In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What does God think? There are all sorts of people claiming to give you insight into what God thinks, what God wants, what God is doing. But, frankly, if you want to know what God thinks, there’s only one place to find it out: in the events that we celebrate this week. What does God think? Follow Jesus from the gates of Jerusalem; to the temple; to Bethany; to the upper room; to the Garden; to the courtyard of the high priest; to the judgment seat of Pilate, to Herod, and back to Pilate; to the cross; to the tomb; to the tomb without a stone in front of it and without a body within it. And you can superimpose Paul’s words in Philippians 2 over the top of Matthew 26-27, or over the top of any of the other Gospels, and they line up perfectly. These are God’s thoughts; this is what God says; this is what God does.
Think like this, Paul says. Like Christ does. How does Christ think? He doesn’t think that the glory, the exaltation, the honor, the Lordship, is something to be grabbed, seized, stolen. That’s exactly what the devil tempts Him to do: to grab His divinity as the Son of God for His own and change stones into bread, or jump from the temple, or bow down in order to get the kingdoms of the world and their glory. But the Son, in the form of God, sharing in the essence of the Father, refuses to do that in His flesh. He doesn’t exalt Himself in the flesh; He humbles Himself. He rides a donkey into Jerusalem—humbly. He allows the betrayal, the arrest, the beating, the mockery. He humbles Himself all the way down to death on a cross. There probably is no more humiliating way to die than to be executed on a Roman cross: to hang naked alongside the road, a criminal, to be spit upon, mocked, and to die. But this is the humility of God. And then the Father exalts Him: He raises Him from the dead, and raises Him to the highest place, in His flesh. He reunites God and Man and the Name of this one who is God and Man is Jesus, at whose Name everyone will one day bow.
These are the thoughts of God. He thinks them and speaks them and does them, all in the body of this man, who is contradicted and opposed at every point by those who are thinking the things of people rather than the things of God. And Paul says, think like this.
The Lutheran astronomer and theologian Johannes Kepler said that he was trying to think God’s thoughts after Him. This is certainly true of the scientist who believes God is the creator of all that exists. But it is also true of every Christian: to think God’s thoughts after Him; to speak God’s words after Him; to do God’s works after Him. This week we see God’s thoughts, God’s words, God’s actions. Think like this. Think the same things together. Have the same love for one another. Live in the same Spirit. Humble yourself. Consider others as surpassing, as more important, as more significant than yourself. Is any one of us more important than another? Is any one of us more significant that another? Is any one of us better than another? No. Of course not. There is no one righteous; not even one. We have together become worthless. We stand before God—no matter who we are—in exactly the same position: as beggars before our Lord. Do we have any right to the things of God? Can we grab at the glory of God? Can we seize His mercy from Him and take it for ourselves? If He doesn’t give us mercy and life, how will we get it from Him? Instead, He gives freely to all. His death is for all sin. His life is for everyone, or it is for no one. His forgiveness is free because of what He paid, not because of what we have done or left undone. He gives salvation and forgiveness to one as to another.
If Jesus, who is so high above us and so much greater and so much more significant than we are humbled Himself—to the point that He does not come to be served, but to serve us sinners—how can we do less for each other, who stand in exactly the same position before God in Christ as any other? Think like this. Explain everything in the kindest way. Put the best construction on everything you hear and see. Assume the best, not the worst, about people who share in the love of Christ with you. It is a command of God Himself that we build up rather than tear down; that we forgive, or simply let some perceived slight go, for the sake of Christ. In the same letter, Paul exhorts Euodia and he exhorts Syntyche to think the same in the Lord. Think like this in the Lord. The one Lord, who gives us the one faith and the one baptism, who brings us to the one God and Father. We do not agree or think the same because we can convince the other person to come to our side, but because we all submit to the one Word of the one Christ.
God help us this week and always to think God’s thoughts, to speak God’s words, to do the loving works of God, to serve rather than seeking to be served. God help us as we follow the paths worn by the feet of Jesus, until we are humbled even to death and God Himself raises us up by the power by which He raised up Christ.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/6/17