Below is a sermon that STARTS with a promise to offend, ENDS with a triumphant declaration regarding the authority of Christ from a second grader’s mouth, and in between takes a tour of one of Scriptures most majestic mountaintops: Philippians 2:5-11.
It also led to an invitation to receive Christ as King and we did the invitation in such a way that the people of the church came to own the follow up. Because it takes all people to invite all people.
Here is The Empty Throne, a sermon with this bottom line:
Jesus gave up his rights as God to make us right with God.
In just a minute, I’m going to tell you the most offensive thing I can possibly tell you. Is that OK? But before I do, I have to tell you about the friend of mine in the Monroe church who if you said or thought something odd or confused used to say – and this is how to “talk Monroe” – you ain’t right. Always with a grin, usually with a poke, but each time with a little bit of seriousness underneath all that frivolity: you ain’t right. Say that with me: you ain’t right. Perfect!
There are actually so many ways in which that memorably spoken sentiment is quite true. A lot of you are in relationships – romantic relationships, married relationships, family relationships, work relationships – and something has gone off. You’re speaking on different levels and no matter how hard you try to “right” that particular ship, it’s still listing. You ain’t right. And then as we head into cold & flu season, you know how this works with my body? Maybe with yours, too? I get an infection here (nose) but then my whole being is off. Some small inflammation here makes the rest of me out of whack. Last winter I was out of it mid January to mid February – thought it was just because we were having Beyond! – but I wasn’t right. Others of you have issues with your ears or your balance and when that vertigo or Minear’s hits, WHEW! you ain’t right! I guess all that makes me think of the country song from about THREE generations ago now: if loving you is wrong I don’t wanna be right. Classic lyric, horrible advice. But some of you might even be there today.
But I tell you all that stuff to lay the groundwork for the most offensive thing I could possibly tell you. Something so offensive many people I know can’t handle it. Ready? On your own, in your natural state, you ain’t right with God. I know that’s not politically correct, I know I’d fail a sensitivity training class, I know that’s not the picture of God you learned from Bruce Almighty (AV) or Oh God (AV) but it’s true. You and me and every one of us here from birth until a decisive faith encounter . . . we ain’t right with God. And the scary, deadly truth is that if we die without righting that ain’t right, then we stay on the outs with him, which his just a nice way to talk about going to hell. I guess I put my Baptist on today!
Which brings me back to Empty Throne and back to one of the all time great sections of Scripture, Philippians 2:5-11. At first glance this doesn’t seem to have anything to do with either hell OR Christmas – or, for some of you, the hell that is Xmas – until you realize that it actually has EVERYTHING to do with it. Look at 2:5:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
So from this general idea of relational health in the Philippian church, Paul then takes this incredible detour into what it means to be God, what it means to be Jesus, what it means to be you. Because look next at 2:6a:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
Now wait wait wait. I say this a lot, but maybe you weren’t here. Jesus was not a great man. He’s not our role model. He didn’t BECOME the Savior when God discovered that he was a really good guy. We’ve got plenty of those. But we’ve only got one Jesus and only one man who was God wrapped up in a human body. Like “in the beginning God” God. That God. Like all of God was in Jesus. That God. Like “let us make man in our image.” That God. Like there has never been a time when Jesus wasn’t. He has always been. That’s why he’s eternal. The best you can hope for is everlasting – from your moment of birth (or conception) into eternity. But I wasn’t before Nov. 1961. You weren’t before your birthday. Not so with Jesus. He never wasn’t.
Which means, to the degree we can know what the realm of God is like, that he was on the throne as Creator receiving honor, praise, adoration, and glory from all the heavenly beings. He was on his thrones surrounding by adoring fans! For real! Forever for real! James says he dwells in unapproachable light. He was as high as infinity can get, higher than our minds can conceive. This is not a cliché; from what we can piece together, he is THAT.
But yet look at the next phrase – and this is what it means to be God – in 2:6b:
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
He abandoned all that. He vacated, relinquished all his privileges. He didn’t use his position to receive more praise & more glory & more adoration (and as someone who lives for words of affirmation, that would be impossible for me to leave!) but instead . . . drum roll please . . . he
rather, he made himself nothing
Made himself nothing. So he goes from being EVERYTHING, making EVERYTHING, owning EVERYTHING to having nothing. We means he left his throne and entered our real. He had the right to stay, to claim, to lord, to receive; he gave that right up. He abandoned the adoration; relinquished the respect.
But there’s more: look at 2:7b:
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
take the very nature of a servant. Notice: very nature God & Servant. So skillful!! Interchangeable? But notice also the de-escalation: God becomes a man, and then not just any kind of man, certainly not a noble man, but a servant man. Born into an oppressed people, a forgotten people, an occupied people in the little land of the Jews. But there’s one more escalation in 2:8:
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Man – Servant Man – Crucified Man. Did you know that crucifixion was a method of execution reserved for the lowerest classes? That if you were a land owner or a noble, they had more dignified ways of killing you? I didn’t know that til this year! The bible never ends in stuff to teach you! Anyway, Jesus goes from Everything, All things to nothing & the death of a nobody.
And think about that phrase – becoming obedient unto death. Who did he obey unto his death? The Romans. The Jewish priests. His executioners. People spitting at him. Folks hurling insults at him. The very people he had created and the same ones who uncreated him! The creator puts himself at the mercy of his creation and no mercy comes back. Chilling. Man, all this lets you know – when you see the de-escalation from Man – Servant – Crucified – that the crucifixion actually began at conception! It was a long, inevitable train from vacating his throne to assuming the cross! He gave up all rights to all things.
Think of all that he exchanged when he emptied heaven’s throne of himself. He exchanged glory for gore. Praise for punishment. Adulation for humiliation. Adoration for abandonment. He had the right to all that stuff forever without interruption . . . but he relinquished it. And . . . why? 2 Cor 5:21:
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Oh, on our behalf. He became us so might claim him.
And … do you remember how I told you that super offensive thing earlier? That naturally, born that way, you ain’t right with God? Well, it turns out that there was one way, exactly one way for all of us ain’t rights to get right. And it’s laid out in breathtaking beauty and simplicity in Philippians 2:5-11. Here it is: Jesus gave up his rights AS God to make us right WITH God. The empty throne was an indispensable part of the plan to have a full heaven. Because in all that leaving and emptying, Jesus took on not just servanthood and nothingness but sin as well. The sin sickness that all of us have. That unbalances us. That gets your conscience. That makes you keep secrets. That makes you hide stuff. That makes you sneer at other people. That makes you have a string of broken relationships. That’s what he came for. He’s not a sage. He’s the Savior. He’s not a wise man. He is Wisdom. He is not our example. He is the Exalted One.
Jesus was most vividly God precisely when he was the most painfully human. He had to leave the throne to take the cross. And that’s what he did. Because without it, we were curtains. Jesus gave up his rights AS God to make us right WITH God.
See, when we transfer our trust to him – we joyfully acknowledge that we ain’t right and we celebrate that he gave us up right to make us right – we receive something phenomenal. Have you ever heard of Double Jeopardy? Not the game show! The legal concept? (Some of you have not only heard of it, you’re actually living it!!) Anyway, in Double Jeopardy, you can’t be tried for the same crime twice. No re-trial if you were found not guilty the first time or even if you were found guilty but they want to do a heavier sentence. No DJ. Well guess what?! Became of the empty throne and the full cross, you won’t face Double Jeopardy for your sins. Even better: Jesus was already tried on your behalf, FOUND TO BE GUILTY, and suffered the punishment! So you can’t be punished for what he already paid for! Hallelujah! Jesus gave up his rights AS God to make us right WITH God.
And man, do I love how this section of Philippians ends in 2:9-11:
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.
Heh – he dies the death of a no name and in response God gives him the name above every name: Lord Jesus. But even more I love that picture of the end of days when ever knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. Every December we have to remind you: his first Advent is simply an appetizer for his Second Coming. He is coming back. And look at all those knees and tongues! Any exceptions? Ha! You know what it means? The same people who spat at him on GF will one day sing to him. The ones who hated him will honor him. The ones who crucified him will one day call out to him. Marvelous to think about.
And I am giving you this message on this day so that when he DOES come back, your knees and your tongues will be in practice. Because on that day, believe me, you will either praise him out of habit or by force . . . and you want the former and not the latter. Jesus gave up his rights AS God to make us right WITH God.
Which is why I love what happened with one of the GS kids at school a couple of years ago. It was December and the teacher was reading a Holiday/Christmas themed book to class. Here’s the note she sent to mom and dad:
I read a book called Bartholomew’s Blessing, which is about the animals going to see the baby in the stable. The book never refers to the baby as Jesus but if you know the story, you know that it is Baby Jesus. The books says the animals are going to see THE PRINCE. After about three times of me reading THE PRINCE [your son] piped up and said in a loud voice, “He is NOT A PRINCE! He is THE KING!” I totally agree so from then on, I read “king” instead of “prince” . . .
Not a Prince.
He is the King.
Yes indeed. Will you let him be yours? Today? Jesus gave up his rights AS God to make us right WITH God.