FIRST SCRIPTURE READING Philippians 2:1-8
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
GOSPEL READING Matthew 4:1-11
1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Jesus Became a Slave
When Jesus came to earth to save humanity from the power of sin, death, and the devil, God was at work doing the most amazing thing ever. Humanity was stuck: we were unable to keep the law and we were in desperate need of a restored relationship with the Father. There was nothing we human beings could do to make things that had gone so horribly wrong, go right again. We needed help. We still need help. To save us from ourselves, sinful and disobedient as we are, God sent His one and only Son into the world to reconcile the world to Himself.
The season of Advent is a time in the church year during which we recall the gracious sending of our Savior into the world. It’s a time of waiting and watching for the Messiah to return as He promised at the end of His earthly life. It’s also a time when we should be thinking more deeply about who Jesus is and what His birth, life, death, and resurrection mean for our future as God’s people.
Throughout the Holy Scriptures, many prophecies foretold the coming Messiah and what He would do for the world. We have the words of God’s faithful disciples, the people who lived with Jesus, walked alongside Him, and recorded His words. These writers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, help make sense of all that Jesus said and did. And because they were faithful in recording God’s message, we are the recipients of those treasures. No doubt, Jesus is many things to many people.
I’m sure we could make a comprehensive list of titles for Him and adjectives to describe Him. However, for this afternoon, I’d like for us to focus on one of those descriptions that we find in Scripture: Jesus became a slave. Jesus became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). As with the other two descriptors we’ll focus on this Advent season, this too describes and illuminates the sacrifice Jesus made for all of humanity.
By taking time to examine this descriptor of our Savior, we are then able to see His solidarity with the human race, and help those who believe in Him and follow Him to have a deeper understanding of what God accomplished through His Son, the Word incarnate. Truth be told, there are times in our lives when we simply need an attitude adjustment.
Maybe we need an attitude adjustment because we’ve lost hope, or our faith seems to be waning, or we’ve gotten so self-focused in our lives and routines that we’ve left no room for Jesus. Life can do that to us. Life can also cause us to be weary, cynical, and hopeless. But, recognizing that our attitude has deteriorated, we can turn to Christ, who wants us to turn our cares and our joys over to Him.
Whether we find ourselves puffed up or deflated, we all have times when we need to refocus our minds and lives on Jesus. Paul’s words to the church in Philippi express, that the key to a life in Christ is to live in humility. And as we’re come to learn, humility is the polar opposite of arrogance and self-centeredness. It’s a dying to self and living for God. When we live for God, we live to serve our neighbors.
Jesus emptied Himself, (Phil. 2:7) Paul tells us, taking on the form of a slave so that we would be free from all that enslaves us. He showed us the narrow way by humbling Himself repeatedly, in service to others, never putting Himself over others. When we think about that, it’s a remarkable way of being. Humans, by our sin corrupted nature, tend to be more concerned with ourselves than with others, at least to some degree. Even those who seek to live a life of service have moments of struggle with putting others first. Jesus was the only perfectly selfless human to ever walk this earth.
In this section of Philippians, Paul holds two things together: the mind of Christ and the humility of Christ. The mind of Christ has everything to do with the way He set aside His divinity and took on the form of a slave for humanity. One of the first incidences of setting His divinity aside was in the desert after His baptism, as Jesus faced the temptations of the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). How easy would it have been for Jesus to put satan in His place and perform tricks and signs on demand? But Jesus didn’t. He didn’t fall for the lure of showing off or proving who He was. In humility, He simply answered the devil’s barbs with the wisdom of Scripture.
Jesus had nothing to prove to God’s enemy. Again and again during Jesus’ ministry, He showed us the way of humility and servanthood: as He washed the disciples’ feet, as He commended Mary for anointing His feet, as He gathered children into is lap, as He patiently listened to the trials and tribulations of strangers in need of mercy and healing. Jesus’ mind was always set on the needs and concerns of those around Him. So, how do we embrace a new attitude in our lives — an attitude of humility? First, we have to remember that it’s impossible to live up to Jesus’ example.
Jesus was perfect in every way, and perfectly in tune with the Father because He and the Father and the Spirit are one. We are neither of those — we aren’t perfect, and we aren’t perfectly in tune with God. Even when we set our minds on Jesus and try to pursue a Christlike life with a humble attitude, we fall short because we cannot do this on our own. We cannot change our own sin-filled attitude. If we could, we would have done so by now. All we need to do is look in the mirror and know our failings.
Every time we gaze at our reflections, we see the same old sinners we’ve always been. But we shouldn’t despair! Jesus promises that in the age to come, He will change us, give us His mind and grant us humility so that by the Spirit we can live to serve others, put others first, and follow our Lord in perfect obedience. Paul also spoke on subject of humility in his letter to the Church in Rome. There, he connects humility to faith and faith to humility.
As the Holy Spirit gives each of us good gifts, we’re called to share those gifts with the world. We’re not given talents and abilities just to lord them over others who cannot do what we can do. The truth is, there are things that each of us can do that others cannot do; and things we cannot do that others are able to. There are a variety of gifts, and each requires humility and a servant’s heart and mind, because the gifts are meant for the whole community to use, enjoy, and benefit from — not for individuals to hoard or exploit.
Jesus became a slave for the likes of you and me. By emptying Himself on the cross, He granted us true freedom. In this Advent season, we can focus on Jesus’ self-giving nature and rejoice that we get to be a part of His wondrous kingdom — both here and now, and in eternity. We can ask Him to adjust our attitude so that we might more closely resemble Him. In this way He will use our lives to share His love and mercy with the world. And, when we lose our way and need an attitude adjustment, our Lord Jesus will always be there, to remind us who is the faithful center of our lives.