For many, the nature of Jesus’ kingship raises questions: How could Jesus, humiliated on the cross, be King? And if He is King, why is the world still such a mess? The Bible does in fact affirm that Jesus is the exalted King, the Lord of all—and one day that will be made clear to everyone. In the meantime, Alistair Begg directs us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and to humble ourselves before Him so that the glory of heaven may be ours.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to take your Bible and turn with me to Philippians 2, and we’ll complete the section from two mornings ago. Philippians 2:9—from humiliation to exaltation:
Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] 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.
I want to use our study this morning and again this evening simply to turn our gaze to the Lord Jesus Christ. That we would take seriously the writer of the Hebrews’ exhortation to us in Hebrews 12:2 to “fix our eyes on Jesus”—or in the present participle of the King James Version, that we would be those who are “looking unto Jesus”—in the same way as in a sporting event, to take one’s eye off the ball is, of course, to find oneself in difficulty, and in the running of the Christian race, to take our eyes away from the Lord Jesus, or to think wrongly about the Lord Jesus, will have radical implications for us, and always for ill.
On Tuesday morning, we made brief reference to a section that I’d like you to turn to, just so I can illustrate for you—namely, John chapter 13, where we have the record of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. And what Paul provides for us, if you like, theologically in the story of the humiliation of Christ in verses 5–8, John’s Gospel portrays graphically. I just want to point this out to you. It may be helpful sometime when you are seeking to expound the Scriptures; you may be tempted to do something with John 13 that you shouldn’t do. You may be tempted to give a talk from John 13 on “there are certain things that can only be cured with a bucket of water and humility,” and thereby miss the central emphasis of the passage.
And so you will notice that as Jesus gets up from the meal in verse 3, he “knew,” it says, “that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God.” If your finger is in Philippians chapter 2, this ties in with “who, being in very nature God.” In verse 4, “He got up from the meal, [and] took off his outer clothing.” Back to Philippians 2: He “made himself nothing.” Verses 4b and 5: he “wrapped a towel around his waist” and “began to wash his disciples’ feet.” Back to Philippians 2: “Taking the [form] of a servant … he humbled himself.” And in John 13:12, “When he had finished washing their feet … and returned to his place…” Back to Philippians 2: “God [has now] exalted him to the highest place.”
And so, as we see Jesus in the upper room there in John 13—and you can close your Bible on John 13 now—as Jesus returns to the head of the table, he is providing, if you like, an acted parable of the exaltation that is about to come. He is revealing in a shadowy way to these disciples, who are going to be beleaguered before they’re delighted, that his humiliation will lead to his exaltation. He’s been telling them, “The Son of Man must go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of cruel men, and he will be buried, but on the third day he will rise again.” And as they try to process all of this information, Jesus is giving them these indications along the journey.
In John 17, in his High Priestly Prayer, he had called out to his Father, “Father, honor me in your own presence with the glory I knew with you before the world was made.” And when the Father viewed the baptism of Christ, you will remember, he spoke from heaven and he said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
And when the writer to Hebrews opens up his majestic epistle, he describes Jesus as “the radiance of God’s glory … the exact representation of his being,” he who “sustain[s] all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” And later on, quoting at the end of the [Eighth] Psalm, he “put everything under his feet.” And, says the writer of Hebrews, “in putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him.”
Why is the world the way it is? Why is there so much strife and bloodshed and chaos? Because we live, in Christ, in the period of the new, not in the period of the perfect. The paradigm of life is the good in creation, the bad as a result of the fall, the new as a result of redemption, and the perfect as a result of one day seeing Christ and being made like him. And so we say to our friends, “The world as we know it today is not the world as God made it in all of its pristine beauty and wholesomeness but is a world as man has spoiled it by his rebellion against his Creator. But we’re looking forward to a day. We don’t yet see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus.” And what is this Jesus that we see? Where is this Jesus that we see? Not a Jesus hanging up on a cross in a church somewhere, before whom we gaze, and out of a sense of sentimental pity feel sorry about him and find in that reason for our own morbidity. No, “we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
Now, we’ll come to this work of Christ tonight, if God spares us. But for the time being, I simply want to remind you that we are serving a risen Lord Jesus Christ, that we are serving an exalted Lord Jesus Christ, that as the book of Revelation tells us, “The Lord God omnipotent reign[s].” It doesn’t always seem so, but it is so. And when we’re tempted to discouragement, to dejection, when we allow the circumstances of life to press in upon us, one of our great antidotes is to “consider him.” Hebrews 12:3: “Consider him who endured such opposition [by] sinful men, so that you [do] not grow weary and lose heart.” And as we look to Jesus, we do not look to a cross on which he hangs, for that work is finished and completed, but we look up to the throne of God where he sits in power and from whence he will come for the quick and for the dead.
