We gather tonight after weeks of scurrying around trying to find Christmas presents and planning and attending special events. There is a sense in which tonight we need to simply be still for a little while. Tonight our desire is to reflect and focus on the true Star of Christmas: Jesus.
During the weeks leading up to this evening we have looked at the words of Paul in Philippians 2:9-11. We have seen three things about Jesus
1. He was fully God. Jesus was more than just an extraordinary man. He was God who came to earth. The Bible declares this fact, Jesus claimed to be God, and the evidence backs up the claims He is God.
2. He was fully Man. He lived our lives, experienced our temptations, frustrations, and overcame all those things to be our Savior and to show us how we too can gain victory in Him.
3. He came into the world for a specific purpose: to give His life for our sin. The cradle of Jesus was placed in the shadow of the cross.
It is an inspiring account but if this was the end of the story it would be a sad story of incredible love. Jesus did all this but the world seems to largely ignore Him. It is like the story of a hero who dies in a fire saving someone else; or the person who jumps in front of a bullet to save another and is killed. It’s a touching story of heroism but it’s also tragic.
However, this is not the end of the story. This evening we look at the rest of this early declaration of faith,
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 confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
This text reminds us of several important things about Jesus
He Died on the Cross but There is More to Come
Just as the Son humbled Himself in a more profound way than anyone has or could do, so He will be exalted beyond what anyone can be exalted.
The word for “exalted” is a much stronger word than is usually used and translated “exalted” It might more accurately be translated, “super exalted”. Jesus did not have his face carved into a mountain, or put on some memorial or even placed on some building. He isn’t given five stars or called “Mr. President”. But his exaltation is much higher!
The entire book of Hebrews is designed to show us the superior position of Christ. Hebrews points out that Jesus is superior to
- The Angels
- To Moses (and the law)
- He is superior to the Priesthood
- He is superior to the sacrificial system
The exaltation of Jesus began the moment He walked out of that tomb and stood victorious over the grave. In that one act He showed that He was greater than any who have lived before or since. But that is only a taste of what is to come. He followers bowed before Him to worship then but Paul is looking to something even greater.
Paul writes after the resurrection. He looks to a future day, at the Second coming of Christ, when everyone will recognize Him as He is. Paul says at this point that He will be given a name that is above all names.
Lots of people speculate what this “name” of Jesus will be. I think it is not so much what He will be called . . . it is WHO He is that will make us bow. It to whom the name points that is the key issue.
All Will Acknowledge Him
The second thing we learn from this passage that this is coming a day when EVERYONE will acknowledge Him. Paul says every knee will bow and to drive home his point he says it will be every knee “In heaven – on earth – and under the earth”. This means the angels and saints in Heaven will bow before Him, people on the earth will bow before Him, and even those who are “under the earth” – the Devil, the Demons and those who are in Hell will bow.
Some people mistakenly think this means everyone will be saved in the end. They are mistaken. Over in Colossians 1 Paul makes a similar statement. Listen carefully to the people Paul includes here,
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
When talking about being reconciled (or being made right with God) Paul mentions those in Heaven and on earth but not those who are under the earth. The point is that everyone will someday recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the true ruler of the universe. Someday all will acknowledge Him as the true Lord. However, some will do it joyfully, others will do it reluctantly. Some will declare Him Lord in victory; others will acknowledge Him as Lord in defeat.
Think about a war. When World War II ended people in the United States and Allied countries danced in the streets. They celebrated the end of the conflict and the victory that was won. Germany and Japan also acknowledged the victory of the allies. For them there was no dancing in the streets. They acknowledged the victory remorsefully rather than joyfully.
This is what is going to happen in the day of Judgment. Everyone will acknowledge the greatness of Christ. Some will do so leading to everlasting life, others will acknowledge this and receive their sentence of everlasting punishment.
What will they recognize? They will recognize that Jesus is Lord. The word “Lord” has a rich meaning. The word was used to refer to the Emperor, but only after it was believed he had been deified (made God) in a ceremony. When the early church was beginning the Romans would test Christians and command that they declare Caesar to be God. When they would not do so (because only Jesus is Lord) they would be executed on the charge of sedition; they were following another King!
The Old Testament word for “Lord” (Adonai) was the word used in place of the formal name of God. Consequently the word Adonai came to be seen a synonymous with Jehovah. So, when these people are declaring Jesus as Lord, they are making a profound statement about His nature and deity.
To declare Jesus to be Lord was not simply a statement of theology, it was a declaration of service, obedience, and submission. The person who truly believes Jesus is Lord is the One willing to follow Him fully.
Let me illustrate. It is one thing to say, “I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God”. It is another thing to actually believe it. It is one thing to memorize Bible verses, it is another thing to obey them. It is one thing to have a bunch of Bible on your shelves it is another to use the Bible as your instruction manual for life.
In the same way it is not enough to simply believe Jesus is the Lord of Life. We must also live our lives as if He is the Lord of Life; in other words, we will do what He says.
