Descending to Ascend
by Jack Wald | April 15th, 2018

Philippians 2:5-11

In the sermon last week I talked about God’s concern and Paul’s concern for unity which is a major theme in Philippians as well as the whole of the Bible. I talked about interpersonal relationships and used the analogy of interconnecting hotel rooms with two doors that can be locked. When a family or friends book the two rooms, the doors can be open and people can go back and forth without having to go into the hotel hallway.

When there is a dispute in a relationship and someone slams their door shut and locks it, and we respond by shutting our door and locking it, then, later when the other person opens their door to renew the relationship, they will find our door locked. So I said we need to choose to keep our door open so if the other person ever opens their door they will find us open to renewing the relationship.

There were a couple concerns that arose from this sermon and let me address them before we move along into the passage for this morning. First, I was talking in the sermon about interpersonal relationships, not larger issues of social injustice. The illustrations were all about interpersonal relationships. I urged us in the grievances and disputes we have with each other to let the offense go.

Secondly, the analogy of the interconnecting rooms has two parts to it. When I keep my door open, that is forgiveness. I need to forgive and not hold on to an offense. The second part of the analogy is reconciliation and that requires that the person who shut their door also forgives. If the prodigal son had come back to his father and asked for more money since he had spent all he had, the parable would have a different ending. It is because the son came back in repentance that the relationship could be restored.

When I keep my door open in relationships, it does not mean that I have trust in the person who shut the door on our relationship. My door is open but I am waiting to see in what way the other person comes back to me.

If I go to the zoo and get too close to the lion’s cage so that my hand gets clawed, I can forgive the lion but the next time I come to the zoo I will not get so close to the cage. In order for the friendship to be restored, to be reconciled, there must be forgiveness and repentance on both sides.

The larger point of the sermon is that in our relationships we are to follow the example of Jesus and that is where we come today.

Paul begins by saying (Philippians 2:5–11)
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

One of the reasons people acted strongly to the sermon last week, I suspect, is because sometimes it is so difficult to forgive someone for the way they have hurt us. And when someone forgives someone for a great offense, we step back in astonishment and awe.

My daughters had an English teacher when they were young teenagers. This teacher had a son the age of my youngest daughter who had been killed by a drunk driver several years earlier. The year my youngest daughter was in her class was a difficult year for her because if her son had not been killed, he would have been in that class.

But this teacher met the man who killed her son, built a relationship with him, and forgave him. He began coming to her class each year and telling his story as a warning to the students not to drink and drive. This teacher became a friend to the man who had killed her son.

How is it possible to forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply? How do you forgive someone who raped you? How do you forgive someone who sexually abused you? How do you forgive someone who abused your child?

Last week I talked about lesser offenses. I encouraged you to let go of these offenses. But when the offense is so severe, how can you let it go? Isn’t it asking too much of us to forgive a horrible offense? For some horrific actions I think it is too much for us to forgive.

Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch woman who, during WWII, along with her sister and father, was sent to Ravensbruck, a Nazi concentration camp, for hiding Jews. Her sister and father died there, but Corrie was released, due to a “clerical error.” After the war she returned to Germany to declare the grace of Christ. The following story is taken from her book, Tramp for the Lord.

“It was 1947, and I’d come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth that they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown.

‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. And even though I cannot find a Scripture for it, I believe God then places a sign out there that says, ’NO FISHING ALLOWED.’

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a cap with skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush—the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! That place was Ravensbruck, and the man who was making his way forward had been a guard—one of the most cruel guards.

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard there.” No, he did not remember me. “But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein,”—again the hand came out—”will you forgive me?”

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.

But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.” And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust out my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit.

The offense may be too difficult for us to forgive, but we have the power of Christ in us. Are you willing to let your hurt, your pain, die so you can have life? God can help you do what seems impossible for you to do yourself.

And so Paul urges us:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

And then Paul describes for us the mindset of Jesus in a poem that some have said is a hymn of the early church. Whether that is the case or not, it is a beautiful poem that express a great mystery.

The poem takes us from the pre-existence of Christ, to his incarnation (his birth in Bethlehem), his death on a cross, and concludes with his return to heaven as the exalted Lord of heaven and earth.

The poem stands in stark contrast to Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” And illustrates the second half of verse 3 and verse 4. “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” There is no better example of these verses than the life of Jesus.

Paul was certainly aware of the deep pain people lived with because of injustice they suffered. Tell me your story of suffering and I will assure you that you are not the first person in the history of the world to suffer this way. Paul was not naive. Paul was not idealistically sharing truth unrelated to the reality of suffering in this world. Fully aware of the pain of suffering that comes through broken relationships, Paul tells us to have the mindset of Christ Jesus.

What does it mean to have the mindset of Christ Jesus? What it does not mean is that we are to simply do the things Christ did.

If someone reads this passage and decides to imitate Christ, they might wash the feet of people who come to their house, they might share what they have with those in need, they might help the sick. This is beneficial. These are not bad things to do, but someone can do these things while disliking the people they do these things for.

