He Emptied Himself

You’ve seen it a hundred times on TV cop shows; the suspect is being arrested, and the officer says, “You have the right to remain silent … you have the right to an attorney.”  As human beings, we have many more rights than just our Miranda Rights.  If you had to make a list, what would be in your top 5 most important human rights? 

  1. ____________
  2. ____________
  3. ____________
  4. ____________
  5. ____________

The idea of human rights can be traced back at least 2,500 years to Cyrus the Great, the first King of Persia who freed the people of Israel (and other exiled people) living as captives in Babylon. (You can read about that in 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1 and Isaiah 45, where, surprisingly, Cyrus is called God’s Messiah.) Cyrus declared that all people had the right to choose their own religion and established racial equality.  The Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are other important statements about the idea of human rights.  After World War II, the newly formed United Nations established a Human Rights Commission (chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt), which produced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Click on the picture for a short (and sweet) video that depicts those 30 rights:

These “universal human rights” pertain to how we live within society.  But we have even more rights than these.  Within our own homes, within our closest relationships among family and friends we have the right to be taken seriously, the right to be trusted, the right to be heard, the right to be respected.  When couples make marriage vows, they are essentially expressing some of the things they have a right to expect from one another.

Interesting, right?  But what’s that have to do with our Scripture texts, you might wonder.

First, consider this: what would make you willingly set any of these rights aside?  If you’re reading this with someone, take a couple minutes to talk about that with each other.  Or if you’re by yourself, jot down circumstances that would make you want to give up any of your rights.  Go ahead, I’ll wait …

By now, you probably know where I’m going with this.  

No one on earth ever had more rights than Jesus.  He had the right to glory.  The right to be worshiped.  The right to call twelve legions of angels to come and deliver him from the lynch mob that came after him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:53).  Jesus alone had what monarchs throughout history have claimed, “the divine right of kings.”  As The Message translation of Philippians 2:6 puts it, “He had equal status with God.”

What did Jesus do with those rights?  He willingly set them aside.  His human rights.  His divine right.  Not just in that crucial moment when his life was on the line, but his whole life.  He 

“…emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.”  (Philippians 2:7-8, NRSV)

And the reason Jesus did this?  

“Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive.” (Matthew 6:21, The Message)

It was “necessary” not just as the fulfillment of divine law or as a mandate of justice.  It was the constraint and compulsion of love.  “Christ loved the church,” writes the Apostle Paul, “and gave himself” – and all his rights – “up for her.”  (Ephesians 5:25)

This is the supreme measure of Christ’s wondrous love for us: that God the Son submitted to becoming human, that Jesus the Son of Man willingly endured the shame of the cross.  

For us.  For you.  It is why Jesus, at his trial, “Never Said a Mumbalin’ Word.”  Take a few minutes to reflect on this wondrous love of Christ for you, as you listen to this soul-moving version of that Spiritual.

When Jesus says that it is necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and submit to the cross, it is Peter (speaking for all of us) who objects.  By the way, it is also in response to Peter whipping out his sword to defend Jesus in the Garden that Jesus says, “Don’t you think I could ask my Father and he’d send twelve legions of angels?”  The lesson for Peter, and for us, is that this way of submission, this way of Jesus is not just an expression of his wondrous love.  It is “how God works” (Matthew 16:23, The Message).


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