Mark 1:1-11 | Philippians 2:5-11

And so we draw towards the end of Lent. Ahead of us lie the last supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, the trial, Peter’s denial, the crowd crying for the release of Barabbas, the crucifixion, the thief on the cross next to Jesus, his death, burial – and the incredible mystery and miracle of Easter Sunday, the empty tomb, the resurrection.

Holy Week is a busy week.

But it starts with Palm Sunday. With Jesus riding into Jerusalem, the heart of first century Judaism.

And the people treated him as a king, a general, a leader, a saviour.

They strewed branches on the road.

And they cried out “Hosanna” – a word that we associate with praise, but which is actually more like a cry for help – specifically, crying out to God or to one sent by God, for help, literally meaning “help us, save us, deliver us”.

Which, of course, was exactly what Jesus was going to do – to save the people of Jerusalem, indeed, to save all the peoples of the world – just not in the way that they expected.

Not by leading an uprising and throwing out the Romans as the Maccabean rebellion had done, and as would happen again thirty years later. Not by re-establishing the Kingdom of David, as even Jesus’ closest friends were still expecting.

But by dying, and rising again, and ushering in the reign of God, reconciling all things in himself in the restoration of the Shalom of God.

We call it the triumphal entry. And it was. But it was not the triumph of a conquering general claiming his place of pride.

It was the triumph of humility.

though he was in the form of God,

   he 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.

And being found in human form,

   he humbled himself

Jesus humbled himself, “taking the form of a slave”, Paul writes, “being born in human likeness”.

Simply being born, entering the world as a human, rather than as some vision of the divine, was the most remarkable act of humility: being willing to be seen, looked at, judged, as if he were just a human. Willing to be hungry and thirsty, to have friends and enemies, to be ignorant and need to learn.

Leaving aside the power and status of the divine. 

For Jesus to enter the world as a human, to identify with humanity, was remarkable humility. Even had he come as Emperor, it would have been the greatest setting aside of status and power of all eternity.

But just becoming human was not enough.

He became ordinary. He became a typical person. Not a king, not a CEO, not any sort of ruler.

But that too was not enough.

In a culture in which the primary currency was not money, but honour, in which it was critically important to be seen with the right people, Jesus mixed with the least, with the outcast, with those who had no honour to offer – women, foreigners, lepers, children – and he encouraged his followers to do the same.

He became ordinary, and mixed with the lowest and the least. Having set aside the status of the divine, rejected the status of the powerful, he even set aside the status of the ordinary.

But even that was not enough.

he humbled himself

   and became obedient to the point of death—

   even death on a cross

He humbled himself to death – even death on a cross.

For death on a cross meant far more than simply the end of life. Under Jewish law a common criminal might be executed by stoning – but to die ‘hung on a tree’ was not just to be killed, but to be cursed.

And in secular terms, crucifixion was far more than the execution of the guilty. It was a deliberate demonstration of power. It was Roman Empire making it absolutely clear who was in charge, and what happened to those who rocked the boat.

Crucifixion was more than death: it was retribution, it was public humiliation, it was a curse. It was the profoundest declaration that you were small, unimportant, defeated.

Jesus’ humility took him not just from heaven to earth, not just to a common family instead of a royal house, not just to identify with those society excluded, not even just to death, but to death on a cross. Pushed out of the world onto the rubbish heap.

In his death Jesus identified himself with the victims, with the humiliated, the cursed. This is the nature of God’s humility. To lay aside glory and be found amongst the least.

Jesus is not to found amongst the wealthy and powerful; but with the marginalised, the degraded, the outcast, the victim.

None of us have the prestige, the position, that Jesus had; we aren’t even rulers within our culture, heads of states, CEOs, the 1% – most of us, anyway.

But we do enjoy privilege.

Many of us would never have been questioned for our sexuality, were born in a body that conforms to our gender identity, have minds that work in a neurotypical way. Many here have never been overlooked because of the colour of their skin, or the accent with which they speak.

Others here, of course, do not enjoy those privileges. But most of us do.

And whenever privilege is named, people feel threatened – and are quick to trot out the label ‘woke’ (a word once used by the oppressed as a compliment to an ally – so I will wear it with pride, if offered).

But perhaps too often absent in this conversation is the example of Jesus, who, as God, had every privilege imaginable; but willingly gave them away, or had them taken away; willingly went from the heights of all creation to becoming the lowest of executed, humiliated victims.

Because it was more important for him to stand alongside those who had nothing than to hold on to what he had.

But, of course, that is not the end of the story. For Paul’s glorious poem continues:

Therefore God also highly exalted him

   and gave him the name

   that is above every name,

Therefore God highly exalted him.

Not ‘and after that, God exalted him’. This isn’t just telling us that God restored Jesus to his exalted position after he had finished his work.

‘Jesus humbled himself, therefore God exalted him’.


God’s raising of Jesus, God declaring that the name of Jesus would be above all other names, that Jesus would be the one identified for all time as the Lord of the Kingdom of God, that it would be Jesus’ reign we would still be celebrating two thousand years later, that before him every knee would bow, and every tongue would name him Lord – all that follows the ‘therefore’.

It is because of his identification with the humble, the ordinary, the victim, the outcast, that Jesus has been elevated so by God.

The reign of God is a realm ruled over by the one who, more than anyone else in the whole of the cosmos, was willing to set aside what was rightfully his in order to stand alongside those he loved.

That is humility. That is the triumph of the one who rode into Jerusalem. God’s highest place goes to the one who took the lowest.

Whatever the world say, humility wins.