Redemption, Part I: The Redeemer
Series: Authority Redeemed
In redeeming authority, God doesn’t just tell us how to redeem it. He gives us a Redeemer.
We’re continuing our series this morning on authority, and I’ve got to tell you: Today is the best part of the story. I don’t know if it will be the best sermon in the series; the Lord will have to judge that, but it’s the best part of the story. It’s the part of the Bible’s story we call redemption. The Bible story goes from creation to fall to redemption to consummation. The last 3 weeks we’ve talked about creation and fall, but this week we hit the climax: Redemption. And we’re going to see that authority is redeemed not by a blueprint for redemption: Change your thinking here, change your behavior there, restructure your organization or society here, educate better there. Rather, we’re going to see that authority is redeemed by a redeemer. This week we go from glimpsing Jesus in types and shadows to looking right at His person and work on our behalf. Jesus redeems authority. How? He willingly put Himself under authority, He was exalted to the position of highest authority, and He makes us like Himself.
He willingly put Himself under authority
I’m going to do something a bit different for me today: Instead of starting with the first verse of our passage, I’m going to start in the middle at verse 6, so we can talk about Jesus first, and then see how what Jesus has done changes us in verses 1-5. So verse 6 tells us that Jesus Christ was in the form of God, but did not count His equality with God something to be grasped. So Jesus was equal in glory with God, equal in status. Yet one thing the Bible is clear about from the first page to the last is that no one is equal in glory with God. God is repeatedly saying things like, “I am God, and there is no other,” and “to whom will you compare me?” and “I give my glory to no other.” So how can Jesus be said to be equal with God, in the very form of God? Because Jesus is God, the eternal Son of God, one in being with the Father.
In the first week of this series we saw that authority begins with God, because God has absolute authority. That means He is not authorized by another; His authority simply is, because He simply is. It means further that there is no veto on His authority. He does whatever He pleases. So in saying that Jesus was in the very form of God, equal with God, Scripture is telling us that’s the kind of authority Jesus had. If He is one in being with God, He has absolute authority. Yet though He had this, what does verse 6 go on to tell us? He did not count that absolute authority something to be grasped, but instead, verse 7, emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He did not empty of Himself of His divine being; rather, He emptied Himself of His divine status, and instead took on the status of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Without ceasing to be God, He literally became man, being born in the likeness of men, and thereby assumed the position of a servant. A servant of whom, though?
I think when most people today read this, we assume Jesus became a servant of us, and there is an element of truth in that; He did become a servant for our good. But verse 8 shows us that Jesus did not first and foremost become a servant of us. Whereas verse 7 said Jesus took on the form of a servant, verse 8 simply says He was found in “human” form. So track this with me here: To be in the form of God means to be equal with God, to be in the status of God. To be in the form of man means to be in the status of a servant. Think back to Genesis 1, the first week of this series: God creates, man is created. God has absolute authority, and man is under that authority. God creates the first man and gives Him the task to work and keep the garden, the first temple. When God later instituted the priesthood and gave them the task to work and keep the temple, what was their work described as? It was described as serving God. Now think back to Exodus, when God sent Moses to Pharaoh to proclaim His Word; what did He tell Moses to say? “Let my people go, that they may serve me.” So who has Jesus, in becoming man, become a servant of? God. He who was truly God became a servant of God by becoming man. He who had absolute authority put Himself under authority.
He could have remained in heaven and used His divine status to demand that we serve Him. He had the absolute authority to do that. But He emptied Himself of it and became a servant. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that He did not demand obedience of people. When we get back into John we will find Jesus saying in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” But even this He says in servant form, as a man speaking to other men, without the glory of His divinity on full display. And throughout His time on earth, not only His enemies, but even His own disciples failed to obey His commands. Yet we don’t see Him pouring out divine wrath upon them, though it was His to pour out.