Every year on Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter, the pope washes someone’s feet. It is entirely possible, and I think probable, that there have been popes who have done this thinking, “This is a part of being pope I hate. If I wasn’t the pope there is no way I would be doing this.” I like the current pope, Pope Francis, and to me it is evident that for him, washing the feet of someone is something he does figuratively every day of his life. This is a pope who is a servant of the church.

Having the mindset of Christ Jesus means that we do far more than imitate Christ; we are to have the mind and heart of Christ. We are not simply called to act like Jesus in our relationships, we are to have the mind and heart of Jesus so our response to people will be like his response to people.

This poem teaches us that having the mindset of Christ does not take us on a straight line up to glory. Rather, it takes us down into the suffering of this world and as we persevere, as we hold on to Jesus, we grow in faith and rise to glory.

This is what Paul Miller calls the J-curve. He calls this the J-curve because the descent and ascent is shaped like a J, but also because this is the way of Jesus. It is the Jesus-curve. This poem in Philippians 2 follows the J-curve as Jesus descends from heaven to earth and all the way to death on a cross, and then ascends to his exalted status in heaven.

Someone came up to me after church one Sunday and told me they did not like the song, All I Once Held Dear (Knowing You) that we sang last Sunday. What the person objected to was the third verse in the song,
O to know the power of your risen life,
And to know you in your sufferings.
To become like you in your death, my Lord,
So with you to live and never die!

We do not want to suffer. It is not healthy to want to suffer. But the path Jesus has called us to takes us into suffering. Paul wrote in Colossians 1:24
Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.

Why rejoice in suffering?

James, the half-brother of Jesus, began his letter by saying: (James 1:2–4)
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

We are encouraged to consider trials of many kinds as pure joy because this is the path to maturity and glory.

It would be wonderful if we were able to grow in faith while laying in a hammock, sipping ice tea and listening to good music – but that is not how it works. It is in the most difficult times in my life that I have grown in faith. When I meet someone who is an exceptional follower of Jesus with a deep faith, I hear a story of suffering that led to the person being who they are.

Let’s take a look at the descent of Jesus and learn from him.

6 Who, being in very nature God,

John began his gospel with this: (John 1:1)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In the beginning, before the creation of the universe, God existed. Jesus, the Word, was present in relationship with God the Father and God the Spirit. This is who Jesus is. This is his nature.

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

When you receive a promotion in a company or organization there are certain perks that come with the promotion. You may get a key to the executive washroom. You may get a chauffeur to drive you where you want to go. A friend in the diplomatic world received a promotion and he now has someone who keeps track of his schedule for him, someone who presents him with a briefing for meetings he has to attend. All the things he used to have to do for himself are now being done by other people (and I am very jealous).

What are the perks that come with being God? We have no idea but I am certain that they are far greater than a key to the executive washroom and a chauffeur.

People use their perks to their own advantage. In the US political scene, members of the president’s cabinet are in trouble because they used government funds for private travel and luxury. They spent exorbitant amounts of money for dishes and desks. They took advantage of the perks that were theirs and abused them.

This poem tells us that Jesus did not use his perks for his own advantage. He did not hold on to his perks.

When I first arrived in Morocco a friend, Phil List, helped me find my way around the bureaucracy and life of Morocco. One day we went together to the Motor Vehicle Department when it was located in l’Ocean and not as well organized as it is today. We walked through small hallways and dingy rooms and poked our head into the office of the person I needed to see. He told us to come in and as we stood there, Phil told me, “You know sometimes I sit out in the hallway with all the other people and wait my turn.” This was Phil’s gentle way of helping me see that we were treated preferentially because we were white Americans.

What are the perks that come to you because of your job, your nationality, your race, your financial status, or whatever else? Do you use these perks for your own advantage?

7 rather, he made himself nothing

Jesus took the key to the washroom, the limo and chauffeur, all the things that were his by right and left them behind. He contended himself to having to use a squat toilet in a small, dirty room. He contented himself with walking on dusty roads.

Jesus was omnipresent, present everywhere, but he gave that up and was limited to being in one place at one point in time. He had to walk to get from Nazareth to Jerusalem. When he received word that Lazarus had died, he had to walk to get to the home of Mary and Martha.

Jesus was omniscient, all-knowing, but he gave that up and had to ask Mary and Martha where Lazarus was buried. Luke tells us that as a teenager and young adult (Luke 2:52)
“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature.” Jesus told his disciples that he did not know the time of his return.

Jesus was omnipotent, all-powerful, but his life was in danger when Herod sent his soldiers to kill him. He stood before Pilate to be judged, the temple guard beat him and flogged him. He was nailed to a cross and died.

We will never understand how much Jesus sacrificed by giving up his position in the Trinity to be born on our planet. Any sacrifice we make, any perk we give up will pale in comparison to what Jesus choose to give up.

7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Jesus led by serving those he led. Jesus was the rabbi, his followers were his disciples. It was a great privilege to be the disciple of a rabbi and the rabbi was given great honor. The rabbi dispensed knowledge and wisdom, the disciples served the rabbi.