Responding to the Big Picture
Have you ever sat down with a friend to watch an exciting game on tape when you knew the outcome of the game and he didn’t? Have you ever watched a favorite film with a friend who has never seen the film? If so, then you know what happens. You look forward with anticipation for key moments in the game or film when things drastically change. At those times you find yourself looking at your friend to see their reaction.
This is kind of what Paul is doing here. He is speaking to people who were going through hard times. The church was being persecuted. Paul himself was in jail. In this situation Paul draws a picture of what is coming and you can almost see him sit back in his chair wiping away tears of joy in anticipation of such a day. And then I imagine him with a big smile as he imagines the response of the Philippians to this reminder of the sure victory of Christ. What a contrast: humble servant and crucified criminal transformed to the risen Lord and Exalted King.
This Christmas we are living in stressful times. Economic woes weigh heavy. People are concerned about their jobs, rising prices, and plunging markets. We see God’s standards regularly tossed aside. People are becoming increasingly intolerant of those who hold to Biblical truth. It is easy to become weary and discouraged. We have the greatest News in the world and most of the time it feels like nobody cares.
Paul reminds us of a future day. It is as if he is saying, “Wait till you see the ending. It is dramatic. It is fantastic. It will change your life.” He waits for our tense lips to break into a smile. He waits for our complaints to turn to laughter. He waits for doubt to give way to celebration. Life may not be easy right now, things may even get worse, but this is not the end of the story.
As you read about a war after it has happened you read about gains and losses. If you did not know how the war ended you would at times feel like defeat was imminent. However, when you know who wins the war the defeats, though still painful, they are viewed as part of the price and struggle of victory.
Our challenge this Christmas is to see the big picture.
Carl Jung told of a man who asked a rabbi, “How come in the olden days God would show Himself to people, but today nobody ever sees God?” The rabbi said, “Because nowadays nobody can bow low enough.” Let this mind be in us which was in Christ Jesus, who bowed low, emptied Himself, and became a servant—then we will see and know and share with God!
As we stand on the threshold of another Christmas we are reminded that we gather to celebrate not a baby in a manger—we come to celebrate the King and Ruler of the Universe. We gather to praise God’s name for His love, His mercy, His provision, and His goodness. We should bow low before Him. He is King and we are not. We should acknowledge Him as King now – while we can. It is time for us to bow low and admit our sinfulness. We must humble ourselves and receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life that He offers.
We should also honor Him by our words. We should express our praise to Him and we should tell others of His greatness. Steve Brown reminds us,
We don’t go to God in order to be good; we go to him because he has called and wants us to spend time with him. In his presence we have the awareness that we have failed to meet his standards, but we also have the awareness that he loves us anyway.
Just as it is important to say thank you to those who give you a gift at Christmas, it is important that we take this time to appreciate and give thanks for what the Lord has given us in Christ. Just as you need to verbally express your love to the people you care about – so we need to express our love to the Lord.
We should also honor Him by doing what He says. Living with Jesus as the Lord of your life means submitting your will to His. It means doing what He commands not because you are afraid of Him but because you trust Him. It means doing what He says even though the rest of the world might ridicule you. It means doing what God says even when YOU don’t want to do so. The true believer is one who is changing. We still fall on occasion, but the true believer desires to honor the One who has loved him/her since the creation of the earth; the One who loved them enough to set aside His Kingly robe and come down out of Heaven, become a infant, and ultimately give His life to rescue us from a just Judgment. Why wouldn’t we spend the rest of our life willing to follow Him wherever He might lead us.
Finally, we honor Christ by keeping our focus on the final day. We honor Him when we refuse to get discouraged by the circumstances of life because we know that there is coming a day when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
The key question tonight then is this: WHEN will you acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord? Will it be now as one of His followers or will it be later when you do so out of remorse? Will you be one of those who celebrates His Lordship or one who has to acknowledge His Lordship to your own condemnation?
Christmas calls us to do more than celebrate. It calls us to make a decision; to get off the fence. It challenges us to take Jesus seriously and determine whether He was just a man who claimed to be God (e.g. a Lunatic) or whether He really was/is God. If He is not really God we should stop this nonsense and singing songs to Him. But if He is God, we should stop playing at our commitment and follow Him with gusto as the Lord of the Universe; the Giver of Life; the final Judge.
Christmas challenges us to look squarely at the cross and the empty tomb and consider whether or not this is the Savior we have been looking for. If He is, then we should humble ourselves and receive the forgiveness and new life He offers.
So, what will you do? Will you celebrate the holiday without acknowledging the One who came at Christmas? Will you celebrate the moving story yet neglect the One who calls to you? Or will this be the Christmas you stop playing around and truly begin to follow Christ with your whole heart?
Some day you will indeed bow before Him in worship and declare that He is the Lord of Life. The question is whether that day will be a happy day or a sad day. The answer to that question lies squarely with you.