But not only did Jesus issue His commands in servant form and without executing justice on those who did not obey Him; He also took upon Himself the burden of obeying them! Jump back into verse 8. There we read that once in human form, once He’d already assumed the position of a servant, emptying Himself of His divine status, He humbled Himself further! How did He do that? By becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. So He did not come merely as a servant of God in some general sense; He came under a specific law, a law that pronounced a sentence of death on all who did not keep it personally, perfectly, and perpetually, and when Jesus came under that law, it had already been broken. So for Him to personally, perfectly, and perpetually obey it, He would not only have to obey all that it requires; He would have to also suffer all that our disobedience requires. He did that when He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
One of the shows my wife and I watched during the pandemic was The Crown. It’s a show about the British royal family, beginning with Queen Elizabeth II, the current British Queen’s, coronation, and running up through at least the 80s as the last season ended. And in it you see that the queen is entitled to a certain status: She lives in Buckingham palace, she wears a crown that only she can wear, and she eats meals prepared by a professional chef, among many other things. Now imagine that all of the queen’s servants have been deceived by the king of an enemy nation who tells them that she is not good. Now submitting to him, they begin using their access to the palace to steal from the queen and to pass along her secrets to the enemy king. Eventually, they hatch a plot to take her life, only they get caught, and are sentenced to prison, where they await the death penalty for high treason. But she, out of love for them, takes off her crown, moves into a 1 bedroom apartment in the rough part of London, starts shopping for clothes at Target (They have those in London, right?), buying her own groceries and cooking her own meals, and for work, guess what she does? She becomes a servant at Buckingham Palace. Only then, on top of that, once she has faithfully carried out her service, she willingly enters the prison cell, dismisses them all, and suffers the death penalty on their behalf. That’s just a dim shadow of what Jesus has done for us.
And so, if Jesus used His absolute authority to put Himself under authority for our good, how can we who are under authority by nature refuse to live under it? If He who had every right to be served by us instead became a servant of God for us, how can we refuse to use whatever authority we have as servants of God for the good of others? If even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, how can we refuse to serve? He chose to be born in the likeness of men, but we are men, nothing more. We abuse our authority by trying to grasp an authority that is not rightly ours; Jesus had absolute authority, and let go of it. We force people under our authority to serve us in ways that are contrary to their nature; Jesus willingly took on a new nature to serve God for us. We place excessive demands on people to serve us; Jesus willingly took upon Himself the demands of the law, both its commands and curses, to serve God for us. We refuse to reward those who serve us and punish them excessively if we think they’ve failed us; Jesus was punished for us, that we might be rewarded. We abdicate our authority by worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator; Jesus was the Creator, but became a creature to worship and serve the Creator for us. Jesus redeems authority. And because He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, He was rewarded by being exalted to the position of highest authority.
He was exalted to the position of highest authority
So look at verse 9: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The law promised death for disobedience, but it also promised life for obedience. In Leviticus 18:5 God says, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.” Jesus did them, and so Jesus lived again. After He became obedient to the point of death, God raised Him from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and is exalted now to the right hand of God with the name that is above every name, so that it is at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue will call Him Lord, the name of God Himself.
That does not mean that everyone will be saved in the end, but it means even those who rejected Him, those “under the earth,” will begrudgingly acknowledge that He is Lord. How can this be? It can be because He is eternally and essentially truly God. He was in the form of God, so He is worthy of such an ascription of glory, but now in a sense God has made it official. It’s gone public. He is now once again in the status of God, but for all to see, having accomplished the work that the Father gave Him to do, and now exalted to the status of God, He has also taken our humanity there with Him! The “Him” whom God has highly exalted is the same Him who was born in the likeness of men and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Now, that does not mean that our humanity has actually become divine. We will always be creatures, never the creator. But it does mean that in Christ it is no longer in servant form. He has already heard from the Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” and so has entered into all the privileges of His sonship. In His humanity, He is like the heir who has now come of age and ascended to the throne, so that He does now reign with His Father, though only in His divinity is He rightly called Lord and worshiped as such. And even when every knee bows to Him and every tongue confess that He is Lord, it will be to the glory of God the Father. It is from the Father’s love that He was sent in the first place, it is that love which He revealed by becoming a servant for us and humbling Himself to the point of death, and it is the Father who bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.