We are not familiar with the rabbi – disciple relationship so we do not understand how shocking it was when Jesus took a towel and washed his disciples feet. We might understand this better in another context. If you were invited to the palace to meet with King Mohammed VI, you would put on your best clothes and go with all the advice you have been given about how to greet him, what to say, what to do. Then the king invites you to have tea with him and pours the glass of tea for you. He notices that your shoe is untied and kneels to tie your shoelace. How shocking would that be?

This is not how world leaders operate. This is not what the president or prime minister of your country would do for you if you met with her or him. But this is what Jesus did for his disciples and this is what Jesus continues to do for us. Jesus works with us in the messiness of our lives. Even when we reject him or push him off to the side of our lives, Jesus absorbs our insults, our rejections, our apathy, and works in our lives to encourage us to turn to him. And when we turn to him, he welcomes us and throws a party to celebrate our return.

Do you have the mindset of Christ Jesus? Are you a servant of those whose job it is to serve you? Are you a servant in your relationships with others?

8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Jesus descended.

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Jesus emptied himself and descended to death, abandoned by his friends, betrayed by one disciple, disowned by another, and found himself separated from God the Father and God the Spirit.

In John Fischer’s song, Rejoice, he writes:
Can you see the maker of thunder
Walking under cloudy skies
He who makes the eagle soar
Seeks the shade of the sycamore
See Him laugh
See Him need
Slit His side
See Him bleed

Rejoice!

We rejoice because Jesus did not stay in the grave. In the words of another song, “There ain’t no grave gonna keep this body down.”

Jesus descended and now the poem of Philippians 2 takes us on the exhilerating ascent of Jesus being raised to his exalted state in heaven.

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

We love this. We sing about it in songs. We quote it. But the exalted status of Jesus did not come without a price.

Jesus told his disciples, (John 12:23–26)
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

Like a grain of wheat that dies, we must die to our self if we are to be raised to life with Jesus.

We want the glory of heaven, but are we willing to pay the price? People want the power of Paul to heal and deliver demons, but how many of those who want the power of Paul are willing to suffer the way Paul suffered?

John Fischer wrote a song, Nobody Wants to Die
You want to have wisdom
Without making mistakes
You want to have money
Without the work that it takes
You want to be loved
But you don’t want the heartaches.

Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die
Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die.

You want to be forgiven
Without taking the blame
You want to eat forbidden fruit
Without leaving a stain
You want the glory
But you don’t want the shame.

Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die
Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die.

You want to be a winner
Without taking a loss
You want to be a disciple
Without counting the cost
You want to follow Jesus
But you don’t want to go to the cross.

Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die
Everyone wants to get to heaven Lord
Nobody wants to die

Jesus died to be raised to glory. There are no shortcuts to heaven. This is the path we must take as well.

Remember why Paul inserted this poem into his letter to the church in Philippi?
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Paul’s concern is for the unity of the church in Philippi. He is concerned about the break in the relationship between two of the leaders in the church, Euodia and Synteche.

So this brings us back to our broken relationships.

Corrie ten Boom valued her relationship with Christ more than her personal pain. She knew she had been forgiven so she held out her hand to forgive. Her action was wooden, mechanical. She made the descent into the pain of her suffering and her sister’s suffering and then Jesus raised her up and gave her life as she was able to forgive this man from her heart.

Corrie ten Boom’s story illustrates the parable Jesus told about the servant who was forgiven a huge debt and then refused to forgive a small debt to a fellow servant. Christ has forgiven a huge debt that has brought you into his kingdom. How can you refuse a much smaller debt and be unwilling to forgive someone else?

It is not easy to forgive someone who has hurt you, betrayed you, shamed you, violated your trust. But forgiveness sets us free to live life, abundant life. And then when the other person in the relationship comes to you, reconciliation is possible.

The J-curve illustrates the nature of God. This is how God operates. The Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit wanted to share the joy of their fellowship with others and so we were created. But the price for us to come into relationship with God is far beyond our comprehension. God descended to save us and then rose to new life. This is the path we walk. We do not go from deciding to follow Jesus to success after success to a triumphant life. We have to descend. We have to die to ourselves. We have to choose to humble ourselves, pick up our cross daily, and follow Jesus. We follow Jesus in the J-curve and that is how we find abundant life.

So I urge you again this week to be slow to be offended and quick to forgive. I urge you again this week to consider what Jesus has done for you and to seek reconciliation with the broken relationships in your life.

If someone has slammed their door shut, forgive them for what they have done. Descend like Jesus and forgive the offense against you and then descend even further and don’t turn your back and forget about the person. Be like the father in the story of the prodigal. Pray for the person to come back into relationship with you. Pray that God will reach into the person’s life and bring healing. As much as the person has hurt you, in the power of God’s love, that person can be redeemed and become a precious brother or sister in Christ to you.

If it is you who caused the offense, pray that the other person will forgive you. Pray for reconciliation.

You can choose to carry the grievance, the pain of broken relationships for the rest of your life, but it is you who will suffer. You need to be set free to love. May God help you as you seek to forgive and restore relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ.