The Lord's Day Morning
October 21, 2007
“The Divinity of Christ”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter two. The last time we were together in this glorious letter, we were looking at Philippians 2:5-11, “The Song of Christ,” and what we outlined it. We said there was so much there that there was no way that we could do justice to this glorious hymn to the praise of the Lord Jesus Christ, but what we did want to do was recognize how Paul was using the Christ hymn as an example to spur us on to live the Christian life.
I could just remind you we said there were three parts to this hymn, this song of Christ. If you look at verses 5-11, it breaks down something like this: There's an exhortation in verse 5; there is an example of Christ's humility and humiliation in verses 6-8; and, there is the example of Christ's exaltation in verses 9-11.
What is the exhortation in verse 5? It is that we would embrace congregationally the attitude, the outlook, of Jesus Christ: “Have this mind in yourselves that was also in Christ Jesus.” Have this attitude, this outlook, this mind which is yours in Christ Jesus. In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying there is no way that you can obey this exhortation that I am giving you alone. You have to do it with one another and to one another. This is a command of the Christian life that cannot be responded to simply by you individually. It requires the whole congregation together to embrace this exhortation.
And the exhortation is followed up by an example. And the example itself comes in two parts, Christ's humiliation followed by Christ's exaltation. Christ's humiliation is designed to show us the way of living the Christian life; Christ's exaltation is designed to show us the promises that God holds out for all those who will go the way of the cross.
The whole passage is designed to teach us that the way to glory is the way of the cross, that the way up in the Christian life — totally contrary to the secular teaching of success which surrounds us on every side in our part of the world today, and which has permeated even Christian teaching — totally contrary to that teaching, the way up is the way down. The way to exaltation is the way of humiliation. And so Paul holds before our eyes in verses 6-8 the humiliation of Jesus Christ. He shows us the humility which was involved in Christ's setting aside His rights and taking unto himself our humanity. He shows us Christ's self-abasement, Christ's servitude, Christ's condescension, Christ's humiliation issuing forth into an embrace of the ultimate shame, and he says ‘Do you see what your Savior did? You go that way, too.’
And then, in verses 9-11, he shows us the consequence, and the consequence is glory and joy. The consequence is exaltation, and he points us to the exaltation of Jesus Christ, which the Father will accomplish in its fullness on the Last Day. To say it another way around, the flow of argument in verses 5-11 runs like this: it moves from exhortation to example.
Paul gives us a congregational exhortation to adopt and to express the mind of Christ, to have the same attitude, the same outlook of Christ, to have the same mindset of Christ, and then he points us to Christ as the example of how we are to do this, and he points us to both Christ's person and His work.
The argument goes something like this: You, the whole congregation, need to have (to manifest) the mind of Christ; that is, you need to think like Christ and act like Christ, and show and exhibit and display and live out the mind of Christ. And then the Apostle Paul says ‘Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. Let me show you Christ. His mind is displayed in the way He willingly, voluntarily, took upon himself humiliation; and so we are to embrace His humility and humiliation, and then we will also share in His exaltation, glory, and joy.’ That's the flow of argument in this passage.
It will further help you today as we focus especially on verses 5-6, to go back and look at the end of verse 3, because you will remember that in verse 3 the Apostle Paul has called on us to count others more significant than ourselves.
Now, that ought to prompt a question: “How exactly do I go about doing that, because that is against every instinct of my fallen nature — to count others more significant than myself? I happen to view myself as at the center of the universe most of the time. How do I go about counting others as more significant than myself?” The Apostle Paul never ever gives a command without helping you obey that commandment, because God never gives you a command when He doesn't help you obey the commandment. And we're going to find out today the help that the Apostle Paul has given us in responding to this staggering call to embrace humility in the mind of Christ.
Before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, again we come to a passage in Your word which is not hard to understand, but which is not only hard, but impossible to obey — at least in the flesh. We can't even see the necessity of this command, nor can we see a way to obey it apart from the grace which You give to us in Jesus Christ. So as we hear Your word read today, we are especially conscious that we need the help of the Holy Spirit to understand this word for us; but even more than that, to embrace this word in our lives. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God:
“Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
How do you go about counting others as more significant than yourself, when you don't think they’re more significant than you? How do you go about counting someone ahead of you, above you, in preference to you, as more significant than you, when you think you are every bit their equal–if not their superior?
I love Winston Churchill's sharp wit and acerbic tongue. He was quick on the draw! On one occasion someone brought to his attention the humility of one of his political opponents in contrast to Sir Winston's lack of humility. And Winston Churchill very quickly said, “Yes, he is a modest little man, with much to be modest about!”
How do you humble yourself before (and count as more significant) someone who has much to be modest about? Do you do it through false humility? No. It's so fascinating that the Apostle Paul here does not ask you to think less of yourself than you ought. The Apostle Paul's way to humility is not in your denying the native giftings and abilities and talents and capacities that you possess. Yes, of course we should always recognize that all those things come from God, but it is interesting that that is not the tack that Paul wants to take here in order to help us to prefer others above ourselves, to count others as more significant than ourselves. He takes a more radical tack.
The Apostle Paul doesn't ask us to belittle who we are or what we are, or what our gifts are, in order to prefer others ahead of ourselves. He takes an entirely different route. He asks us to consider who we are in light of who Christ is. That's why this passage starts with a consideration of the divinity of Christ.
Phillips Brooks once said,
“The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.”
Do you see what Brooks is saying? He's saying, go ahead; stretch out. Stand up straight against that wall. Be an inch or two taller than you are, but measure yourself not against one another where you can say — and sometimes honestly — ‘I'm smarter than her. I work harder than him. I'm a more decent person than they are.’ Measure yourself up against a greatness that will show the smallness of your greatness, and then you will be ready to live in humility.
Why? Because humility consists in a right estimation of who we are. That begins with being disabused of a false high estimation of ourselves, but it is not corrected by having a low estimation of ourselves. It is corrected by seeing ourselves in light of God–His holiness, in light of our sinfulness, in light of Christ. We measure ourselves against the Lord Jesus Christ, and suddenly we realize that our task in humility cannot compare to His task in humility.
So often we look out when we are called to show preferment, when we are called to count others as more significant than ourselves, and we're faced with the realization that we may know more than the person that we're called to be humble before, or we may be more upstanding than the person that we're called to show humility in the presence of; or, we may be more righteous than the person whom we have been called to count as more significant than ourselves. We may be being called today to count a brother or sister in Christ in this room as more significant than ourselves who has wounded us in some way. And we're thinking to ourselves, “But I haven't done anything wrong in this relationship. Or at least, I haven't done as wrongly as he's done.” And what are we doing? We’re measuring ourselves against the weakness of our brother and sister, and we're providing an argument as to why we don't have to do what God has told us to do in His word. And isn't it interesting that the Apostle Paul says now “Count others as more significant than yourselves” — and then where does he start? Consider…notice…not them. Consider…Christ. He's smarter than you. He knows more than you. He works harder than you. He's better than you. In fact, He is perfect in every way. And yet He has humbled himself for you.
You know, it is a humbling thing to realize that even if you stoop to serve, to humble yourself before, and to count as more significant than yourself someone who is far, far below you in some way, that you will never ever in this world or any other serve someone lower than yourself than Christ humbled himself in serving you. Do you realize that? That no matter how far you have to go to humble yourself before someone who has wronged you or someone who is beneath you, you will never be stooping as low as your Savior stooped to serve you. You will never match Him, you will never exceed Him, you will never even approach how far He humbled himself! No wonder Watts has us sing that when we behold Him and His wondrous cross, that we do what? “We pour contempt on all our pride.” And the Apostle Paul says the very first step in you counting one another as more significant than yourselves is looking to who Jesus is.
And what does Paul say in verses 5-6? He says that this Jesus is the very form of God. He is equal with God. And what is he saying when he's saying that?
In the Old Testament, the people of God go way out of their way to make it clear that God does not have a body like man, as we say in The Catechism, and therefore God has no form, no visible manifestation where you can see His face and hands and body. “He has not a body like man.” But how does God manifest himself in the Old Testament? He manifests himself in glory, the Shekinah glory cloud comes down upon the tabernacle, and then the temple; and God manifests the form of His glory, for in Ezekiel 1 and 2, a passage in which the glory of God is described and which was considered so holy that the rabbis suggested that no one be allowed to read it before they were thirty years old. And here is the Apostle Paul saying, ‘Consider Jesus, because He is the glory; He is the very form of God; He is the Shekinah in the flesh; and He counted you as more significant than himself.’ And you will never ever be able to account someone as more significant than yourself who is comparatively lower in relation to you than you are in relation to Him, because He is God–in the flesh!
And so Paul bids you begin your journey of humility by looking to Jesus. That means two things, very quickly as I close.
We need to become zealous students of the Scripture, to span all of the pages; to span it from Genesis to Revelation to learn of our Savior; to become students of our Savior; to know what He is like, to know what He does, to know His works, to know His will, to know His ways. Not so we’ll know more stuff than other people, but so that we will have a right estimation of ourselves in comparison to the glory that He is. Because until we see our greatness in light of His greatness, we will not see our smallness. And we will not be able to serve people that we think of as small, until our smallness has been humbled in the presence of His greatness. So we need to become students of Christ in His word, looking to know everything that we can possibly know about our Savior so that our mind would be conformed to His.
The second thing is this: You understand that this very exhortation shows you why you need the gospel, and why we come to this Lord's Table. Because if the Apostle Paul said this: “Be humble like Christ, and God will forgive and save you,” do you know where we would be going? Straight to hell. The glory of this Table that we're going to come to in a few moments is it says you are so focused on yourself, and you are so prideful that the only One in the universe who deserved to say “I stand on My rights, and on My merits and on My deserving,” abdicated all of that and humbled himself to save you from your pride. Because you couldn't have done it!