And so we see once again that the way God responds to our abuse and abdication of authority is not to annihilate authority; it’s to redeem authority. Jesus has been restored to the position of absolute authority, so that when we are redeemed, we are not left to live under no authority. Rather, we now live under His authority. He is the one before whom we bow; He is the one we call Lord. Apart from Him, God is only a consuming fire. We hear His commands and we want to run from Him out of fear because we know God’s righteous decree that those who do the things we’ve done deserve to die. But now in Christ we see that He is one full of love, full of grace, one with whom there is forgiveness. Now the one we call Lord is the one who first humbled Himself for us. Now we know the enemy is lying to us when He tells us that God’s authority is not good. And now we live in the days where we can still bow our knees and call Him Lord joyfully. Refuse, and one day you will bow your knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord as you suffer His wrath, to the glory of God the Father. But bow your knees today and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, and you will be forgiven of your sins and restored to the status of authority for which you were created, to the glory of God the Father.
Why do I say you will be restored to the status of authority for which you were created? Because that’s the status in which our humanity now exists in Christ. Remember the name of Lord is unique to His divinity, but it is our human nature that is now risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the father. It was this status that the first humans were meant to enter had they been obedient. It was this status we were to achieve by being fruitful and multiplying, filling the earth and subduing it, having dominion over it. It was this status we forfeited by abusing and abdicating our authority. But since Jesus enjoys that status now, the moment we believe, we are restored to it. So later in Philippians we read that our citizenship is now in heaven, and in Ephesians we read that we are even now seated in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. So what does that mean for us now? It means Jesus makes us like Himself.
He makes us like Himself
Now that we see what Jesus has done, we can get back to the beginning of our passage. The connection point between verses 6-11, which we’ve just looked at, and verses 1-4, which we’ll turn to now, is verse 5, which says: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” It is saying that because you are now in Christ Jesus by faith, the mind of Christ Jesus is now yours. The mind that neither abused nor abdicated authority, but used it in service to God for the good of others, is now in you. So guess what you can do now? You can turn from abusing and abdicating your authority to instead use it in service of God for the good of others. And that’s what verses 1-4 command us to do.
Verse 1 grounds the commands in what comes to us from Christ: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy. In other words, if what Christ has done for you is producing these things in you, complete my joy. This letter is written by the apostle Paul, who at this time was in prison for proclaiming the gospel, and the Philippians were wondering what they could do. Now Paul is saying here’s how you can complete my joy, though I am here in prison: Be of the same mind, be of full accord and of one mind. And what is this one mind He wants them to have? It’s the mind we read of in verse 5: The mind of Christ. He’s saying let that mindset of Jesus by the mindset of all of you, and then here’s what it looks like: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. What does abusive authority do? It operates from selfish ambition and conceit. It exerts itself to further its own power. So parents may be irritable toward their child because they want their child to grow up and become a star athlete or an excellent student or an exemplary Christian even in order that it might reflect positively on them and increase their glory. Pastors may guilt people in their church into doing things God has not necessarily required so that the church will grow bigger and increase their glory. But we’ve talked about much of that a lot already in this series; here’s the cool part: If you are in Christ, you don’t have to do that anymore!
Instead, here’s what it’s like to have the mind of Jesus: In humility count others more significant than yourselves. More significant? Yes, more significant. Jesus truly was more significant than us, but He counted us more significant. No human is truly more significant than another, but the mind of Jesus means we choose to count others more significant than ourselves. If Jesus could do that with genuine inferiors, how can we refuse to do it with genuine equals? Do you see how different this vision of authority is from the way the world normally operates? Here’s how the kings of the world wish the Bible was written: Peasants, do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, because the king is more significant than you. The Bible doesn’t do that. The Bible says God is more significant than you, but even He did not grasp that. Instead He took on the form of a servant and as a human counted you more significant than Himself. Then it turns to all humans, both kings and peasants, and says, though neither of you is inherently superior to the other, both of you should count one another more significant than yourself. To those in positions of legitimate authority, it tells them to use that authority in service to God for the good of those under it. To those under authority, it tells them to submit to that authority, not because the person in it is truly more significant than they, but because they have been put there by God and in submitting to them, they are submitting to Him. So to just use the example of parents, the Bible commands them to neither control their kids for their own glory or to serve their own comfort by refusing to discipline them; instead it commands them to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, but without exasperating them, and then commands children to obey their parents out of submission to the Lord.