And this is Paul’s great emphasis. “Therefore,” he says, “there is a correlation between humiliation and exaltation. God has exalted him to the highest place and given him the name that is above every name.” What is this name? Well, it can only be Kurios, Lord—Kyrios or Kurios, depending on how you do the transliteration—which is the word in the Septuagint (which is, of course, the Greek translation of the Old Testament) that is used to render the ineffable name of God, the tetragrammaton. The Hebrew for God was simply four consonants, YHWH, from which, in adding the vowels a and e, we get Yahweh. But when you read in the Septuagint, you discover that it is this word Kurios which in six thousand references, in the vast majority of occasions, is used to refer to God, to the Lord Jesus himself—therefore reminding us that he who has had an ineffable name has taken for himself, if you like, an utterable name. And his majesty has been clothed in robes of mercy, and his grandeur and his glory has taken on our humanity, and he has walked our streets and felt our pain. And therefore, though our closest friends and loved ones this morning may not fully understand what we’re going through, in this Lord Jesus Christ we have a high priest who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. And not only does he enter empathetically into our struggles, but since he is the exalted Christ, he is able then to come in power and to deal with us as we face the challenges in a time of need.
This “name that is above every [other] name,” perhaps in Paul’s mind it has the connotation also of “Savior.” For certainly there is in this little section here more than an inkling of Isaiah chapter 45. And you can either turn there or just go to it for your homework, but I want to show you how in the prophecy of Isaiah these verses in Philippians 2 are foreshadowed. Isaiah 45:15:
Truly you are a God who hides himself,
O God and Savior of Israel.
All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced;
they will go off into disgrace together.
But Israel will be saved by the Lord
with an everlasting salvation.
For this is what [Kyrios, in the Septuagint] says—
he who created the heavens,
he who fashioned and made the earth,
he founded it;
he did[n’t] create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited—
“I am [Kyrios],
and there is no other.”
“Declare what is to be, present it—
let them take counsel together.
Who foretold this long ago,
who declared it from the distant past?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no God apart from me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none but me.”
And then comes the exhortation:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other [god].”
All the gods of the nations are idols, and they are worthless. They are no gods at all.
Jesus is not being offered up on the smorgasbord of religious opportunity, despite the fact that men and women may try to present him in that way. Our Jewish friends say that Jesus was not the Messiah; the Bible declares him to be the Messiah. We cannot both be right. Our Hindu friends say that God has incarnated himself on multiple occasions; the Bible says that the incarnation has taken place once, unmistakably, and has defined God. We cannot both be right. So the idea that we can relativize God is really not possible. When we speak of God, we’re not speaking of a cosmic principle. We’re not speaking of something that we feel in our tummy. We’re speaking of an objective reality, of a person who exists—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who in eternity launched the universe into space, and who in eternity agreed together in a covenant that what the Father planned, the Son would procure upon the cross, and what the Son procured upon the cross, the Spirit of God would apply to the lives of men and women. And with that journey completed, this Lord and Savior rises to the place of exaltation.
Now, my dear friends, the implications of this are vast and many, but centrally, we face this today. Our friends and neighbors have no difficulty with us quoting John 14:6a: Jesus said, “I am the way … the truth and the life.” “Oh,” says somebody, “I think that’s a lovely thing. I like the idea of truth and life and journey and way, you know. I’d like to have that as a poster in my room.” Well, hang on a minute; I didn’t finish it. Jesus said, “I am the way … the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [but by] me.” You say, “Well, how dare you say such a thing?”
Just on Monday morning, I think it was—must have been—I was in Starbucks. I met one of my Jewish friends. He’s a jeweler. It’s funny that the Scotsman and the Jew, we’re always trying to buy coffee for each other—I think trying to overcome our notorious meanness together. It’s questionable who of us has the worst reputation. Anyway, he’s a wonderful fellow, and we were commiserating over the fact that we both turned fifty this year. And he said, “How did it strike you?”
I said, “Well, when I was forty, I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’m halfway,’ but when I got to fifty, I decided, ‘I’m definitely beyond halfway,’ and it struck me—my mortality struck me. I’ve got less in front of me than I have behind me. I thought it was a fairly awesome thought.”
“Oh yes,” he said, “I can understand that.”
I said, “That’s where, you know, I’ve got something to tell you about.”