You see, the gospel is not “Humble yourself like Jesus and God will save you.” It's God has given His Son, who has humbled himself in your place. And because He has done that, and because you have rested and trusted in Him alone for salvation, now here's how you live life: Humble yourself like Jesus, so that His glory, the glory of His humility, is manifested in you. And the world can see that humility did not come from any earthly region; it came from heavenly grace.
Heavenly Father, grant that we would go the way of Christ, having seen Him in His divinity and glory. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Let's come to Christ at His Table, using No. 181, We Come, O Christ, to You.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
Hear the words of the institution of the Supper as we find them in I Corinthians, chapter eleven:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, in the night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’
He draws us into fellowship with that body and that blood at the right hand of God. We sing its virtue; we sing its accomplished merits: “For there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gates of heaven and let us in.”
It is a seal that every promise that God makes to us in the gospel can be trusted. And how can I know that it can be trusted? Because the blood of His Son was shed to seal it.
This is the Lord's Table. It's not our table. It is the Lord's Table, and we invite all of you who trust in Christ alone through faith for salvation — and all of you who are members of a church in good standing — we bid you come and join with us in fellowship around the Table of the Lord just now.
Let's look to God in prayer. Let's pray.
O Lord our God, we bow in Your presence. We humble ourselves by Your grace, acknowledging that we are poor, needy, wretched sinners who deserve not mercy, but wrath and judgment. You would be just to banish us into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, but You have been gracious to us. You have favored us. You have called us out of darkness. You have adopted us into Your family, You've indwelt us by Your Spirit, You've forgiven our sins. You've given to us the hope of glory.
We thank You for these signs of bread and wine. We thank You that they point us to the Savior. We thank You, O Lord, that there is a green hill far away, outside a city wall, where my dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.
Now let's repeat together the words of The Apostles’ Creed.
Christian, what is it you believe?
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church;
The communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting.
And, we’ll repeat together the Ten Words of Sinai, the Ten Commandments, which you’ll find on the back of your bulletin:
You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.
Our blessed Lord, on the eve of His betrayal, took bread and broke it and said, “Take, eat; this do in remembrance of Me.”
[Elements passed to congregation.]
Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink ye all of it.”
[Elements passed to congregation.]
Let us pray.
Lord, we remember those words of the book of Hebrews, that if the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean cleanses to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot unto God. Purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living and true God.
Our Father, we thank You for the atoning sacrifice of Christ. We thank You for its completeness. We thank You for its efficacy. We thank You, O Lord, for the assurance that we may glean from it: that You have saved us now and for eternity. Help us, then, O Lord, in gratitude to run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
Draw near to those of this fellowship who are ill and infirmed and cannot be with us this morning. We commend them lovingly to You, and ask that You would wrap Your loving arms around them. Hear us, O Lord, as we return our thanks in Jesus' name. Amen.
A Guide to the Morning Service
The Lord's Supper
At First Presbyterian Church, we follow the old Southern Presbyterian practice of celebrating the Lord's Supper (what some churches call “the Eucharist” or “Holy Communion”) four times a year. The Ruling Elders of our church assist in the distribution of the elements of the Supper as a visible manifestation of their pastoral care of the flock.
The Lord's Supper Invitation
The Lord's Supper is a sacrament (that is, a covenant sign). It serves to confirm God's promise and strengthen faith, and it is appointed by God as a means of grace (that is, one of the principal God-ordained ways or tools or instruments whereby a Christian grows). In the Lord's Supper, we feed on Christ, by faith.
Thus, the Lord's Table is for those who are trusting in Jesus Christ. So we invite to this table, the Lord's Table, all those who trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation as He is offered in the Gospel and who have joined themselves to the body of Christ, His Church.
Among other things, this means that the children of this congregation who have not yet made a public profession of faith, and entered into full communing membership of this church, are to refrain from partaking in the sacrament. By restricting the Table in this way, we are by no means disparaging the tremendous blessings and benefits of our covenant children. The children of believers enjoy innumerable privileges unique to their status within God's covenant. They are exposed to the means or ways that God has chosen to convict and convince sinners of their need. They are taught the truths about God, man, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. They enjoy the blessings of the local church, where they fellowship with other believers, are nurtured in the faith, are taught to pray. And they are given a special status by God. Thus we baptize the children of believers because we recognize that they are within the covenant. Yet, neither their birth nor their baptism ensures their final status before God. Their salvation is not secured as a birthright. All children (just like adults) must embrace Jesus Christ by faith. And because of the nature of the Lord's Table (that we commune by faith with Christ), and because of the language of Paul who requires “discernment of the body” for admittance to the Table, we ask that our covenant children first express faith, and join as communing members of our congregation before coming to the Table.
If you are not a believer in Christ who has identified yourself with His church, don't come to the table. Rather, wait, think, pray, repent, and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.