And then what that means for both for kings and peasants, governors and citizens, parents and children, bosses and employees, husbands and wives, pastors and churches, churches and members, verse 4: Let each of you look not only to His own interests, but also to the interests of others. Were Jesus looking only to His own interests, they were best served by staying where He was: In the form of God, equal with God in status and glory. But instead He looked also to our interests and died for us. Now, Scripture tells us, you can do the same, because that mind is in you. The running assumption of the world is, again, that this is impossible. People look to their own interests; that’s just human nature. And so how does the world try to combat abuses of authority? It just tries to structure things in such a way that nobody’s authority is too far beyond anyone else’s. That way everyone’s interests are represented, because the assumption is that everyone will naturally look only to their own interests. That’s how we got democracy: We said if the citizens’ interests are going to be attended to, we better given citizens a vote.
And there is a lot of wisdom in that, because the world does typically operate according to the principle of selfishness, and when you’re trying to govern the world, putting checks on power probably is the best way to protect against abuse. But we run into problems when we start thinking of the church like this. We’re going to see in the coming weeks that there is an authority God has given churches over professing Christians, and an authority God has given elders over churches. That means there are things the whole church should do, that the whole church should vote on, that are an exercise of authority, and things the elders should do, that the whole eldership votes on, that are an exercise of authority. But if when anyone votes, what they’re thinking is, “Ok; how can I make sure this decision protects and serves my or my group’s interests?” we’ve already departed entirely from the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ is, “Ok; how can I make sure this decision serves the interests of others,” as those interests are defined by God, who we are ultimately serving. If someone does not think that way, they should not be admitted into the membership of the church, let alone the eldership. The church is made up of those to whom Scripture can say: “Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” That doesn’t mean we always act that way, but it means we genuinely can. We don’t have to assume what the world assumes and then structure accordingly.
Similarly, it means elders can truly operate according to the mind of Christ and use their authority not to look to their own interests, but to the interests of others. If you don’t trust that a man will do that, you shouldn’t make him an elder. It’s why, incidentally, Scripture doesn’t tell us to make sure every “interest group” in our church is equally represented on the eldership. For example, Scripture forbids women from serving as elders, and so we do too in our church. And sometimes when people find that out that’s what we do here, it raises concerns. Won’t that lead to the interests of women being neglected or marginalized, the thinking goes, and again, it’s a totally reasonable question given how authority is often used in the world and how it has been used in churches historically. But the short answer is no, it doesn’t necessarily lead to the interests of women being neglected or marginalized, because it is actually possible for those elders to look not only to their own interests, but to the interests of others, and we know it’s possible for two reasons: One, because we know a man who did it, Jesus Christ, and two, because we have the mind of Christ.
That’s the only way any exercise of authority that is truly pleasing to God is possible. You must be redeemed by Jesus before your authority can be redeemed. You must first put yourself under His authority before it’s safe for you to exercise authority in His name. He willingly put Himself under authority for the good of others, and now He has the position of highest authority, so that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Bow your knees today, confess that He is Lord, and so use whatever authority He has given you in service to God, doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility considering others more significant than yourselves, looking not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others. All the proper structure and governance in the world will not matter if this isn’t what we are doing with it. In the coming months our church is going to restructure to become a local church. It will involve a constitution and processes for membership, eldership, discipline, votes, and so forth. But if we have all these, and have not love, we have nothing. A life together marked by verses 1-4 is the goal; governance and human authority are just the means. So have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.