“Oh,” he said, “I don’t want to hear what you have to tell me about. I’m perfectly happy with what I have.”
Now, he’s not an Orthodox Jew; he’s a secular Jew. He really has nothing at all. He just thinks he has something. And he said to me, “The person that I don’t like is the person who believes they have the answer”—which is, of course, a very silly thing. He wouldn’t say that if he was going to his oncologist for an analysis. He doesn’t say that when he’s sitting in 36H, in deep, dark cloud, as the pilot is in communication with air traffic control. He doesn’t want to hear from the cockpit, “They’ve told me that we’re at four thousand feet, but to me four thousand feet is really six thousand feet. And sometimes when I feel differently, it’s three thousand feet. It really is whatever I want it to be.” Now, if there were parachutes available, you should jump at that very moment. But when it comes to the issue of spiritual things, when it comes to the issues of who Jesus is, people take their brains out.
Dear young people, this may probably be in your generation the deciding issue for the future of Christianity in the North American continent—namely, the exclusivity of the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. Lose it there and it’s gone. That’s why theology is so important. That’s why ferreting into these passages and realizing that this is not just some blessed little thought here, a nice little thing that we can stick up somewhere, but this is vitally important. God becomes man, and his glory and his majesty are somewhat hidden, but now he’s exalted to the right hand of the Father, and his majesty is revealed, and his identity is clear. And “God is the only Savior,” says Isaiah. And now Paul says, “Jesus is that God, Jesus is that Savior. Here is the Lord before whom every knee will bow.” What an incredible statement of the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, especially coming from a monotheistic Jew!
This is Paul, this is Saul of Tarsus, who hated the idea of Jesus, who despised the Christians, whose whole identity in life was to shut the operation down—until he meets on the Damascus Road with a light that is brighter than the noonday sun, and he’s down on the ground. And a voice comes from heaven, and it says to him, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? It[’s] hard for you [Saul] to kick against the goads.” And the response in the English translations is, “Who are you, Lord?” I wonder if he said it that way. I think perhaps he said it, “Who are you? Lord! You are Kyrios. You are the promise of my people Israel. You are the end of the law. You are the fulfillment of prophecy. You are the Savior come to earth, the Messiah. Who are you? Lord!”
Now, this same monotheistic Jew, turned the right way up, now lives for Christ. When he receives aggravation from the people in Galatia, he says to them, “I don’t really want to hear your nonsense.” And he doesn’t defend himself by saying, “You know, I’m a great apostle, and I’ve written a number of wonderful letters, and I believe they’re going to stand the test of time.” No, if you look at the end of Galatians, he says, “I don’t want to hear your nonsense,” and then he takes off his jacket. He says, “I don’t want to hear your nonsense, because I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
God speaks in the Old Testament, there in Isaiah 45. We can’t go back to it—our time is hastening by—but he gives a description of himself which he applies to himself, and Paul takes it up and applies it to Jesus. When he says here in verse 11 that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” he’s not making a statement about his own personal consecration; he’s making a statement about the Savior and his divine identity. “At the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” It will be unmistakably clear on that day. Whether willingly or unwillingly, every knee will bow to him. Muhammad will bow to him. Buddha will bow to him. Krishna, Stalin, Lenin, Marx, Freud. Do you believe this?
Now, you see, the correlation between 5–8 and 9–11 is absolutely fundamental. Humiliation, exaltation—there is a logical sequence. Because Christ’s exaltation is fulfilling prophecy in the same way that his humiliation fulfilled prophecy. The worldwide recognition of the Lord Jesus follows upon his humiliation, because the Father has promised that it would. Again, in Isaiah, in 52:13. Yeah: “See, my servant will act wisely.” This is six hundred years before Christ.
See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
The reality of his humiliation—
so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Do you want a motivation for world mission? Here it is. Psalm 2:8: “Ask of me,” says the Father to the Son, “and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for your possession.” “There is not a part of the whole universe,” said Kuyper, in the opening address, the inaugural address, of the Free University of Amsterdam—Kuyper, the prime minister of Holland at that time, he says, “There is not a single, tiny piece of the whole universe over which the Lord Jesus Christ does not stand and declare, ‘This is mine.’” And he is coming back for it—for a new heaven and for a new earth. And in the interim, he wants young people like you to get so fired up about Christ, so consumed with his wonder and his glory, so stirred by the truth of his Word, that you’re prepared to live all of your lives and give all of yourselves in order that unbelieving people might become the committed followers of Jesus Christ.
