Sermon: In Life and In Death

[This sermon is part of a series on the Apostles’ Creed. It may be helpful to read the creed and the exposition of it in the Heidelberg Catechism Q31-32, which were read responsively before the sermon.]

You are walking down the street when a stranger comes up to you and asks one question: “I see you wear a cross. What does it mean to be a Christian?” You are sitting at coffee on a Friday morning, reminiscing about the glory days of farming, when someone breaks down and says, “I know you go to church, what does Christian believe anyway?” Your child comes up to you one night and says, “I know I am a Christian, but what do we believe?”

In these situations, each of us would have an answer. The question is not whether we would answer, but whether it is a true answer, a good answer. Part of the purpose of the Apostles’ Creed is to help us answer that fundamental question: What do Christians believe? Arising from the teaching of Scripture, the Creed marks some answers as wrong: Christianity is not about God making you wealthy because you have enough faith. The Creed also marks some answers as true, but incomplete: Christians believe in God, but the Christian belief is richer and more details than a belief in a generic God. The Apostles’ Creed does not say everything Christians believe, but it summarizes the core of the Bible’s message. And the core of that core is Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection. Last week, we focused on who Jesus is, our Savior, God with us. This week we will focus on his life and death. What does it mean that Jesus lived and died for us?

That brings us to Philippians chapter 2, verses 1-11. Philippians 2, 1-11. Philippians is in the New Testament – Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians. As always, you are invited to grab a Bible from the pew in front of you if you did not bring your own and leave it open as we read and study God’s word together. Philippians 2, verses 1-11. But before we hear God’s word, please take a moment to pray with me:

Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s word.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,

if any comfort from his love,

in any fellowship in the Spirit,

if any tenderness and compassion,

then make my joy complete by being like-minded,

having the same love,

being one in spirit and purpose.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,

but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests,

but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,

who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

and being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself,

and became obedient to death,

even death on a cross.

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place,

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord

to the glory of God the Father.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God (You may be seated)

Introduction

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the central claim of Christianity. Jesus’ death was considered foolish by the Greek Gentiles who first heard it. It was a stumbling block to the Jews believing Jesus was the true Messiah. The Christian claim about what happened as Jesus hung on the cross was so shocking that people either rejected it wholesale or had every aspect of their life changed.

Jesus died in our place

In a few short verses, Paul narrates the most pivotal event in human history. The Son of God came down in the flesh and died a shameful, cursed death on a Roman cross. Equal to God in nature, power, and dignity, he left behind his privileges to enter into the womb of a virgin. He made himself nothing. He emptied himself by veiling his glory under human flesh. But when the Son of God assumed human nature, he did not come into a royal palace, surrounded by servants and sycophants. Instead, he was born humbly, a child in a manger, among the animals. He lived in obscurity and then humbled himself even deeper. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, was rejected, mocked, beaten, and bruised. Jesus Christ had nails driven through his hands and feet. He hung on a wooden cross – shamed and in agony – until he breathed his last and died. This bloody event is the turning point in the history of the whole world.

Why? Jesus’ death on the cross erased the debt we owed by taking it upon himself. Listen to verse 8: and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus is God himself, humbled to die in the place of sinners. Jesus submitted to death. The rest of us have no choice but to die. The wages of sin is death, Paul says in Romans. We don’t have a choice but to face death at some point. But Jesus, the only person who never had to taste death, chose to enter death for us.

Imagine you are renting an apartment that you cannot pay for. Not only can you not pay the rent, but you are having wild parties in the apartment and have left holes in the walls, stains on the carpet, and significant damage to the kitchen. Every month you get deeper and deeper in debt and there is no way you can get out from under it. On top of that, your actions only make it worse. Then someone knocks on your door, he says he has paid your back rent and will repair the walls, floor, and kitchen.

That is our life. God calls for us to love him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yet, we do not. We do not give to God the love and faithfulness he asks for. Not only that, we destroy the good things he has given us. The grand experiment of the melting pot of American society has become a boiling cauldron of hatred, pride, and selfishness. “What about me” has become the rallying cry of our moment. Marches, murder, disrespect, indifference, and greed dominate the world we live in. Our small corner of Iowa is not immune. Our hearts are not immune. My own heart is not immune. We build fences of exclusion in our small towns. We love our own, but find it too easy to shame and shun the outsider, the different. Or we do not want to ruffle any feathers, so we stay silent. We cannot pay the rent and find ourselves punching holes in the walls.

God does not abandon us this situation. He comes himself in Jesus Christ, pays our debt and restores what is broken by dying in our place.

Jesus erased our debt by taking it upon himself. Our sins deserve death and Jesus took that death sentence upon himself. The innocent one died in place of the guilty to wipe away our sin. In Jesus Christ, there is a wonderful exchange. We receive his innocence and he receives our guilt. He takes what is ours, what we deserve, and we receive what is his, what he deserves. He receives our shame and our death. We receive his honor and his life.

