Why did he do that?

What ever possessed her to do that? What was in his mind when he did those things? Sometimes we ask that kind of question when something awful has happened; perhaps when a family member has ended a long-term relationship or engaged in some criminal activity. Yet we might just as well make the same enquiry if it was something amazing such as a generous gift or a stunning act of bravery.
Paul writing to the Philippian Christians urges them and us to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2.5) He goes on, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to give us an idea of what was in the mind; the heart of Jesus himself as he made his way to the cross; what possessed him to allow himself to be arrested, tried and condemned when he could have just walked away as he had done before. (Luke 4.29-30) What was it that kept him on the cross when he could have fallen to the temptation to ‘save himself’ (Luke 23.35-38)
Paul probably adapted these words (Philippian 2.6-11) from a hymn of the early church written as they came to realise the true nature of Jesus. He was and remains in nature in form or essence God yet what they had seen was one who did not want to make capital out of his unique oneness with God. In the wilderness, he is tempted to make stones into bread, to fling himself off the pinnacle of the temple, to rule the whole world; but no says Paul here. His mind rather was set on emptying himself; making himself a servant. The word used is that for a bond servant, or slave; doulos. Such a one became the property of his owner and surrendered all his rights. He had to be obedient to his master.
For Jesus, this meant that even though he was God, he appeared in human likeness; he was found in human form and as a human being, he humbled himself. Both the word emptied and the word humbled are reflexive verbs in the original Greek meaning that this emptying and humbling was his own personal decision. He, as a slave, becomes obedient to his father to death…even the death on the cross. Crucifixion was the most barbaric and degrading way to die which the Romans reserved for those who were not citizens of the Empire. Jesus’ mind is set; set on the emptying and humbling of himself as his personal choice wanting nothing more than to obey his father.
Put like that, it can sound as though God is cruel and vindictive allowing his son to go through with the cross to make a point. We must be careful here that we understand the whole of the bible as its own interpreter. Jesus was in very nature God. God does not take someone other than himself to bear the consequences of the sin of the world. He himself is in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5.19) As Christian people, we must uphold the belief that Jesus is God, set out so eloquently for us in this ancient hymn quoted by Paul. It is only when we do this that the true wonder of the cross and its costliness in terms of emptying and humbling is understood. It is only Jesus who is good enough to pay the price of sin. (Cecil Frances Alexandra ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away)
Intellectually, we are on the edge; our minds struggle to grasp the full significance and enormity of Jesus’ death on the cross. What really was in his mind? As Charles Wesley puts it: ‘ ‘Tis myst’ry all! th’ immortal dies: who can explore his strange design?
He follows it up with the line: ‘Tis mercy all! Let earth adore, let angel minds enquire no more.’ (Charles Wesley ‘And Can it Be’)
And so, we shall enquire no more this morning but trust in that mercy for our forgiveness, healing and wholeness. We can however know something of our own minds. As we prepare again for Holy Week and contemplate the path of Jesus to the cross starting with the palm waving of today, may we have the same mind as Christ that empties and humbles ourselves in the service and love of our God who redeems us in the cross and exalts Christ to the place of highest honour and pours on us the fruit and gifts of his Spirit.
Palm Sunday 14th April 2019 …a short sermon following the Lukan passion narrative.

Rev'd Jonathan Smith

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