“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so 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” (Phil. 2:9-11). These powerful words come at the end of one of the most powerful passages in all of the New Testament. It expresses the central paradoxical mystery of our faith, that is, God became man, even unto death, giving us the most perfect example of humility in all of history.
Paul’s purpose in this passage seems to be two-fold. He is teaching the Philippians about the prime virtue of our faith, humility, and he is using Jesus as the perfect example of that virtue. As we know, the sin that caused The Fall in the Garden of Eden was the sin of Pride. Pride is the source of all the other sins as well. Satan appealed to Adam and Eve by telling them that they would be the same as God if they ate of the forbidden fruit. In their sinful desire they disobeyed the one law that was given to them. Jesus came to redeem us from sin and death and to show us that the way back to heaven is the way of humility and obedience to the will of God. Jesus humbled himself to the will of the Father perfectly. And, in freely and willingly bending our wills in humble obedience to Jesus’ commandment to love one another as he loved us, we are following the will of the Father in the same way that Jesus did. “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 of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (verses 5-7).
In taking on our likeness, he took on everything that we experience, physically, psychologically, spiritually; everything, that is, but sin. This meant that he felt what we feel in all of those ways. When he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he felt fear, but overcame it with humility saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He experienced the excruciating psychological pain of the betrayal of Judas, and the denials of Peter, and the abandonment of the Apostles after his arrest. He felt the horrifying pain of the whip, the crown of thorns, the terrible weight of the cross, the nails in his hands and feet, and the unbearable pain of being suspended on that cross between the silence of heaven and the rejection of earth. He did all of this in humble obedience to the Father’s will, and for love, the unconquerable love of God.
For these reasons, then, whenever the name of Jesus is read or spoken, “every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” The act of bending the knee is an act of humility. In my youth my mother and father taught me to bow my head every time I heard, read, or spoke the name of Jesus. Over the years of my life this has become my habit. It is a simple gesture, a nod, barely noticeable, but it keeps my mind centered on the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, my Lord. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. Jesus’ divine act of humility, done in human form, is the reason why the knees of all in heaven, on earth, and below the earth, should bend. The Angels in heaven bend their knees in humble awe for they are in the presence of the Lord at all times. We, who call ourselves Christians, bend our knees in faith and wonder, awed by what he has done for us in his death and resurrection. And those who have fallen into hell, too proud to bend their wills to God, bend their knees at the mention of the name of Jesus out of fear and trembling, for, despite their eternally stubborn pride and willfulness, they know the will never be able to deny that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Jesus, We believe in you and know that you are Lord of all. Help us to honor your name by loving one another in the manner that you love us. Make us strong in faith so that we may proclaim that you are Lord to all the world. We pray this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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