Give It Up!

Philippians 2:5-11

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Dear Friends in Christ,

I have a confession to make.  I am a reality TV show junkie.  Though I really don’t watch that much TV, what I do watch consists primarily of reality shows.  Don’t give me those sit coms and talk shows.  No sir, I want the real thing with real people, not a bunch of actors posing as real people.  And just for the record, let me clarify for you what reality shows I enjoy watching because some of them have gotten pretty raw and raunchy over the years.  I don’t watch “Big Brother” or “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” or “Naked and Afraid.” I do enjoy “Survivor,” but even more than that, I especially like the talent reality shows, like “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent.”  Well, one phrase that you’ll often hear on these types of reality shows is this one: “Give it up!”  Typically those 3 words are spoken by the announcer when he introduces a participant right before they perform.  “Let’s put our hands together and give it up for so and so.”  And when the audience “gives it up,” that simply means they cheer, they clap, they yell and scream, and do whatever it takes to show that they are excited to hear or see this person do their thing.

Well, I suspect that if that phrase “Give it up!” was around 2000 years ago, someone on that first Palm Sunday might have been walking ahead of Jesus when he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, inciting the crowd to give it up for him.  All that was done that day along the parade route – the waving of palm branches, the throwing down of garments in the road for Jesus to ride on, the hosannas and hallelujahs – could definitely have been construed as “giving it up” for Jesus.

And I think that’s only understandable because Jesus was an exciting guy.  He had caused quite a stir during his brief but effective 3-year ministry.  He had the spunk to stand up to the self-righteous Pharisees and challenge some of their age-old traditions and man-made laws.  He made the little people feel just as important as the big people, the powerful and wealthy.  He had raised more than a few eyebrows when he could be seen rubbing shoulders with and befriending the tax collectors and prostitutes.  And what about all those stories that were circulating about his miracles!  It was said that he healed the sick, that he gave sight to the blind, that he made the lame to walk.  There were even stories that he had raised the dead.  Some were even going so far as to say that Jesus was the promised Messiah – the long-awaited Savior that the prophets of old had told about; the one who would restore Israel to its former glory it had once known under King David and King Solomon.

So why not “give it up” for Jesus?  If all this was true – the stories, the speculation, the miracles – then Jesus deserved the adoration and praise, the devotion and loyalty of the people.  He deserved what he got that day: a welcome fit for a king.

And I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this before, but can you imagine what a temptation that must have been for Jesus that day, to be who the people wanted him to be rather than who he really was; to do what the people wanted him to do rather than what his Father sent him to do; to free the people from the tyranny of Rome rather than from the tyranny of sin.  I believe the temptation was definitely there for Jesus to exploit his equality with God and avoid all that he knew lay ahead of him later that week.

So as the crowd “gave it up” for Jesus, Jesus had to decide whether he was going to “give it up” for them.  And by that I mean, whether he was going to give up his high and lofty position as King of kings and Lord of lords and become their suffering servant; whether he was going to allow himself to be thoroughly humiliated, condemned, and executed as a common criminal; whether he, the Son of God and 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity, was going to allow himself to be manhandled like a piece of human garbage so that the powers that be might have their way with him.

You know, I find it kind of interesting that the cheers of the crowd that day were really conditional cheers, weren’t they?  The people were willing to “give it up” for Jesus, but only if they got something in return from him.  They would cheer him, but only if he took them where they wanted to go.  They would give him their support, but only if he did what they wanted him to do.  And when Jesus began to waver from the path they wanted him to walk, all of a sudden he found himself walking alone.  In fact, five days later the cheers of the crowd turned into the jeers of the crowd as they cried out “Crucify him! Crucify him!” all because Jesus did not live up to their expectations.

My, but we human beings are a fickle lot, aren’t we?  We want politicians to do things that are going to make our lives better, not necessarily things that will be best for society as a whole.  We want instructors to teach us things that we want to learn, not necessarily things they feel we need to learn.  We want preachers to tell us what we want to hear rather than what God wants us to hear.  We want them to tell us that we’re pretty decent human beings by nature and cut out all that talk about sin.  Interestingly, the Apostle Paul foresaw such a time coming when he wrote these words in 2 Tim. 4:3-4: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Yes, we are a fickle lot.  And when it comes to Jesus, we’re sometimes no different than the crowd that gave it up for him on Palm Sunday but then gave up on him 5 days later when they called for his crucifixion.  We have no problem giving it up for Jesus when life is sailing along smoothly for us, when our bank account is bulging, when our children are behaving, when our job is exciting and our marriage is soaring.  That’s when we want to clap our hands and say, Good job, Jesus!”  But then when the bottom falls out of our lives, when the economy goes south or our health goes to the dogs or our job goes to another state or another country, all of a sudden we find ourselves questioning Jesus, doubting him, maybe even disowning him.  We think that if we were writing the script for our lives, we could do a much better job than what he’s doing.

