Matthew 3:13-17; Philippians
“Upward mobility” is one of the catch phrases of our day. However, I must be quick to remind you that in the Bible there is a lot more downward mobility than there is upward mobility. Little wonder. Do you realize that Christianity is the only religion in all of the world in which the deity comes down to the people? In every other religion, in the world and in every other religion in history, the people somehow have to try and make their way up to the deity. Not Christianity. In Christianity, God comes down to us. The angel Gabriel came down to make the astonishing announcement to Mary that she would be the mother of God’s Son. The angels descended from heaven to deliver to the shepherds the news of the Savior’s birth. The poet captures the whole experience in the marvelous phrase: “Love came down at Christmas”. Our God is a downwardly mobile God.
In fact, Jesus’ whole life is an example of downward mobility.
I think that is the reason that Philippians, chapter two is the most revolutionary chapter in all of the Bible, for it is in just a few words in that chapter, that we find the descent of Jesus’ life spelled out so clearly we cannot miss it. And that is revolutionary. It cuts against the grain of the way we think. Remember, please, that in our world, the word “down” is reserved for losers. It is a word to be avoided or ignored. Think of the impression the word makes in our minds when we hear it: down and out, down-trodden, downsized, downscale, down-hearted. Every time we hear the word, it triggers in us a reaction that is anything but positive and powerful. In our world, the word “up” is the word to be cherished, the word reserved for winners. You know how we say it. You ascend to fame and fortune, you climb to glory and affluence, you soar to greatness and prominence. Yes, in our world and to our way of thinking, the path that leads to greatness is the path that leads up. And yet, over against this way of the world, Philippians chapter two declares that the way to ultimate greatness is not up, but rather, it is down. And that downward path is precisely the path Jesus followed. Philippians spells it out. Jesus was equal with God; a co-creator of the universe, and yet He voluntarily sacrificed all of the power of heaven in order to come down to this earth as a helpless baby, born in an animal’s feedbox. His baptism was so astonishing, not because He needed to be cleansed from sin, but because that baptism signaled that indeed He had become one of us. And ultimately He died, crucified, nailed to a cross, naked, bleeding and gasping for air. And with His death, came the ultimate descent; all the way from the pinnacle of the universe down to the utter debasement of death on a cross.
But He did it all for us, and He did it for all of us. This One who had everything became as nothing, so that we, who actually have nothing, might become as everything. This One who was the highest of all, came down to serve and to save the lowest. And it is in His descent, in His downward mobility, that our salvation is secured. In other words, in God’s eyes, the way up is down. And you see it right here in Philippians two because this chapter makes it quite plain that because Jesus Christ came down and gave Himself away for the sake of us all, that God then blessed Him with true greatness. God exalted Him. God gave Him a name which is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Now let me bring that great principle of downward mobility to bear upon your life and mine. Jesus descended into greatness. In God’s eyes, the way up is down. If it is in the nature of our God to come down to us, to love us and to save us, then surely it stands to reason that this God who made us has endowed our nature with that same desire to move downward in our caring for others. If you stop to think about it, it is a hard human heart indeed which is not moved by the plight of some other human being. The fact of the matter is, whether we like it or not, whether we admit it or not, you and I are born to serve. We are born to give ourselves away for the sake of Christ and for the blessing of others. Here, in the early days of a new year, it is a time when we think seriously about the way we shall live, and what kind of statement our living will make in the year that is ahead. I wonder if we will be wise enough to choose the path of downward mobility. I wonder if we will be as wise as the Wise Men. Remember them— these magi they are called, who had in their lifetime amassed wealth and power and influence, but who then turned away from it all and traveled great distances at great risk to a little out-of-the-way place few had ever heard of, in order to bow down and worship and serve and offer gifts to a helpless, lowly baby in an animal’s feeding trough; Who ultimately would become the King of all Kings. I wonder if we will be as wise as Wise Men. I wonder if we will pay homage to this One who has come down to us to save us. And will we then build our lives on the principle of downward mobility.
Hugh Downs, you will know him as the host on the television news magazine 20/20. He tells of an experience of his which makes the point of this descent into true greatness. It was an incident which made a tremendous impact upon his life. It happened when he was serving as a member of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee for the Mental Health Commission of the state of New York. At one point, as a part of that committee’s responsibilities, they made a visit to patients in one of the mental institutions in the state of New York. Hugh Downs said that this was an assignment that he would just as soon have avoided. He tried to duck it, but he realized that he couldn’t because he was assigned to ride in a car that was to be driven by a rabbi, a man whom he had come to know and admire, a man whose sense of compassion had moved him deeply in his own spirit. And so he knew he had to go. And what happened left him forever changed. I want you to hear what occurred in his own words:
“At the hospital we walked through the clean, neat room. Two very disturbed boys caught our attention. One was thirteen, the second, perhaps, two years older. The older one said very little, the younger one said nothing at all. As the rabbi sat and talked with them, I was amazed to see the way he related to them. And then I asked the accompanying nurse, “What hope is there for these two boys?” She shrugged her shoulders and said: “Very little”. As we were leaving, I looked over my shoulder and saw the younger boy sitting on an oak bench all alone, staring into nothingness, the picture of hopelessness. “That boy”, I said to the rabbi, “he looks very much like my own son. I can’t help it, but I must tell you that…” At this point l was starting to express thankfulness for the fact that my son was normal. “I know how you feel”, the rabbi quickly interrupted. “I know how you feel. That boy is my son.” It was days before I got over the shock of that experience. The picture of that rabbi not only ministering to his own son, but also to all of the afflicted in that institution, and then in addition to that, moving so quickly to save me from embarrassing myself terribly. All of it is still a vivid picture in my eyes. In his agony, he had learned to lose himself in his concern for others.”
Hugh Downs, in essence was saying that in God’s eyes, the way up is down.
“Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, being found in human form, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death— even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and in earth and under the earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
God came down to us in Jesus Christ, to serve us and to save us, and God calls us in Jesus Christ to give ourselves to that same downward mobility— to give ourselves away in life for the sake of Christ and for the blessing of others. But here is the point to always remember: In Christ Jesus, down always leads up. In God’s eyes, the way up is down. James, chapter four, verse ten: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and the Lord will lift you up.”