His exaltation fulfills prophecy, and his exaltation is to the right hand of the Father, because, in fact, Jesus is God himself. There’s a great mystery in this, isn’t there? The Bible teaches that the Son is one with the Father in everything—except the properties which distinguish him as the Son. That’s why in verse 6 we noted he “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—coequal, coeternal. And exaltation is a necessity on account of his divinity.
Also, he is exalted because he is the dear Son of the Father. The Father watched his Son go to the cross, made him to be sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in him. The Father heard his cry from the cross: “[Father], why have you forsaken me?” The Father listened as he prayed in the upper room, “Glorify me … with the glory I had with you before the world began.” And the love of the Father for his Son made the exaltation of Jesus inevitable—an inevitable consequence of his humiliation.
Now, I must leave you with this. There is far more that we might say; just a couple of concluding thoughts.
I find myself looking at this passage; it’s so familiar. It may have been a hymn in the early church days, and Paul picked it up and used it in this way, kicked it around a little bit. Bible scholars debate this; it’s really largely irrelevant. But as we look at this, I find myself asking, “Has the humiliation of the Lord Jesus for my sake brought me to the place where the bended knee, if you like, has become the posture of my heart?” In other words, has it had an impact on the core of my being? Has it resulted in me taking seriously the subjugation of myself in the enthronement of the Lord Jesus?
The principle remains true in our lives as well. Remember, “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that in due time he may exalt you.” No humiliation, no exaltation. And I find myself asking, as I look at this picture and as I speak to you about it this morning—lest I call you to something that I don’t live in the light of myself—when I look at this picture, and then when I go forward to Revelation, particularly chapters 4 and 5, and you have this picture of the glory and of heaven and of Christ in his exalted and his enthroned position, where Christ is the center, he is the Lamb upon the throne… And I realize that that’s what heaven will be. Reunion with loved ones will be a part of it, but only a small part of it. And the extent to which we say we’re looking forward to going to heaven to see our loved ones is an indication, actually, of how little we’re really thinking about going to see Jesus face-to-face.
Now, that’s not to denigrate the way in which we miss our loved ones and long for them. But I’m challenged by it. Because in heaven all the attention and all the praise will be given to Christ. He is the exalted one. Am I looking forward to that? And can I really say that I’m looking forward to that in the there and then if I don’t enjoy it in the here and now? For “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and [in] truth, [and those] are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.”
When [Anne Ross Cousin], the wife of a Presbyterian minister, took Rutherford’s journals and compressed them—which was a challenge—she wrote a poem that ran to about thirty-seven stanzas. That’s not a very good poem—he said humbly. I mean, it’s quite good but not great; it’s certainly not T. S. Eliot. And out of that we get the hymn “The sands of time are sinking, the dawn of heaven breaks.” But it really was thirty-seven verses. Aren’t you glad that only six made it into the hymnbook? And of course, Americans only sing about three out of every six in any case, so you got it down there anyway. But you remember the line in it?
The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze on glory,
But on the King of grace;
Not at the crown he giveth,
But on his nail-pierced hand:
For the Lamb is all the glory
In Emmanuel’s land.
This is actually a dress rehearsal for the main event to which we’re all heading. Make good use of this preparatory time. Spend today looking unto Jesus.
Father, thank you for your Son and for the description we have of him here: risen and glorified, the coming King. Lift up the spirits that are bruised and broken. Encourage them with the fact that you who reign in highest glory abide in our hearts by your Spirit. And for those of us whose gaze has wandered off, bring it back, Lord. Recalibrate our vision this morning; get our focus back where it needs to be. We want to “turn [our] eyes upon Jesus” and to “look full in his wonderful face.” Hear our prayer, O God, and let our cry come unto you. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.
 Philippians 2:6 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 2:7 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 2:7–8 (NIV 1984).
 Philippians 2:9 (NIV 1984).
 See, for instance, Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22.
 John 17:5 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 3:17 (KJV).
 Hebrews 1:3 (NIV 1984).
 Hebrews 2:8 (NIV 1984). See also Psalm 8:6.
 Hebrews 2:8 (NIV 1984).
 Hebrews 2:9 (NIV 1984).
 Revelation 19:6 (KJV).
 Acts 26:14–15 (NIV 1984).
 Galatians 6:17 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 2:8 (paraphrased).
 Abraham Kuyper, “Sphere Sovereignty,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 488. Paraphrased.
 See 2 Corinthians 5:21.
 Matthew 27:46 (NIV 1984).
 John 17:5 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 5:6 (paraphrased).
 John 4:23 (NIV 1984).
 Anne R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Helen Howarth Lemmel, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus” (1922).
Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.