Palm Sunday (Philippians 2:5-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Palm Sunday + March 25, 2018
Text: Philippians 2:5-11

Everyone admires a humble, loving person.  Nobody would argue these qualities are a bad thing.  Jesus is one of those people who exemplify humility and love.  Many people admire Him as one of history’s greats.  Jesus is up there with people we aspire to be more like, like Mahatma Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.
Jesus truly walked the walk.  He preached, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[1]  This He did without fault, at all times—even when He was betrayed, falsely accused, condemned, mocked, and crucified.  He prayed even for the very people who drove the nails and mocked Him as He died.
If only we could be more like Jesus!  But, how often we fall short of His example!  But is imitating Him all there is to it?  Is the answer for humanity really just master imitating Jesus?
The Greatest Commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and the second, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” are actually very serious.  Being like Jesus is not just a noble goal for a person to choose.  God actually demands that every one of us be like Jesus.  God demands that we worship and serve Him only.  He demands that we be humble and love our fellow man.  Loving your neighbor the way Jesus did is the standard by which every person is to be judged—“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matt. 25:35-36)
The punishment if we don’t is death and hell.
The way to view the Passion of our Lord is not just a tragic story about a good man being condemned.  It’s the Law of God in action—both in the example of Jesus’s humility and love, and in the punishment for everyone who breaks the holy commands and sins against God and neighbor.  Your heart and mine have turned aside from God, yet Jesus was forsaken.  Our love has grown cold toward our family and friends, and we have closed our heart to those who are poor and needy around us, yet it was Christ who was flogged, bled, and died.
Without Jesus’ Passion, there is no peace with God for those who break the Law of God.  No amount of imitation can suffice.
But what does it mean that Paul says, “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, but emptied himself, by taking the form a servant”?  This shows us that Jesus is much more than an example for us to emulate; He is the pattern for your life as a child of God.  Though Christ’s Passion, God took away the sting and curse of the Law,[2] but now that we are children of God, He has begun His renewing work in us by His Holy Spirit.  That’s where the Law becomes for us a guide for how God wants us to live.  We are to daily grow in love toward God—hearing His Word, receiving His spiritual gifts, and forsaking trust in all other things.  We are also to grow daily in love toward our neighbor–showing Christ-like love to our families, friends, coworkers, strangers, and even those who hate us.
Jesus wasn’t talking to other people when He gave instruction in the Sermon on the Mount; He was talking to you and me: 38“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38–39)
People notice that Christians are different.  This is more than an accident or a conscious decision to emulate the teacher Jesus.  This is God’s work within each believer, to change them into a different person with a different mind and a changed heart.  As we follow Jesus, we are far from perfect and we stumble often, but with God at work, we strive to do better.  God has promised His continual help and the strength of His Holy Spirit to everyone baptized into Christ.  Amen.
[1] Matthew 22:36-40
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:13