And when we feel that way, my friends, that’s when we need to go back to the Palm Sunday event and take special note of the fact that Jesus didn’t give in to what I’m going to call this morning the temptation of the palms.  He didn’t budge one inch off the course his Father had set for him.  He could have.  He certainly had the power and authority to do whatever he pleased.  In fact, remember later on that week when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter tried to defend him by drawing his sword and cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, Jesus scolded Peter and told him, “Don’t you know that if I wanted to, I could call on my heavenly Father and he would send 12 legions of angels to protect us?”  Then he added, “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”    

   Yes, Jesus could have done so many things to avoid the cross.  He could have assumed the throne that the Palm Sunday crowd wanted to put him on.  He could have crushed the mighty Roman Empire with a simple wave of his hand and restored Israel to world dominance.  He could have eradicated all evil from the face of the earth and set up his perfect and sinless kingdom right then and there.

He could have.  He really could have because he’s God and God can do anything.  But he didn’t because he was Jesus.  And that isn’t what Jesus was all about.  Rather, he was all about “giving it up,” not in the sense of cheering for someone, but in the sense that the Apostle Paul speaks of in our text for today when he says of Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

So Jesus resisted the temptation of the palms.  And because he did, because he was able to overcome every temptation to give in to his own ego and the faulty expectations of the crowd, he was able to fulfill a much higher purpose, the purpose for which his Father sent him to this earth.  And that was to become the all-sufficient, supreme sacrifice for sin – our personal sin-bearing substitute who would receive our punishment and suffer our hell, all so that we would never have to know what that is like.

But that’s not the end of the story according to our text for today.  Yes, Jesus did give it up.  Yes, he did humble himself.  Yes, he did become obedient to death – even death on a cross.  But notice what Paul says next: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at 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.” Note, who exalted him?  Not the people.  Not the disciples.  And certainly not the Jewish leaders.  Rather, God exalted him.  God gave him the name that is above every name.

That’s something we need to keep in mind, my friends, because oh how easy it is for us to be lured by the temptation of the palms.  When the crowd around us is patting us on the back, when the boss is singing our praises, when our friends are telling us what a great guy or gal we are, those are the times when we need to be most vigilant.  Those are the times when we need to remember that pride is a stench in the nostrils of the Almighty and according to Prov. 16:18, that kind of pride goes before destruction and that kind of haughty spirit precedes a fall.  Those are the times when we need to learn a good lesson from one character in the Palm Sunday story that gets mentioned every time we read it or hear it, but gets overlooked.  I’m talking about the donkey.

What if the donkey on which Jesus was riding that day had thought all the cheering was for him?  What if it had believed that all those hosannas and all those palm branches were being offered in its honor?  Well, aside from being wrong,  it also might have been tempted to become so puffed up with pride that when it got back to the barn later that afternoon, it would have spent the entire evening bragging to the oxen and sheep and chickens about how the crowd was singing its praises that day.

Well, I don’t believe that’s what the donkey did.  Instead, I believe that that donkey was perfectly content with the role that he was assigned that day.  And that was to be a Christ-bearer, the one that would carry the Son of God into Jerusalem so that he could carry out the mission that he had come to fulfill.

And that is to be our role in life, my friends.  We are to be Christ-bearers, carriers of the Son of God to a lost and hurting world.  So my prayer for all of us is that God would help us develop what I would call a donkey mentality.  Then, instead of wondering what people think of us, our greater concern will be, “What do they think of Jesus?  Am I carrying him in such a way in my everyday life that when people look at me, they can see a true and accurate picture of him reflected in me?”  If they can, then, instead of giving it up for an American Idol contestant or some other sinful and flawed human being, they’ll be led to really give it up for the One who gave it all up for us.  Amen.