“Empty or Full”
Palm Sunday: Sunday of the Passion, March 25, 2018
Empty or Full
Text: Philippians 2:5–11
I have mentioned to you in years before that this day, on the liturgical calendar, has a split personality problem. For centuries, today was Palm Sunday, and we remembered Jesus going into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, the people singing “Hosanna to the Son of David.” In recent years, the church has changed today’s emphasis to look ahead to Friday, Good Friday. This has been done, I believe, because fewer people are going to Good Friday Services. So the decision we pastors have to make today is: Which one will it be? My answer today? Neither. I’m preaching on the epistle. And here we go…
People often describe themselves as optimists or pessimists. The optimist sees a glass half full, the pessimist half empty. Either way, the goal is to have a full glass, right? An empty glass is just…empty, while a full glass means you have an entire beverage that you get to drink. A full glass gives you hope and anticipation; an empty glass means that happiness is gone, and all you have in your hand is “dishes,” as in “put the dishes in the dishwasher.” For many of you, you are picturing that glass filled with beer. That’s ok. For me, it is filled with chocolate milk. I have a big glass after every long run on a Saturday.
We Christians are often mocked for what we celebrate in this week ahead. First, many will say that Jesus’ Passion, riding into Jerusalem on this Palm Sunday only to be killed on Friday, demonstrates that we Christians are pessimists, that celebrating Jesus being mocked, beaten and killed, expresses some kind of deep-seated need to beat ourselves up, always to look on the dark side. They say we Christians must feel too guilt-ridden ever to allow ourselves a full glass of life.
Then, by the climax of Holy Week, Easter morning, we’ll be mocked for foolish optimism—for believing a myth that some ancient hero of ours, Jesus Christ, actually rose from the dead. Get a life, we’re told. Deal with the realities of this world as they are. Address the problems going on around us rather than wasting our time dreaming of some pie in the sky idea of a Messiah. Foolish, glass-half-full, whistling-in-the-dark optimism.
Well, I say a thththph! to that and instead, I say, “A blessed Holy Week to you!”—a week that’s not about a glass half full or a glass half empty; it’s about Jesus emptying Himself in order to make us full. That’s what St. Paul in our epistle teaches us really happens in these holy days. Jesus Emptied Himself for You That You May Be Full.
You know, of course, why people charge us with being persistent, pathological pessimists. It’s because we so often start by talking about sin. People these days do not want to talk about sin. People don’t like to hear that they are BAD. You don’t want me to say you are all bad people. (By the way, I hate to tell you, but we are all bad people.) Some pastors, who are on tv and preach from what used to be a basketball arena and have a house bigger than all of ours combined, preach that there is no such thing as sin. Instead, know that we are all good, and we are just fine and dandy.
But if he is right (HE ISN’T!), if they are right, then what do you need a Savior for? If we are all fine and dandy, if we are all good and wonderful, if there is no sin in here, then we don’t need Jesus.
Well, you see, the Bible does say we are sinners. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. We are bad. We do need Jesus. And we are supposed to empty ourselves of all our pride, and selfishness, and all the garbage that is in here. You’re commanded to empty yourself following Jesus’ example ( I am going to get back to that in a minute), but when you yourself try, when you try to be a good person, when you try to save yourself, when you try to go to heaven by your works, you just come up, well, . . . empty.
Paul tells us to, “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus” (v 5). That’s a mind that is the example of perfect love. A mind that is humble, coming into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. A mind of perfect obedience that allowed Himself to be arrested and tried, tortured, and killed, according to the Father’s will. Love in giving His own blood for your salvation. Love that empties oneself to serve others.
You’re commanded to empty yourself like that, but we always come up empty trying. Instead, we’re quite full of ourselves, acting out our own selfishness. We look at people around us as people who can do for us instead of what we can do for them. In our marriages, we think the same thing about our spouses. Me first. Me. Me. Me. Most of the time we ARE selfish. And I’ll tell you, that’s not being pessimistic or looking on the dark side. It’s reality; it’s just the way our sinful nature always works. When we try to “empty ourselves (of our sins and evil),” when we try to be good and do good, we’ll always come up empty.
Now as I mentioned before, Jesus emptied Himself. Not of sin, of course, He never sinned, but Paul said Jesus, “…made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” During His time on earth, Jesus didn’t always and fully use all His divine powers. We call this His state of humiliation (vv 6–8).
The Gospels are clear on this “emptying thing.” It began when He emptied Himself to become one of us, a tiny baby inside Mary. It meant putting Himself in our place—the place of sinful mankind, under the Law. Ultimately it meant not using His divine powers to defend Himself against His people, His sinful people—doing those things we’ll see again this week: His arrest, trials, beatings, death on a cross . . . allowing Himself to be killed.
But Jesus emptying Himself didn’t leave Him empty; God highly exalted him (vv 9–11)! His Father, our Heavenly Father, filled Him UP! God the Father gave Him a name that is above every name. Every knee bowing before Him. Every tongue confessing Him as Lord. (Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him when He returns.) And now Jesus fully has and will always fully use all his divine attributes. We call this His state of exaltation. That’s not just half full. That’s Full! And it’s not foolish optimism; it’s true!
In Christ Jesus, then, we who are empty are also fully exalted. We who are empty, we get filled up and full up! Jesus is not just an example of perfectly emptying Himself for us to follow; what He did counts for us. We still can’t empty ourselves of our selfishness perfectly as we need to. But He took our place under the Law to fulfill the Law for us. He humbled Himself even to death on that cross to take our death. Now we don’t have to pay for our sins. We are forgiven for our selfishness. We are forgiven for our arrogance. We are forgiven for our greed. We are forgiven for our lies and gossip. We are forgiven for all of it. Our glass is full, WE are full—of forgiveness.
And that means each of us now shares fully in Jesus’ exaltation. We belong to Him, we are His brothers and sisters, now and forever. When we kneel before Him, it will not be bowing in shame but in faith and joy. With the angels, we will forever sing His praise! Knowing that God will exalt us fully with Christ, knowing we are filled full of love and forgiveness, we can even humble ourselves and think of how we can serve each other, instead of always trying to be served. Kind of like Jesus, yes?
By emptying Himself, Jesus fills you. He gave His life so that you would not die, but live. He gave His blood to cover you with His righteousness. He came down from heaven and was made man, to live a perfect life for you, His death of sacrifice taking death from you. All this He did willingly and without complaint. He sacrificed Himself for you. He emptied Himself so that you would be full, not half full, full, and full for eternity.
In Jesus’ Name.
Adapted from Concordia Pulpit Helps, Vol. 28, Part 2.