Sermon for Palm Sunday, April 2nd, 2023
The Lessons: Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12; Psalm 22:1-11; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27:1-54
The Text: Philippians 2:5-8
The cross is a powerful symbol of salvation and hope. John Bowring, who wrote the hymn “In the Cross of Christ I Glory,” was at sea off the coast of Macao in the region of Hong Kong when he saw silhouetted against the sky a great metal cross on top of the front wall of a magnificent cathedral that had been destroyed. This sight inspired him to write this hymn that begins with the lines:
In the cross of Christ I glory,
Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.
Ithamar Conkey, who composed the tune Rathbun, was the organist at Central Baptist Church in Norwich, Connecticut.
In 1849, Central’s pastor had planned a series of sermons on the seven last words of Christ on the Cross. According to the Norwich Bulletin: “One Sunday during the series it was a very rainy day. Mr. Conkey was sorely disappointed that the members of the choir did not appear, as only one soprano came. Mr. Conkey was so discouraged and disheartened that after the prelude he closed the organ, locked it, and went to his home on Washington Street. The pastor and choir gallery were at opposite ends of the church, and he could leave without attracting the attention of the congregation. That afternoon, as he sat down at the piano for practice, his mind was distracted with the thoughts of the sermons Dr. Hiscox had prepared and the words of the hymn, ‘In the Cross of Christ I Glory.’ He at once composed the music that is now known as Rathbun. He admitted afterward the inspiration was a vivid contradiction of his feelings at the morning service.”
But why did he name his tune “Rathbun”?
The only choir member who showed up on that rainy Sunday in 1849…that one faithful soprano…was named Mrs. Beriah S. Rathbun.
THE EXAMPLE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
In the Christian life, we all rejoice at the many benefits brought to mankind through the redeeming death of the Lord Jesus Christ. But our Epistle Lesson shows us another great purpose of Christ’s passion and death, that we should have the attitude of humility and obedience revealed by our Lord.
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5, KJV) means that we must have the same attitude of obedience and humility that the Lord Jesus Christ showed in the whole of his life on earth, even to the point of death on a cross. Our attitude to God’s will and our obedience to it must be shaped by the mindset of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not so highly value equality with God that he could not as God’s Son humble himself to become a human being on earth and suffer death on a cross.
We marvel at all that our Lord suffered, and we are deeply thankful to him for bearing the cost of our salvation, but can we in our time, take up our cross and follow him daily? When He calls us to face opposition and even persecution for being a Christian, will we stand and be faithful, or will we conform ourselves to the prevailing politics and culture of our time? To what extent are we going to be determined to find out and do God’s will for our lives, no matter the cost? For Jews, wrote St. Paul, the preaching of Christ crucified is a stumbling block, or offense (1 Cor. 1:23), since for many the idea of the Messiah crucified was an impossibility. How could God’s anointed King become a curse by dying on a cross? On the other hand, for the Gentiles, Christ crucified is foolishness. What king would be so foolish as to end up hanging on a cross like a criminal, and how could he achieve any of his royal goals like that?
God calls Christians today to live in ways that are incomprehensible to people whose lives are not directed by the wisdom of Christ.
Giving up the status of divinity, the Lord Jesus Christ emptied himself of all thoughts of equality with God and submitted himself to the will of God the Father in all respects, and took upon himself the form of a servant, or slave. Slaves were at the lowest level of society, with no rights, and having to obey their masters in all things. But if slaves were the lowest class of people in the Roman Empire, then criminals who were crucified were contemptible, the dregs of society.
Now if we are to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in respect of his humility and obedience, we can expect to have to do things for Christ which will make us appear foolish to many who have the wisdom of this world but lack God’s wisdom.
Dying on a cross seemed to be a disgraceful and hopeless end for the Christ whom God has appointed to rule the world. The Lord Jesus Christ’s life appeared to end in failure, but his very death secured life for mankind and set the supreme example of love, obedience and humility.
The man of the world says, “I choose a way of life that brings me plenty of wealth and material income.” The Christian says, “I will choose to live the way of life that the Lord Jesus Christ directs me to live, even if it lacks wealth and prosperity in this world, and runs counter to what people are telling me to do.”
Will you take up your cross and follow the Lord Jesus Christ daily by doing his will at all costs?
 p.97, Robert J. Morgan: Then Sings My Soul, Vol. 1, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.