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Bible Passage: Philippians 2:5-11
The Christmas season is known by our church as the season of Advent. Just as the ancient Israelites eagerly awaited the Incarnation of Jesus, we look back on it, but we also look forward to the second coming of Jesus.
During Advent, most Christians focus on the events surrounding the birth of Jesus – the baby in the manger. But this year, I wanted to take the opportunity to do something a little different. We are going to spend this time Exalting Jesus. Specifically, we are going to study an important, but often neglected, doctrine found in the Bible – the exaltation of Christ.
My goal is simple. As we celebrate Christmas this year, I want us to be focused, as a church family, on the glory of Christ Jesus. We will look first at Philippians 2:5-11.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We see the word “exalted” used by the Apostle in verse 9 and it may help for me to define that word. Exalted means to be honored, praised, or lifted up.
We see this in the world of sports. When someone makes the winning goal or basket or some other play that secures victory for their team, very often the team or the fans will rush the player, lift them up on their shoulders, and carry them around in celebration.
That’s what being exalted means and Paul says that Jesus has been exalted by God the Father. He’s being lifted up in three ways.
First, he’s been given a name above every name. You might quickly assume that he’s talking about the name Jesus, because of how verse 10 is worded in English. But notice Paul doesn’t say at the name Jesus… he says at the name “of” Jesus. He’s talking about the name God gave Jesus in verse 9, a name Paul doesn’t mention here. It’s a name that belongs to Jesus.
But there’s only one name it could be – and that name is YHWH, the covenant name of God.
Here’s why I believe this:
“I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other.” – Isaiah 42:8
“That they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.” – Psalm 83:18
“To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance. Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me…” – Isaiah 45:23
Anytime you see the word “LORD” capitalized, that’s actually the covenant name of God in Hebrew – YHWH. That’s the name above every name and that must be the name God has given to Jesus.
To help us understand, it might be better to think of it as a title. In the military, they use ranks with the highest rank being a General. Only .3% of all soldiers in our military receive that rank, making it a very high honor. Only one person in the military bears the title “Commander in Chief” – the President. But God has given Jesus a title that only One person in the universe deserves.
As a side note, this is one of the most obvious places to confirm that Jesus is, in fact, God.
Second, Paul says that God exalted Jesus so that He is now worthy of praise from all creatures in heaven and earth. Everything that exists was created to worship Jesus.
I heard someone on the radio talking about the end of the Alabama / Ole Miss game last week. It was a close game down to the last minute. When Ole Miss lost, the cameras showed the reactions of people in the stands and the guy on the radio said it looked like everyone’s grandmother just died. No one celebrated.
But Paul says that everyone will worship Jesus – including His enemies. To put that in perspective, if Jesus is the guy who scored the game winning touchdown, what the Bible says is that even the other team would be cheering for him! That’s what this means.
Third, by being exalted, God has placed everything under the rule of Jesus. That’s what it means to bow the knee to a king.
There is not an inch of this universe that doesn’t belong to Jesus. He owns me, he owns you, and everything you will ever see, touch, taste, hear, or smell. It all belongs to Jesus!
And that’s what it means that Jesus has been exalted. He’s been given the highest title. Even His enemies will praise Him. Everyone and everything will submit to His rule.
But why did God exalt Jesus? According to Paul, God exalted Him because Jesus humbled Himself.
There are a lot of misconceptions about what this means, so let me be very clear. Jesus did not stop being God, nor did He become a lesser version of God. Jesus remained fully God, but He also became fully man.
Notice that Paul uses the word “servant” or “slave” to describe what Jesus became, and that’s what Paul means when he says that Jesus “emptied Himself”. He voluntarily chose the form, or the position, of a servant.
Jesus chose the lowest title. He voluntarily allowed His enemies to crucify Him. He voluntarily allowed people to mock His kingship with a crown of thorns. They lifted Him up, not in celebration but to torture and ridicule Him.
This is the heart of the Christmas Story – God came down to dwell among us. Humble beginnings and a humble end.
I want us to compare that picture of Jesus, setting aside His rights and His position voluntarily, to the way our world encourages us to self-exaltation.
We receive a lot of pressure to make a name for ourselves. We want people to look at us and notice us. We want to be liked. We want approval and recognition. We want to be pretty, or smart, or strong, or athletic, or talented.
This starts at a very young age, and we start to believe that we are responsible for making ourselves valuable or worthy. It’s up to me and if I believe I’m doing a good job, I feel pride. If I believe I’m doing a bad job, I feel shame.
And I want us to see that the message of the culture is the opposite of the Gospel message. Paul says to us, “Have this mind among yourselves.”
This is a good place to mention that Philippians is an encouragement towards unity in the body of Christ and this is Paul’s central argument. Pursue unity by having the same humble mentality as Christ.
Stop comparing yourself to other people. Stop trying to make a name for yourself. Become a servant. Let yourself be humiliated, if necessary, for the sake of other people. That’s how unity is forged.
Most importantly, Paul says this mindset already belongs to us “in Christ Jesus”. He’s talking about our union with Christ.
Because of the relationship I already have with Jesus, I don’t need to make a name for myself. I don’t need to get God’s attention or earn His favor. I already have it in Christ.
We’ve all seen little kids jump off a diving board to try and impress their parents. What do they say? “Mommy, daddy, watch me!” And then they jump in. Nothing fancy. Just a jump and a splash. But the parents watch right? And unless they are terrible parents, they will say to the kid, “Great job!”
If we are children of God in Christ Jesus, then He is watching and He loves us and it doesn’t matter if we make a big splash. That’s all the approval we really need… the approval God has already given us in Christ.
Listen to what Paul says in the very next chapter – Philippians 3:
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
If Paul wanted to exalt himself, he had all the bragging rights of his people.
7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish,
That’s a polite English word, but probably that word in Greek means “manure”. Paul’s best works are counted as dung when compared to Christ. I count them as manure, Paul says,
in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Union with Christ in His righteousness. Union with Christ in His resurrection. Union with Christ in His suffering. Union with Christ in His sacrifice. And then he ends the chapter like this:
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
If Jesus is exalted and I am somehow tied to Him, united to Him by faith, then I don’t have to work to be exalted. I have nothing to prove. In Jesus, I will share in His inheritance. And that’s a promise found on nearly every page of the New Testament.
And if that is true, then all of my desires, all of my ambitions are a waste of time unless they are defined by God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Give me Christ, the exalted King!