Not only that he died, but how he died was for us. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus died on a cross. Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” By Jesus dying hung from a wooden cross, he died as one cursed by God. He died as one cut off and cast out from the presence of God. He did that for us. He took on the curse so that we might receive forgiveness, blessing, and reconciliation. The fact that Jesus died a cursed death was why the crucifixion was such a stumbling block to the Jewish people believing in Jesus. How could the chosen one of God die cursed by God? His death on the cross should be a sign that he was not God’s messiah, they thought. But instead, Jesus took on the curse, took on our debt, took on death itself on the cross in order to fulfill the promises God made long ago. In the cross, the curse pronounced on Adam and Eve finally falls upon Jesus Christ. In the cross, the curse of those who abandon the one true God and break his commandments finally falls upon Jesus Christ. In the cross, the weight of debt of our sin falls upon the shoulders of the Son of God and he pays it all. He died in our place and our sins were forgiven.

Jesus lived in our place

Jesus not only died in our place, he lived in our place. He not only died the death we should have died, but lived the life we should have lived. Verse 8: and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and become obedient to death, even death on a cross. The Son of God left his lofty position, shed all his privileges, and took on flesh. And it says, he humbled himself and became obedient to death. More accurately, he became obedient to the point of death. He was obedient to God all the way up to and including his death. Jesus’ whole life, from his conception to his death, was lived in obedience to God.

Jesus was not only innocent, but righteous. Someone who is innocent has done nothing wrong. Someone who is righteous has done everything right. If all we needed was an innocent one to die in our place, then what was the point of the thirty-three years Jesus lived on the earth? Was he just biding his time waiting to die? No, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. He lived a fully obedient life. Jesus is completely innocent, he has done nothing wrong or unfaithful to God. He never sinned. But not only that, Jesus completely fulfilled the righteous commands of God’s law. Jesus died the perfect death, but he also lived the perfect life. We need both for our complete salvation.

Let’s go back to the analogy of renting an apartment. We have a huge debt that, out of love, Jesus comes and pays for us. Without this, we are sunk forever. But we still have next month’s rent we cannot pay. And the month after that, and after that. Even with our debt cancelled, we still owe what we have always owed. In a similar way, even if Jesus forgives the debt of our sin, we still owe God obedience and faithfulness. We are still commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The command to follow God wholeheartedly does not go away just because the debt of our sins does.

Without Jesus’ life, we would be left on our own. And if left on our own, we would be back in debt again and again, always unable to do what God requires. Without the perfect life of Jesus, our past debt may be gone, but we are still stuck with the bill of obedience. Without the life of Christ, he does not truly save us. He would have merely set us back to square one, where we would have to save ourselves by walking in righteousness and obedience to God. Without Jesus’ life, the debt may be gone, but we are stuck with the rent.

Instead, Jesus does everything for us. He died to pay our debt, and lived to give us his righteousness. Jesus’ obedience is for us too. We need not only Jesus’ innocence as he died in our place, but his righteousness as he lived in our place. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Jesus’ life of perfect obedience offered to God what is demanded of us. Jesus loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus loved his neighbor as himself. Jesus himself said, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Jesus kept every command of God and he did it for us.

Jesus not only died in our place, he lived in our place. He died the death we should have died and lived the life the should have lived. In doing so, he erased our past sins, wiped our slate clean. He also has secured our future, giving us his perfect life so that we stand not only innocent, but righteous before the Father. As Herman Bavinck put it, “Christ’s entire life and work, from his conception to his death, was substitutionary in nature.” In his life and in his death, Jesus saves us completely.

Now, we can live in step with him.

How do we respond? If Jesus has done everything – lived in our place and died in our place – what are we to do? Throughout history, some have heard the gospel message of the complete salvation found in Jesus Christ and believe that it leads to immorality and laziness. Jesus did everything, so I do not have to do anything. I can live and do whatever I want, Jesus has me covered. The opposite should be true. It is not that God did everything so that we can do nothing, but God did everything so that we can, finally, become something. His grace should lead to our gratitude. The cross that won our salvation should also shape our lives.

Remember why Paul is telling the story of salvation to the people at Phillipi. verses 1-5:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,

if any comfort from his love,

in any fellowship in the Spirit,

if any tenderness and compassion,

then make my joy complete by being like-minded,

having the same love,

being one in spirit and purpose.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,

but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests,

but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,

The life of Christ – his servanthood, his humility, his obedience – should stir our hearts to follow him and walk as he walked. In a church struggling with disagreement and division, Paul calls for people to be united in purpose, love, and in the Spirit. He calls for them to be one, not because they think exactly the same thoughts all of the time, but because they have humbled themselves like Christ. In humility, the church is called to view others more highly than themselves and to look to each others interests. This should be our life because of what Christ has done.

Hearing the message of the gospel should lead us to humility and service. Knowing the depths to which Jesus humbled himself to win our salvation, should lead us to be willing to humble ourselves in how we treat each other. Knowing how Jesus lived a life of self-denial, where he poured out his life to benefit others, including dying for them, should lead us to put the needs of my sister or brother ahead of my own.

We live in a world of fragile egos. Five minutes on the internet will tell you how self-centered, defensive, and vindictive we can be. Selfish ambition and vain conceit run rampant through our homes, schools, businesses, and government. But friends, it should not be this way among us. We know the love of Christ. He died the death we should have died and lived the life we should have lived. He humbled himself to depths of death for us. He let go of his own interests for the sake of ours throughout his life and in his death.

Therefore, we should be people who find no need to defend ourselves from every slight and attack, but model humility and love. We should be who are not self-centered, but servants of all. In sum, because Christ lived and died for us, we can live and die Christ-like for others.

May our humble service be part of our witness to the Christ who lived and died for us. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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