour alongside the Father.
But of course
there’s more to it! “It is finished!” (John 19.30)
wasn’t admission of defeat, but an affirmation of “mission
accomplished”. The Greek word translated “It is
finished!” (tetelestai) was written on business
documents or receipts in New Testament times to indicate that a bill
had been paid in full. Something has come to an end, has been
completed and accomplished in full.
To expand the
quote from Hebrews 4 – “Therefore, since we have a great
high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,
let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a
high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we
have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are –
yet was without sin” (vv. 14-15). So the “name above
every name” (Philippians 2.9) is clearly the name of Jesus –
who always had the very nature of God, made himself nothing, took
the very nature of humanity, humbled himself, was obedient to the
point of death on a cross, now exalted to the highest place...
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” (vv. 10-11). Strikingly, these
verses take up words directly from the Greek translation (LXX) of
Isaiah 45.23 where God says, “To me every knee will bow and
every tongue will confess to God”. That’s Yahweh
speaking (LORD in four capitals). By New Testament times the divine
name was no longer pronounced for fear of taking it in vain. They
substituted the name Adonai, Lord. Written Hebrew was all
consonants. A number of centuries AD, a group of scholars called the
Massoretes devised a system of little symbols above and below the
letters to indicate the vowels. Every time four letters for Yahweh
appear in the text they added the vowels for Adonai –
to remind them to say Adonai when they came to it in the
text. If you try to pronounce this combination, it makes a very
un-Hebrew word “Jehovah”. The incredible thing that is
happening in Philippians 2 is that words applied in the Old
Testament to Yahweh (Jehovah God) are applied to Jesus. “Jesus
Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.
Jesus said, “I
am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father
except through me” (John 14.6). As Peter said, “
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under
heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4.12). It
is on that basis that Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you
the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name...
Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John
Human history is
littered with the names of many people – religious leaders,
generals, kings, emperors, philosophers, scientists... Some of them
have graves that attract tourists, admirers, followers... Some are
still alive with ambitious plans to rule the world – or
perhaps even to save it.
is only one who is truly and rightfully Lord – Jesus! –
designated, not by ballot or opinion poll, but by God himself with
the name that is far above every other human name.
remember what was on the news or who was on the horizon at the time
in 1992, but I was driving from Buderim to Brisbane. I began singing
these words over and over –
Jesus is Lord!
Jesus is Lord!
that Jesus Christ
Amid all the competing claims for our allegiance, there is only one
true Saviour. No human action is going to “save the planet”.
The root problem has nothing to do with global warming, cooling,
climate change or whatever. It has to do with a human race that is
out of relationship with our Maker. It has to do with human sin and
our need for forgiveness and restoration.
Amid all the
competing claims for our allegiance, there is only one true Lord –
only one who is worthy of that title.
In the simple
words of the song we sang with the children, is he “the Lord
of me”? If so, then live it out and spread the word!
© Peter J Blackburn, 23 October
2011, Edmonton Uniting Church
Except where otherwise
noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version,
© International Bible Society, 1984.